Lloyd Bacon

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Birth Name: Lloyd Francis Bacon

Date of Birth: December 4, 1889

Date of Death: November 15, 1955

Number of Films that Lloyd Bacon Made with Humphrey Bogart: 7

The Lowdown

The son of an actor, Lloyd Bacon would follow in his father’s footsteps into vaudeville before moving on to act in silent films, and then finally directing some of Hollywood’s greatest legends on the big screen.

From all reports, Bacon was an incredibly capable director who could work well with actors, bring a film in on time, and stay within the allotted budget. From performing stunts, to acting on the stage, to being in front of and behind the camera, Bacon spent a life learning the craft of film making, and while he wasn’t known as a flashy or incredibly famous director, Warner Brothers saw him as more than able to handle a long string of films in many different genres.

Bacon’s work with Bogart alone saw films with gangsters, cowboys, lawyers, prisoners, monks, and navy seamen. No, none of the films they collaborated on are remembered as classics, but almost all of them hold up as a decent pictures in their own rights. Bogart was supposedly happy to work underneath him as a director, so that tells you a lot right there!

There is a line in the Sperber/Lax Bogart bio that says Bacon directed Bogart seven times before their final film Action in the North Atlantic. Researching on my own, I only have them working together seven times in total, so if anyone has any info on whether or not this was a mistake in the bio, let me know!

But today, let’s welcome Lloyd Bacon into The Usual Suspects!

The Filmography

Marked Woman – 1937

marked

This one’s really grown on me over time. Part of the that is a growing appreciation for some of the other actors in the film (Ben Welden, Bette Davis, Mayo Methot, etc.), part is the appreciation that I now have for Director Lloyd Bacon. Warner Brothers used Bacon for several “ripped from the headlines” films, including this one, and Bacon comes off as a good, straightforward, meat and potatoes director who gets the job done.

Loosely based on the fall of gangster Lucky Luciano, there is plenty to appreciate in this film. The cast has been put together well, the script is tight, and it’s always fun to see Bogart and Davis looking so young in their roles. Davis is as bright-eyed and gorgeous as she ever would be, and Bogart has got the healthiest and most filled out physique that I ever remember seeing on him.

You can read my original post on the film here.

San Quentin – 1937


san quentin

Almost all of the ingredients are here for a great film– great actors, capable director, great cinematographer, etc. – but the one thing lacking is an interesting script. Through no fault of Pat O’Brien, Ann Sheridan, Humphrey Bogart, or Joe Sawyer, there’s just not much excitement or drama to be had in this film. Everyone seems to be sleepwalking through their parts, especially O’Brien, who was more than capable of carrying a good role if he got one.

Perhaps it’s the fact that O’Brien’s Captain Stephen Jameson is just written too blandly to evoke any sympathy. His range of emotion shifts back and forth between mildly uncomfortable and slightly content. Perhaps it’s the fact that every time some real motivation for drama occurs, all the tension is quickly let out of the scene with a few lines of dialogue that wraps up any conflict before it takes off.

Bacon’s direction feels a little more loose here, especially in some of the final chase scenes that could have been tighter.

Am I being too hard on the film? Maybe. I’ll check it out again sometime, but it is a great showcase for regular Bogart collaborator, Joe Sawyer!

You can read my original post on the film here.

Racket Busters – 1938

Racket Busters Poster

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.

I thought this was the weakest collaboration out of all of work that Bacon did with Bogart. 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 George Brent’s friend and mentor played by George O’Shea – you know, maybe just put him in a coma – our sympathies might have held out.

There’s a reason this one is harder to find! You can read my original post on the film here.

The Oklahoma Kid – 1939

Kid Poster

If you’re any sort of regular reader here on the blog, you know that I’ve written about this one numerous times. Should Cagney and Bogart have played cowboys. No. Should we still enjoy the film? Yes! It’s actually not half bad! Add into it that Cagney and Bogart have an awesome fight scene at the end, and it’s well worth your time! You even forgive the fact that it’s pretty obvious when the two icons switch places with their stunt doubles.

This film will show you two things about Director Bacon. First – he could helm a Western pic with great skill. Second – his work as a stuntman really shines through in his directing here!

You can read my original post on the film here.

