Lewis Seiler

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Birth Name: Lewis Seiler

Date of Birth: September 30th, 1890

Date of Death: January 8th, 1964

Number of Films that Lewis Seiler Made with Humphrey Bogart: 5

The Lowdown

Well, it was a bit tough to find much information on Lewis Seiler, which surprises me just a little considering that he directed at least 88 films over his career and was a contract worker for Warner Brothers.

A few things did come to light, though. Seiler seemed to treat his job as a director as just that – a job. He worked slow. He rarely read scripts before showing up for the day. He had to be reminded that he should precede the cast to the set each day.

So John Huston he was not.

What he was was a “house director” for many Warner Brothers films when Bogart was beginning his career. They had a script. They had a cast. Call the next name on the director’s list and he’d show up. Starting in comedy shorts, then moving on to Tom Mix Westerns, Seiler would eventually direct the much-acclaimed war film, The Guadalcanal Diaries for Fox.

All that being said, I think there are a lot of underrated gems in his filmography, especially a few in his Bogart collaborations. Seiler was known as the man who could get a gritty gangster film done efficiently, but as I’ll point out in just a bit, his experience in comedies led to one of my favorite Bogart guilty pleasures.

So, without further ado, let’s welcome Lewis Seiler into The Usual Suspects!

The Filmography

Crime School – 1938

Crime School Poster

A remake of 1933’s The Mayor of Hell, Bogart is now in the role of the prison reformer that James Cagney played in the original. Crime School is also incredibly similar to another film by stars Bogart, 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 would play 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 the later film.

So as you’ve probably already guessed, there’s nothing new or groundbreaking going on in Crime School. That’s not to say that 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”

Tepid Bogart at best, but not the worst in his filmography. You can check out my original post on the film here.

King of the Underworld – 1939

King of the Underworld Poster

The key word to this film is potential. There’s a lot of potential to be had here, but unfortunately, King of the Underworld falls short of living up to it. It seems as if Director Seiler can’t decide whether he’s making a crime drama, a gangster comedy, or a love story. King of the Underworld feels like a mashup between the taut dramatics of Bogart’s gangster-on-the-run film, The Petrified Forest, and the goofy shenanigans of Seiler’s own gangster-in-hiding film, It All Came True.

Despite all of my issues with the tone and script of this film, it’s not unwatchable. The acting is well done, Seiler knows how to frame a shot and keep a story moving, and the plot has a few interesting turns.

I think that the fault for any shortcomings might lie both with Director Seiler’s inability to pick a mood, and the fact that the screenplay was written in part by another multi-time Bogart collaborator, Vincent Sherman. Sherman, as many regular Bogie Film Blog readers know, directed two of Bogart’s more offbeat films – The Return of Doctor X and All Through the Night – both films that I contend were meant as spoofs of the horror and gangster genres respectively.

So was King of the Underworld meant more as a parody? I don’t think so. So much real angst was built into the story between Bogart and his Kay Francis that I think the comedic moments were just a bit too overplayed. There’s just enough humor thrown in that it undercuts Bogart’s threat as an antagonist. My guess is that Sherman and Seiler were both still in the infancy of their experimentation with turning the gangster genre on its head, and they put in a little too much silliness to make any of the gravitas truly effective.

Regardless, this one might be a fun double feature with Seiler’s own It All Came True, or Vincent Sherman’s underrated gem, All Through the Night.

You can read my original post on the film here.

You Can’t Get Away with Murder – 1939

You Cant Get Away With Murder

Problems with this one aside (see the aforementioned Crime School), there are numerous good scenes of comedy, action, and drama which all help elevate the film above a sub par script. The second joint effort between Bogart, Seiler, and Billy Halop, Warner Bros certainly seemed to be trying to mold “Dead End Kid” Halop into a new leading man.

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. While Halop occasionally appears a little green, and his sibling tension with Gale Page often seems unmotivated, there are some flashes of good work in his performance.

