Virginia City – 1940

Virginia City Poster

My Review

—Lots of Fun, If a Bit Overindulgent—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

Full Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

Union officer Kerry Bradford (Errol Flynn) escapes from a confederate prison with two friends (Alan Hale and Guinn Williams) only to later bump into his old Confederate captor, Vance Irby (Randolph Scott), in Virginia City. Irby’s trying to obtain millions of dollars in gold bars for the Confederates, and Bradford’s mission is to stop him. All the while, a young saloon dancer (Miriam Hopkins) comes between them.

What I Thought

Virginia City is a fun old school western with great performances by all the actors (save one . . .), and plenty of tension to keep you hooked until the end.

With a running time of slightly over two hours, Director Michael Curtiz probably could have shaved off about twenty minutes with a few less horse chases and saloon scenes, but that’s a small complaint to have in an otherwise good film.

I thought Curtiz did a great job of making both sides of the conflict over the gold seem sympathetic. Heck, I was even rooting at points for Bogart’s poorly cast (I’ll get to it later…) Hispanic outlaw, John Murrell. Errol Flynn looks to be at his physical best, and while I don’t think that he had as much chemistry with Miriam Hopkins as Randolph Scott did, the love triangle they set up is works well enough to keep you guessing until the end.

It’s a fan friendly film, so even the Confederates don’t really lose out in the end. Having an outside antagonist in Bogart helped make Flynn and Scott’s relationship of mutual respect grounded and believable as they eventually they got team up to do the right thing with the gold.

Very watchable, although not a must see for Bogart fans, Virginia City is a great taste of Errol Flynn’s charismatic power.

The Bogart Factor

Let’s cut to the chase . . . why in the world did they go with the Mexican accent?!? His name is John Murrell – couldn’t they have made him an ex-pat? Especially since they were going to stand him next to REAL MEXICANS for the entire film.

It’s not a big part, and at times you’ll find yourself laughing for the wrong reasons. Bogart would have made a much stronger showing if they’d let him play the role a little closer to the bad guy he portrayed in The Oklahoma Kid.

Not to say that there’s nothing of value here. Bogart’s first scene where he attempts to rob the stagecoach with Frank McHugh, Errol Flynn, and Miriam Hopkins aboard is a fun way to introduce his character. He also has a decent scene (if you can ignore the accent) with Randolph Scott as they strike a mutually beneficial deal while Bogart gets a bullet wound treated.

It’s just the wrong, wrong, wrong movie for Bogart to be in. The part’s small. The accent was a terrible choice. And putting him next to Flynn and Scott accentuated his slight stature in a way that shocked me despite having seen almost all of his films by now! Not his greatest showcase.

Virginia City was shot concurrently with It All Came True, and that might explain a little bit about why Bogart’s part is so small. . .

The Cast

Errol Flynn plays Union soldier Kerry Bradford. Flynn was born and bred to be an action hero, and he commands every frame of any scene that he’s in. Is it his best role? Probably not, but he portrays a much more three-dimensional cowboy than most Westerns of this era were able to pull off. He could ride, he could shoot, and he could get the women! Is there anything that Flynn couldn’t do?

Randolph Scott plays Flynn’s Confederate nemesis, Vance Irby. Scott and Flynn worked really well together in this film as every conversation between them seemed charged with tension. I liked Scott a lot here, and as I’m unfamiliar with most of his filmography, I’ll need to check him out a bit further.

Miriam Hopkins plays the Confederate spy Julia Hayne. Falling in love with both Scott and Flynn, I thought Hopkins did a great job in the role despite getting a bit razzed by critics at the time. She does a wonderful job of portraying a woman who’s torn between fulfilling her duty and following her passion.

Alan Hale and Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams play Flynn’s sidekicks, Moose and Marblehead respectively. I loved these two guys in this film, and they create so much of the comic relief that it’d be an entirely different movie without them. It’s a true showcase of how to use supporting actors to elevate the quality of a film.