Invisible Stripes – 1939

Invisible Stripes

The cast of George Raft, William Holden, Jane Bryan, Flora Robson, and Bogart is are a very good ensemble, and all the character relationships really crackle – especially Raft and Robson who give us most of the heart in this film. Director Bacon handles them so well, especially in the quieter, character building moments of love and loss with Raft’s family. Raft’s final line to Robson is so subtly done that I almost missed it, even though it’s an incredibly heart wrenching moment.

I can see why this movie might not have gotten the most glowing reviews. The story of an ex-con trying to go straight had been done so many times before this that it must have felt like old cliché. Bogart does his absolute best with the role that he’s given, but he’s underused, and a young William Holden still seems a little green as it’s only his fourth film. All that aside though, the film is entirely watchable and keeps the drama and action chugging along at a pace that held my interest even on multiple viewings.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Brother Orchid – 1940

brother orchid

This one’s a comedy crime drama that can’t quite seem to decide whether it wants to be more comedy or more lighthearted drama. While you don’t get a great Bogart fix, Director Bacon does get a lot out of Edward G. Robinson and the wonderful Ann Sothern.

The standout of the film for me, Sothern has a wonderful moment in the film during a scene after she hangs up on a phone call with Robinson. She slowly sits back in her seat, lightly biting her bottom lip. Director Bacon and Sothern do a great job with that small moment of satisfaction.

Plus, it’s the only movie, out of the five that they made together, that neither Robinson nor Bogart dies!  You can check out my original post on the film here.

Action in the North Atlantic – 1943

action

My favorite film from their collaboration, this one is probably most notable for Bacon as he was dismissed with a quarter of the filming left due to the fact that he couldn’t agree on a new contract with Warner Bros. He was replaced by Byron Haskin, but you don’t notice any obvious shift in the final act.

Although it could easily be considered a WWII propaganda film, Action in the North Atlantic does a fine job of transcending the clichéd patriotism that we might expect from a film like this, and gives us a lot more character depth and nuance than most propaganda films can muster.

Bacon makes some bold choices in direction – especially in regards to some longer scenes on the German U-boat where the viewer can go several minutes only hearing German. There is clearly a lot of trust on the part of Director Bacon that we’ll be able to understand the gist of the scenes even though no English is used, and it works well. The scenes effectively elevate the tension as the viewer begins to understand a little German shorthand for what’s going on with the Nazi sailors.

Again, attributing all the directorial choices to Bacon may not be a safe bet as he was replaced by Haskins, but since he directed a majority of the film, I’ll give Bacon as much due as I can!

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.*

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.

Invisible Stripes – 1939

Invisible Stripes

My Review

—Better Than You Might Think—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Lloyd Bacon

The Lowdown

A recently released convict (George Raft) does his best to go straight after prison, but his conscience gives way to the need to support his family.

What I Thought

This was my second viewing of Invisible Stripes, and I have to say that I liked it much better this time. The cast of George Raft, William Holden, Jane Bryan, Bogart, and Flora Robson is one of the best ensembles I’ve seen in a while, and all the character relationships really crackled – especially Raft and Robson who give us most of the heart in this film.

I can see why this movie might not have gotten the most glowing reviews. The story of an ex-con trying to go straight had been done so many times before this that it must have felt like old cliché. Bogart does his absolute best with the role that he’s given, but he’s underused, and a young William Holden still seems a little green as it’s only his fourth film. All that aside though, the film is entirely watchable and keeps the drama and action chugging along at a pace that held my interest even on a second viewing.

Director Lloyd Bacon did so many good films with Bogart that he’ll eventually need to go into ‘The Usual Suspects.’ He handles this film well, especially in the quieter, character building moments of love and loss with Raft’s family. Raft’s final line to his mother is so subtly done that I almost missed it, even though it’s an incredibly heart wrenching moment.

Make no mistake, Raft and Robson create an incredibly dynamic mother-son relationship here, and it’s easy to understand the love they have for one another.

The Bogart Factor

Playing ex-con Chuck Martin, this might be one of the most likable thugs that Bogart ever got to play. Right up until his final scene, we have to appreciate and respect Martin’s attempts to help George Raft’s Cliff pull himself up by his bootstraps – even if it’s not by legal means.