The biggest problem, I felt, was that Director Seiler was a scene or two short in setting up the seemingly unbreakable bond between stars Humphrey Bogart and Billy Halop. Money and power lured them together, but after ending up in the jail, what kept Halop loyal?

Again, not the worst film in Bogart’s filmography, but you could do better. You can read my original post on the film here.

It All Came True – 1940

it all came true poster

Now we come to my favorite film between Bogart and Seiler! This is exactly the kind of movie that I was looking for when I started this blog – a thoroughly entertaining Bogart film that I’d never seen or read anything about.

On top of that, I had one of those Ah-ha! moments with an actor.  My whole life I’ve heard people rant and rave about Ann Sheridan, but for some reason she’s never clicked with me. I always figured that I’d just never seen the right movie, and now I have. What a spitfire. From her first machine gun conversation with the B&B folks, to her final song, she was amazing.

While It All Came True isn’t rated well on IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes, it’s got a great cast, capable directing, and wonderful timing. There were lots of moments that reminded me of the all-time great screwball comedies like Arsenic and Old Lace and Bringing up Baby – movies that were able to balance wonderful gags with just enough pathos to keep me hooked on the characters. Seiler’s early comedy chops get to shine here at their brightest.

So what am I missing with all the bad reviews?!?  Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong!

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Big Shot – 1942

The Big Shot Poster

The fifth, and last film from Director Seiler and Bogart’s collaborations, this one showed such a devotion to detail for the Film Noir genre (in most parts) that it’s hard to imagine this is the same director who helmed the four previous Bogart collaborations.

Other than a brief chair tipping scene, gone is almost any element of silly gangster antics à la King of the Underworld and It All Came True. And other than a few minutes in a cabin hideaway between Bogart and Irene Manning, gone are any of the melodramatic trappings of teenage rebellion or love-angst as we saw in Crime School and You Can’t Get Away with Murder.

With its dark atmosphere, low camera angles, nightmarish voice montages, anti-hero protagonists, ultra-violent shootouts, and car chases, this film is almost a straight-up Film Noir thriller. The only time Seiler seemingly errs away from Noir is the aforementioned scene where Bogart goes on the lam to a mountain hideout with his dame. Then, for a few minutes, we get some lighthearted romantic comedy, but only just the smallest of doses. Does it detract from the overall film? Maybe a bit, but I could also see someone arguing that the moment of levity helps round out Bogart and Manning’s characters while giving us a chance to catch our breath before the big finale.

So why is The Big Shot not more widely known? I’m not sure. It’s not a perfect picture by any means, but it certainly seems like a more important film for Bogart’s Noir filmography than it’s given credit for. There is a character that appears in blackface for a short section of the second act, but he’s already been established as a not-so-nice guy, and Classic Film fans can be pretty forgiving when it comes to racial tension from a different era, so I would imagine that’s not the reason – although it probably doesn’t help.

Regardless, if you get a chance to catch this one on TCM, take it. Guaranteed to stir up some good conversation on what it means to be an “innocent” criminal, Seiler is able to explore some deeper territory here than what I’m used to seeing in his previous films. While it might have a few stumbling blocks that keep it from being a true classic, it’s more than watchable, and it’s a fun Noir film that’s not afraid to get its hands a little bloody.

You can read my original post on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing section of the blog where I highlight some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators. You can read the rest of the write ups here.*

Vincent Sherman

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Birth Name: Abraham Orovitz

Birthdate: July 16, 1906

Number of Films that Vincent Sherman Made with Humphrey Bogart: 5

The Lowdown

Born and raised in Georgia, Vincent Sherman started his show business career acting on Broadway before making the transition to small parts in Hollywood, and then eventually writing and directing for some of Tinseltown’s biggest stars.

