Ann Sheridan

Ann Sheridan It All Came True Pulbicity Shot

Birth Name: Clara Lou Sheridan

Birthdate: February 21, 1915

Date of Death: January 21, 1967

Number of Films Ann Sheridan made with Humphrey Bogart: 7

The Actress

The daughter of a Texas auto mechanic, Ann Sheridan grew up as a bit of an athlete and Tomboy who would later take a page out of her father’s handbook and develop a passion for restoring cars. On track to become a school teacher until her sister entered her in a “Search for Beauty” contest, Sheridan’s bathing suit picture was enough to win over the judges and earn her a bit part with Paramount Pictures.

Twenty-four films later, Sheridan made her way over to Warner Brothers where she would end up working alongside of Hollywood’s greatest legend, Humphrey Bogart. While Hollywood dubbed her the “Oomph Girl,” Sheridan reportedly hated the nickname, but her pin-up popularity and alluring film roles did nothing to dissuade the general public from picking up on the moniker and keeping it alive.

Full disclosure – I have a heavy, heavy, crush on Ann Sheridan, so any opinion I have on her movies is deeply colored by my adoration. Having made 7 films with Bogart, this post is late in coming to ‘The Usual Suspects’ portion of the blog.

Free tonight? Pop in It All Came True and try – just TRY – not to fall in love with this woman!

The Filmography

Black Legion – 1937Ann Sheridan Black Legion

Sheridan appears as Betty Grogan, the girl-next-door girlfriend to Bogart’s best friend in the film, Dick Foran. She’s sweet enough in the role but doesn’t get a lot to work with as she spends most of her time trying to be the good girl who reforms her beer drinking boyfriend into marriage material. You can find my original write up on the film here.

The Great O’Malley – 1937Ann Sheridan The Great O'Malley

Sheridan plays school teacher Judy Nolan, the woman that tames, teaches, and eventually falls for Pat O’Brien’s stuffy cop. It’s another underdeveloped role for Sheridan, but she’s just so doggone cute and charismatic that it’s clear she did the most she could with the script. It’s fun to watch her strut her stuff to the chagrin of O’Brien as she gets to play the street-smart gal to a man who expects all women to fall into a cookie-cutter housewife stereotype. You can read my original write up on the film here.

San Quentin – 1937San Quentin Sheridan

Sheridan gets a little more to work with here as the lounge singing May, girlfriend to Pat O’Brien’s prison warden. Suffering from a few character inconsistencies, Sheridan begins the film as a sultry nightclub act, only to switch over to the innocent girl-next-door type for the rest of the film. It certainly doesn’t ruin the film, but it might have been more interesting to see her with a bit of a darker character, especially since she’s playing the sister to Bogart’s small-time hood. This was also supposedly the film where Sheridan and Bogart became good friends off screen. You can read my original write up on the film here.

Angels with Dirty Faces – 1938Ann Sheridan Angels With Dirty Faces

Sheridan plays Laury Ferguson, and while she does the best she can here, she is severely underused in this film. There are a few moments of promise at the beginning when she starts a relationship with Cagney, but after that, Sheridan is relegated to occasionally popping up to fret over the men of the film and try not to look out of place even though she has little to do. Still, she does look great, and it’s fun to see her onscreen mixing it up with James Cagney and Pat O’Brien. You can read my original write up on the film here.

It All Came True – 1940 Sheridan It All Came TrueSheridan = perfection here. I know this isn’t a great film by any means, but her portrayal of the dancing and singing Sarah Jane Ryan goes toe-to-toe with Bogart’s dastardly gangster and she steals nearly every scene that she shares with Hollywood’s biggest legend. If any Bogart collaboration captures her spitfire personality, it’s this one. From her first entrance to her final song, she was amazing. You can read my original write up on the film here.

They Drive by Night – 1940They Drive by Night Sheridan

Sheridan plays truck stop waitress Cassie Hartley who falls for George Raft after he’s more than a little persistent. Sheridan does a good job of giving us the impression that she’s a good girl who’s perhaps done some dark things in her past, and she has some really nice scenes with Raft as they share a hotel room for a night before eventually falling in love and making a life together. I can’t get enough of Sheridan, and this is one of her most solid Bogart film appearances. You can read my original write up on the film here.

Thank Your Lucky Stars – 1943Sheridan TYLS

Sheridan plays herself in this star-studded wartime musical, although she doesn’t share any scenes with Bogart. Singing Love isn’t Born It’s Made, Sheridan teaches a group of young ladies who are pining over their singleness how to proactively search for love. Wearing a slinky, silky, white dress, Sheridan’s musical number is definitely one of the highlights of the film, even with the audio turned off! You can read my original write up on the film here.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – 1948no Sheridan

It’s another Bogie Film Blog cameo that never was! While Sheridan is listed on IMDB with a cameo in the film as a pretty woman walking by a storefront, the woman in question is clearly not Sheridan. A few online sites say that there are test photos of Sheridan in the costume, so perhaps John Huston initially had her in the film and then decided the cameo was too distracting? Again, if anyone has any info on how this rumor got started, let me know. You can read my original write up on the film here.

