Pat O’Brien

San Quentin O'Brien

Name: William Joseph Patrick O’Brien

Birthdate: November 11, 1899

Number of Films Pat O’Brien Made with Humphrey Bogart: 5

The Lowdown

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.

The Filmography

China Clipper – 1936

China Clipper OBrien

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

Great OMalley OBrien

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

San Quentin 2 OBrien

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

Angels with Dirty Faces OBrien

Walking that last mile with Cagney

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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

Pat OBrien SwingtimeIt’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.

The Great O’Malley – 1937

The Great O'Malley

My Review

—Watchable with Solid Performances—

Bogie Film Fix:

1.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: William Dieterle

The Lowdown

An overly legalistic cop (Pat O’Brien) reexamines his life after inadvertently pushing a man (Humphrey Bogart) to commit a robbery.

What I Thought

I’ve really been on the fence about Pat O’Brien. After two films where I thought that he was kind of a cold fish (China Clipper and San Quentin) and one in which I thought that he almost stole the show away from James Cagney (Angels With Dirty Faces), I can now say that I’m officially on the Pat O’Brien bandwagon.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a five-star film by any means, but O’Brien’s portrayal of an uber-legalistic cop that goes just a little too far shows the most relatable character that I’ve seen from him out of all four of his Bogart collaborations. I can see a lot of myself in the guy, actually.

Who doesn’t want the rest of the world to run according to their own rules? Who doesn’t want to be the best at their job? Who hasn’t gone just a little bit overboard trying to hold other people to expectations that no one could live up to? The moment where O’Brien threatens to ticket his own mother for littering (throwing food scraps to the birds) was one of the standout moments for me that, while played for laughs, probably showed a man who would today be diagnosed with severe OCD or even Asperger’s Syndrome.

I also appreciate the fact that Director Dieterle doesn’t go for a completely feel good personality shift in Officer O’Malley, as his change in demeanor comes slowly, bit by bit, making sure to point out that even though O’Malley can appreciate children on an individual basis, he’s not all that good with them in large groups. He’s also not the smoothest with women, as he seems to think that standup, tried-and-true, unwavering chivalry will work in an age when the streetwise fast talking dames (Ann Sheridan) are willing to go toe-to-toe with any man, even a cop.

The Bogart Factor

Down on his luck John Phillips is a small part, and definitely leans towards the two-dimensional side, but again, if you’re going to have to watch someone play a two-dimensional blue collar crook for a few minutes, you can do a lot worse than Bogart! Plus, there’s a glimpse of sweet Bogart madness that seeps out after he’s released from prison and goes after O’Brien when he thinks the cop is badgering him. Not a must-see for Bogart fans, but the film is watchable and has its moments, so you’ll come out even in the end!

The Cast

Pat O’Brien plays the by-the-book cop, Officer James Aloysius O’Malley. With a name like that, can you blame the guy for developing a few glaring character flaws? Not unlike his role in China Clipper, this was a part that could have left him just as unlikable at the end as we found him in the beginning, but the script and director do well enough making sure that O’Brien’s judicious cop gets to learn his lesson and make a few changes. Again, it’s a great performance by O’Brien in a film filled with two-dimensional characters, so in my opinion, he saves the film and pushes it into the “enjoyable” category.

Ann Sheridan plays school teacher Judy Nolan, the woman that tames, teaches, and eventually falls for O’Brien’s stuffy cop. It’s another underdeveloped role for Sheridan, but she’s just so doggone cute and charismatic that it’s clear she did the most she could with the script.

Child actor Sybil Jason plays Bogart’s daughter, Barbara Phillips – the little girl who steals the heart of Officer O’Malley and helps pull him over to the good side. Jason is about as strong here as you could expect a child actor to be, and I have to admit that I laughed out loud every time she referred to her friend Tubby (Delmar Watson) by name. Oh, how times have changed. You give a kid that nickname today and you’d be expelled from school.

There are numerous other solid character actors to mention here, but I’m going to give the last slot to Bogie Film Blog favorite, Donald Crisp. Crisp’s role is small, but very solid, as usual. He plays O’Brien’s commanding officer, and spends every one of his few moments in the film trying to get O’Brien to recognize that a cop needs as much heart as he does brains. If my research is correct, I can now start his write up for ‘The Usual Suspects’ as this is the last film I needed to watch from his Bogart collaborations. Crisp has been so good in every role, no matter how great or how small, and I’m eager to dive into the rest of his filmography.

Classic Bogie Moment

It’s a pretty small part with not a lot to work with, but as always, Bogart finds a way to do a lot with a little. In the scene where he’s convicted to prison, Bogart hangs his head in despair. But if you’ll notice, just below his ears and about an inch forward, his jowl muscles are clenching and releasing, clenching and releasing with anguish – hardly even noticeable. It’s his only movement for several seconds of the film and it adds a painful sense of reality to the moment. While it might be a tiny acting choice, Bogart had an incredible talent for adding little nuances to smaller scenes that most actors would either overdo, or not even bother to think about.