There are a number of good interviews with Sherman available on YouTube that are easy to find if you search for his name. (Forgive me if I don’t link them directly, but I’m not sure of their legality and I try my best to keep ‘The Bogie Film Blog’ on the straight and narrow!) A couple of them give some great insights into Sherman’s work with Bogart and Sherman talks about how Warner Brothers tasked him with taking a well-known heavy (Bogart) and trying to do something else with him – including trying to make him a leading man. While Bogart had received some great reviews for High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon, Sherman says that more than a few people questioned Bogart’s ability to “get the girl” when Sherman was asked to direct the actor in All Through the Night.

In short, I really love and appreciate all five of the films that Sherman and Bogart collaborated on together. Other than Across the Pacific, I think one of the defining aspects of all the films that Sherman worked on with Bogart is that he was able to insert an incredible sense of humor into all of the stories, giving them a camp-like feel as he took well-worn genres (horror, gangster) and turned them on their heads.

From both of their interviews, it sounds like Sherman and Bogart admired and respected each other greatly, even if Sherman says Bogart “groused” a lot about the scripts.  It’s a relationship that paid off well onscreen and left us a few of Bogart’s most unique roles.  . It’s also fun to note that Sherman was on both sides of Bogart’s transition from B-films (The Return of Doctor X) to more A-list affairs (Across the Pacific).

Both men also did their fair share of battling with The House Un-American Activities Committee, although Sherman got the shorter end of the stick as he was eventually punished by being blacklisted.

The Filmography

Crime School – 1938 (Screenplay, Dialogue Director)

Crime School Poster

Credited for the screenplay alongside of Crane Wilbur, this is probably my least favorite film out of all the collaborations that Sherman had with Bogart. It’s a fairly pedestrian script that is incredibly reminiscent of an earlier Bogart film (San Quentin), and it doesn’t have as much of Sherman’s humor injected into it like the next three films. Not a terrible movie, but probably not a must see unless you’re a Bogart completist, or you really like The “Dead End” Kids who appear in a few solid roles. You can read my original write up on the film here.

King of the Underworld – 1939 (Screenplay, Dialogue Director)

King of the Underworld Poster

Credited for the screenplay alongside of George Bricker, this one’s a step up from Crime School, but suffers quite a bit tonally as Director Lewis Seiler can’t seem to decide whether or not we’re supposed to laugh at, or fear, Bogart. I have a suspicion that since both Sherman and Seiler had a penchant for funny gangster films (Seiler would go on to direct It All Came True) they couldn’t help but add a little too much humor into this one. One of the best moments – and one of my all-time favorite comedic moments for Bogart, comes in this film when Kay Francis, playing a doctor, diagnoses Bogart’s gangster kingpin as “the moronic type.” Being a bit dimwitted, Bogart takes the diagnosis as if it might be a life threatening disease. (And perhaps it could be argued that it is for him in this film!) Again, not a must see, but there’s a lot of fun to be had in this script. It’s a bit reminiscent of The Petrified Forest as there’s a traveling writer who’s taken hostage by gangsters and eventually falls in love; but it’s not so close as to ruin the film by comparison. You can read my original write up on the film here.

The Return of Doctor X – 1939 (Director)

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After reading everything written about Sherman’s directorial debut, I fully prepared myself to hate this one. Sherman said that he was given the choice to do this horror film or a comedy, and chose this one as the lesser of two evils. Bogart supposedly hated the movie. Critics hated the movie. The script was supposedly awful. There was surely no way this was going to be enjoyable was there? I loved it. I’m not kidding; this film is a campy blast. Sherman shows a great eye for scene setup and playing soap opera melodrama for full effect. Yes, the script was bad, but Sherman seems to be filming every moment with a tongue-firmly-placed-in-cheek style humor. To follow up just two years later with All Through the Night, I have to believe that Sherman was intentionally playing with clichéd horror movie tropes, poking fun at the very fans that were paying to see this film. Fortunately, he does it with such style that I couldn’t help but thoroughly enjoy myself for all 62 minutes of this feature. You can read my original write up on the film here.