* ‘The Usual Suspects’ is a regular feature on the blog where we highlight one of Bogart’s regular collaborators. Check out other posts here. *

The Great O’Malley – 1937

The Great O'Malley

My Review

—Watchable with Solid Performances—

Bogie Film Fix:

1.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: William Dieterle

The Lowdown

An overly legalistic cop (Pat O’Brien) reexamines his life after inadvertently pushing a man (Humphrey Bogart) to commit a robbery.

What I Thought

I’ve really been on the fence about Pat O’Brien. After two films where I thought that he was kind of a cold fish (China Clipper and San Quentin) and one in which I thought that he almost stole the show away from James Cagney (Angels With Dirty Faces), I can now say that I’m officially on the Pat O’Brien bandwagon.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a five-star film by any means, but O’Brien’s portrayal of an uber-legalistic cop that goes just a little too far shows the most relatable character that I’ve seen from him out of all four of his Bogart collaborations. I can see a lot of myself in the guy, actually.

Who doesn’t want the rest of the world to run according to their own rules? Who doesn’t want to be the best at their job? Who hasn’t gone just a little bit overboard trying to hold other people to expectations that no one could live up to? The moment where O’Brien threatens to ticket his own mother for littering (throwing food scraps to the birds) was one of the standout moments for me that, while played for laughs, probably showed a man who would today be diagnosed with severe OCD or even Asperger’s Syndrome.

I also appreciate the fact that Director Dieterle doesn’t go for a completely feel good personality shift in Officer O’Malley, as his change in demeanor comes slowly, bit by bit, making sure to point out that even though O’Malley can appreciate children on an individual basis, he’s not all that good with them in large groups. He’s also not the smoothest with women, as he seems to think that standup, tried-and-true, unwavering chivalry will work in an age when the streetwise fast talking dames (Ann Sheridan) are willing to go toe-to-toe with any man, even a cop.

The Bogart Factor

Down on his luck John Phillips is a small part, and definitely leans towards the two-dimensional side, but again, if you’re going to have to watch someone play a two-dimensional blue collar crook for a few minutes, you can do a lot worse than Bogart! Plus, there’s a glimpse of sweet Bogart madness that seeps out after he’s released from prison and goes after O’Brien when he thinks the cop is badgering him. Not a must-see for Bogart fans, but the film is watchable and has its moments, so you’ll come out even in the end!

The Cast

Pat O’Brien plays the by-the-book cop, Officer James Aloysius O’Malley. With a name like that, can you blame the guy for developing a few glaring character flaws? Not unlike his role in China Clipper, this was a part that could have left him just as unlikable at the end as we found him in the beginning, but the script and director do well enough making sure that O’Brien’s judicious cop gets to learn his lesson and make a few changes. Again, it’s a great performance by O’Brien in a film filled with two-dimensional characters, so in my opinion, he saves the film and pushes it into the “enjoyable” category.

Ann Sheridan plays school teacher Judy Nolan, the woman that tames, teaches, and eventually falls for O’Brien’s stuffy cop. It’s another underdeveloped role for Sheridan, but she’s just so doggone cute and charismatic that it’s clear she did the most she could with the script.

Child actor Sybil Jason plays Bogart’s daughter, Barbara Phillips – the little girl who steals the heart of Officer O’Malley and helps pull him over to the good side. Jason is about as strong here as you could expect a child actor to be, and I have to admit that I laughed out loud every time she referred to her friend Tubby (Delmar Watson) by name. Oh, how times have changed. You give a kid that nickname today and you’d be expelled from school.

There are numerous other solid character actors to mention here, but I’m going to give the last slot to Bogie Film Blog favorite, Donald Crisp. Crisp’s role is small, but very solid, as usual. He plays O’Brien’s commanding officer, and spends every one of his few moments in the film trying to get O’Brien to recognize that a cop needs as much heart as he does brains. If my research is correct, I can now start his write up for ‘The Usual Suspects’ as this is the last film I needed to watch from his Bogart collaborations. Crisp has been so good in every role, no matter how great or how small, and I’m eager to dive into the rest of his filmography.

Classic Bogie Moment

It’s a pretty small part with not a lot to work with, but as always, Bogart finds a way to do a lot with a little. In the scene where he’s convicted to prison, Bogart hangs his head in despair. But if you’ll notice, just below his ears and about an inch forward, his jowl muscles are clenching and releasing, clenching and releasing with anguish – hardly even noticeable. It’s his only movement for several seconds of the film and it adds a painful sense of reality to the moment. While it might be a tiny acting choice, Bogart had an incredible talent for adding little nuances to smaller scenes that most actors would either overdo, or not even bother to think about.

