The Return of Doctor X – 1939

drx

My Review

—A Campy Blast—

Bogie Film Fix:

My Sign  (Un-ratable – an honorary 3 Undead Doctors!)

Director:  Vincent Sherman

The Lowdown

When reporter Walter Garrett (Wayne Morris) stumbles across the body of a murdered actress and calls the police, he soon finds himself in hot water after the body disappears and he’s accused of making a false report.  Later, when the dead actress shows up alive, Garrett loses his reporting job and teams up with a doctor (Dennis Morgan) to investigate a series of mysterious deaths that involve a mad scientist (John Litel) and his undead assistant (Humphrey Bogart).

What I Thought

I don’t know what else to say except I absolutely loved this film.  I had heard and read so much about it over the years (it’s terrible camp, the script is awful, Humphrey Bogart hated it, he was forced into the role by the studio, it’s unwatchable, etc. . .) that I might have over-prepared myself to dislike this movie.

I’m not a huge fan of films that are considered “so-bad-they’re-good.”  It might get me a lot of hate email to write this, but I went to showings of Plan 9 from Outer Space and The Rocky Horror Picture Show in college and I left disappointed both times.  What was the big deal?  How can someone watch and rewatch movies that are so bad?  If I’m going to spend a large portion of my time at the cinema, I’d much rather see something good!

I think the difference with The Return of Doctor X is the fact that this is a horrible movie that’s actually directed very well.  Vincent Sherman’s first film as a director, The Return of Doctor X is a fast paced one hour and two minutes of well shot silliness.  The cinematography is great, the actors are committed, and the production value is high.

The only real problem with this film is the script . . . and yes, I realize that a terrible script is a pretty big problem to have.  But it’s terrible in a slap-your-forehead-funny kind of way.

Dr. Rhodes (Dennis Morgan) wants to help reporter Walter Garrett (Wayne Morris) investigate the murders, but he has a date with a nurse (Rosemary Lane)!  He can’t cancel the date because that would be impolite, so what does he decide to do?  Bring her along, of course!  Even though bringing her along means that all she does is sit in the car until one a.m. and then go home, but it’s better than letting the poor woman sit at home alone, right?

Then there’s the moment that reporter Garrett convinces Dr. Rhodes that he should help him investigate the possible resurrection of a mad scientist.  They need to run over to the cemetery to see if Humphrey Bogart’s Dr. X is really dead.  (Don’t worry, Garrett has a friend who’s a caretaker at the cemetery and he’ll apparently let them dig up any body that they want, no questions asked – cause, you know, reporters should be able to do that kind of thing.)  The whole conversation is this simple:

Garrett:  The burial took place at Greenlawn Cemetary.  Okay, let’s go out to the cemetery and find out tonight.

Dr. Rhodes:  (SHRUGGING NONCHALANTLY, AS IF JUST ASKED OUT FOR COFFEE)  All right.

No argument.  No conversation.  No exclamations or questions of, “Are you mad man?  Digging up corpses in the middle of the night?  You’re a reporter and I’m a respected surgeon!  What are you thinking?!?”  Just a simple, “Yeah, you betcha.  Let’s go!”

And, of course, there’s the final gun fight, where the police apparently deem it appropriate to give guns to a doctor and a reporter that they were ready to arrest only moments before.  Every hand in a gun fight helps, right?

Plus, we get lines like:

Garrett:  (ON THE PHONE, REPORTING THE INITIAL MURDER) There’s nobody here except a monkey, and he couldn’t have done it!

Exactly why does a retired actress have a pet monkey?  It’s not explained, and apparently doesn’t need to be.  That’s just what retired actresses do.  (I’m guessing there was a monkey on the studio lot that day and director Sherman figured, Aw, what the heck, why not?)

Then there’s Dr. Flegg discussing his undead assistant, Quesne (pronounced “Cane”):

Flegg:  (WISTFULLY) His interest in blood almost equals my own.

This seems like a perfectly acceptable thing to say when you’re in a conversation with another doctor, as Rhodes doesn’t respond with, “That’s the creepiest doggone thing I’ve ever heard!  What’s up with that forked goatee and the weirdly suspended monocle?”

Do you know what this film reminds me of?  One of those standalone episodes of The X-Files where the humor was intentional and dark, and the series took a moment to satirize itself.  (It even has an obsessed investigator teamed up with a skeptical doctor!)  The Return of Doctor X, after more than seventy years, came off to me more like a self-aware spoof of a mad scientist horror movie than a film trying to take its genre seriously.  While this may not have been the original intention, the film’s tone gives it a little more room to breathe within its own absurdity.

