Name: William Joseph Patrick O’Brien
Birthdate: November 11, 1899
Number of Films Pat O’Brien Made with Humphrey Bogart: 5
It took me four films to warm up to Pat O’Brien, but that’s largely due to the fact that I started with his two worst Bogart collaborations (China Clipper and San Quentin) and it took a while to get their bad tastes out of my mouth. The good news is that he’s wonderful in The Great O’Malley, and even better in Angels with Dirty Faces, so if you only know O’Brien from his portrayal of Knute Rockne, as I did initially, there’s plenty more to love about him.
Lifelong friends with other Bogie Film Blog favorites James Cagney, Allen Jenkins, and Frank McHugh, it’s only fitting that O’Brien finds his way into the ‘The Usual Suspects,’ and I’m excited to dive a little deeper into the rest of his filmography down the road.
China Clipper – 1936
O’Brien plays Dave Logan, a veteran war pilot who opens his own oceanic shipping company and then proceeds to abuse his friends and family in order to see his dreams come true. Unfortunately, Logan seems to hit the peak of his character arc mid film and then flounders for the next forty minutes. After alienating his coworkers, working his father to death, and ruining his marriage, Logan learns his lesson and makes his apologies . . . only to continue down the same reckless path and make sure that all of his dreams still come true . . . okay. O’Brien is not to blame for the audience turning on Logan nearly as much as the scriptwriters are, but he just doesn’t have much luck garnering sympathy as the film’s main protagonist when we have to watch him act like a jerk, refuse to change, and still come out on top. Not a great starter film if you want to see a good O’Brien/Bogart collaboration. You can read my original write up here.
The Great O’Malley – 1937
O’Brien plays the by-the-book cop, Officer James Aloysius O’Malley – a name almost as lengthy and Irish as the one he was born with! O’Malley is a man that loves to follow the rules and write tickets for everyone else who doesn’t. While he doesn’t have a ton of screen time with Bogart, it’s O’Brien that really pushes this by-the-numbers film from watchable to enjoyable. His OCD-like behavior not only makes for a number of funny moments in the movie, but it also leads to a couple of nice dramatic scenes with Bogart and his family. His final confrontation with Bogart is one of the film’s best tension-filled scenes. You can read my original write up here.
San Quentin – 1937
O’Brien plays Captain Jameson, the new prison warden at San Quentin Prison, inheriting a riotous group of ne’er-do-well inmates – including a belligerent Bogart. O’Brien only has a one-note character to work with here, and any moments for him to display some real internal conflict (whether or not to date Ann Sheridan, how to handle an insubordinate Barton MacLane, etc.) are downplayed in favor of showing his ease and confidence as the Captain of the yard who has a plan that can solve every problem. 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 a mere inconvenience! You can read my original write up on the film here.
Angels with Dirty Faces – 1938
Walking that last mile with Cagney
O’Brien plays Father Jerry Connolly, James Cagney’s childhood friend and former fellow hoodlum. I was very impressed with O’Brien’s work in this one, as Father Jerry is certainly his most layered and well-rounded character out of all the O’Brien/Bogart collaborations. O’Brien made me believe that he was a man with a darker past, and I admit that I was caught completely off guard when he slugged a patron at a bar for giving him a hard time. It was a realistic moment of fury that helped show the fine balance O’Brien was taking to toe the line between ex-criminal and clergyman. You can read my original write up on the film here.
Swingtime in the Movies – 1938
It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from O’Brien, appearing very briefly as himself in the film studio commissary amidst a whole lineup of film stars who are having lunch. Bogart appears seconds later with The ‘Dead End’ Kids in a brief cameo as well, but more than likely they weren’t even in the same room at the same time. Not really worth a watch if you’re looking for a good fix from either man. You can read my original write up on Swingtime in the Movies here.