The Great O'Malley

The Bottom Line

This one’s a far cry from Bogart’s best work, but it’s a fine way to pass an evening. Pair it up with Angels With Dirty Faces for a double feature, and spend some time learning to appreciate Pat O’Brien like I did!

They Drive By Night – 1940

They Drive By Night Poster

My Review

—Some Decent Melodrama— 

Bogie Film Fix:

3 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Raoul Walsh

The Lowdown

The Fabrini brothers (George Raft and Humphrey Bogart) do their best to maintain a living as long distance truckers despite the constant threats of dangerous roads, sleep deprivation, and bosses who try to swindle them at every turn.

What I Thought

Okay.  I’m on board with George Raft.  He reminds me a lot of a more subdued version of James Cagney.  Both guys are small in stature, good looking, and great actors.  Don’t get me wrong, Raft isn’t nearly as charming and charismatic as Cagney, but he does a great job of playing men who are wound tight and ready to explode.

The chemistry here within the entire cast is superb.  Raft and Bogart work well together playing brothers with a very believable sibling dynamic.  Raft and Alan Hale have a lot of fun moments as they fall into business with one another.  Raft and Ann Sheridan make a great couple.  (Full disclosure – I’d pay to see Ann Sheridan watching paint dry, so I’m a little biased.)  And Raft gets to squirm alongside of Ida Lupino in some of the film’s best moments of dramatic tension.

My only real hang-up with the film comes with the ending when it devolves into a “he said/she said” courtroom drama.  The melodrama dial is already set at a “9” here, so I shouldn’t be surprised that they went with the old “murder trial” convention to decide the fates of all involved, but I do feel like it was a bit of an unrealistic cop out for the film to end that way.  I think it might have been more in line with the characters and the story to have Lupino and Raft’s final confrontation be a more privately painful moment.

But there’s so much right with Raoul Walsh’s direction here that I can’t fault the film for too much.  Walsh is one of my absolute favorite Bogart directors having worked on Women of All Nations, The Roaring Twenties, They Drive By Night, High Sierra, Action in the North Atlantic (uncredited), and The Enforcer (uncredited).  He knows how to build a story, get the most out of his actors, and frame each shot like it could be a movie still worth hanging on your wall.  I’m excited to add him to The Usual Suspects soon.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart plays a regular joe with his portrayal of Frank Fabrini.  It’s essentially a “good guy” version of the blue collar role that he played in Black Legion, and Director Walsh makes sure that he has plenty of time to flesh out his character despite the fact that he’s only the fourth billed actor in the film.

Raft and Bogart get the opportunity to build a good natured brotherly relationship before the plot gets dark, and we’re given ample time with Bogart’s Frank and his wife Pearl (Gale Page) as we see him torn between providing for his wife and fulfilling her dreams of a having a baby.  When the Fabrini’s truck is finally wrecked and Frank loses his arm, Bogart has created a deep enough character that it’s a gut wrenching moment to watch him tell his brother that he should have been left behind in the burning vehicle.

It’s not Bogart’s show to steal here, but he does a great job with a large supporting role.

The Cast

George Raft plays Bogart’s brother and trucking partner, Joe Fabrini.  Raft is authentic and relatable as the industrious trucker who’s willing to work hard in order to get ahead.  Besides this film, Invisible Stripes, and Some Like it Hot, I’m not familiar with Raft’s work, and I feel the urge to start exploring the rest of his filmography.  Raft’s biggest talent as an actor is the ability to play his emotions close to his chest until it’s time for the drama to really kick in.  I think I’m a big enough man to finally let his off screen tension with Bogart go . . .

Ann Sheridan plays truck stop waitress Cassie Hartley who falls for Raft after he’s more than a little persistent.  Sheridan does a good job of giving us the impression that she’s a good girl who’s perhaps done some dark things in her past, and she has some really nice scenes with Raft as they share a hotel room for a night before eventually falling in love and making a life together.  I can’t get enough of Sheridan, and this is one of her best Bogart film appearances.

Ida Lupino is Lana Carlsen, the femme fatale that bumps off her husband so that she can go after Raft.  Lupino is lots of fun here as she smolders away, doing whatever it takes to keep the money she married into while making advances on a man who wants nothing to do with her.  The moment where she makes the decision to leave her husband in the garage with the car running is done to perfection.  Just a moment of realization flashes across her eyes – then there’s a short pause before passing the garage door sensor – Director Walsh and Lupino put together a wonderful little murder scene.