Director Vincent Sherman would also go on to direct Bogart again in All Through the Night in 1941, a comedy gangster film where Bogart fights the Nazis in New York.  With the tone of that movie leaning so closely to spoofing gangster films, I have to wonder how much of The Return of Doctor X isn’t done with tongue firmly placed in cheek.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart may have hated this film, but you have to give him credit, he threw himself into the role.  There’s no sense that he’s sleepwalking through his lines or dissatisfied with his character.  The Return of Doctor X is another reason that I’ve come to deeply appreciate Bogart’s work ethic as an actor.  Regardless of what role he plays, he always seems committed.  If you’re going to force him to play an undead mad scientist, then he’s going to play an undead mad scientist!

I realize that I’m looking through the lens of someone who is a huge Bogart fan and that I’m seven decades removed from the film’s original theatrical release, but isn’t it great to see a Hollywood legend take a role like this?  A zombie doctor!  Is there anyone else of Bogart’s stature that even tried a character so outlandish?  Stewart?  Grant?  Flynn?  At most, they might have played a villain, but nothing close to sci-fi horror.

Check out his entrance in the film as he strokes a rabbit in full mad scientist gear, and greets Wayne Morris:

drx

“Looking for something?  Perhaps I can help you. . .”

Surely James Bond’s nemesis, Ernst Blofeld, was borrowed just a bit from Bogart’s Doctor X?

The Cast

After not giving him much credit for his character in Kid Galahad, I was happy to see Wayne Morris do such a good job with his Wichita-hick-moved-to-the-big-city reporter Walter Garrett.  Morris seems like a good natured guy in real life, and was an actual WWII war hero, so I’m happy to see him do good work here.  He’s bumbling, affable, naïve, and just charming enough to make his character fun.  If you want to read a little more about him, I’d suggest you check out a quick write up on the guy at Comet Over Hollywood here.

Dennis Morgan, as Dr. Michael Rhodes, comes off as the type of melodramatic physician that would fit perfectly into an afternoon soap opera, and I thought he was a great choice for the role.  He’s able to deliver dialogue that has little or no motivation behind it in a believable and engaging way.  I’d like to check out more of his filmography.

Rosemary Lane as Nurse Vance seems to have been a bit of a throwaway role – her character really only existing as a plot device.

John Litel as Dr. Flegg is good and appropriately creepy.  It helps that they went all out on his character design – giving him a monocle (How does that thing stay in place???) and a strange, forked goatee.

Classic Bogie Moment

This character was so out of Bogart’s normal realm that I thought it was going to be tough to find a “Classic Bogie Moment,” but then we came to the film’s climactic gun fight.  As you watch Doctor X attempt to shoot his way out of the cabin, just try and tell me that you’re not reminded of Duke Mantee’s final gunfight in The Petrified Forest!  Bogart even uses the same physicality of holding his hands at his waist in both roles.

The Bottom Line

You need to make some good food, invite a bunch of classic film fans over, and have a good time with this movie.  You could make a drinking game out of it, taking a swig every time Wayne Morris and Dennis Morgan look dramatically over their shoulders at one another, but you’d probably be dead from alcohol poisoning based on the last fifteen minutes of the movie alone.

For another fun write up on The Return of Doctor X, you should check out this post on Balladeer’s blog!

And for a great insight into some post-silent film stars who make an appearance in the film, check out this post by @moviessilently!

Three on a Match – 1932

3onamatch

My Review

—VERY GOOD—

Your Bogie Fix:

1.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  – Mervyn LeRoy

The Lowdown 

The film follows three grade school classmates, Mary (Joan Blondell), Vivian (Ann Dvorak), and Ruth (Bette Davis), as they grow up, go their separate ways, and then reconnect at a beauty parlor.  When Vivian turns her life upside down after deciding that she’s unhappy with her marriage, Mary and Ruth stand by helplessly and watch their old acquaintance throw her life away with a long series of poor choices and a severe struggle with substance abuse.  Although Vivian’s life careens out of control, her misfortune ends up leading Mary and Ruth to a better life as they assume the roles of wife and mother that Vivian leaves behind.

What I Thought

Well, this was my first step into the Pre-Code era of Hollywood, and boy was it a doozy.  I admit, I have a number of large gaps in my cinema knowledge, and this period between the late 1920’s and early 1930’s is one of them.  I just didn’t have a lot of exposure to the films of this time until now.

That being said. . .

Within the first ten minutes of the movie, you’ll see kids showing off their “bloomers,” smoking, and dancing suggestively.  By the end of the movie, you’ll have seen adults drinking, high on drugs, wearing see-through nightgowns, and falling from several stories onto a busy street in a very realistic suicide scene.  It’s provocative filmmaking to say the least, and let me tell you, it’s captivating.

From beginning to end, this is a wild ride through the lives of three young women who start out on very different paths (bad girl, popular diva, straight ‘A’ student) and end up places that they never thought they’d be – some good, some disappointing, and some outright horrible.  It’s exciting, dramatic, occasionally funny, often stimulating, and eventually very painful to watch.

I really enjoyed this movie, but after Black Legion, Two Against the World, and now Three on a Match, let’s just say that I’m ready for more of a pick-me-up Bogart movie.