The part is small, so there are long droughts throughout the film where Bogart’s presence isn’t felt, but when he’s onscreen, he pops. Could they have used him more? Probably, but it wouldn’t have fit with the story. The film needed to spend its time building up the relationship between Raft and Holden. So I guess that if I’m going to watch someone play a likable bad guy, it’s a treat that it gets to be Bogart, even if the role is tiny.

The Cast

I’m not the biggest George Raft admirer, but I really liked him here as Cliff Taylor, the ex-con who tries to make good when released from the pen. Several scripts that Raft turned down in his career went on to become some of Bogart’s most iconic films, so maybe with the additional appreciation of this film, I can finally get on the George Raft bandwagon. He plays his emotions close to his vest and he did a wonderful job of making me believe that he loved and cared for his mother and brother. This film is re-watchable for me based on Raft’s performance alone.

William Holden plays Raft’s younger brother, Tim Taylor. Holden is fine in the role, but he has nowhere near the film presence that he would develop with another decade under his belt. Erring a bit on the side over overacting, Holden does have a number of good scenes with Raft, and decent chemistry with Jane Bryan as his love interest.

Flora Robson plays Raft’s mother, Mrs. Taylor, even though she was about six years younger than Raft at the time of filming. In my opinion, Robson’s performance steals the show, and I have an all new screen crush. How can you not love a mother like that? I wanted to hug and kiss her to death every time she appeared on screen. The work she does with Raft in this film makes me want to explore her filmography further to see what I’ve been missing!

Jane Bryan plays William Holden’s love interest, Peggy. Bryan is on my shortlist for actors that need to go into ‘The Usual Suspects,’ as she’s usually a pretty strong supporter in every film that I’ve seen her in so far. This is no exception, as she gets some pretty meaty scenes with Holden, and a couple of good chances to interact with Flora Robson. It’s a more mature role than her other two Bogart films, Marked Woman and Kid Galahad, and it suits Bryan well. I still need to follow-up on the rest of her filmography!

Don’t Forget to Notice

Hey! There’s a brief cameo by ‘Dead End’ Kid Leo Gorcey as Jimmy the stockboy with George Raft!

Classic Bogie Moment

Bogart was great with a little subtle innuendo. There’s a scene at a party where he’s cozily chatting up Lee Patrick on a couch when they have this exchange:

Patrick: I’m a rare animal, Chuck. I’m a natural blonde. That’s why you went for me quick, wasn’t it?

Bogart: Well, that . . . and other things . . .

Invisible Stripes

Look at that grin . . . Ladies and gentlemen, that’s a man with bad intentions on his mind!

The Bottom Line

Give it a shot, I don’t think you’ll regret it. Maybe not a must see for Bogart fans, but the relationship between Raft and Robson is worth it!

The Oklahoma Kid – 1939

Kid Poster

My Review

—Better Than You’ve Been Led to Believe—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Lloyd Bacon

The Lowdown

Jim ‘The Oklahoma Kid’ Kincaid (James Cagney) is an amiable outlaw who really only steals from people who deserve it.  When his father and brother are put in harm’s way by a ruthless land thief (Humphrey Bogart), Kincaid looks to set things right.

What I Thought

I had heard so many bad things about this film that I’d prepared myself for the worst.

I’d heard that it was “the film with the two shortest cowboys of all time.”  True enough, but I did think that nicknaming Cagney ‘The Oklahoma Kid’ helped a lot.  And who cares if the bad guy’s short?  Lots of famous bad guys are short!

I’d also heard it was “the film with the cowboys that have gangster accents.”  This complaint is a bit more understandable considering that everyone in the film besides Cagney and Bogart seemed to have more Midwestern accents, if not full out drawls.  Our two stars though, sound just as if they’d plopped right down outta The Roaring Twenties.

I’d also read from multiple sources that it was “the cowboy film with goofy outfits,” as even Bogart himself thought that Cagney’s costume made him look like a big mushroom:

oklkidcag

Although when you consider Bogart’s chapeau:

oklkidbogiehat

It makes me wonder, were they out of medium sized hats that day???

I had a lot of similar feelings watching this film as I did when I watched The Return of Doctor X.  It may not be the best use of Bogart’s talents, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable film.  Cagney especially seems full of endless joy as he grins and charms his way through this movie.

