Racket Busters – 1938

Racket Busters Poster

My Review

—Ugh—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

1 Bogie

 

 

 

Director: Lloyd Bacon

The Lowdown

A truck driver (George Brent) has to rally his fellow drivers when a gangster (Bogart) threatens to turn their union into a mob controlled racket.

What I Thought

Let me sum this one up for you quickly to save some time:

A brave man stands up to a gangster. The gangster starts hurting people. The brave man instantly caves and joins the gangster’s racket. One of the brave man’s friends dies. The brave man returns . . . a little too late in my opinion . . . and finally saves the day.

Director Lloyd Bacon is by no means a shoddy director. Working with Bogart on seven different films – Marked Woman, San Quentin, Racket Busters, The Oklahoma Kid, Invisible Stripes, Brother Orchid, and Action in the North Atlantic – this film is by far the weakest out of all of their collaborations together. And that’s saying something, considering how maligned The Oklahoma Kid has become for casting Bogart as a black hat villain against James Cagney’s white hat good guy. (Although, in the spirit of full disclosure, I really, really liked The Oklahoma Kid.)

The main problems with this film are firmly rooted within the script. It’s pretty hard to root for a hero that abandons his friends until they start to get beat up and die. Maybe if they’d stopped short of actually killing Brent’s friend and mentor played by George O’Shea – you know, maybe just put him in a coma – our sympathies for Brent’s heroic revival might have been achievable.

As it is, I found it very challenging to root for Brent at all. I was just waiting for someone, including his main gal, played by Gloria Dickson, to stand up and shout, “Uh, thanks! But where you a few days ago when everyone wasn’t injured or dead?”

Am I being too hard on this film? Maybe. Maybe I’m just sore because Bogart is used in only the most basic and bland ways as the lead villain. But this one sure seems like a big misstep between an actor and a director that worked pretty well together.

The Bogart Factor

Playing gangster John ‘Czar’ Martin, this isn’t a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it part for Bogart, but it’s not much more. He makes a brief appearance every once in a while in order to boss his goons around, but I’d be shocked if any of his scenes here last more than forty-five seconds.

Considering that this is another one of his tough-as-nails gangsters, you would think that it’d be a slam dunk to let Bogart do some of the heavy lifting with the beat downs and the gunplay. Instead, I think the most dramatic scene that he’s involved in before the final shootout involves a massage table and some snarky dialogue.

This one’s not a must see for anybody.

The Cast

George Brent plays Denny Jordan, our main truck driving protagonist. It’s no fault of Brent’s that this one is a lemon. He showed us some good stuff alongside of Bette Davis in Dark Victory and In This Our Life, but the script here completely fails him. On a positive note, he does a great job pulling off a more blue collar role than I’ve seen him in before.

Gloria Dickson plays Brent’s wife, Nora, and that’s about all you really need to know about this underwritten role.

Allen Jenkins is one of the few bright spots in the film, playing another trucker, ‘Skeets’ Wilson, who opens up his own tomato company during the trucking racket controversy. Still, the writers weren’t able to give a guy as amazing as Jenkin’s more than one or two mild laughs.

Bogie Film Blog favorite Penny Singleton plays Jenkin’s wife, Gladys. She’s another small bright spot in the film, but her part’s even smaller than Bogart’s.

Oscar O’Shea plays the truck driving foreman, Pops. O’Shea comes out the best here, as you’ll like his character so much by the time that he dies that you’ll want to give up on the film just for being so cruel. Yes, small spoiler there. But you need to prepare yourself for one of the dumbest script choices in Bogart’s filmography.

Fifteen time Bogart collaborator John Ridgely shows up for a tiny role as a truck driver who calls Brent “yellow.”

Classic Bogie Moment

There’s very little to pick from here, but Director Bacon has a mildly creative crime montage where Bogart is superimposed in the background, smoking and smirking. I guess it’s kind of interesting:

Racket Buster Classic

The Bottom Line

For Bogart completists only.

In This Our Life – 1942

In this our life poster

My Review

—A Thrilling Look at a Sociopath— 

Bogie Film Fix:

NO BOGIE NO BOGIES out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  John Huston

The Lowdown

Stanley Timberlake (Bette Davis) is a woman who’s never afraid to take what she wants.  Unfortunately for her sister Roy (Olivia de Havilland), Stanley wants her brother-in-law Peter (Dennis Morgan).