The Bogart Factor

The movie is barely over an hour and Bogart doesn’t appear until about forty-seven minutes into the film, so there’s not a lot of time spent with his character.  When he does show up however, his role largely dominates the storyline until the end of the film.

Playing Harve, the number one thug to a mobster named Ace (Edward Arnold), Bogart shows up with a gang of toughs to shake down Vivian and her new boyfriend after they kidnap Vivian’s young son Junior in an attempt to extort her wealthy ex-husband.

It’s a scene-stealing role for Bogart, as his cool and detached onscreen persona overpowers every other actor in the frame.

While not a large role for Bogie, it’s definitely worth seeking out.

The Cast 

Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak, and Bette Davis are all superb and perfectly cast.

Blondell is so good, I can’t wait to catch up with her in other roles.  Fortunately, I won’t have to wait long as she’s apparently in a few other Bogart movies on my list.

Dvorak is able to play both high class and depravity with equal strength, and it’s a role that makes me want to explore the rest of her filmography.

Then there’s Bette Davis, who supposedly spent her time on the film at odds with Director LeRoy who didn’t appreciate her acting, which probably explains why her character is the least developed of the three.  I don’t know what Leroy was seeing, as Davis is just as gorgeous and fun as ever.  (Yes, I’m well aware that this blog is turning into a Bette Davis fanblog . . . I don’t know what to say.  She’s becoming more and more an obsession with me all the time.)

Warren William, as Vivian’s ex-husband Robert Kirkwood, is very good, and another actor with a filmography I need to explore.

Lyle Talbot plays Michael Loftus, Vivian’s shifty, flop-sweating, junkie of a boyfriend who gets into debt with Bogart’s boss.  He’s just good looking enough to con you, and just oily enough to hate.  He’s does well in the role.

Child actor Dickie Moore plays Dvorak and William’s son, Junior, and does a good job of being cute and heartbreaking at every possible moment.  (For a good piece on Moore, check out @HollywoodComet’s review of Dickie Moore’s book about being a child actor here, as she is currently in the midst of a child actor blogathon.)

Classic Bogie Moment

There aren’t a lot of scenes to pick from, but towards the end of the film, when Harve and his thugs are hold up in Vivian’s apartment, Bogart, dressed in a charcoal suit and black fedora, sits hunched in a chair, commanding the room on sheer charisma as he tells his crew about the cops canvassing the streets.

Perhaps Bogie’s best line, and maybe the most chilling line of the film, comes after Bogart strong-arms Dvorak into a room and slams the door.  Dickie Moore approaches and whimpers:

Moore:  You musn’t hurt my mama.

Bogart: (SNEERING) Okay, I’ll bear that in mind.

The Bottom Line

Although short, this is a classic gangster role for Bogart.  Even though he’s not in it for long, it’s a great film, an easy watch, and a fun early Bogart role.  If you’re really jonesing for a Bogart gangster film though, you might want to pair it up with something like High Sierra just to get a good fix.

Black Legion – 1937

blegion

My Review

—Very Good—

Your Bogie Fix:

4 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

(Although, this might be a fix you only go to once or twice in your life…)

Director – Archie Mayo

The Lowdown

When machinist Frank Taylor (Humphrey Bogart) is passed over for a promotion in favor of a young Polish immigrant, he’s outraged. It’s not long before an ultra-conservative, pro-American, secret society called the Black Legion recruits Frank to join their cause – terrorizing local immigrants in an effort to keep shops and businesses strictly American owned and operated. Soon Frank is involved so deeply within the organization that he cannot keep from getting swept along into a series of brutal attacks, and eventually, murder.

What I Thought

Occasionally there will be a movie that is very well made, and yet so gut wrenchingly powerful that I just can’t imagine sitting through it again. Schindler’s List was this way for me. So was Mystic River. Now I would easily add Black Legion to that category. Loosely based on a true story, Black Legion took me places emotionally that I wasn’t used to going in a normal Bogart film.

It’s easy to distance yourself from a villain on screen when their violence is outlandish and they talk in constant hyperbole, but Bogart’s Frank Taylor is a family man, and his motivations are actually understandable. He feels that he’s been wronged at work. The promotion should have been his based on seniority and his relationship to the company. When he thinks the job is a sure thing, he begins to dream up ways of spending the money – a new family car and a vacuum for his wife.

These are situations we have all been in. Everyone, at some point, gets passed over at work. (Fairly or unfairly, it always seems wrong when it happens to you.) Everyone has those moments where they optimistically hope for the best and dream for a better future, only to have those dreams dashed with a strong dose of reality.

What makes this such a painful film to watch is that Bogart is not the over-the-top gangster or escaped convict that we’ve seen in so many other films. He’s a normal man in a relatable situation. When those types of people begin to make bad choices, choices with motivations that viewers can relate to, they become some of the scariest film antagonists of all.