Alan Hale plays Lupino’s gregarious husband, Ed Carlsen.  Ed’s the trucker who made good, finally opening his own company, and it’s a crime – A CRIME, I TELL YA! – when Lupino bumps him off.  What kind of sick mind thinks it would be a better world without Alan Hale?!?  It’s insanity in its purest form . . .

Roscoe Karns plays the good natured, pinball-addicted, milk truck driver for Ed Carlsen, Irish McGurn.  Karns is a scene stealer in the best possible way, and it’s a real treat to have him in the film.  The moments between Karns and Hale when they play drunk are laugh-out-loud good.

Classic Bogie Moment

In a rare turn, Bogart gets to play both goofy and dramatic here.  One of his very best mugging moments from any film comes when he’s trying to mime his excitement about a sale to George Raft behind the back of a prospective client (George Tobias) which gives us this great pic for your classic moment from the film:

They Drive By Night Bogart

The Bottom Line

I’d go ahead and make this one a must see.  It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it’s a great supporting role for Bogart where he gets to explore a lot of character depth and nuance.

Angels With Dirty Faces – 1938

Angels with dirty faces

My Review

—A Must See Cagney Film—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

Full Bogie out of 5 bogies!

Director: Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

Two childhood friends (James Cagney and Pat O’Brien) grow up and go down very different paths after a run-in with the police. One becomes a gangster, and the other a priest.

What I Thought

This film was one of the biggest gaps in my Bogart / Classic Film knowledge. I’ve read a lot about it, had it recommended numerous times, and have even come close to actually viewing it on occasion, but this was the first that time I’ve seen it in its entirety.

Did it live up to the hype? For the first hour – no. Not that I thought it was bad, because it’s actually very good. Cagney is amazing, and my appreciation for him continues to grow. It’s the first Pat O’Brien film I’ve seen so far where I thought that he really got to play a 3-dimensional character, and now I’m starting to understand what all the fuss is about. Plus, I got a little dose of Ann Sheridan, which is always a good thing!

I just didn’t think it was as good as everyone had told me. Up until the last fifteen minutes of the film I was ready to rank this one just below The Roaring Twenties. The script is good, but not great. Director Michael Curtiz does a fine job, but it’s a far cry from Casablanca. And then there’s the fact that Bogart is hardly in the film despite high billing and lots of presence in the advertising.

Then I got to the ending . . . wow.

Without giving anything away (in case you’re also behind on seeing this film), Cagney’s final scene is so powerful that I’m still reeling from it two days after watching the film. The movie certainly didn’t have to end that way. It could have gone with a more audience-friendly finish. Yet Curtiz, Cagney, and O’Brien take what was a good film and elevate it to great with just the last fifteen minutes.

I’ll save my praise for Cagney until later in this post, but if you aren’t haunted by his final moments in this film (where we see nothing but Cagney’s hands!), then you might want to double check whether or not you have a soul. Supposedly Cagney played his final scene with enough ambiguity that the audience wouldn’t know exactly why he was saying what he was saying. Was it honest? Was it a show for his friend and for the press? The choice to play it that way was genius, and makes it my favorite moment of any film of Cagney’s I’ve seen.

The Bogart Factor

If you’re here for a Bogart fix, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. The man is barely in it, and when he is it’s a horribly small and two-dimensional lawyer turned gangster character.

Bogart plays James Frazier, a lawyer who goes into business for himself as a racketeer after he swipes a hundred thousand dollars off of Cagney after Cagney is sentenced to a long prison stint. Most of the role is spent sniveling into a phone, or sniveling to his partner in crime (George Bancroft), or just plain sniveling for his life from Cagney.

Bogart’s trying, but there’s literally nothing here to work with. Why have two crooks in Bogart and Bancroft? Why not just consolidate them into one role and give it a little more meat? It’s probably the biggest shortcoming of the script that we don’t get a better antagonist to work against Cagney’s attempt at creating a new criminal empire.

The Cast

James Cagney plays Rocky Sullivan, the small time hood who grows up to be a big time criminal. Cagney’s onscreen charisma is off the charts in every starring role that I’ve seen, and perhaps there needs to be a Cagney Film Blog somewhere down the road. He more than capably pulls off an incredible amount of likability from the audience even while we watch him do some pretty lowdown things to his friends and the kids he begins to mentor. Perhaps the gift that I appreciate the most is the fact that you can always see Cagney’s mind racing, as if he’s thinking one or two steps ahead of the current plan, racing his mind to cover all the bases. This is great, great, Cagney. And like I mentioned earlier, his delivery of his final lines is so emotionally painful, it’s a rare thing for a movie from this era to disturb me so deeply.

