Brother Orchid – 1940

brother orchid

My Review

—Decent—

Your Bogie Fix:

2.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Lloyd Bacon

The Lowdown

A comedy crime drama that can’t quite seem to decide whether it wants to be more comedy or more lighthearted drama.

Edward G. Robinson is Johnny Sarto, mob boss and racketeer.  In the opening moments, we see Johnny explaining to his crew that he’s lost his stomach for the violence of mob life and wants out.  Seated at the table is Jack Buck, played by Humphrey Bogart, who’s next in line for the boss’ seat.

What follows is a five year trip to Europe for Johnny, as he leaves everything behind to find some “class and society.”  For some reason, he even decides to leave his longtime gal, Flo Addams (played by the wonderful Ann Sothern), behind – but at least he makes sure she gets a good job as a hatcheck girl in a nightclub.

Long story short, Johnny blows his fortune on a few swindles and bad deals across the ocean and comes home with his tail between his legs, ready to jump back into his old job.  The only problem?  His old employees don’t want him back.

After Bogart uses Sothern to trap Robinson into a failed assassination attempt, Robinson stumbles his way through the woods and winds up at The Floracian Monastery.  Figuring that the monastery would be a good place to lie low for ahwile, he becomes “Brother Orchid,” biding his time before making one last attempt at taking back his gang.

Robinson does a good job of playing the mobster with a good heart, but I personally think he does better with slightly edgier characters.  Sothern is perhaps the most fun part of the film and steals most of the scenes that she’s in.  Bogie is Bogie, and does the best he can with a small role.  Even though he’s third billed, Bogart’s really more of a fourth after being essentially forgotten for the last half of the film, as Donald Crisp’s “Brother Superior” takes over much of the screen time with Robinson.

Crisp, who appeared as Inspector Lane in The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, does well here as the pious mentor to Robinson’s slow-learning gangster.  The scene where Crisp sits with Robinson at the dinner table, after forgiving him for a string of mistakes that have hurt the monks, is especially well done and touching.

Rewatchable?  Sure.  It’s a fine vehicle for Robinson, and a great showcase for Sothern.  But if you’re specifically craving Bogart, you’ll probably pop in a film where he’s got a little more meat in the script.

The Great

Ann Sothern is such a treat!  Specifically, the scene where she pretends to be drunk in order to lure Robinson to a remote nightclub is especially fun.  She even carries on some drunken carousing with an imaginary suitor while on the phone with Robinson.  Sothern is light and charming, and turns what could have been a clichéd moll role into a fun character.  Check out the moment after she hangs up with Robinson in the nightclub as she slowly sits back in her seat, lightly biting her bottom lip.  Director Lloyd Bacon does a great job with that small moment of satisfaction.

The Good 

Ralph Bellamy’s rancher, Clarence Fletcher, has a lot of fun moments for his limited amount of screen time.  He and Sothern have good chemistry, and it is pretty satisfying to see them wind up together in the end.

Allen Jenkins, who plays Willie the “Knife,” has a fun moment or two in an asylum as he’s recruited back into the mob by Robinson.  The character really ends up going nowhere, but Jenkins appears in a number of other Bogart movies, so it’s always fun to see him pop up.

Classic Bogie Moment(s)

Bogart doesn’t get a ton of time to shine here, but a couple things popped out to me.

In Robinson’s opening speech to his gang, Bogart sits back in his chair, taking it all in, as he slowly taps and rotates a sharpened pencil on his leg – eraser, point, eraser, point.  A nice, menacing touch to a scene where he could have just sat passively by and listened.

And one of the subtlest, most satisfying bits of comedy comes when Sothern is asking if Bogart could possibly make up with Robinson.  Bogart replies, “Johnny don’t like me no more . . . makes me feel bad too . . .”  It could come off as pathetic, or creepy, or evil and conniving, but Bogart uses his great comedy chops to pull it off playfully like a wounded puppy, adding a nice touch of humorous vulnerability.

The Bottom Line

It’s a good movie, and definitely worth a watch, even if it’s not the most satisfying Bogart fix.  There’s more than enough to satisfy the classic movie lover though, and it’s a decent vehicle for Robinson.

Fun Fact

According to IMDB, it’s the only movie, out of the five they made together, that Robinson and Bogart don’t die!  Although, they do have a scrappy little fistfight at the end where Robinson gets the best of Bogart.