The Bogart Factor

Director Archie Mayo seemed to be able to get performances out of Bogart that few other directors even got close to. First he directed him as Duke Mantee in Petrified Forest, and then a year later as Frank Taylor in Black Legion. Bogart disappears more deeply into these two roles, I would argue, than many of his other pictures.

Unlike so many of Bogart’s more iconic characters, Frank Taylor struggles intensely with his self-confidence, is easily swayed by emotion, and suffers from a severe lack of impulse control. This isn’t Bogart’s typical in-control bad guy or ethically superior good guy. This is a flesh and blood real man that we are appalled by, but also understand. It’s certainly some of Bogart’s best work.

The Cast

Several other familiar faces from Petrified Forest also show back up in Black Legion.

Dick Foran, who played football-obsessed Boze in Petrified Forest, is here as Frank’s best friend Ed – a simple factory worker who loves his beer almost as much as he loves his girlfriend. Foran is given a much deeper role to work with in Black Legion and does very well representing the voice of the audience as we watch him eventually lose his temper and confront Frank.

Joe Sawyer, who appeared as Duke Mantee’s thug, Jackie, is Cliff, the man who pulls Frank into the Legion. While not given as layered a role as Foran’s, Sawyer has plenty more to chew on compared to his gun-toting thug in Petrified Forest. Sawyer was born to play the tough guy with his square jaw and broad nose, and he portrays Cliff as the borderline-intelligent bully that can cause a lot of havoc with just a little effort.

Perhaps two of the best supporting actors are Henry Brandon as the Polish immigrant Joe Dombrowski, and Clifford Soubier as the Irish immigrant Mike Grogan. Though they are given small roles, Brandon and Soubier are able to make strong supporting appearances as hardworking men who find themselves caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Erin O’Brien-Moore and Dickie Jones play Bogart’s wife and son, Ruth and Buddy. Both capably play their roles realistically without falling too far into the melodrama trap, giving us an incredibly heartbreaking moment in the final court scenes as Ruth and Frank lock eyes for the last time before he’s taken away.

Ann Sheridan appears as Betty Grogan, Ed’s girlfriend. She’s sweet enough in the role but doesn’t get a lot to work with beyond that.

Make Sure to Notice

Helen Flint as Pearl Davis, a local floozy who has a wonderful drunk scene with Bogart after his wife and child leave him. They play it up so realistically, arguing over how to appropriately sing Home on the Range, that we get a rare, but wonderful, moment of levity in an otherwise bleak film.

Classic Bogie Moment

Bogart, who made dozens of movies where he carried and used firearms, stands before a mirror, gun in hand, admiring the way it looks in his grasp. It empowers him with a false sense of security as he “plays tough,” trying to bolster his desperate lack of confidence. It’s a great counter balance to all the other times in his career where we saw him comfortably use a weapon as if it was an extension of his own arm.

The Bottom Line

Black Legion is a definite must-see for any self-respecting Bogart fan, as Bogie does some of his best character work.

A Little Extra

According to the short documentary on the DVD, the machine shop featured in the film where Bogart works is the actual Warner Brothers machine shop with real employees in the background.

Kid Galahad – 1937

gala

My Review

—Good, Harmless Fun—

Your Bogie Fix:

1.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  – Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

Boxing promoter Nick Donati (Edward G. Robinson) and his girlfriend “Fluff” (Bette Davis) stumble across an unknown fighting phenomenon when they witness a bellhop (Wayne Morris) knock out an experienced fighter at a hotel party.  Donati immediately sees dollar signs in the bellhop’s championship potential, while his girlfriend Fluff starts to fall in love.  The only problem?  The boxer that the bellhop knocked out works for mobster “Turkey” Morgan (Humphrey Bogart), and Morgan is willing to do whatever it takes to get his revenge on the bellhop, and the fast talking Donati.

What I Thought

It’s a by-the-numbers Warner picture for the time it was made.  It’s not bad, but it’s not great.  It’s predictable, but fun. Robinson and Davis definitely save the day with their great portrayals, turning it into an enjoyable film.

The Bogart Factor 

Well, Bogart’s present, I guess.  It’s my lowest “Bogie Fix” review so far, so that should tell you something.  He doesn’t get a lot of screen time, and when he does, he’s relegated to being the stock mob-guy character.  He is able to put a slight twist on it though, making “Turkey” Morgan more of a sniveling whiner than a cutthroat gangster.  This film’s much more suited for a Robinson or Davis fix, as the viewer can go for extended periods of time with no Bogie in sight.

The Cast 

Robinson and Davis as the leads do what they do best.  Robinson is every bit the real life caricature that we’ve all grown to love, and Bette Davis is gorgeous and fun.

Davis plays ‘Fluff’ with a girl-next-door quality that left me wondering for the first half of the movie how she ended up with Robinson.  There is a brief scene in a car with Morris where she alludes to a darker past, but come on, Bette!  You can do better!