What I Thought

Here’s my first major disappointment while blogging about Bogart.  While I really loved this movie, it was a huge letdown for me to discover that Bogart is nowhere to be seen within it.  According to every online and book-bound Bogart filmography available, Bogart’s credited with a small cameo in the film.  IMDB says he’s an uncredited dancer on a roadhouse table.  The official Humphrey Bogart Estate site claims that he has a cameo as a tavern owner.  After a careful, frame by frame, examination of both bar/tavern scenes, I can definitively say that Humphrey Bogart is nowhere in this picture.

Directed by John Huston, rumor had it that Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and a few others had appeared in the movie as background players for a scene to add a little “in-joke” for Huston fans.  Whether the scene was cut out from the film, or just a hoax to begin with, none of them are visible.

So!  Moving forward – while I’m disappointed that I didn’t find Mr. Bogart, I made a decision early on to blog about every Bogart film in his filmography, and this film is still listed in his credits!  (Plus, it’s a great movie and deserves as much attention as it can get!)

Bette Davis and George Brent are reunited for the second time on this blog (the first being Dark Victory) in a completely different kind of relationship.  Stanley Timberlake (Davis) is in a committed relationship with Craig Fleming (Brent), but she dumps him in a heartbeat when her brother-in-law Peter (Dennis Morgan) agrees to run away with her.

It’s a wild role for Davis, as she’s playing a much more ruthless, heartless, selfish, borderline-sociopathic role than usual.  Instead of using her girl next door charms to win over hearts, she uses them to slowly destroy her relationships with friends and family, and then to literally destroy several lives.  She’s a liar, a cheat, a scoundrel, and temptress – and it’s truly an amazing role for the young Davis.

One of the best things about the film is that we’re left to ponder one of the big unexplained mysteries of the script – why do Davis and de Havilland’s characters both have male names?  My guess (and perhaps it’s actually explained in the novel that the film is based on) is that their father wanted boys, and they were raised in a house filled with subconscious regret and resentment.  Could this have led Stanley down her road of deviousness?  Is this what hardened Roy’s heart to move on so quickly after her husband leaves her?  It’s not explained, and doesn’t need to be, but it’s a great bit to ponder long after the film is over.

This was my first viewing of In This Our Life, and I’ve never heard or seen much press on it before.  John Huston has filmed a great psychological drama/thriller, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Bogart Factor

He doesn’t factor in at all!  What’s the story?  How did this rumor start?  Was a scene actually filmed?  Did Huston find it too distracting to have all those famous stars in the background?  Was the scene cut from my newer copy of the film?  Is Bogart really there, but all we get is an elbow or the back of his head?  Was it a hoax started by a fan or reporter?  Does the scene exist but in a different movie?

There are two scenes that take place in a bar/roadhouse.  I watched them both on an HD screen multiple times.  If Bogart’s there, it’s so slight that it makes no difference.  Part of me wants to argue that it’s probably a hoax, as it would seem silly to get all those stars together just for a short joke.  But if they were all still under contract, they could have all been on the lot, and it might have been an easy shoot . . .

Either way, I’ve emailed the Humphrey Bogart Estate to ask them their opinion, and I’ll post it if I get a response!

The Cast

George Brent and Olivia de Havilland were excellent as the spurned lovers, Craig Fleming and Roy Timberlake.  I thought Huston handled their courtship with perfection, and it was a much more believable take on how people fall in love in the real world, rather than with cinema magic.

Dennis Morgan has plenty of angst in the role of Peter Kingsma, Davis’ wild fling that goes horribly wrong.  I need to check out his other films!

Perhaps the standout of the film is Charles Coburn as Uncle William.  There’s a great scene in his den as Bette Davis tries to ask/flirt for money.  It’s here that we get the crux of Stanley’s tragic flaw as Uncle William explains to her that they’re both cut from the same cloth.  When they want something, they just take it – regardless of the consequences.

Classic Bogie Bette Moment

I’ll give Bette Davis an honorary nod here since Bogie’s not in the film.

There was a second in the movie that I was almost ready to give Bette’s wild home-wrecker one more chance.  She’s standing by her new console radio with her shoes resting on top of it, daydreaming about some unknown mischief.  As the music plays, she subtly begins to dance the shoes with her hands in time to the music.  It’s exactly the kind of thing that would have made me fall in love with her in any other film, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that creeps you out as you watch it here with Davis in such a dastardly role.

The Bottom Line

No Bogie, but GREAT Bette.  I’ll take it.