All Through the Night – 1942 (Director)

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With a star-studded cast that included Bogart, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, Kaaren Verne, Frank McHugh, William Demarest, Jackie Gleason, Phil Silvers, Barton McClane, Ben Welden, and Jane Darwell, a hilarious script, and wonderful action scenes, this is easily my favorite film out of all the Sherman/Bogart collaborations. There are multiple laugh-out-loud moments. Lorre plays one of the best creepy villains of all time. Bogart gets to sock Nazis! What else do you need? Watching Bogart and Demarest go undercover into a secret Nazi meeting as munitions experts is so stinking funny that it’s worth owning the DVD for that scene alone. A gangster chasing down a gang of Nazis for killing his favorite baker? It’s a preposterous plot, but Sherman never takes the film seriously long enough to let you think about it. The way he’s able to balance action, drama, and comedy all in one film makes me wonder why this one’s not more talked about. It’s definitely in my top five re-watchable Bogart films and it should be in yours too. You can read my original write up on the film here.

Across the Pacific – 1942 (Director, Final Scenes)

Across the Pacific

Directed by John Huston and reuniting an amazing acting trio (Bogart, Astor, and Greenstreet) from The Maltese Falcon’s cast, Sherman was only brought in at the very end to finish up the last few scenes when Huston had to go off to make documentaries for the U.S. during World War II. If you didn’t know about the director switch ahead of time, you’d never notice. Sherman does fine with his few minutes, making them blend in seamlessly with Huston’s work. As the story goes, the day Sherman came in to take over, Huston was filming the scene where Bogart is trapped in a movie theater at the end of the film. When Sherman asked Huston how Bogart gets out, Huston told him it was his problem to figure it out. He was off to the war! Whether it’s true, or (more than likely) just the stuff of Hollywood legend, it’s a fun story, and it shows the respect that Sherman had earned over his years as a director to be called in to finish such a big film. You can read my original write up on the film this Sunday.

*The Usual Suspects is a portion of the blog where I highlight some of Bogart’s multi-film collaborators. It’s usually anyone who has struck my fancy. The only rule is that I have to have reviewed/posted all of their films before writing them up. You can see the rest of the growing list of suspects here.

King of the Underworld – 1939

King of the Underworld Poster

My Review

—A Confused, but Watchable Film—

Bogie Film Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Lewis Seiler

The Lowdown

A doctor (Kay Francis) follows gangsterJoe Gurney (Humphrey Bogart) to a small town in the hope of clearing her name after her husband (John Elderidge) is killed while helping Gurney’s gang.

What I Thought

The key word to this film is potential. There’s a lot of potential to be had here, but unfortunately, King of the Underworld falls short of living up to it.

I’m a fan of Lewis Seiler’s work, and while he doesn’t make perfect films, he’s a capable director when he has the right script. This time though, it seems as if he can’t decide whether he’s making a crime drama, a gangster comedy, or a love story. King of the Underworld feels like a mashup between the taut dramatics of Bogart’s gangster-on-the-run film The Petrified Forest and the goofy shenanigans of Seiler’s own gangster-in-hiding film It All Came True.

Bogart is initially shown as a ruthless murderer, reclining on a couch while he shoots one of his own men one moment, and then later playing for laughs as he doesn’t understand that a doctor is being insulting when she diagnoses him as the “moronic” type.

Then there’s the English writer (James Stephenson) hitchhiking his way across the country, accidently coming across Bogart’s crew after their car breaks down. Later, he falls for Francis after he gets stranded in the small town. Both plot points directly out of The Petrified Forest. Stephenson is solid with what he has to work with, but he’s given no real time to develop his relationship with Francis, and seems to exist for little more than plot advancement.

Despite all of my issues with the tone and script of this film, it’s not unwatchable. The acting is well done, Seiler knows how to frame a shot and keep a story moving, and the plot has a few interesting turns.