The first party scene in the hotel though, where she’s serving drinks in a flower print dress with a low neckline . . . whew – she is GORGEOUS!

bette

Wayne Morris is okay.  He’s big, and stiff, and perhaps a little more dopey than what the script called for.  Although, I was amazed at how much charm he could exude with a smile.  One smile, and you can’t take your eyes off the guy.  I can see why the studio thought he had potential as a leading man.  He’s capable enough and does his job in this movie, but if you want a better dose of him, you should check out Paths of Glory.

Jane Bryan, who played Davis’ kid sister in Marked Woman, shows up here as Robinson’s kid sister, Marie.  She plays young and naïve, and we believe she’s the country brat who falls in love with the farmboy boxer.  The more I see of Bryan, the more impressed I am as she elevates any movie she’s in – and I have to admit that I’m starting to develop a little thing for her . . .

Don’t Forget to Notice. . . 

Ben Welden, who was so good as the menacing enforcer, Charlie, in Marked Woman, appears here as Morgan’s right hand man, Buzz Barett.  Notice that with only the addition of an ear-to-ear grin, his presence goes from menacing in Marked Woman to incredibly smarmy in Kid Galahad.  This guy is so much fun to watch in the background of any scene he’s in.

Classic Bogie Moment

There was not a lot to pick from, but there is one neat shot towards the end of the movie after the climactic boxing match.  Bogart’s “Turkey” Morgan needs to lure the cops away from Robinson and Morris.  We get a wonderful shot of him lurking behind a chain link fence, cigarette dangling from his mouth – and then moments later, a great silhouette of Bogie with his gun drawn.

galahadgalahad 2

The Bottom Line

The movie is enjoyable enough that it should be on any Bogart fan’s list, but I’d advise you to double bill it with a 3+ Bogie Film Fix to make sure that you’re not jonesing for more Bogie later!  How about Petrified Forest?  Then you can spend countless nights pining away for Bette Davis just like I do now.  On second thought, that much young and gorgeous Bette Davis might be too powerful for any mortal man to handle . . . be careful!

A Little Extra

Wayne Morris’ life and career were cut short after a heart attack when he was forty-five.  Even at that young age, he still had a good, long list of credits.  Make sure you check him out in Kirk Douglas’ Paths of Glory where he gets a better role to shine with!

We’re No Angels – 1955

angels

My Review

—Very Good—

Your Bogie Fix:

3.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  – Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

This is the best hobby I’ve ever had.

Part of the reason that I started this journey of blogging through every Bogart movie was so that I’d finally catch up on some of the classics that I’d never seen.  We’re No Angels definitely falls into that category.  Why, oh why, did I wait so long?

Joseph (Humphrey Bogart), Albert (Aldo Ray), and Jules (Peter Ustinov) are three escaped convicts from Devil’s Island who are looking for a boat to get them back to France.

(So now, within the span of just ten randomly picked Bogart movies, he’s played a District Attorney twice and an escaped prisoner from Devil’s Island twice.  I knew Bogart had his fair share of gangster and detective roles, but there were apparently other, very specific, character types that he gravitated towards.)

Joseph, Albert, and Jules need money to get the clothes and the papers that they’ll need to get on a boat.  Naturally, being thieves and murderers, they decide to steal them.

Joan Bennett and Leo G. Carroll play Amelie and Felix Ducotel, local shop managers who unwittingly hire the three men to fix their leaky roof.  It’s not long though, before the three convicts become quite useful to the couple around the shop.  Joseph, the conman, can sell merchandise that’s been on the shelves for years.  Albert can tend to the Ducotel’s eighteen year old daughter, Isabelle, who’s facing a crisis of the heart.  And Jules?  Well, Jules pops in from time to time as the group’s moral conscience – keeping Albert’s lustful urges at bay while steering Joseph towards helping the Ducotel’s rather than robbing them blind.

Just as the convicts begin to grow too fond of the store managers to rob them, an even larger problem arises.  The store’s owner, Cousin Andre (Basil Rathbone), appears on the doorstep with Isabelle’s love interest, Paul (John Baer).   The curmudgeonly and nitpicky Andre wants to do a full store audit and get rid of the Ducotels.  Paul has news for Isabelle that he’s marrying another woman and Isabelle is no longer the love of his life.

What follows is a pretty funny series of events where the three convicts do what they can to help the Ducotels – instinctively trying to solve every problem with the skills they know best – murder and thievery.

If you’re a fan of dry and subtle humor, We’re No Angels will be a bonanza of great fun for you.  Bogart, Ustinov, and Ray are all so talented at underplaying a joke that this film can often times near the line of “dark comedy,” although I don’t think it ever steps over.

The Great

Cast, cast, cast.  You know a cast is great when you begin looking up the actors on IMDB before the film is even over, just so you can find other movies they’ve been in.