The Great O'Malley

The Bottom Line

This one’s a far cry from Bogart’s best work, but it’s a fine way to pass an evening. Pair it up with Angels With Dirty Faces for a double feature, and spend some time learning to appreciate Pat O’Brien like I did!

Angels With Dirty Faces – 1938

Angels with dirty faces

My Review

—A Must See Cagney Film—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

Full Bogie out of 5 bogies!

Director: Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

Two childhood friends (James Cagney and Pat O’Brien) grow up and go down very different paths after a run-in with the police. One becomes a gangster, and the other a priest.

What I Thought

This film was one of the biggest gaps in my Bogart / Classic Film knowledge. I’ve read a lot about it, had it recommended numerous times, and have even come close to actually viewing it on occasion, but this was the first that time I’ve seen it in its entirety.

Did it live up to the hype? For the first hour – no. Not that I thought it was bad, because it’s actually very good. Cagney is amazing, and my appreciation for him continues to grow. It’s the first Pat O’Brien film I’ve seen so far where I thought that he really got to play a 3-dimensional character, and now I’m starting to understand what all the fuss is about. Plus, I got a little dose of Ann Sheridan, which is always a good thing!

I just didn’t think it was as good as everyone had told me. Up until the last fifteen minutes of the film I was ready to rank this one just below The Roaring Twenties. The script is good, but not great. Director Michael Curtiz does a fine job, but it’s a far cry from Casablanca. And then there’s the fact that Bogart is hardly in the film despite high billing and lots of presence in the advertising.

Then I got to the ending . . . wow.

Without giving anything away (in case you’re also behind on seeing this film), Cagney’s final scene is so powerful that I’m still reeling from it two days after watching the film. The movie certainly didn’t have to end that way. It could have gone with a more audience-friendly finish. Yet Curtiz, Cagney, and O’Brien take what was a good film and elevate it to great with just the last fifteen minutes.

I’ll save my praise for Cagney until later in this post, but if you aren’t haunted by his final moments in this film (where we see nothing but Cagney’s hands!), then you might want to double check whether or not you have a soul. Supposedly Cagney played his final scene with enough ambiguity that the audience wouldn’t know exactly why he was saying what he was saying. Was it honest? Was it a show for his friend and for the press? The choice to play it that way was genius, and makes it my favorite moment of any film of Cagney’s I’ve seen.

The Bogart Factor

If you’re here for a Bogart fix, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. The man is barely in it, and when he is it’s a horribly small and two-dimensional lawyer turned gangster character.

Bogart plays James Frazier, a lawyer who goes into business for himself as a racketeer after he swipes a hundred thousand dollars off of Cagney after Cagney is sentenced to a long prison stint. Most of the role is spent sniveling into a phone, or sniveling to his partner in crime (George Bancroft), or just plain sniveling for his life from Cagney.

Bogart’s trying, but there’s literally nothing here to work with. Why have two crooks in Bogart and Bancroft? Why not just consolidate them into one role and give it a little more meat? It’s probably the biggest shortcoming of the script that we don’t get a better antagonist to work against Cagney’s attempt at creating a new criminal empire.

The Cast

James Cagney plays Rocky Sullivan, the small time hood who grows up to be a big time criminal. Cagney’s onscreen charisma is off the charts in every starring role that I’ve seen, and perhaps there needs to be a Cagney Film Blog somewhere down the road. He more than capably pulls off an incredible amount of likability from the audience even while we watch him do some pretty lowdown things to his friends and the kids he begins to mentor. Perhaps the gift that I appreciate the most is the fact that you can always see Cagney’s mind racing, as if he’s thinking one or two steps ahead of the current plan, racing his mind to cover all the bases. This is great, great, Cagney. And like I mentioned earlier, his delivery of his final lines is so emotionally painful, it’s a rare thing for a movie from this era to disturb me so deeply.

Pat O’Brien plays Father Jerry Connolly, Cagney’s childhood friend and former fellow hoodlum. After Cagney’s arrested and begins a life of crime, O’Brien’s Father Jerry finds the straight and narrow and dedicates his life to helping juvenile delinquents get a shot at a better life. After several films in which I really wasn’t a fan of O’Brien (China Clipper, San Quentin), I have to say that I was really impressed here. His character had a lot more nuance and subtext than the last two films, and O’Brien made me believe he was a man with a darker past. I admit that I was caught completely off guard when he slugged the patron at the 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.

Ann Sheridan plays Laury Ferguson, and GOOD GRIEF is she underused in this film. After falling in love with her in It All Came True, I was pretty anxious to see her in another leading lady role – but this ain’t it! There’s a few moments of promise at the beginning when she starts a relationship with Cagney, but after that, Sheridan is relegated to occasionally popping up to fret over the men of the film and try not to look out of place even though she has little to do. I’m going to have to keep searching for another great Sheridan role I guess . . .

George Bancroft plays Bogart’s partner in crime, Mac Keefer. There seems to be a little more depth here than what Bogart got to play with, but not much. I liked Bancroft and his team of thugs, but I never really bought that any of them were a real threat to Cagney.