Pat O’Brien plays Father Jerry Connolly, Cagney’s childhood friend and former fellow hoodlum. After Cagney’s arrested and begins a life of crime, O’Brien’s Father Jerry finds the straight and narrow and dedicates his life to helping juvenile delinquents get a shot at a better life. After several films in which I really wasn’t a fan of O’Brien (China Clipper, San Quentin), I have to say that I was really impressed here. His character had a lot more nuance and subtext than the last two films, and O’Brien made me believe he was a man with a darker past. I admit that I was caught completely off guard when he slugged the patron at the bar for giving him a hard time. It was a realistic moment of fury that helped show the fine balance O’Brien was taking to toe the line between ex-criminal and clergyman.

Ann Sheridan plays Laury Ferguson, and GOOD GRIEF is she underused in this film. After falling in love with her in It All Came True, I was pretty anxious to see her in another leading lady role – but this ain’t it! There’s a few moments of promise at the beginning when she starts a relationship with Cagney, but after that, Sheridan is relegated to occasionally popping up to fret over the men of the film and try not to look out of place even though she has little to do. I’m going to have to keep searching for another great Sheridan role I guess . . .

George Bancroft plays Bogart’s partner in crime, Mac Keefer. There seems to be a little more depth here than what Bogart got to play with, but not much. I liked Bancroft and his team of thugs, but I never really bought that any of them were a real threat to Cagney.

The “Dead End” Kids basically play themselves. They are one of the strongest points of the film, and they all get a little more time to shine than they did in Crime School, as their screen time is divided up a little more evenly and Billy Halop doesn’t take all the good lines. What’s most entertaining to me is that this is apparently the film where Bogart finally got fed up with their bad behavior after they stole some of his pants and lobbed fire crackers at him. (Cagney supposedly smacked Leo Gorcy for adlibbing!) The boys are very charismatic, and add quite a few good moments of levity to the film.

Classic Bogie Moment

Not much to work with here! So I’ll just go with a pic that illustrates how no one could smoke like Bogie could smoke –

Angels classic

The Bottom Line

Even though Bogart gets shortchanged, you need to see this one just for Cagney’s performance!

It All Came True – 1940

itallcametrue

My Review

—A Great Comedy— 

Bogie Film Fix:

3.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies! 

Director:  Lewis Seiler 

The Lowdown

A gangster on the run (Humphrey Bogart) hides out in a boarding house run by the mother of his nightclub’s piano player (Jeffrey Lynn). 

What I Thought

This is exactly the kind of movie that I was looking for when I started this journey – a thoroughly entertaining Bogart film that I’d never seen or read anything about.  

On top of that, I had one of those Ah-ha! moments with an actor.  My whole life I’ve heard people rant and rave about Ann Sheridan, but for some reason she’s never clicked with me.  I always figured that I’d just never seen the right movie, and now I have.  What a spitfire.  From her first entrance to her final song, she was amazing.  It makes me want to round up all of her movies that I haven’t seen yet and have a marathon. 

I worry that this may be one of those entries that I get a few negative responses over – perhaps even the one the gets my film blogging license revoked.  It All Came True isn’t rated spectacularly on IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes, but I feel like I’ve found a new movie for my top twenty.  Great cast.  Great direction.  Great timing.  I can’t say enough. 

There were lots of moments that reminded of the all-time great screwball comedies like Arsenic and Old Lace and Bringing up Baby – movies that were able to balance wonderful gags with just enough pathos to keep me hooked on the characters.  What am I missing here?  Why is this movie not on more great comedy lists?!?  Feel free to write me the riot act in the comments below and tell me how wrong I am, but I loved this one. 

The Bogart Factor

Was this the first time that Bogart truly spoofed his iconic gangster image?  I know he’d done some comedies before It All Came True, but Chips Maguire has got to be his first time playing a mobster with such an affable, slapstick edge.  Watching him stumble around his bedroom, gasping and gaping at all the stuffed birds and monkeys, is almost enough to make you forget that he’s blackmailing poor old Tommy (Jeffrey Lynn). 

Add in his relationship with the motherly boarding house proprietors, Una O’ Connor and Jessie Busley, and Chips Maguire becomes downright lovable as he begrudgingly accepts their tender loving care while he “recuperates” in bed.  

Bogart was very, very good at comedy, and I think this film is a perfect showcase for it.  Surrounded by a wonderful cast, you get a great taste of Bogart’s dry wit as he enthusiastically dances, sings, and mugs his way through this film.  (That’s right, you get to see him do a little jig, sing a chorus of “Strolling Through the Park One Day,” and take target practice at a stuffed monkey.)

Not even a year later, we get to see him play a very similar character, “Gloves” Donahue, in the comedy gangster thriller All Through the Night, but I’m pretty sure this movie was his first step towards turning some of his more notable personas on their ear. 