This is my fifth Lloyd Bacon film for the blog after Brother Orchid, Action in the North Atlantic, Marked Woman, and San Quentin, and out of the five, I actually think it’s the film where Bacon has taken the biggest risks.  With about twenty minutes left of the movie, I anticipated that it was about to wrap up in the standard, Hollywood cliché, cowboy film way – with Cagney blasting the pistols out of evil doers’ hands and roping everyone up into prison.  Much to my surprise, I ended up watching a film that could be labeled as an early precursor to Eastwood’s Unforgiven.  (In the tone of the final act only, mind you!)

Director Bacon doesn’t hold back as multiple main characters start to meet violently disturbing ends.  Cagney’s Oklahoma Kid responds in kind, finally living up to the reputation that we’ve heard about for the entire movie but hadn’t yet seen, as he systematically begins to take apart Whip McCord’s (Humphrey Bogart) gang one by one.

It made me wish that we could have seen a darker side to Cagney throughout the first three quarters of the film when Director Bacon really seemed to be leaning harder on the comedy while the end of the film probably needed a bit more of a dramatic setup.  Quite a few times you’ll wonder, Why exactly are they working so hard to track down The Oklahoma Kid when there are much worse gangsters already destroying everything?  

Is it a perfect film?  No, definitely not.  Is it a great western?  No, not really.  But it is a decent movie with lots of fun moments, and it has two Hollywood legends playing outside of their normal wheelhouse of roles.  With only a finite amount of Cagney and Bogart films to enjoy, I’ll lend The Oklahoma Kid a lot of grace for its lack of credibility.

The Bogart Factor

Whip McCord is a pretty two-dimensional bad guy for Bogart, and there are several times during the film when the character disappears for extended periods.  Any shortcomings, though, stem more from the script than from Bogart’s performance.  He does his best with a limited role, and he even looks comfortable on horseback.  His lack of screen time might have partially been due to the fact that he was concurrently filming Dark Victory with Bette Davis while he was making this film.

We do get to see, what I would consider, the greatest fistfight that I’ve seen in a Bogart movie to date when Bogart and Cagney finally have it out at the end of the film.  Starting on the second landing of the saloon, both men (and their stunt doubles) get to the main floor the hard way.  Check out the way that Bogart high-kicks Cagney right in the face and then goes after him with a broken bottle!  It’s a gritty, violent, and incredibly enjoyable Western fistfight if there ever was one.

If nothing else, we get to see Bogart dressed in black and riding a horse – that’s worth the price of admission alone, isn’t it?

The Cast

James Cagney is pretty good as Jim Kincaid.  Did this guy ever do a bad role?  Cagney is endlessly watchable onscreen and seemed to be enjoying himself as he flirts, cons, shoots, and rides his way through the film.

Rosemary Lane is Jane Hardwick, Cagney’s love interest.  Much like The Return of Doctor X, I found her capable, but incredibly underwritten.  How is it that the same gal gets shortchanged in both of Bogart’s wildest genre films?

Harvey Stephens and Hugh Sothern play Ned and John Kincaid, Cagney’s brother and father, respectively.  Both men are solid, holding up a majority of the film when Cagney’s not present.  Stephens plays especially earnest and honorable as he rallies a group of men against Bogart’s outlaw with this great line:

Ned Kincaid:  “Shootings, killings, robberies, and a mighty orgy of drunkenness!  Gambling and vice!  All directly traceable to McCord’s influence!”

Hugh Sothern’s exit from the film shocked me, and added the first real emotional weight to the film as it switches gears from lighthearted western to dark revenge tale.

Don’t Forget to Notice 

Ray Mayer, who made a career out of showing up in films as a piano player/musician, has one of the funniest moments in the film as Cagney makes a request for a song in the saloon, despite the fact that there’s a man nearby who happens to be trying to kill him.

Classic Bogie Moment

I think that what makes Bogart so great and believable as a bad guy is that even when he’s given a two-dimensional role, he’s able to add some realistic vulnerability.  When a typical film villain hears bad news from a henchman, what does he do?  He might grimace and grit his teeth.  He might furrow his brow and clench his fists.  He might snarl and bark with spittle flying in all directions.  Not Bogart.  While getting bad news in two scenes in particular, he does exactly what an actor is supposed to do.  He listens.  And while he listens, we can see him actually thinking about what’s being said:

oklkidbogclassicoklclassic2

Bogart slowly turns away from the other actor, looking upset, confused, stressed, and even a little scared as he’s forced to adjust his plans in dealing with Cagney and his family.  It’s a little trait that I recognize from a lot of his other films, and it’s used well here.