I admit that I know very little about Peter Ustinov and even less about Aldo Ray.  Both actors fight Bogart tooth and nail in every moment they’re together, as they each take turns stealing scenes.  The chemistry is near perfect – and I’d especially direct you towards two scenes in particular:

1.  The three convicts washing dishes.  Bogart blindly tossing dishes to Ustinov is goofy and wonderful.  All three play the scene with a Three Stooges-like detachment which adds to the magic that’s happening right in front of them.

2.  A slow-build scene towards the end of the movie when the three men try to decide who will tell Cousin Andre that there’s a poisonous snake in his room.  The way they play down their delight as they toy with one another, carefully drawing out the conversation while pretending to be concerned, is by far the top gag of the film.  If you don’t enjoy it for the comedic genius that it is, both by the actors and script, then there’s something wrong with you.

And of course there’s Basil Rathbone.  The man can exude loathing in such a way that it fills a room like fog.  I need to go back and rewatch some of his Sherlock Holmes work.  The man commands the screen.

The Good

Based on a French play by Albert Husson, and adapted for the screen by Ranald MacDougall, most of the film takes place within, or near, the confines of the Ducotel’s shop.  Unlike a lot of movies based on plays, the limited location doesn’t ever feel confined or claustrophobic.  I never found myself saying, “Why don’t they ever leave?  How come we don’t get to see Bogart get the turkey?  How come we don’t see the prison escape?”  While all of those moments might have been fun to see, director Michael Curtiz does a wonderful job of keeping what’s happening in the shop interesting enough that the viewer doesn’t want to leave.

Classic Bogie Moment

Perhaps my favorite moment from all ten films so far – Bogart and Ustinov are in the kitchen preparing the Christmas dinner and Gloria Talbott enters, complimenting Bogart on the pink apron that he’s donned for his work.  She tells him that it really brings out his eyes.  The moment she exits, Bogart grabs an absurdly large knife and turns to Ustinov, pointing it at him:

Bogart: (WITH MENACE IN HIS EYES) Say something.  Go ahead, say anything at all . . .

Ustinov:  (PLAYFULLY HONEST)  Joseph, it’s true.  It does bring out the color in your beautiful brown eyes. . .

Bogart could have gone dramatically over the top with the threat.  Ustinov could have played melodramatically silly with the line.  Both men though, nail it.  Great. Comic. Timing.  Who could mix menace and comedy in the same scene as well as Bogart?  (Maybe Peter Lorre . . . maybe.)

The Bottom Line

This had to be a film that Bogart was proud of.  It is the best display of his comedic skills that I’ve seen so far, and the film holds up very well, nearly sixty years later.   So glad I popped this in last night!

Fun Tidbit?

Not a fact so much as a fun discovery.  Joan Bennett was Elizabeth Collins Stoddard on Dark Shadows!  Is it bad that it took me half the movie to figure out why I knew her?  Is it even worse that I recognized her from Shadows before I remembered Father of the Bride?  The answer to both questions is “yes.”

The Enforcer – 1951

Enforcer

My Review

—A Decent Thriller—

Your Bogie Fix:

3.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Although Bretaigne Windust is credited, Raoul Walsh was brought in after only a few days of filming when Windust was taken to the hospital, seriously ill.  Windust would not return in time to finish the picture.

The Lowdown

Well, I think I’m finally ready to start writing a book entitled Where Have All the Character Actors Gone?  While the old school studio system with its contract players might not work in today’s world, it sure did produce a heck of a lot of solid men and women who could play side roles so well that an entire movie could be elevated.

Bogart is Assistant District Attorney Martin Ferguson, a man in desperate need of sleep when the movie opens, and even more desperate need when it wraps up.  (What are the odds that I’d randomly pull two movies in a row where Bogart’s a desperate District Attorney?  How many can there be?)

ADA Ferguson is one night away from going to trial with Albert Mendoza (Everett Sloane), a man that he believes to be the mastermind behind a criminal ring of hitmen, and the police have just brought in the one and only witness that can make the case stick.

Ted De Corsia plays Joseph Rico, Mendoza’s second in command, and he’s the last chance that ADA Ferguson has left to put Mendoza in prison.  Rico has other ideas though, as he knows that there is nowhere he can run to escape Mendoza’s grasp.  Rather than rat out his boss and pay the consequences, Rico makes a break from a third story window, and then makes a lot of breaks as he hits the ground after losing his balance on a ledge.

Ferguson and his right hand man, Captain Frank Nelson (Roy Roberts), are suddenly faced with a ticking clock.  Ferguson has to be in court within eight hours, and his main piece of evidence against Mendoza is no longer breathing.  But wasn’t there something he missed?  Some small piece of evidence that’s lurking in the dark recesses of his mind?  Something that he didn’t think he’d need to remember?

Ferguson and Nelson reopen the case from the beginning, and we the viewers get to flashback to the first moments that Mendoza’s men slip up, and the crime syndicate flashes onto ADA Ferguson’s radar.

Imagine an extra-long episode of Law and Order, except the cast is made up of classic Hollywood actors.  It’s a murder mystery who-done-it in which we get to watch Bogart track down one lead after another, only to find out that every new witness he needs has just turned up dead.