After making my way through two of Bogie’s recent bios, I’m a little shocked that this movie didn’t come up.  It seems like he’s really enjoying himself in the role.

The Cast

Ann Sheridan = perfection here.  Her portrayal of Sarah Jane Ryan goes toe to toe with Bogart’s dastardly gangster, and she does her best to steal every scene.  I’ve already added her to the list of actor filmographies that need to be explored much more deeply. 

Jeffry Lynn is great as Tommy, the nightclub piano man who comes home to his mother and old sweetheart.  He reminds me a little bit of a young Hoagy Carmichael from To Have and Have Not, and for once, I’m not unhappy that Bogart didn’t end up with the girl.  Lynn does very well in the role. 

Una O’Connor and Jessie Busley, as the curmudgeonly Mrs. Ryan and the flighty Mrs. Taylor respectively, play off each other, and their boarding house guests, with just the right amount of silliness without derailing the show. 

Felix Bressart as the failed magician, The Great Baldini, also has a number of scene stealing moments as he repeatedly tries to save his act from his “stooge” of a poodle who is constantly trying to trump his best tricks. 

And Zasu Pitts as the basket case boarder, Miss Flint, garners her fair share of laughs as she spends the movie crying wolf over all the men who supposedly stalk her, until she finally has her nightmares fulfilled in Chips Maguire. 

Classic Bogie Moment

There are quite a few great Bogart moments in this film.  

It’s hard not to see Duke Mantee when Bogart’s lying in bed, pulling the trigger on an unloaded gun as he aims towards a particularly freakish stuffed monkey that haunts him from the wall. 

We also get treated to some classic gangster dialogue as Bogart says lines like, “Don’t worry ‘bout me, baby!  I got myself covered both ways from the middle!”  and, “To think I might get in trouble for pluggin’ a rat like that!” 

But my favorite moment, by far, comes when nutty Miss Flint begins drinking to calm her nerves.  Sarah Jane, afraid that Miss Flint will squeal to the cops, tells her that gangsters like to strangle squealers, seal them in a cemented barrel, and throw them in the river.  Playing off Flint’s fears, Bogart stands just behind her as she’s guzzling champagne, saying offside to an imaginary cohort, “Ya got the barrel and the cement ready? Get plenty of wire!”  It’s enough to send the poor woman over the edge and out the door into the hands of the police where we get another hilarious drunken scene. 

The Bottom Line

This film is too good to be ignored.  I’m going to have to watch it again in a couple of months to see if I’m off my rocker.  I thought it was one of the best Bogart comedies I’ve ever seen.

San Quentin – 1937

san quentin

My Review

— Lackluster — 

Your Bogie Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director – Lloyd Bacon

The Lowdown 

An army man (Pat O’Brien) is brought in to shape up the inmates at San Quentin Prison, only to find out that a troublemaking new convict (Humphrey Bogart) is the brother to a lounge singer (Ann Sheridan) with whom he’s recently become smitten.

What I Thought

Almost all of the ingredients are here for a great film– great actors, capable director, great cinematographer, etc. – but the one thing lacking is an interesting script.

Through no fault of Pat O’Brien, Ann Sheridan, Humphrey Bogart, or Joe Sawyer, there’s just not much excitement or drama to be had in this film.  Everyone seems to be sleepwalking through their parts, especially O’Brien who was more than capable of carrying a good role if he got one.

Perhaps it’s the fact that O’Brien’s Captain Stephen Jameson is just written too blandly to evoke any sympathy.  His range of emotion shifts back and forth between mildly uncomfortable and slightly content.  Perhaps it’s the fact that every time some real motivation for drama occurs, all the tension is quickly let out of the scene with a few lines of dialogue that wraps up any conflict that was about to occur.

Am I being too hard on the film?  Maybe.  I’ll have to revisit it a few months from now and see if I still feel the same way.  Director Bacon made quite a few films with Bogart, some far better than others.  I personally feel like this is one of their less enjoyable collaborations.

The Bogart Factor 

While Bogart gets a lot of screen time in the movie as restaurant thief Joe “Red” Kennedy, he doesn’t seem to have a lot to work with as far as his character arc is concerned.  There are flashes of a charming con man towards the beginning when he meets with Ann Sheridan at a nightclub, but the moment that Bogart’s arrested, he spends the rest of the movie shifting between a hardened convict persona, and a naïve new jailbird who just needs to catch a break to become a better man.  Neither side of the character really has time to stick, so the final payoff for the film felt a little flat for me.  I wasn’t sure that “Red” Kennedy’s final act of redemption felt earned after everything we’d seen throughout the film.