Frank McHugh, a Bogie Film Blog favorite, shows up as Mr. Upjohn, a very nervous man who gets robbed on the stagecoach with Flynn and Hopkins. Any moment that you can get with McHugh on screen always delivers, and this is no exception!

Classic Bogie Moment

Well, with another small part playing a two-dimensional bad guy, at least that means we get a good death scene, right?

Virg City Bogart Death

The Bottom Line

This one is at the bottom of the Bogart bucket, but it’s a must see for Classic Western and Errol Flynn fans!

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!

The Inafferrabile Leslie Howard

Inafferrable Leslie.png2

One of the great things about participating in the classic film blog community is that I get to meet and chat with so many great folks who are passionately writing about their favorite film topics.

This week I was lucky enough to talk with Ginevra Di Verduno (a pen name), an Italian who runs the Leslie Howard fan site, The Inafferrabile Leslie Howard. Leslie Howard had such a huge influence on Humphrey Bogart’s success, that when I came across Ginevra’s site I couldn’t resist making contact to learn a little more about Howard from someone who’s working hard to keep his legacy alive.

Ginevra apologized for English not being her first language – but as you’ll see, her English is probably better than mine, and most certainly better than my Italian!

Bogie Film Blog: Ginevra, can you tell us a little about yourself? What you do, where you are, who you are, etc. . .

Ginevra Di Verduno: I do not like to talk about myself, and I think my story is not so important, after all. I am Italian, English is not my mother language. Ginevra Di Verduno is a pen name, but I think my identity is not relevant. I have been studying and researching Leslie Howard’s life and career for years, he has become the centre of my interests.

BFB: Fair enough! The Bogie Film Blog keeps a few similar secrets, after all! Can I ask how you became a fan of Leslie Howard? What was the first film you remember seeing?

GDV: In my preadolescence years, I met for the first time the character of Sir Percy Blakeney, invented by Baroness Orczy in her novel The Scarlet Pimpernel. The incredible adventures of the English baronet who braved dangers to save the French aristocrats from the guillotine, hidden behind the mask of a spineless fop, fascinated me and remained impressed in my memory. Some years later, when I became an avid spectator of the old black-and-white cinema, I met my childhood crush again in the famous film version of The Scarlet Pimpernel produced in 1934 by Alexander Korda. Korda’s movie was adapted quite freely from baroness Orczy’s novel, and the main character, Sir Percy Blakeney, was played by Leslie Howard.

Like most Italians of my generation, I already knew Leslie Howard for his role of Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind. I was not enthusiastic about that film, and Ashley had not impressed me so much. In that role, Leslie Howard inspired me mixed feelings. I certainly loved him better than Clark Gable’s Rhett, because of my instinctive antipathy for Rhett and his type of male character. Nevertheless, though I admired Leslie Howard’s aristocratic elegance in Nineteenth Century clothes, there was something peculiar about his beautiful face that made me feel uneasy. His face was veiled by a sort of painful melancholia, perfectly suited to the sad, resigned character of a Southern gentleman who saw his world disappear. I did not know Leslie Howard loathed that role [and] that he had even refused to read Margaret Mitchell’s novel. I did not know that the making of Gone With the Wind coincided with a crucial moment in his personal and professional life, with the turning point that had forced him to leave Hollywood and go back to England. That melancholia was not only a matter of acting skills.

As Percy Blakeney, Leslie Howard was sensational. I realized that he must have been exceedingly amused when playing that role. The ravishing grace of his movements and the unequaled irony of his speech won me over. His slender, elegant figure was enhanced by the Eighteenth Century clothes, and the close-ups on his youthful face – actually, he was forty-one, but he looked ten years younger – highlighted his eyes, so intensely expressive. He fully embodied my Percy Blakeney, as I had fancied him when I was eleven. I discovered a great actor I have never ceased to love.

BFB: What made you take the leap from fan to blogger in order to honor Leslie?