There’s also a nifty twist at the end that I’ll admit, I should have seen coming.  But twist endings weren’t as common in classic Hollywood, so I wasn’t expecting it!  It’s not my fault, see!  The clues were there but I wasn’t paying close enough attention!  I’ll wager that even if you do see it coming, it’ll still be pretty satisfying – I’ll say no more just in case you haven’t seen it yet!

Oh!  And Zero Mostel plays “Big Babe” Lazick, one of the hit men that Bogart has to flip for the prosecution!  So we get some great work between the two actors as Ferguson leans his full force onto Lazick’s hefty shoulders, using every bit of threat and intimidation that he can muster into getting the poor dope to turn over Mendoza – even coldheartedly using Lazick’s wife and child.

And just to show you how cliché it’s become in the modern day to have hitmen as a part of our cultural entertainment, there’s a number of scenes in the movie that actually take the time to explain what the words “contract” and “hit” mean.  Some of that lingo is so commonplace now that I wouldn’t be surprised if my six year old knew it.  Can you even imagine being unaware of how a hitman works in this day and age?

The Great

This cast is so much fun.  Zero Mostel and Ted de Corsia are standouts for sure, but even the smallest parts – King Donovan as Sgt. Whitlow – are so well cast that every actor on screen is fighting for your attention with even the smallest line.  Jack Lambert as the crazy killer, “Philadelphia” Tom Zaca, and Tito Vuolo as Tony Vetto, help round out the killing crew – both scene stealers in their own right.

Everett Sloane’s portrayal of the hit man gang’s ringleader Albert Mendoza is expertly down played until the final act of the film, and when he finally appears in a scene with de Corsia, it’s chilling and wonderful.

Bogart gets a “great” mention as well.  A perfect double feature would be to pair this film with Marked Woman.  In Marked Woman, Bogart’s the young, idealistic ADA who’s fighting for justice through a web of rules and regulations.  In The Enforcer, we see a Bogart who’s aged and weary, just as ready to lob a right hook at a suspect as he is an interrogation question.  Ferguson is a weary soul, and Bogart gives the character his just due.

The Good

While there’s nothing groundbreaking with this script by Martin Rackin, it is a very solid mystery / thriller.  Once the flashback starts, the viewer is pulled through multiple twists and turns along the case with Bogart until the big reveal at the end.  There’s no romance thrown in to pander to the date crowd, and Bogart gets to play Ferguson as a flawed and frustrated man who isn’t afraid to bend the rules a bit to get the job done.   A remake of this today, if done well, would be a solid summer popcorn flick.

Classic Bogie Moment

The cops lead Rico into the station to meet ADA Ferguson.  The office door opens and inside the darkened room is Bogart, sitting behind his desk, hunched over and smoking a cigarette.  He doesn’t have to say a word for us to know his state of mind.  He’s tired and edgy.  Did he sleep last night?  Probably not.  Will he sleep this night?  More than likely he won’t, and he knows it.

Someone should put together a montage of all the “Bogie smoking behind a desk” moments from cinema history.

The Bottom Line:

This is an very satisfying police procedural.  Not as dark and noir-ish as Bogart’s private detective roles, but a fun look at a more by-the-book type of lawman from Bogart.  (Even though he’s not all that by-the-book at times!)  Very rewatchable, especially the second time when you get to reexamine the scenes that hint towards the twist.

Fun Fact:

Just for fun, sometimes I like to go through the full cast and crew to see what the overlap between Bogart movies might be.  So go to IMDB’s page and then scroll down through the cast until you get to a guy by the name of David McMahon, who happens to play a police officer in this movie, although he was “uncredited.”  Now click through to his filmography and see a long list of “uncredited” roles that McMahon played throughout his career.  Bartenders, cops, deliveyrmen, Taxi Drivers – if there was a small role or background character to be played, this guy played it – and more than likely he was “uncredited” at the time.

This was an era in Hollywood when you could be a contracted working actor with a career made up of dozens and dozens of movies and TV shows, and yet you might still be completely unrecognizable to the public at large.  It wasn’t until the end of McMahon’s career, when began to appear as a regular on a few TV series, that he might have finally gained some notoriety.

How many times do you think this guy heard, “Hey!  Don’t I know you from somewhere?” only to run through his long list of bit parts until the befuddled fan finally came up with, “The Virginian!  Yeah!  Yeah!  That’s right!  You’re the conductor on The Virginian!”

David McMahon!  We salute you!  It was actors like you who brought years of experience to small roles in order to elevate a movie’s credibility!

Passage to Marseille – 1944

Passage

My Review

—Very Good—

Your Bogie Fix:

4.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

Come slip down the rabbit hole as we have a movie that exists almost entirely in a flashback – but not just a flashback – as it’s a flashback within a flashback, which I think even delves into another flashback!  Worry not, though, as director Michael Curtiz is well skilled in the art of filmmaking, and guides us easily through the multilayered story.

