China Clipper – 1936

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My Review

—Starts Strong, Ends Weak— 

Your Bogie Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Ray Enright

The Lowdown

Dave Logan (Pat O’Brien) is a veteran war pilot who becomes obsessed with the globalization of commercial air transport.  Unfortunately, his passion comes at the cost of his wife, friends, and coworkers.

What I Thought

There was a moment about fifteen minutes into this film where I thought I might have found a real hidden gem.  China Clipper isn’t widely available to watch or purchase, and I was just getting ready to write my complaint email to Warner Brothers when I suddenly understood the lack of enthusiasm behind the film.

This is the second Bogart picture from director Ray Enright that I’ve watched for the blog.  The first, Swing Your Lady, was a lot of silly fun, but certainly had its issues.  China Clipper is a complete dramatic reversal in tone from Lady, and while it starts strong, it eventually peters out, overstaying its welcome by a good thirty minutes.

We watch as Pat O’Brien’s retired war pilot, Dave Logan, passionately decides to follow his dreams after seeing Lindbergh cross the ocean.  He believes that oceanic commercial air travel is the future, and he’s willing to gamble everything to get it.  Perhaps the strongest scene in the film comes with Logan lying in bed with his wife (Beverly Roberts) just after learning that she wants to leave him.  O’Brien pulls her close, apologizes for neglecting her, and then convinces her to stick it out just a little longer.  It’s touching moment, and O’Brien plays it wonderfully.  In fact, the first half of this movie is some of the best work I’ve ever seen O’Brien do, especially when he confronts, and moves on from, his wife leaving him.

The problem comes about midway through the film.  Dave Logan seems to hit the peak of his character arc and just kind of flat lines.  He learns his lesson on why he shouldn’t abuse his friends, family, wife, and coworkers, and he makes his apologies.  Unfortunately, there’s still a good forty minutes left in the movie, and the character apparently has nowhere left to go.  Not only that, but whatever growth supposedly took place is quickly ignored as he reverts back to old habits.  Except now, no one questions him.

If you like to watch repetitive shots of an airplane flying through clouds, maybe you’ll like the ending better than I did, but once O’ Brien’s character began to lose steam, I did too.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart’s enjoyability in this film runs parallel to the movie’s.  For the first half, he’s great to watch as Hap Stuart, Logan’s old war buddy who comes looking for a job with the new airline company.  He’s wry, witty, and loyal – traits not unfamiliar to some of his best roles.  But again, once the film shifts to extended scenes of the final plane flight, we’re relegated to fairly static shots of Bogart sitting behind the controls, doing his best to look focused and alert.

There are a few good moments here, but overall, it’s not a must see performance.

The Cast

Beverly Roberts is good as Dave’s wife, Jean Logan, but there’s not a whole lot of meat in the script for her to work with.  She has a solid scene towards the end, though, when she has a great fight with Dave about working for his airline.

Ross Alexander plays Dave’s closest friend, Tom Collins, and he was the stand out performance for me in this film.  He adds a lot of humor, has a great side story with a ditzy girlfriend, and is able to hold his own on screen with both O’Brien and Bogart.  I was saddened to learn that Alexander’s career was cut short after he took his own life at a young age due to personal turmoil.  I’m going to have to see what else is in his filmography though, as he’s very good.

Henry B. Walthall as Dave Logan’s father, Dad Brunn, is another standout for the film.  He plays Dad as the loving father who’s willing to break his back for his son, and it’s a very sympathetic role.  I was also saddened to learn that he died during the making of this film, and had to be written out.  Ironically, scenes involving Dad Brunn’s weak heart were already shot, and are included in the movie.

Classic Bogie Moment

There’s a scene midway through the film where Bogart takes O’Brien out to a hallway to scold him for his calloused behavior while their coworkers look on.  Watch as Bogart builds up to the big punch after he resigns from the airline.  We get a close up on Bogart’s face, and right before he loses his temper, we see his lips part just a bit and tighten up against his teeth.  It’s a little physicality that I recognized from countless other Bogart movies.  (And a great tell if you were ever in a fistfight with the guy!  If his lips tighten, duck!)

The Bottom Line

While O’Brien has a handful of great scenes, and several actors in his supporting cast are stellar, this one won’t give you a great Bogie fix.  In fact, you’ll find yourself shaking your fist at the screen, wondering why they didn’t just put a mannequin in that danged pilot’s seat for the last twenty minutes of the film.