GDV: I am convinced that Leslie Howard is incredibly underrated by today’s public. The present generation knows him only as Ashley Wilkes, a role he did not love. Many people have never watched classic movies like Berkeley Square, Of Human Bondage, [and] The Petrified Forest. They do not know what a shining Broadway star he was when Hollywood producers started to lure him by offering him the most flattering roles opposite the greatest female stars. He even said no when offered a leading role with Greta Garbo. Under his suave appearance, he was stubborn and strong-willed; he knew perfectly well what he wanted and did not hesitate to put pressure on producers to get it. That is what he did to help Humphrey Bogart to get the Duke Mantee role in The Petrified Forest.

I think it is a shame that after Leslie’s death his name has been almost forgotten. I wonder why the British Film Institute has not taken the initiative of preserving his memory. He chose to leave Hollywood and go back to England to make his films there in very hard times, when many English actors, directors, and producers went the opposite direction. I think his Country should be more grateful to him.

Before I created my blogs (Inafferrabile Leslie on WordPress and Leslie Howard Forever on Tumblr), there were only a few web pages about Leslie Howard. I felt I needed to fill that gap; I wanted to bring him back into the spotlight. I am still working hard, because he deserves a greater recognition than my personal efforts can obtain.

Leslie Tumblr

BFB: Can you talk a bit about Leslie’s history? Hollywood has a habit of mixing myth and truth. For instance, is it true that he got into acting for trauma therapy after the war?

GDV: Leslie Howard’s life is a fascinating and rather mysterious history, mainly because the truth about him is still partially hidden behind the public image carefully built up by the Hollywood studios during the Thirties. He was an unconventional man, who refused to adapt himself to the rules of the star system. His behavior was really a thorn in the flesh for producers, and still is for researchers. He rarely appeared at social events, he was very keen on his privacy, he scarcely gave interviews, and when he did, he only talked about acting and film-making.

His interest for the stage had started when he was still a boy. His sister Irene described him as an avid reader of any kind of plays, “from Shakespeare to Sutro,” often shut in his room writing stories and plays. He firstly wanted to become a writer, and later a director and producer. He always thought his success as an actor was just an outcome decided by chance.

Before the First World War he had worked as a bank clerk, but he was extremely unhappy in that position. So when he left the army in 1916, he decided he would not come back to his old occupation. He had recently married Ruth, who shared his love for the stage and was very supportive. Leslie’s mother was a warm supporter, too; she loved theatre and had even acted in several amateur productions. So Leslie haunted a theatre agent until he got a role in a touring company, and that was the beginning of his extraordinary career.

The story about Leslie Howard taking acting as a trauma therapy is absolutely fantastic. In spite of all the tales about his being shell-shocked during the war, there is no evidence that he even went to the front. Of course, this was an uncomfortable topic to be discussed during the Twenties. The First World War was a real massacre, and those who escaped death felt somewhat guilty. Leslie never talked about his war experiences. When asked about this, he always changed the subject.

I am particularly interested in Leslie Howard’s career on stage. Today, this is probably the least known part of his life, though he was extraordinarily popular on Broadway during the Twenties. His first Broadway role was Sir Calverton Shipley in Just Suppose at the Henry Miller’s Theatre in 1920. In 1927, he became a matinée idol as André Sallicel in Her Cardboard Lover, stealing the show from the famous actress Jeanne Eagels. Then Berkeley Square made a real star of him, in 1929. Hollywood producers could no longer ignore his great popularity.

Anyway, Outward Bound was not his first film. In 1919, when he was still in England, Leslie Howard had founded a film production company with his friend Adrian Brunel. Their company had a short life, but they produced several short films, and Leslie played the leading role in two comedies, Five Pounds Reward and Bookworms. He was always interested in film production.

BFB: Of all the films that Leslie Howard acted in, which one would you say is your favorite and why?