Claude Rains is Captain Freycinet, commander of an Allied air base that’s about to launch a bombing raid out of England.  John Loder is a reporter named Manning who sits down with the Captain and hears an amazing tale of five Devil’s Island escapees who are rescued from their ocean-adrift canoe by a steam tramp that’s headed to Marseilles, France during World War II.

The catch?

The steam tramp has a delegation of English and French officers onboard (including Capt. Freycinet), and mid trip, word breaks that the French have submitted to German occupation.  The escaped prisoners are all patriotic Frenchmen trying to make it home to fight, and the English officers onboard would kindly appreciate it if the ship would change course for England.

Even before France’s occupation is announced, though, we know that there’s trouble afoot because French officer Major Duval, is on board, played by the wonderfully snarky Sydney Greenstreet.  Duval immediately pegs the prisoners as escaped convicts from France, and when it’s discovered that the Germans are now in charge of his home country, the Major can’t get there quickly enough to show his support to the new occupiers and turn over the prisoners to the proper authorities.

What ensues is a climactic battle between the steamer and a German bomber as Freycinet and the prisoners try to keep the ship in one piece long enough to make it back to safe waters.

Bogart plays one of the five prisoners, a French reporter named Jean Matrac, who ended up on Devil’s Island after being framed for murder.  Matrac saw the corruption of the French government growing long before the rest of the world did and is shipped off to the prison after printing a series of tell-all articles in his paper.  His goal after the escape?  Make it home to his wife, Paula, played by Michèle Morgan, who worked side by side with him in the newspaper office until it was shut down.  Matrac also has a son he’s never met, who we meet before the flashback, anxiously waiting for a letter from his father to be dropped from a bomber after a raid.

Unlike the other four convicts who escaped Devil’s Island with him, Matrac is unsure of his allegiance to his former country.  Consumed with bitterness and revenge, we’re not sure where his allegiances lie until he’s forced to make a choice and fight.

Joining Bogart as another one of the convicts is Peter Lorre as Marius, in what I found to be one of his most likable roles (despite the fact that he’s a convicted felon!).  Perhaps the biggest highlight of the movie is getting to see Bogart and Lorre team up against a German bomber while wielding two on-deck machine guns.  Watching them offer friendly waves back and forth across deck as they take shots, and avoid shots, was great fun.  Bogie and Lorre – action heroes!  Believe it or not.

marius 2Peter Lorre waving to Bogart across the deck while battling the German bomber.

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The entire movie is said to be a slightly missed attempt at recreating the magic that was Casablanca, as so many of the cast and crew return from that movie including director, writer, composer, producer, and at least five other actors.  Perhaps I’m far enough removed from the era, but I thought that my love for Casablanca only enhanced my enjoyment of this film.  The story is much more action oriented, and it comes off as more of a prison escape movie rather than a war romance.

I’ve only done limited research, but I wonder how much the solitary confinement scenes from Passage influenced the ones in Papillon.  It would make a fun double feature!

The Great

Michael Curtiz directed a lot films in his long and prolific career, and while not all of them were gems, his classics outweigh his bombs.  Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood, Angels with Dirty Faces, White Christmas, We’re No Angels, etc.  Curtiz had the skills to make amazing films.  Just the way the multiple flashbacks are handled without confusion shows a director with a fine hand at storytelling without losing an audience.

Bogart plays dark and brooding like no other.  If you like his action oriented roles, this will satisfy you greatly.  The interrogation scene with Freycinet and the prisoners is especially well acted by Bogart as he directs the other men with nothing more than subtle head nods.  The man knew how to do a lot with just a little.

Bogart, Rains, Lorre, and Greenstreet together?  Fantastic.  While none of them have the depth of character that they had in Casablanca, this was a fun film to assemble them for again.  Rains especially nails his role during a funeral in the final moments of the movie.

The Good

Even catching sight of the wires on one of the bomber miniatures doesn’t bother me.  I love the special effects from the classic years of Hollywood.  Water tanks and boats built on set.  Miniature bombers.  Matte back drops.  I’ll take this stuff over CGI any day.

While Michèle Morgan doesn’t get quite as juicy of a role as Ingrid Bergman did, she still plays great against Bogart.

Classic Bogie Moment 

No words.  Just a pic this time.  C’mon, we know Bogie’s good with a gun, but how classic is this?

passage classic

The Bottom Line

I loved this movie.  It’s not the best-of-the-best from Bogart’s collection, but it’s in the top half for sure.  I get such a charge out of seeing Bogart and Lorre together, especially when they’re on the same side.  That machine gun scene on the boat is worth the price of admission in itself.  Peter Lorre is the man!

Fun Fact

According to IMDB, this is the movie where Bogart met Bacall!  She wasn’t in the movie, but was on set to test her chemistry against Bogart’s for a little movie called To Have and Have Not.