The Bottom Line

If you like Cagney, you need to see this film.  If you’re more than a casual fan of Bogart, you’ll find a lot to love about The Oklahoma Kid despite its flaws.

San Quentin – 1937

san quentin

My Review

— Lackluster — 

Your Bogie Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director – Lloyd Bacon

The Lowdown 

An army man (Pat O’Brien) is brought in to shape up the inmates at San Quentin Prison, only to find out that a troublemaking new convict (Humphrey Bogart) is the brother to a lounge singer (Ann Sheridan) with whom he’s recently become smitten.

What I Thought

Almost all of the ingredients are here for a great film– great actors, capable director, great cinematographer, etc. – but the one thing lacking is an interesting script.

Through no fault of Pat O’Brien, Ann Sheridan, Humphrey Bogart, or Joe Sawyer, there’s just not much excitement or drama to be had in this film.  Everyone seems to be sleepwalking through their parts, especially O’Brien who was more than capable of carrying a good role if he got one.

Perhaps it’s the fact that O’Brien’s Captain Stephen Jameson is just written too blandly to evoke any sympathy.  His range of emotion shifts back and forth between mildly uncomfortable and slightly content.  Perhaps it’s the fact that every time some real motivation for drama occurs, all the tension is quickly let out of the scene with a few lines of dialogue that wraps up any conflict that was about to occur.

Am I being too hard on the film?  Maybe.  I’ll have to revisit it a few months from now and see if I still feel the same way.  Director Bacon made quite a few films with Bogart, some far better than others.  I personally feel like this is one of their less enjoyable collaborations.

The Bogart Factor 

While Bogart gets a lot of screen time in the movie as restaurant thief Joe “Red” Kennedy, he doesn’t seem to have a lot to work with as far as his character arc is concerned.  There are flashes of a charming con man towards the beginning when he meets with Ann Sheridan at a nightclub, but the moment that Bogart’s arrested, he spends the rest of the movie shifting between a hardened convict persona, and a naïve new jailbird who just needs to catch a break to become a better man.  Neither side of the character really has time to stick, so the final payoff for the film felt a little flat for me.  I wasn’t sure that “Red” Kennedy’s final act of redemption felt earned after everything we’d seen throughout the film.

Then again, I hold true to my motto that, “Any Bogart character is a good Bogart character.”  I feel like San Quentin offers us a chance to see Bogart in a role that is often overshadowed by his more iconic film archetypes.  We know the tough as nails gangster, the detached detective, and the loner expatriate, but there were also a number of roles where Bogart ably played a less-than-likable punk – a character who might be a gangster or a convict, but without the audacity or the wit that would make him likable.

I think it’s pretty impressive that Bogart could slightly fine tune his choices from one film to the next to make a gangster cool and dangerous in one movie (Petrified Forest), and a sniveling whiner in the next (Kid Galahad).  He could be confident and in control as one convict (High Sierra), while abrasive and unlikable as another (San Quentin).

Would it have helped if “Red” had been more likable in San Quentin?  I think it would have, but it’s still a great film to see a side of Bogart that doesn’t always make the highlight reels.

The Cast 

Pat O’Brien, as Captain Jameson, really only has a one-note character to work with.  Moments for his character to display some real internal conflict (whether or not to date Sheridan, how to handle an insubordinate MacLane, etc.) are downplayed in favor of his ease and confidence as the Captain of the yard who has a plan that can solve everything.  I think it would have lent a little more weight to the film if the script had allowed him just a bit of vulnerability.  For goodness sakes, he even downplays being shot at the end as if it’s just an inconvenience!

Ann Sheridan gets a little more to work with here as May, O’Brien’s lounge singing girlfriend, than she had in Black Legion.  Sheridan, though, suffers from character inconsistencies as well – playing the sultry nightclub act in the opening, and then switching over to the innocent girl next door type for the rest of the movie.