Two Against the World / The Case of Mrs. Pembroke / One Fatal Hour – 1936

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Note:  The film reviewed for this entry was the TCM version, One Fatal Hour, which is about seven or eight minutes shorter than the original theatrical release of Two Against the World.

My Review

—Pretty Good—

Your Bogie Fix:

3 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director – William C. McGann

The Lowdown 

When a radio station decides to dramatize a twenty year old murder in a grab for ratings, a debate breaks out between the station manager, Bertram Reynolds (Robert Middlemass), and his news director, Sherry Schott (Humphrey Bogart), about the irresponsibility of sensationalizing a real life tragedy.  The matter is complicated when it’s discovered that the murderer in question, Martha Carstairs (Helen Mackellar), is only days away from marrying off her own daughter to a family that has no idea about her tragic past.

What I Thought

I have to admit, anytime I see a movie with multiple titles listed, it usually doesn’t bode well for the quality.  Add to the fact that the runtime for this film is less than an hour (or shortly longer in the full version), and I was well prepared to sit through some awful dreck.  So I was surprised to find that Two Against the World / One Fatal Hour was actually a very tight and enjoyable film.

Based on the play Five Star Final, the story holds up very well as the subject of sensationalized media is as relevant today as it was almost seventy years ago.  Director McGann does a great job of letting us see so many angles of the central argument played out through different pairs of characters – the murderer and her current husband (Helen Mackellar and Henry O’Neill), the oblivious daughter and her fiancé (Linda Perry and Carlyle Moore Jr.), Schott and Reynolds (Bogart and Middlemass), and best of all, Schott and his secretary, Alma Ross (Bogart and a wonderful Beverly Roberts).

The Bogart Factor 

While Bogart is given the lead billing, it doesn’t mean that he dominates the screen time.  Bogart’s presence is heavy towards the beginning of the film and especially again at the end, but most of the middle is taken up with the drama surrounding the Carstairs family.  That being said, when Bogart is on screen, he dominates.

Sherry Schott could be seen as an early prototype for Bogart’s Deadline U.S.A. editor, Ed Hutcheson – an ethical business man who tries to keep his company on the moral high ground amidst less disciplined men.  I always think it’s a real credit to Bogart’s talent that he could play killers and business professionals with equal believability and apparent ease.

His final rant against the station managers shows a passion and fervor that make it easy to see how this was a standout role for a young Bogart.  Sherry Schott is a man of deep, ethical convictions – the type of character that Bogart would go on to play in his more iconic roles over the next two decades.

The Cast 

Carlyle Moore Jr., as the young fiancé, Malcolm, has a rare chance to shine here in a Bogart film.  Playing bellhops in Marked Woman and Kid Galahad (where he had an especially funny moment on an elevator with Wayne Morris) and reporters in several other films, I wonder why Moore suffered through so many small and uncredited roles when he shows such obvious charisma in a movie like Two Against the World.  He certainly plays every father’s dream son-in-law.

Harry Hayden plays the minister, Dr. Martin Leavenworth, who’s hired to write the radio series on the murder, not because of his skill, but because a minister will add some class and credibility to the project.  He does well playing the small and mousey weasel who doesn’t mind taking advantage of a woman who’s trying to put her past behind her.

Much of the rest of the cast (Helen MacKellar, Henry O’Neill, Linda Perry) are adequate, but not outstanding.

The real fun comes with Beverly Roberts as Bogart’s spunky secretary, Alma Ross.  Seemingly always a few drinks ahead of the rest of the world, Ross is quick to act as the none-to-subtle conscience of her boss as she never hesitates to offer her opinion on whatever debate’s on hand.  It’s a role that definitely makes me want to track down her other films.

Classic Bogie Moment

How great is this?  Towards the end of the movie, a dejected Bogart heads to the bar with his secretary in tow.  He barks at the bartender about the radio to, “Shut that thing off!”  After taking a slug of whiskey, he asks the bartender, “Tommy, you ever kill a man?”

It’s as if we’re seeing Ed Hutcheson and Rick Blaine suddenly cross worlds and blend together.  A tough and embittered Bogart drinking in a bar is always magic in film.

The Bottom Line

Short and sweet, this is a solid role for Bogart.  Be warned, though, this is not a happily-ever-after movie.  I have to imagine that the closing violence and condemnation of sensationalist media had to make this film a bit controversial for its time – especially considering that the movie seems to be coming out against the type of entertainment that was promoted so heavily by Warner Brothers’ (the movie’s own company) ripped-from-the-headlines style of filmmaking.

A Little Extra

The movie is also a remake of 1931’s Edward G. Robinson’s vehicle, Five Star Final.