Then again, I hold true to my motto that, “Any Bogart character is a good Bogart character.”  I feel like San Quentin offers us a chance to see Bogart in a role that is often overshadowed by his more iconic film archetypes.  We know the tough as nails gangster, the detached detective, and the loner expatriate, but there were also a number of roles where Bogart ably played a less-than-likable punk – a character who might be a gangster or a convict, but without the audacity or the wit that would make him likable.

I think it’s pretty impressive that Bogart could slightly fine tune his choices from one film to the next to make a gangster cool and dangerous in one movie (Petrified Forest), and a sniveling whiner in the next (Kid Galahad).  He could be confident and in control as one convict (High Sierra), while abrasive and unlikable as another (San Quentin).

Would it have helped if “Red” had been more likable in San Quentin?  I think it would have, but it’s still a great film to see a side of Bogart that doesn’t always make the highlight reels.

The Cast 

Pat O’Brien, as Captain Jameson, really only has a one-note character to work with.  Moments for his character to display some real internal conflict (whether or not to date Sheridan, how to handle an insubordinate MacLane, etc.) are downplayed in favor of his ease and confidence as the Captain of the yard who has a plan that can solve everything.  I think it would have lent a little more weight to the film if the script had allowed him just a bit of vulnerability.  For goodness sakes, he even downplays being shot at the end as if it’s just an inconvenience!

Ann Sheridan gets a little more to work with here as May, O’Brien’s lounge singing girlfriend, than she had in Black Legion.  Sheridan, though, suffers from character inconsistencies as well – playing the sultry nightclub act in the opening, and then switching over to the innocent girl next door type for the rest of the movie.

Barton MacLane is very good as the undermining Lt. Druggin who loses out on the Captain’s job in favor of O’Brien.  I think a little more focus and interaction towards the beginning of the film would have made his payoff in the climax more satisfying.

The real standout of the movie is character actor Joe Sawyer.  Sawyer has popped up a few times so far in this blog, once as a thug in Petrified Forest, and once as an anti-immigrant bully in Black Legion, but here he really has a chance to shine and play off of Bogart as the repeat offender, Sailor Boy.  What I love about so many of these Classic Hollywood studio films is that some of the character actors who appear over and over again seem to really be enjoying themselves in their roles.  Sawyer and Bogart have great chemistry, and their relationship is one of the film’s better components.

Classic Bogie Moment

We get a glimpse of the smooth Bogart gangster during the opening nightclub scene, and a little bit of the vengeful convict later on in prison as he utters the phrase, “I’ll make that guy eat those words if I have to spend a year in solitary!”

Perhaps the more classic moment, however, happens when we get to watch Bogart make a more subtle, physical choice.  One of the skills that Bogart displays so well is the ability to shift emotions right before our eyes.  Specifically, there’s a scene in the barracks as one of the convicts tells Bogart that all his prison perks come because the captain is dating his sister.  Watch the close up on Bogie’s faces as it switches from a wistful smile to a frowning rage, hitting every beat inbetween, in a fraction of a second.  Good stuff.

Don’t Forget to Notice

My “Don’t Forget to Notice” moments have, so far, always been little gems of greatness within a film – usually an actor in a small, but memorable role.  This time, however, there was one moment in the film that I found laugh-out-loud ridiculous.

When Bogart and Sawyer are escaping from the police in a stolen car, we get a long chase scene around country roads, through meadows, and over mountains.  In one abrupt cut, we go from Bogart and Sawyer on a level road, to the sudden insertion of a motorcycle cop missing a mountainous curve and flying off the edge.  Wait, what happened there?  It didn’t even look like they were on the same road!  Was he even close to the bad guy’s car, or did he just lose his concentration and trash a piece of government property?

I can imagine the conversation that must have happened to get the scene put in, though:

Lloyd Bacon:  William, what’s with the motorcycle guy out of nowhere?

Film Editor William Holmes:  Well, Lloyd, I know it doesn’t really fit or make sense, but Eddie busted up his back pretty bad on that stunt, and I kinda felt like we owed it to him to get it in there somewhere.

Bacon:  Yeah, that did look pretty bad.  Stick it in.

The Bottom Line

It’s watchable, but not memorable.  If anything, pay a little homage to Joe Sawyer as he gets more screen time than usual.

Plus – we watch as O’Brien pretends to some police officers that he hasn’t been shot so that Bogart’s “Red” can escape, but what are we supposed to think happens the next day when he shows up to work?  Isn’t anyone going to find it odd that both an escaped convict and the captain of the yard have been shot?  Is O’Brien going to pretend he’s not wounded forever?!?

Ah, the wonders of a less-than-stellar script . . .

