—A Mixed Bag—
Your Bogie Film Fix:
Director: Lewis Seiler
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.
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:
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.