The “Dead End” Kids basically play themselves. They are one of the strongest points of the film, and they all get a little more time to shine than they did in Crime School, as their screen time is divided up a little more evenly and Billy Halop doesn’t take all the good lines. What’s most entertaining to me is that this is apparently the film where Bogart finally got fed up with their bad behavior after they stole some of his pants and lobbed fire crackers at him. (Cagney supposedly smacked Leo Gorcy for adlibbing!) The boys are very charismatic, and add quite a few good moments of levity to the film.

Classic Bogie Moment

Not much to work with here! So I’ll just go with a pic that illustrates how no one could smoke like Bogie could smoke –

Angels classic

The Bottom Line

Even though Bogart gets shortchanged, you need to see this one just for Cagney’s performance!

China Clipper – 1936

chinaclipperposte

My Review

—Starts Strong, Ends Weak— 

Your Bogie Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Ray Enright

The Lowdown

Dave Logan (Pat O’Brien) is a veteran war pilot who becomes obsessed with the globalization of commercial air transport.  Unfortunately, his passion comes at the cost of his wife, friends, and coworkers.

What I Thought

There was a moment about fifteen minutes into this film where I thought I might have found a real hidden gem.  China Clipper isn’t widely available to watch or purchase, and I was just getting ready to write my complaint email to Warner Brothers when I suddenly understood the lack of enthusiasm behind the film.

This is the second Bogart picture from director Ray Enright that I’ve watched for the blog.  The first, Swing Your Lady, was a lot of silly fun, but certainly had its issues.  China Clipper is a complete dramatic reversal in tone from Lady, and while it starts strong, it eventually peters out, overstaying its welcome by a good thirty minutes.

We watch as Pat O’Brien’s retired war pilot, Dave Logan, passionately decides to follow his dreams after seeing Lindbergh cross the ocean.  He believes that oceanic commercial air travel is the future, and he’s willing to gamble everything to get it.  Perhaps the strongest scene in the film comes with Logan lying in bed with his wife (Beverly Roberts) just after learning that she wants to leave him.  O’Brien pulls her close, apologizes for neglecting her, and then convinces her to stick it out just a little longer.  It’s touching moment, and O’Brien plays it wonderfully.  In fact, the first half of this movie is some of the best work I’ve ever seen O’Brien do, especially when he confronts, and moves on from, his wife leaving him.

The problem comes about midway through the film.  Dave Logan seems to hit the peak of his character arc and just kind of flat lines.  He learns his lesson on why he shouldn’t abuse his friends, family, wife, and coworkers, and he makes his apologies.  Unfortunately, there’s still a good forty minutes left in the movie, and the character apparently has nowhere left to go.  Not only that, but whatever growth supposedly took place is quickly ignored as he reverts back to old habits.  Except now, no one questions him.

If you like to watch repetitive shots of an airplane flying through clouds, maybe you’ll like the ending better than I did, but once O’ Brien’s character began to lose steam, I did too.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart’s enjoyability in this film runs parallel to the movie’s.  For the first half, he’s great to watch as Hap Stuart, Logan’s old war buddy who comes looking for a job with the new airline company.  He’s wry, witty, and loyal – traits not unfamiliar to some of his best roles.  But again, once the film shifts to extended scenes of the final plane flight, we’re relegated to fairly static shots of Bogart sitting behind the controls, doing his best to look focused and alert.

There are a few good moments here, but overall, it’s not a must see performance.

The Cast

Beverly Roberts is good as Dave’s wife, Jean Logan, but there’s not a whole lot of meat in the script for her to work with.  She has a solid scene towards the end, though, when she has a great fight with Dave about working for his airline.

Ross Alexander plays Dave’s closest friend, Tom Collins, and he was the stand out performance for me in this film.  He adds a lot of humor, has a great side story with a ditzy girlfriend, and is able to hold his own on screen with both O’Brien and Bogart.  I was saddened to learn that Alexander’s career was cut short after he took his own life at a young age due to personal turmoil.  I’m going to have to see what else is in his filmography though, as he’s very good.

Henry B. Walthall as Dave Logan’s father, Dad Brunn, is another standout for the film.  He plays Dad as the loving father who’s willing to break his back for his son, and it’s a very sympathetic role.  I was also saddened to learn that he died during the making of this film, and had to be written out.  Ironically, scenes involving Dad Brunn’s weak heart were already shot, and are included in the movie.

Classic Bogie Moment

There’s a scene midway through the film where Bogart takes O’Brien out to a hallway to scold him for his calloused behavior while their coworkers look on.  Watch as Bogart builds up to the big punch after he resigns from the airline.  We get a close up on Bogart’s face, and right before he loses his temper, we see his lips part just a bit and tighten up against his teeth.  It’s a little physicality that I recognized from countless other Bogart movies.  (And a great tell if you were ever in a fistfight with the guy!  If his lips tighten, duck!)

The Bottom Line

While O’Brien has a handful of great scenes, and several actors in his supporting cast are stellar, this one won’t give you a great Bogie fix.  In fact, you’ll find yourself shaking your fist at the screen, wondering why they didn’t just put a mannequin in that danged pilot’s seat for the last twenty minutes of the film.