Black Legion – 1937

blegion

My Review

—Very Good—

Your Bogie Fix:

4 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

(Although, this might be a fix you only go to once or twice in your life…)

Director – Archie Mayo

The Lowdown

When machinist Frank Taylor (Humphrey Bogart) is passed over for a promotion in favor of a young Polish immigrant, he’s outraged. It’s not long before an ultra-conservative, pro-American, secret society called the Black Legion recruits Frank to join their cause – terrorizing local immigrants in an effort to keep shops and businesses strictly American owned and operated. Soon Frank is involved so deeply within the organization that he cannot keep from getting swept along into a series of brutal attacks, and eventually, murder.

What I Thought

Occasionally there will be a movie that is very well made, and yet so gut wrenchingly powerful that I just can’t imagine sitting through it again. Schindler’s List was this way for me. So was Mystic River. Now I would easily add Black Legion to that category. Loosely based on a true story, Black Legion took me places emotionally that I wasn’t used to going in a normal Bogart film.

It’s easy to distance yourself from a villain on screen when their violence is outlandish and they talk in constant hyperbole, but Bogart’s Frank Taylor is a family man, and his motivations are actually understandable. He feels that he’s been wronged at work. The promotion should have been his based on seniority and his relationship to the company. When he thinks the job is a sure thing, he begins to dream up ways of spending the money – a new family car and a vacuum for his wife.

These are situations we have all been in. Everyone, at some point, gets passed over at work. (Fairly or unfairly, it always seems wrong when it happens to you.) Everyone has those moments where they optimistically hope for the best and dream for a better future, only to have those dreams dashed with a strong dose of reality.

What makes this such a painful film to watch is that Bogart is not the over-the-top gangster or escaped convict that we’ve seen in so many other films. He’s a normal man in a relatable situation. When those types of people begin to make bad choices, choices with motivations that viewers can relate to, they become some of the scariest film antagonists of all.

The Bogart Factor

Director Archie Mayo seemed to be able to get performances out of Bogart that few other directors even got close to. First he directed him as Duke Mantee in Petrified Forest, and then a year later as Frank Taylor in Black Legion. Bogart disappears more deeply into these two roles, I would argue, than many of his other pictures.

Unlike so many of Bogart’s more iconic characters, Frank Taylor struggles intensely with his self-confidence, is easily swayed by emotion, and suffers from a severe lack of impulse control. This isn’t Bogart’s typical in-control bad guy or ethically superior good guy. This is a flesh and blood real man that we are appalled by, but also understand. It’s certainly some of Bogart’s best work.

The Cast

Several other familiar faces from Petrified Forest also show back up in Black Legion.

Dick Foran, who played football-obsessed Boze in Petrified Forest, is here as Frank’s best friend Ed – a simple factory worker who loves his beer almost as much as he loves his girlfriend. Foran is given a much deeper role to work with in Black Legion and does very well representing the voice of the audience as we watch him eventually lose his temper and confront Frank.

Joe Sawyer, who appeared as Duke Mantee’s thug, Jackie, is Cliff, the man who pulls Frank into the Legion. While not given as layered a role as Foran’s, Sawyer has plenty more to chew on compared to his gun-toting thug in Petrified Forest. Sawyer was born to play the tough guy with his square jaw and broad nose, and he portrays Cliff as the borderline-intelligent bully that can cause a lot of havoc with just a little effort.

Perhaps two of the best supporting actors are Henry Brandon as the Polish immigrant Joe Dombrowski, and Clifford Soubier as the Irish immigrant Mike Grogan. Though they are given small roles, Brandon and Soubier are able to make strong supporting appearances as hardworking men who find themselves caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Erin O’Brien-Moore and Dickie Jones play Bogart’s wife and son, Ruth and Buddy. Both capably play their roles realistically without falling too far into the melodrama trap, giving us an incredibly heartbreaking moment in the final court scenes as Ruth and Frank lock eyes for the last time before he’s taken away.

Ann Sheridan appears as Betty Grogan, Ed’s girlfriend. She’s sweet enough in the role but doesn’t get a lot to work with beyond that.

Make Sure to Notice

Helen Flint as Pearl Davis, a local floozy who has a wonderful drunk scene with Bogart after his wife and child leave him. They play it up so realistically, arguing over how to appropriately sing Home on the Range, that we get a rare, but wonderful, moment of levity in an otherwise bleak film.

Classic Bogie Moment

Bogart, who made dozens of movies where he carried and used firearms, stands before a mirror, gun in hand, admiring the way it looks in his grasp. It empowers him with a false sense of security as he “plays tough,” trying to bolster his desperate lack of confidence. It’s a great counter balance to all the other times in his career where we saw him comfortably use a weapon as if it was an extension of his own arm.

The Bottom Line

Black Legion is a definite must-see for any self-respecting Bogart fan, as Bogie does some of his best character work.

A Little Extra

According to the short documentary on the DVD, the machine shop featured in the film where Bogart works is the actual Warner Brothers machine shop with real employees in the background.