I think that the fault for any shortcomings might lie both with Director Seiler’s inability to pick a mood, and the fact that the screenplay was written in part by another multi-time Bogart collaborator, Vincent Sherman. Sherman, as many regular Bogie Film Blog readers know, directed two of Bogart’s more offbeat films – The Return of Doctor X and All Through the Night – both films that I contend were meant as spoofs of the horror and gangster genres respectively.

So was King of the Underworld meant more as a parody? I don’t think so. So much real angst was built into the story between Francis and Bogart that I think the comedic moments were just a bit too overplayed. There’s just enough humor thrown in that it undercuts Bogart’s threat as an antagonist. My guess is that Sherman and Seiler were both still in the infancy of their experimentations with turning the gangster genre on its head, and they put in a little too much silliness to make any of the gravitas truly effective.

Regardless, this one might be a fun double feature with Director Seiler’s own It All Came True, or Vincent Sherman’s underrated gem, All Through the Night.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart could be comedic, dramatic, romantic, threatening, subdued, and whimsical – and while several of those are attempted at various points here, the performance comes off as uneven. In some scenes he’s wonderfully despicable. In others, his comedic timing is flawless. While that kind of varied personality works well in some films (see All Through the Night, High Sierra, The Roaring Twenties), it comes off as fragmented and uneven here.

Again though, the character of Joe Gurney is incredibly interesting and has so much potential. The story of a gangster obsessed with Napoleon, yet too shortsighted to see that they share the same tragic flaws, should lead to a much more satisfying character arc than it does here. Especially when you add in the relationship with the historical author who’s on hand to chronicle it all. But wait, there’s that Francis/Stephenson love story to contend with. And the side story about how the townspeople don’t like Francis. Then there’s the out for justice/revenge plot that keeps disappearing and reappearing, grabbing for our attention. It’s just too many under-developed story fragments in too short of a film.

All of that said, I’d still say this one is probably a must see for diehard Bogart fans as so many of the elements that made him a great ‘bad guy’ are here on display in various moments.

The Cast

Kay Francis plays Dr. Carol Nelson, the wrongfully accused woman who’s trying to clear her name by chasing down the gangster. Francis is good here despite being lost in the plot details. I would have loved to have seen another 10 minutes added to this 67 minute film that fleshed out her relationship with James Stephenson.

James Stephenson plays Bill Stevens, an English writer hitchhiking across the states. It’s impossible not to compare him to the great Leslie Howard in The Petrified Forest, as it’s essentially the exact same character, but Stephenson does well with an incredibly underwritten role. This could have been a film that revolved entirely around a man taken hostage and forced to write a gangster’s biography, as it’s a pretty interesting idea, but we only get a little taste of that plot point here.

Arthur Aylesworth plays Francis’ small town medical practice competition, Dr. Sanders, who’s none too happy to have a new doctor in town as he questions her relationship with Bogart. Aylesworth is fine; the part is small and he’s mainly used to move the plot forward when needed.

John Eldredge plays Niles Nelson, Francis’ husband, who falls in with Bogart at the beginning of the film and ends up losing his life because of it. Again, his role is small and doesn’t quite give us the emotional stakes that we need to fully invest in Francis, but he’s fine in the role.

Then there’s Bogart’s crew, who even though I’m going to lump them together, deserve a mention. Charley Foy, Murray Alper, Joe Devlin, Elliott Sullivan, Alan Davis, John Harmon, and John Ridgely all add a lot of color to the film with their brief scenes and comedic lines. Director Seiler uses them just enough to help the film without overcrowding it.

Classic Bogie Moment

Need someone that can leisurely kill a man from the sofa while reading about Napoleon? Who better than this guy?

King of the Underworld

The Bottom Line

I think it’s worth a watch, and despite the plot issues, there’s still a lot of good moments in the film. It’s certainly not the worst Bogart film I’ve done for the blog so far!

*UPDATE – You know, it’s been about a week since I watched this one, and I’m already kind of itching to watch it again. Rereading the review, perhaps I was a little harsh on it considering that I’m already looking back fondly. I still stand by my first opinions, but take it all with a grain of salt!