Barton MacLane is very good as the undermining Lt. Druggin who loses out on the Captain’s job in favor of O’Brien.  I think a little more focus and interaction towards the beginning of the film would have made his payoff in the climax more satisfying.

The real standout of the movie is character actor Joe Sawyer.  Sawyer has popped up a few times so far in this blog, once as a thug in Petrified Forest, and once as an anti-immigrant bully in Black Legion, but here he really has a chance to shine and play off of Bogart as the repeat offender, Sailor Boy.  What I love about so many of these Classic Hollywood studio films is that some of the character actors who appear over and over again seem to really be enjoying themselves in their roles.  Sawyer and Bogart have great chemistry, and their relationship is one of the film’s better components.

Classic Bogie Moment

We get a glimpse of the smooth Bogart gangster during the opening nightclub scene, and a little bit of the vengeful convict later on in prison as he utters the phrase, “I’ll make that guy eat those words if I have to spend a year in solitary!”

Perhaps the more classic moment, however, happens when we get to watch Bogart make a more subtle, physical choice.  One of the skills that Bogart displays so well is the ability to shift emotions right before our eyes.  Specifically, there’s a scene in the barracks as one of the convicts tells Bogart that all his prison perks come because the captain is dating his sister.  Watch the close up on Bogie’s faces as it switches from a wistful smile to a frowning rage, hitting every beat inbetween, in a fraction of a second.  Good stuff.

Don’t Forget to Notice

My “Don’t Forget to Notice” moments have, so far, always been little gems of greatness within a film – usually an actor in a small, but memorable role.  This time, however, there was one moment in the film that I found laugh-out-loud ridiculous.

When Bogart and Sawyer are escaping from the police in a stolen car, we get a long chase scene around country roads, through meadows, and over mountains.  In one abrupt cut, we go from Bogart and Sawyer on a level road, to the sudden insertion of a motorcycle cop missing a mountainous curve and flying off the edge.  Wait, what happened there?  It didn’t even look like they were on the same road!  Was he even close to the bad guy’s car, or did he just lose his concentration and trash a piece of government property?

I can imagine the conversation that must have happened to get the scene put in, though:

Lloyd Bacon:  William, what’s with the motorcycle guy out of nowhere?

Film Editor William Holmes:  Well, Lloyd, I know it doesn’t really fit or make sense, but Eddie busted up his back pretty bad on that stunt, and I kinda felt like we owed it to him to get it in there somewhere.

Bacon:  Yeah, that did look pretty bad.  Stick it in.

The Bottom Line

It’s watchable, but not memorable.  If anything, pay a little homage to Joe Sawyer as he gets more screen time than usual.

Plus – we watch as O’Brien pretends to some police officers that he hasn’t been shot so that Bogart’s “Red” can escape, but what are we supposed to think happens the next day when he shows up to work?  Isn’t anyone going to find it odd that both an escaped convict and the captain of the yard have been shot?  Is O’Brien going to pretend he’s not wounded forever?!?

Ah, the wonders of a less-than-stellar script . . .

Marked Woman – 1937

marked

My Review

—Pretty Good—

Your Bogie Fix:

2.5 Bogie  out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Lloyd Bacon

The Lowdown

This is the third Lloyd Bacon / Humphrey Bogart movie that I’ve reviewed since starting the blog – the first being Action in the North Atlantic, and the second Brother Orchid – and again, Bacon comes off as a good, straightforward, meat and potatoes director who gets the job done.

Loosely based on the fall of gangster “Lucky” Luciano, Marked Woman is a ripped-from-the-headlines film that Warner Brothers used to love cashing in on during Bogie’s time.

Bette Davis plays Mary, a high priced “hostess” working for an exclusive nightclub called Club Intimate where she’s tasked with doing whatever it takes to distract wealthy men while they’re being overcharged for champagne and gambling away their fortunes.  Even though the most we ever see Mary or her coworkers do is kiss the men they are assigned to, hostess is apparently the code word for prostitute as it’s intimated much more might happen as the women attempt to swindle the customers.

As shady as the job is for Mary, it gets even shadier when the club is taken over by Johnny Vanning (Eduardo Ciannelli), a notorious gangster who’s been able to keep one step ahead of the law, including Assistant District Attorney David Graham (Humphrey Bogart).  Mr. Vanning makes it clear from the beginning that he’s going to be a little more strict and demanding of his employees, and the hostesses know Vanning’s murderous reputation too well to put up a fight.