GDV: This is a very hard question for me, because I love all his performances, for different reasons. He was such a great actor; he really could play convincingly any kind of role. Hollywood producers tried to cage him in romantic roles, but he was not easy to handle. After his first movies, he had signed strong contracts which allowed him to go back on stage when he wished and to say the last word about a story or a character or a partner he did not like. Today we may discuss his choices, but he surely made them because he was convinced that he could perform on a high level, and because he thought the film was an interesting experiment, as he did when accepting to play Romeo in Thalberg’s Romeo and Juliet. The only role he accepted without being convinced is Ashley Wilkes.

If I have to choose just one film, maybe my favorite one is Pygmalion. Henry Higgins is the perfect Howardian role. Though G.B. Shaw did not agreed on the choice of Leslie Howard as Higgins, I think Leslie gave such an inimitable performance in that role that he has become the unavoidable reference for the following generations of actors.

BFB: How about the films that he directed? Is there a favorite?

GDV: Apart from Pygmalion – that he co-directed – my favorite is Pimpernel Smith. There is so much of Leslie Howard’s soul and wit in that film. It is almost prophetical.

BFB: Can you talk a bit about the circumstances surrounding his death? If I’m remembering right, his plane was shot down by the Germans during WWII, and there is some suspicion that he might have been a decoy for Winston Churchill. Do you have a theory on the rumor?

I am afraid that all these speculations about Leslie Howard’s death have been distracting the attention from his life and career. I do not believe that the shooting down of his plane was a case of mistaken identity. Churchill was too conspicuous; I am convinced that the Germans knew all his moves perfectly well. Leslie’s son, Ronald, believed that his father was the real target of the attack. Leslie had an active and prominent role in English propaganda, his radio broadcasts had made a sort of national symbol of him.

Some theories hint that Leslie Howard was on a secret mission when travelling to Portugal and Spain. I do not know whether he was really involved in intelligence activities or not. He surely was a convinced and fierce opponent of Nazism.

BFB: One of the things I love about Classic Hollywood blogs is that they’re a great jumping-off point for many folks who are looking for more info on their favorite actors and films. If there’s a fan out there that really wants to know more about Leslie’s life, is there a book, website, or documentary that you’d recommend for them?

My favorite book about Leslie is Ronald Howard’s In Search Of My Father. In my opinion, Ronald caught his father’s personality better than anyone else. There is a deep understanding and empathy running through those pages; I have read Ronald’s book several times, and I always feel sincerely moved.

Leslie Ruth’s book A Quite Remarkable Father is very entertaining. She was a lively, outspoken person, and Leslie adored her.

Another important book is Trivial Fond Records, a collection of Leslie’s writings edited by Ronald. Leslie was really a gifted writer. I hope his writings will be reprinted, in a complete edition, including his play, Murray Hill.

And of course, I am looking forward to watching Tom Hamilton’s documentaries. I hope they will be released very soon.

BFB: Can you tell us a bit about Hamilton’s campaign to fund the Leslie Howard documentaries?

In 2006, while visiting Toronto for the International Film Festival, Tom Hamilton met Leslie Howard’s grand-daughter who invited him to visit her mother – Leslie Howard’s daughter. At Leslie Ruth’s home, Tom Hamilton discovered some 4 and a half hours of home movies which were in danger of decaying. Leslie Ruth’s stories of her father were so fascinating and illuminating that Tom had the idea of making a documentary about Leslie Howard using the interviews and the home movies.

The small-scale project evolved into a larger one when Tom started to interview Leslie Howard’s colleagues, as well as writers and historians who had studied his life. Besides, each interviewee had strong views and opinions relating to Leslie’s death. In the end, Tom decided to create two distinct films, one – Leslie Howard: The Man Who Gave a Damn – illustrating Leslie’s life and career, the other – The Mystery of Flight 777 – examining the 70 year old mystery surrounding the attack and shooting down of civilian passenger Flight 777 over the Bay of Biscay. A special contribution is the comment provided by Derek Partridge, who was only a child in 1943 and escaped a tragic death because he had to give way to Leslie Howard aboard the ill-fated Flight 777.

