Crime School – 1938

Crime School Poster

My Review

—A Mixed Bag— 

Your Bogie Film Fix:

1.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Lewis Seiler

The Lowdown

A gang of inner city youths (The “Dead End” Kids) are sent to a reformatory school that’s in the process of its own reformation when the new Deputy Commissioner of Corrections (Humphrey Bogart) takes over.

What I Thought

This was the first of five collaborations that Director Lewis Seiler did with Bogart, none of which will probably end up being placed in the top 10 of either man’s filmography.  (Although, I’ll contend that It All Came True is a real hidden gem of a comedy).

A remake of 1933’s The Mayor of Hell, the plot, pace, and style of Crime School is also almost identical to another Bogart film that came out just a year before – San Quentin, except now Bogart is in the role of the prison reformer that James Cagney (Mayor) and Pat O’Brien (San Quentin) both previously played.  Crime School is also incredibly similar to another film by Bogart, “Dead End” kid Billy Halop, Gale Page, and Director Seiler that would come out a year later – You Can’t Get Away With Murder, as once again Halop plays a good kid who’s made some bad choices and just needs the right mentoring.  Page would even go on to play the exact same character of an exasperated older sister in You Can’t Get Away With Murder.

So as you’ve probably already guessed, there’s nothing new or groundbreaking going on in Crime School.  That’s not to say it’s terrible – it’s not.  The performances are all decent, the direction is straight forward, and the plot is the “kid friendly” version of what we saw between Bogart and Pat O’Brien in San Quentin.  All that being said, it’s probably not a must-see unless you’re a big Bogart fan, or you really like the “Dead End” kids.

The Bogart Factor

The relationship between Bogart and Halop is by far the strongest asset to this film.  Playing Deputy Commissioner Mark Braden, Bogart is able to pull off a slightly less bland version of a prison reformer than O’Brien was able to.

It is one of the few roles that Bogart’s had where he’s an honest-to-goodness decent and likable guy.  There’s no trace of anger, jealousy, deceit, selfishness, doubt, or dishonesty whatsoever.  It’s nice to see him play such a good character, but at the same time, it kind of sucks all the possibility for any character development right out of the film.  It’s the same complaint I had about O’Brien in San Quentin.  The only difference here, and what I think elevates Crime School slightly above San Quentin, is that Bogart isn’t the main character (like O’Brien in San Quentin) – Halop is.  So we do get to see a somewhat satisfying character arc play out through Halop rather than just watching one person tread water and never change.

The Cast

Billy Halop plays Frankie Warren, the leader of the youth gang that gets sent to the reform school.  Halop is young and green, and it’s another typical “young thug” role for the actor, but he once again holds his own against Bogart.  I still maintain that someone at Warner Brothers was trying to build another B-movie Bogart out of Halop.

Leo Gorcey plays another one of the youth gang, Spike.  Gorcey is the real standout of the film as he gets to play a role that spends much more time in the gray area between good and bad.  It’s a pretty good testament to his acting ability that we can swing between hating him and loving him in the span of the last fifteen minutes of the film.

Gale Page plays Frankie’s older sister, Sue Warren – the EXACT same character she would go on to play a year later in You Can’t Get Away With Murder.  Really?  Another underwritten older sister role?  Page had to have been a little frustrated with the typecasting.  Who knows though, maybe she just loved working with Seiler, Bogart, and Halop.

Cy Kendall plays the abusive corrections officer, Morgan, that Bogart fires and replaces.  He makes a good bad guy, and feels adequately menacing for the role.

Weldon Heyburn plays Morgan’s right hand guard, Cooper, and he’s able to pull off a decent role as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” while spying on Bogart for his old Boss.  I liked him here a lot, but could not get over the fact that he has the exact same voice as Peter Graves.  It’s eerie, I tell ya!

I’m going to lump the rest of the “Dead End” kids together.  Not because they weren’t good, but because they all kind of blend together as their roles aren’t as fleshed out as Halop’s and Gorcey’s.

Classic Bogie Moment

While it was a big part, there wasn’t a whole lot to pick from here as Mark Braden isn’t exactly Bogart’s most colorful role.  But check out this pic below.  Was there anyone who could convey the message of “I’m not impressed” as well as Bogart?  Halop, acting tough and brave, walks into Braden’s office and Bogart plays it as if he’s looking at a younger version of himself – which he sort of is, considering that Halop’s got a character that Bogart played about a dozen times early on in his career:

Crime School classic

The Bottom Line

If you like nice guy Bogart, check it out.  It’s definitely not the worst movie in his filmography, but it’s not a great Bogart fix.

You Can’t Get Away With Murder – 1939

You Cant Get Away With Murder

My Review

—Decent Melodrama— 

Your Bogie Film Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Lewis Seiler

The Lowdown

Johnnie Stone (Billy Halop) is a teenager heading down a dangerous path after he falls in with small time gangster Frank Wilson (Humphrey Bogart).  After being sentenced to Sing Sing Prison for a gas station holdup, Johnnie is torn when his soon to be brother-in-law, Fred (Harvey Stephens), joins him in prison after getting the death penalty for a murder in which Frank and Johnnie were actually involved.