Even with the new, rougher management, Mary is still on board to do the job.  You see, she’s really a “hostess” with a heart of gold as she’s only doing the work to put her little sister, Betty, through school.  She even goes so far as to help Vanning embarrass ADA Graham in court, not knowing that in a short time she’ll be returning to the attorney’s office, pleading for the government’s help.

Mary’s sister, Betty (Jane Bryan), pays a surprise visit to the apartment where Mary and the other hostesses live, and before you know it, she’s tangled up in the business at Club Intimate, and winds up dead by Vanning’s own hands.  What follows is a desperate attempt by her older sister to bring the gangster to justice.

Bogart might get second billing on the poster, but in reality, he’s fourth or fifth down the line when it comes to screen time.  While it’s fun to note that the roles of criminal and do-gooder have now switched between Bogart and Davis since Petrified Forest, I didn’t feel that the same tension and chemistry between the actors was there.

Davis does a good job in her scenes with Ciannelli, but the script leans heavily on extravagant melodrama, and the ripped-from-the-headlines tone of the film is almost too clichéd in this day and age to have the same impact it did in the 30’s and 40’s.  So while it scores well with online reviews, it’s towards the bottom of the films that I’ve done so far.  (But then again, I enjoyed Swing Your Lady far more than the rest of the world, so what do I know?)

There is plenty to appreciate in this film though, as the cast has been put together well, and it’s always fun to see Bogart and Davis looking so young in their roles.  Davis is as bright-eyed and gorgeous as she ever would be, and Bogart has got the healthiest, most filled out physique that I ever remember seeing on him.

Davis throws herself fully into the character and seems to be committed deeply to the role.  As I understand it from the DVD extras, this was her first film after a drawn out fight with the studio, and she was itching to get back in front of the camera. Her passion shows.

Whether it was originally in the script or added for Bogart, there is a conversation where ADA Graham tells Davis that they’re both from the wrong side of the tracks and it’s not too late for her to make good.  This does a little bit to explain why a man of Bogart’s stature would let his accent slip a bit earlier in the picture as he tells Vanning, “I’m going to indict you for moider!

The Great

The women making up the group of hostesses that Davis lives with are all great, especially Lola Lane as Mary’s main confidant Gabby.  Lane is able to add a sullen darkness behind her role that I’m not sure the wide-eyed and chipper Davis was ready to show yet at this age.  (Although, my pre-1937 Bette Davis knowledge is pretty slight, so feel free to guide me towards some heavier films from her early years!)

Mayo Methot is Estelle, the hostess who’s getting a little long in the tooth to be attracting the high rollers, and Methot is very good here at playing desperate and bitter.  I have no doubt that most classic movie fans will recognize her as Bogart’s third wife.  They met and fell in love on the set of Marked Woman.

Eduardo Cianelli is truly menacing as Johnny Vanning.  While it would have been fun to see Bogart take the role just to get the screen time, Cianelli holds his own and does a great job bringing the necessary intensity and intimidation to the part.

The Good

I should put this in “The Great,” and probably would have if he’d had a little more screen time, but character actor Ben Welden plays Charlie, Vanning’s right hand thug, and he does it as well, if not better, than most others could.  Stocky, grimacing, and always looming in the background, Charlie is the thug who gets the jobs that even Vanning won’t take.  Do you know how hard it is to transcend the typical movie thug?  Welden is very good!

Classic Bogie Moment

Bogart is sitting behind the desk.  The woman in distress comes in, searching desperately for help.  While it doesn’t play out quite the same here as it would four years later in The Maltese Falcon, we do get a little precursor to one of Bogart’s most famous scenes.  He’s calm, cool, and collected as he sizes Davis up, deciding whether or not the woman who’s appeared before him can be trusted.

The Bottom Line

While this is a must see for any Davis or Bogart fan, it’s not quite heavy enough on the Bogart screen time to satisfy a decent Bogart fix.

Fun Fact:

Davis apparently had a real doctor bandage her face after her beating at the hands of Charlie the thug since the makeup crew’s job wasn’t to her satisfaction.