The two documentaries are now in the post-production phase and should be released in 2014. There are still costs to be covered, so Tom Hamilton has launched a new campaign on Indiegogo to raise the funds needed to complete post-production and legal clearance. All contributions, even small ones, can help to reach the goal. I am actively participating in this campaign, and I hope we will have the support of all Leslie’s fans.

BFB: Can you tell us something about Leslie Howard that most people don’t know?

GDV: Leslie always wore a signet ring on the little finger of his left hand, with the Blumberg family crest on it (his mother’s maiden name was Blumberg), and a gold sovereign Ruth had given him, at a chain around his neck. He was rather superstitious.

BFB: Ginevra, I just want to thank you again for letting me talk to you a bit, and I look forward to following your site and eventually seeing the Leslie Howard documentaries! Thank you!

 

Zasu Pitts

Zasu Pitts

Birth Name: Eliza Susan Pitts

Birthdate: January 3, 1894

Number of films Zasu Pitts made with Humphrey Bogart: 2

The Lowdown:

Named after her father’s two sisters, Eliza Susan Pitts would later legally adopt the stage name “Zasu” (pronounced SAY-ZOO by the actress). Cutting her teeth in the theater, Pitts would go on to become a prominent silent film actress before transitioning to the talkies, Broadway, and then finally finishing out her career with a series of supporting roles on television.

Only sharing two small roles with Bogart, and mostly used for comic relief, I was struck by how compelling Pitts could be onscreen. Dour-faced and grumpy, she could still steal every scene she walked through with just the right flustered expression or an angry “Hmm!” Having never seen Pitts before I watched It All Came True, she was one of the first actresses that I’ve come across for this blog that I instantly wanted to explore further.

While I’ve only begun to chip away at the legacy of work that Pitts has left behind, here’s a short summary of her work with Bogie.

The Filmography:

The Bad Sister – 1931

The Bad Sister - Zasu Pitts

Pitts plays Minnie, the maidservant to the Madison family. I thought Pitts had the standout performance of the film with her impeccable timing and ability to get laughs with little more than a frustrated “Hmm!” every time one of the main characters did something to complicate her life. I think one of the hardest roles to pull off is the likable grouch, but Pitts proved she was more than up for the challenge. Apparently, after her career in the silent films, Pitts was often relegated to smaller roles like this one in the talkies and used mostly for comic relief. While she may not have been given the full opportunity to shine here, she definitely helps save this dramedy from melodramatic overindulgence.

My original write-up on the film can be found here . . .

It All Came True – 1940

It all came true - zasu pittsAnn Sheridan with Pitts . . .

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Pitts plays Miss Flint, the addle-minded boarding house tenant who shares a bathroom with Bogart’s gangster on the run, Chips Maguire. It’s another scene stealing performance for Pitts as she spends most of the movie snooping on Bogart’s toilet habits and fretting over imaginary stalkers. Of all the films that I’ve watched for the blog so far, It All Came True has been one of the real hidden gems that I believe deserves a lot more notice. Pitts plays a wonderful basket case, and while I felt that she was a little underused (couldn’t we have had a little less of the other boarders and more Zasu?), she has a number of good scenes with Ann Sheridan and the other goofball characters that are sharing a house together.

My original write-up on the film can be found here . . .

In Closing . . .

A quick perusal of Twitter and Google shows me that there are quite a few Zasu fans out there keeping her memory alive with a lot of love and affection. While she may not have been a major player in Bogart’s life, her work elevated the quality of two of his smaller films. This’ll will hopefully be one of those posts that I’ll be able to add to over time as I continue to explore her filmography!

Zasu Pitts’ IMDB page can be found here . . .

Zasu Pitts’ Wiki page can be found here . . .

The Usual Suspects is an ongoing series of posts about some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators. You can check out other entries in the series here.

Isle of Fury – 1936

Isle Poster

My Review

—Well, I did promise to watch them all…—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

.5 Bogie out of 5 bogies!