What I Thought

I had to wonder while watching this film if Warner Brothers wasn’t trying to create a new B-movie Bogart gangster with Billy Halop.  One of The Dead End Kids, this was the fourth film that Halop made with Bogart (Dead End, Crime School, Angels With Dirty Faces), and Bogart was clearly an influence on the young actor’s style and presence.

The melodrama can skew a little heavy as Halop wrestles with his secrets while in prison.  There are multiple crying-into-the-elbow moments, and a few “You ain’t the bossa me!” teenage rebellion outbursts with Johnnie’s sister.  While Halop occasionally appears a little green and the sibling tension often seems unmotivated, there are some flashes of good work in his performance.

The film is very watchable, despite the fact that there were a few plot points that I had issues with.  Why was Johnnie so dead set on making trouble when he was surrounded by people who loved him?  Was there supposed to be motivation for his behavior implied by the fact that he had absentee parents?  Why wouldn’t his sister Madge (Gale Page) instantly assume that he and Frank were responsible for the murder after they’re busted for the other robbery?  When faced with a more than typically friendly prison staff and inmates, why does Johnnie wait so long to spill the beans on Frank?

I ended up feeling that Director Seiler was a scene or two short in setting up the unbreakable bond between Johnnie and Frank.  I know that the lure of money and power can be overwhelming for a young kid without direction, but once they were in prison, what kept Johnnie loyal, almost to the bitter end?

Problems aside, there are numerous good scenes of comedy, action, and drama which all help elevate the film above a subpar script.

The Bogart Factor

Playing another one of his “young punks” who thinks he has the world by the tail (á la Up the River, The Bad Sister, Big City Blues, Midnight/Call It Murder, etc.), Bogart gets a good deal of time to flesh out his wannabe-gangster persona as he leads young Johnnie astray.  There’s plenty of cool talk and gun play as the elder thug mentors his protégé on the fine art of the criminal lifestyle.

While not fleshed out to a fully three-dimensional character, Bogart’s still very good as the murdering thief whose over-confidence in his own skills continues to trip him up.  Playing the film’s main antagonist, Bogart’s able to pose a physical and psychological threat to Halop with his performance despite the fact that the script doesn’t give Halop a lot of motivation to fall under Bogart’s sway.

Is it Bogart’s best bad guy role?  Not by a longshot.  It’s not even in the top ten.  But I can’t blame the studio for hiring the guy who could look cool, talk tough, and handle a gun better than anyone else to fill the role.

The Cast

Billy Halop as Johnnie Stone deepens his “street tough” persona beyond what we’ve come to expect from The Dead End Kids.  He often tips the line into over-playing his emotions, but what young actor from the time doesn’t?  Even Bogart had to feel his way through a few dozen films before he fully grasped the importance subtlety and nuance.

Gale Page plays Johnnie’s older sister, Madge, and she does all right with a character who only appears when plot advancement requires it.  Page worked a number of films with Bogart in supporting roles, so it’s always good to see her, but she definitely deserved more depth than this.

Harvey Stephens plays Fred Burke, the fiancé to Madge, and he suffers from the same lack of character development that she does.  Existing for little other purpose than the movie-goer’s sympathy, Fred comes and goes whenever Johnnie needs an extra emotional push to move the story along to the next level.  Stephens doesn’t get the time to shine here as he did in The Oklahoma Kid.

Henry Travers plays Pop, the old timer librarian that tries to mentor Johnnie into a better man.  It’s a character that we immediately expect Henry Travers to play, so there’s no new ground broken here for the well know character actor, but Travers is always a treat, so it’s great to see him.

George E. Stone, Harold Huber, and Bogie Film Blog favorite Joe Sawyer all show up in roles as inmates alongside Bogart and Halop – each with their own great character quirks and scene-stealing moments.  It was especially fun to see Sawyer as Red since it’s the only Bogie film in my memory where Sawyer plays a good guy.  We’re even left with an ambiguous ending for Red as he disappears over the wall.  Did they catch him?  I hope not!  After all those gangster and inmate roles, he deserves at least ONE successful escape!

Don’t Forget to Notice

The stuntmen on this film deserve a lot of credit for the prison escape scene.  Two falls have to happen off of a wall that’s somewhere between fifteen and twenty feet high.  The second one looks incredibly painful, and there’s no appearance of padding or trickery.  I winced for sure!

Classic Bogie Moment

I mentioned the same thing about Cagney in a previous post, but Bogart is an actor that can put on any costume and still look cool.  Fancy gangster suit?  You bet!  Down on his luck bum?  Sure.  Cowboy outfit?  Well . . . except for those silly hats, yes!  To put a bullet point behind it though, just take a gander at these pics of Bogart in his prison gear:

bogart classic 4
With Halop and Travers

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bogart classic 3

This is a prime example of the man making the clothes.

The Bottom Line

Not a must see for non-diehards, but there are a few good glimmers of fun and talent to enjoy here.