Brother Orchid – 1940

brother orchid

My Review

—Decent—

Your Bogie Fix:

2.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Lloyd Bacon

The Lowdown

A comedy crime drama that can’t quite seem to decide whether it wants to be more comedy or more lighthearted drama.

Edward G. Robinson is Johnny Sarto, mob boss and racketeer.  In the opening moments, we see Johnny explaining to his crew that he’s lost his stomach for the violence of mob life and wants out.  Seated at the table is Jack Buck, played by Humphrey Bogart, who’s next in line for the boss’ seat.

What follows is a five year trip to Europe for Johnny, as he leaves everything behind to find some “class and society.”  For some reason, he even decides to leave his longtime gal, Flo Addams (played by the wonderful Ann Sothern), behind – but at least he makes sure she gets a good job as a hatcheck girl in a nightclub.

Long story short, Johnny blows his fortune on a few swindles and bad deals across the ocean and comes home with his tail between his legs, ready to jump back into his old job.  The only problem?  His old employees don’t want him back.

After Bogart uses Sothern to trap Robinson into a failed assassination attempt, Robinson stumbles his way through the woods and winds up at The Floracian Monastery.  Figuring that the monastery would be a good place to lie low for ahwile, he becomes “Brother Orchid,” biding his time before making one last attempt at taking back his gang.

Robinson does a good job of playing the mobster with a good heart, but I personally think he does better with slightly edgier characters.  Sothern is perhaps the most fun part of the film and steals most of the scenes that she’s in.  Bogie is Bogie, and does the best he can with a small role.  Even though he’s third billed, Bogart’s really more of a fourth after being essentially forgotten for the last half of the film, as Donald Crisp’s “Brother Superior” takes over much of the screen time with Robinson.

Crisp, who appeared as Inspector Lane in The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, does well here as the pious mentor to Robinson’s slow-learning gangster.  The scene where Crisp sits with Robinson at the dinner table, after forgiving him for a string of mistakes that have hurt the monks, is especially well done and touching.

Rewatchable?  Sure.  It’s a fine vehicle for Robinson, and a great showcase for Sothern.  But if you’re specifically craving Bogart, you’ll probably pop in a film where he’s got a little more meat in the script.

The Great

Ann Sothern is such a treat!  Specifically, the scene where she pretends to be drunk in order to lure Robinson to a remote nightclub is especially fun.  She even carries on some drunken carousing with an imaginary suitor while on the phone with Robinson.  Sothern is light and charming, and turns what could have been a clichéd moll role into a fun character.  Check out the moment after she hangs up with Robinson in the nightclub as she slowly sits back in her seat, lightly biting her bottom lip.  Director Lloyd Bacon does a great job with that small moment of satisfaction.

The Good 

Ralph Bellamy’s rancher, Clarence Fletcher, has a lot of fun moments for his limited amount of screen time.  He and Sothern have good chemistry, and it is pretty satisfying to see them wind up together in the end.

Allen Jenkins, who plays Willie the “Knife,” has a fun moment or two in an asylum as he’s recruited back into the mob by Robinson.  The character really ends up going nowhere, but Jenkins appears in a number of other Bogart movies, so it’s always fun to see him pop up.

Classic Bogie Moment(s)

Bogart doesn’t get a ton of time to shine here, but a couple things popped out to me.

In Robinson’s opening speech to his gang, Bogart sits back in his chair, taking it all in, as he slowly taps and rotates a sharpened pencil on his leg – eraser, point, eraser, point.  A nice, menacing touch to a scene where he could have just sat passively by and listened.

And one of the subtlest, most satisfying bits of comedy comes when Sothern is asking if Bogart could possibly make up with Robinson.  Bogart replies, “Johnny don’t like me no more . . . makes me feel bad too . . .”  It could come off as pathetic, or creepy, or evil and conniving, but Bogart uses his great comedy chops to pull it off playfully like a wounded puppy, adding a nice touch of humorous vulnerability.

The Bottom Line

It’s a good movie, and definitely worth a watch, even if it’s not the most satisfying Bogart fix.  There’s more than enough to satisfy the classic movie lover though, and it’s a decent vehicle for Robinson.

Fun Fact

According to IMDB, it’s the only movie, out of the five they made together, that Robinson and Bogart don’t die!  Although, they do have a scrappy little fistfight at the end where Robinson gets the best of Bogart.