Director: Frank McDonald

The Lowdown

A newly married pearl trader (Humphrey Bogart) in the South Pacific becomes fond of a man (Donald Woods) that he saves from a shipwreck, only to find out that his new friend might severely complicate his life . . .

What I Thought

I tried to be specifically vague with my description of the film because almost every other plot synopsis that I’ve read gives away a major plot twist without even mentioning that it’s a plot twist. That being said . . .

This might be the worst Bogart movie that I’ve watched for the blog so far. Is it unwatchable? No. There are a few fun bits tucked away here and there. There’s an outrageously goofy fight between Bogart and an octopus that clearly marks Isle of Fury as a B-movie. There’s also a little bit of chemistry to be had between Donald Woods and Margaret Lindsay. I’d even give a nod to some decent work from E.E. Clive as Dr. Hardy. Beyond that – this movie doesn’t have a lot going for it.

I put almost all of the blame on the plot. When the twist is revealed, you might think that this film had a lot more potential than it delivered. But even the twist comes too late, as its set up occurs at the very end of the film, just before the big reveal.

It’s also pretty tough to feel any sort of sympathy whatsoever for Bogart’s pearl merchant, Val Stevens. So you’re telling me that there’s only one marriage-aged bachelor on this island and one marriage-aged bachelorette, and the moment that another young man arrives, the recently betrothed husband doesn’t get a little bit nervous? Bogart spends most of the film practically throwing his new bride at Donald Woods shipwrecked stranger.

Within moments of acknowledging that he doesn’t know a thing about Woods, Bogart asks him to walk his wife back to her hut through the dangerous jungle. Later, Bogart encourages Woods to dance with his wife because he doesn’t like dancing. Then comes a scene where Bogart asks Woods to drop in on his wife once in a while because he works so often and she gets lonesome. And let’s not forget Bogart asking Woods to carry his wife through hip deep water so she won’t get wet – despite the fact that Bogart is also walking through the water and could carry her just as easily.

We get it. The plot requires Donald Woods and Margaret Lindsay to fall in love. But Director McDonald seemed to feel the need to beat the notion into us to the point of absurdity. Even after all of that, even when Bogart seems to suspect that Woods and Lindsay might have feelings for each other, Bogart offers Woods a job because, well . . . he really likes him!

I hate talking badly about any Bogart or Classic Hollywood film because we only have a limited supply to last us for the rest of eternity! Isle of Fury though, is probably only a must see for Bogart completists.

On a more positive note, the special effects are a treat. The storm scenes raise the bar for what I expect from a B-movie, and the giant octopus fight is so over-the-top bad that it’s enjoyable.

Isle of Fury is a remake of 1933’s Douglas Fairbanks Jr. vehicle – The Narrow Corner. While I haven’t seen The Narrow Corner, it does receive slightly better reviews than Isle of Fury, so I’m intrigued. The plot has enough potential to work if executed well, so I can see why the studio wanted to give it another run.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart supposedly hated this film so much that he even denied making it on occasion. It’s certainly a bad film, but once again, he has nothing to be ashamed of except for his mustache and wardrobe:

costume

Bogart, as always, throws himself into the role with full gusto, but the script and the direction let him down in the end. Like Crime School, Bogart’s character is so squeaky clean and nice that there’s no room for any character development. That can work for a character if they’re in a smaller side role, but not for the lead. It’s not until the end of the film that we find out there was really something darker lurking beneath Val Stevens. Unfortunately, it comes too little and too late for any sort of decent exploration.

The Cast

Margaret Lindsay plays Bogart’s wife, Lucille Gordon. She looks great, but the part is underwritten and left with absolutely no subtext whatsoever. When it comes time to build the relationship between Lindsay and Woods, Director McDonald wastes no time with subtlety.

Donald Woods plays Eric Blake, the shipwrecked man that complicates Bogart’s life. Again, much like Lindsay, there’s little for Woods to do here as his part is poorly written. He has a few nice moment of chemistry with Lindsay despite the poor script, and a nice scene with E. E. Clive

E. E. Clive plays Dr. Hardy, close confidant and personal physician to Bogart and everyone else on the island. If anyone besides Bogart has a chance to shine here, it’s Clive. With the most well rounded character in the whole film, Clive does well holding together what few good scenes Isle of Fury can claim.

Classic Bogie Moment

This film was low on what I would consider “classic” Bogart scenes. BUT! There was one moment, just before boarding a boat, that Bogart straps a gun to his waist. When Lindsay asks him what the firearm is for, Bogart replies, “I’m so used to wearing one of these things, I feel undressed without it!”

classic

It’s a small, and I’m sure unintentional, nod to all of his great gangster and detective roles that would follow, but I’ll take what I can get!

The Bottom Line

It’s not hard to figure out why this film is so hard to find. . . but that poster! That almost makes it worth it, doesn’t it?

Lux Radio Theater – Bullets or Ballots – 1939

My Sign

My Review

—Great for Robinson Fans— 

Producer:  Cecil B. DeMille 

Honorary Bogie Fix:

Radio Fixes 2 out of 5 Radio Bogies!

The Lowdown

A cop (Edward G. Robinson) goes undercover to bust up the organization of a big time racketeer (Otto Kruger).  All the while, he has to keep his numbers running gal pal (Mary Astor) happy while trying to steer clear of a gun toting henchman (Humphrey Bogart).

What I Thought

I’m really getting into these Lux Radio Theater recreations of some of Hollywood’s most classic movies – especially when the original stars are on hand to recreate their roles.  Here we have Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart reprising their roles from the film, and while Joan Blondell doesn’t reappear, she is replaced by Mary Astor and it’s pretty satisfying to hear her work with Bogart again.

Robinson, much like Bogart, translates perfectly to the radio.  Whenever he’s speaking, it sounds just like audio from the film.  It didn’t give me the same classic film fix that the radio versions of The African Queen or To Have or Have Not did, but it’s listenable, and it’ll probably get another play on my next long car drive.

There’s a fun, and very staged, interview with a real criminologist during the intermission, and Cecil B. DeMille is producing, so he does the introductions.  Plenty of advertisements are made for Lux Toilet Soap.  The only real complaint that I had was that this show wasn’t taped in front of a live audience, so anytime there’s applause, it’s clearly just DeMille and a couple of stage hands, making the production seem a little bit smaller.

Plus, character actor Frank McHugh isn’t back to play his role from the film, which is always a loss!

The Bogart Factor

Bogart’s back as ‘Bugs’ Fenner, and unfortunately the part seems to have been trimmed back quite a bit.  It’s neat to hear him recreate the role, but when you don’t get to see him brooding in the background during all the gangster scenes, the lack of menace is a noticeable loss for the production.

He sounds just like the ‘Bugs’ from the film and it’s always fun to hear Bogart interact with Robinson, but there’s not quite enough here for a solid Bogart fix if you need one.

The Cast

Edward G. Robinson is the undercover cop, Johnny Blake.  Robinson’s a professional, and he seems to be putting in as much energy for the radio show as he did for the film.  If you’re a Robinson fan, you’ll certainly enjoy the broadcast.

Mary Astor is the numbers running racketeer Lee Morgan.  The part’s been trimmed from when Blondell had the role, so there’s not a whole lot to work with here.  But we get to hear her team with Bogart again, and the two have a couple of good scenes together!

Otto Kruger is playing the role that Barton MacLane played in the film, racketeer Al Kruger.   Again, with the roles trimmed for radio, he doesn’t get a lot of time to shine, and frankly, who can live up to MacLane?  The guy was great in the film!

Classic Bogie Moment

There weren’t really enough scenes for anything to pop out, but like in my review of the film, I’d like to point out that ‘Bugs’ was right the whole time!  Blake was still working for the cops, and if Kruger and the rest of the gang had just listened, they would have been a lot happier – and alive!

How many times was one of Bogart’s gangsters actually smarter than his cohorts, and yet he still always seemed to end up at the wrong end of a gun.  Oh, well . . .

The Bottom Line

Worth a listen if you’re a Robinson fan or if you’d like to hear Astor and Bogart get back together for a few scenes.

Lux Radio Theater – To Have and Have Not – 1946

THAHN Radio2

My Review

—Recaptures a Lot of the Fun— 

Producer:  William Keighley 

Honorary Bogie Fix:

Radio Fixes out of 5 Honorary Bogies!

The Lowdown

Charter boat captain Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) works as a fishing guide for tourists in Fort de France, Martinique during World War II and does his best to stay out of the way of both the Axis and the Allies.  When he begins to fall for young grifter Marie Browning (Lauren Bacall), Morgan takes a dangerous job transporting members of the French resistance so that he can make enough money to buy Browning a ticket home.

What I Thought

This is the second Lux Radio Theater program that I’ve listened to for the blog, and once again, I found it thoroughly enjoyable.  Unlike Lux’s version of The African Queen, the cast for this one is slightly larger, and so it does come off sounding a bit more like a radio play rather than actual audio from the film.  Regardless, Bogart and Bacall are great, and as I’ve already listened to the recording a half a dozen times on car trips, I’d highly recommend a listen if you’re a Bogart fan or a fan of Classic Hollywood.

The 1 hour and 40 minute film is pared down to about 50 minutes, so there’s a lot from the movie that’s cut out.  Hoagy Carmichael’s “Cricket” is gone from this version, as is all of the music from the nightclub/hotel where Bogart stays.  The parts of “Frenchy” and “Captain Renard” are also condensed considerably for the broadcast.  What’s left is mostly the interactions and relationships between Bogart and Bacall, and the actor playing Walter Brennan’s “Eddie.” (It’s probably Tim Graham, Jack Kruschen, or George Sorell – I found a partial cast list but not who played which parts.)  Still, what remains is often wonderful – and the Walter Brennan impersonator is spot on!

I do feel like Morgan comes off as a less sympathetic character here though, as we lose all of Bogart’s mannerisms, wry grins, and longing stares from the film.  Morgan’s motives in the movie seem much more altruistic than they do in this production, as it really sounds as if he’s taking the job with the French resistance strictly for the money.

At the end of the show, in the “candid” moment onstage between Bogart and Bacall, we find out that this broadcast was taped in order to promote their 1946 film, The Big Sleep.

The Bogart Factor

While listening to this broadcast, I started to think about all of the wonderful things that I’ve read about Bogart’s early stage career.  None of those early theater shows were taped, so we’ll never get to see how good he was on stage – BUT – I think that these radio broadcasts are probably a pretty good example.  Taped in front of a live studio audience in one take (you even occasionally hear Bogart flub, and correct, a line or two), Bogart recreates Harry Morgan with such precision that it’s easy to forget you’re listening to a radio show and not the audio from the film whenever he’s talking.  Like I mentioned before, I think the fact that we don’t get to see a lot of Bogart’s trademark mannerisms keeps us from getting some of the more subtle subtext that he could convey with a sarcastic look or an intimidating glare.

I would highly recommend this one if you’re a big Bogart fan.  There’s plenty to love in his performance.

The Cast

Lauren Bacall reprises her role as Marie “Slim” Browning.  While she does just fine in the radio version and still has a lot of chemistry with Bogart, it is a little more obvious that she’s not as comfortable behind the mic/onstage as he is.

Tim Graham does an amazing impression of Walter Brennan’s drunk Eddie from the film and makes this recording worth a listen on his own.  And Jack Kruschen, and George Sorell fill out the cast as Inspector Renard and Gerard respectively.

Classic Bogie Moment

Four words:

“Go ahead, slap me!”

The Bottom Line

Need a Bogart fix on the road or on a plane?  Download it as a podcast.  You won’t be sorry.