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.

Men are Such Fools – 1938

Men are Such Fools Poster

My Review

—Good Charisma, TERRIBLE Script—

Bogie Film Fix:

.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Busby Berkeley

The Lowdown

Jimmy Hall (Wayne Morris) grows jealous when his girlfriend Linda (Priscilla Lane) starts advancing in her advertising career and becomes the object of attention for several of the men that she works with.

What I Thought

My brother occasionally helps me out with this blog, giving me access to his satellite dish for TCM when I need to watch a film that’s not available on DVD. He watched Men are Such Fools before I did and his review was, “It’s horrible!”

How bad could it be? I thought, It’s got Wayne Morris, Priscilla Lane, Penny Singleton, Bogart, and was directed by Busby Berkeley! I just figured that my brother wasn’t as cultured with the classics as I am. Maybe he’s just not as good at identifying the wonderful qualities in the older, more obscure, films.

Turns out he was dead on. It’s pretty bad.

Don’t get me wrong, all of the actors come off as well as they can. Wayne Morris is incredibly charming. Priscilla Lane is gorgeous and witty. Bogart is playing a slightly more redeemed version of the con man that he played in some of his earlier films. It’s just the script that stinks here. It’s horrible. Truly, terribly, bad and horrible.

What’s missing? Motivation. Any motivation whatsoever is nowhere to be found for any of the characters.

Wayne Morris is in love with Priscilla Lane. She wants none of it. Suddenly she falls desperately in love with him after he’s been nothing but a nagging pest. What changed? Nothing. For the plot to advance their love needed to happen, so it does.

Lane goes from secretary to ad exec wunderkind! How? She has one good idea about an ad campaign. Before the campaign even fully comes to fruition, everyone in town knows her name and she’s appearing in the newspaper as an advertising genius. How does everyone hear about her and come to such an esteemed opinion of her talents? It’s not really explained, but for Morris to get jealous of the time she spends with other men, it needed to happen so it just does.

Lane’s boss (Hugh Herbert) is all grabby and creepy-old-manish towards her, obviously interested in something besides her talent. What turns him from a sexual predator into a friend? Uh, I guess Wayne Morris shows up and then Herbert just decides to turn over a new leaf when he sees how much Morris loves her?

Then there’s the fact that Lane seems to find it perfectly acceptable to flirt and lead men on to get ahead in her career – making Morris wait on the sideline while she makes time with Bogart’s radio exec, Harry Galleon. Sure, go ahead Director Berkeley, lose any sympathy for Lane that we might have as we actually feel kind of bad for Morris even though we’re apparently supposed to be in awe of Lane’s female empowerment.

Ugh. If there had been any sort of baseline believable plot for this one, just a hint of promise in the screenplay, this could have been a quaint little romantic comedy. Instead, lots of wonderful talent is wasted on a herky-jerky plot and poor character development. I feel bad being this hard on a film, but I’d probably sit through Isle of Fury again twice before going back to this one.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart’s here with a decent amount of screen time as radio man Harry Galleon. What can I say though? He does his best with what little he has. There’s a slightly promising side story with Bogart’s second love interest, Marcia Ralston, and how Director Berkeley handles the subtleties of a long term relationship on the rocks, but other than that, there’s no real meat to Bogart’s character.

He looks good, I guess. We get to see him in an old school men’s two-piece bathing suit . . .

The Cast

Wayne Morris plays Jimmy Hall, the loving and supportive man behind Priscilla Lane’s successful woman. It kills me that out of all the collaborations Morris had with Bogart, he shows the most onscreen charisma here, but he has nothing to do with it other than to stand around and look good. If nothing else, he does get a few chances to play brooding and jealous alongside of Lane and Bogart.

Priscilla Lane plays Linda Lawrence, the young secretary turned advertising genius. It was great to see Lane again after enjoying her so much alongside James Cagney in The Roaring Twenties. She’s pretty, upbeat, and comes off well onscreen, but again, like everyone else here, her character is flimsy, often unlikable, and makes numerous unmotivated decisions. If nothing else, this film makes me want to go rewatch Arsenic and Old Lace so that I can see Lane at her finest.

Hugh Herbert plays Lane’s boss, Harvey Bates. Good character actor, but again, see my complaints for the previous two stars.

Perhaps my favorite role in the whole film is played by Marcia Walston as Wanda, the jealous woman in Bogart’s life. It’s a small role, but at least her choices are motivated and understandable!

And don’t forget Penny Singleton! I could watch that woman do anything . . . and I might have a little crush on her.

Classic Bogie Moment

Are you kidding me? This guy even wears swimsuit robes that look like trench coats! Is this as close as we’ll ever get to seeing Rick Blaine relaxing by the pool?

Men are Such Fools Classic

The Bottom Line

This one’s for Bogart completists only.

Swing Your Lady – 1938 

swing

My Review

—A Weak Script, but Fun Film—

Your Bogie Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Ray Enright

The Lowdown

For all of the horrible things that I’d heard about this movie, I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as its reputation.  It’s got a 4.5 user rating on IMDB and that seems unfairly harsh, but perhaps my expectations were so low that anything would’ve seemed better than the horror that I expected.

Bogart is Ed Hatch, a traveling professional wrestling promoter who’s trying to break into the big time at Madison Square Garden.  The wrestler that he’s attached himself to is a big, dumb, lummox of an ape named Joe Skopapoulus (Nat Pendleton) who’s so brainless that even the dinging of a hotel bell will send him into a wrasslin’ fit.  Pendleton plays Skopapoulus unrealistically dumb to the point that the character would be much more at home in that one pro wrestling Bugs Bunny cartoon rather than walking around in the real world.

Hatch, his girlfriend Cookie (a wonderful Penny Singleton), Skopapoulus, and Hatch’s crew (Trainers?  Marketing Men?  Cronies?) find themselves deep in the Ozarks in a little town named Plunkett when they stumble across a possible opponent for Skopapoulus that they can use to garner some attention.  Why do they think that wrestling their champ in the middle-of-nowhere will garner them attention?  I don’t know, and they really don’t seem to either.

Enter Sadie Horn (Louise Fazenda), a rough and tumble ox-like woman who works as a blacksmith and has the ability to lift Hatch’s car right out of a pothole when it gets stuck.  Hatch sees a potential intergender novelty match in the making, and starts to set up the fight.  But just when things start to fall into place, the big, dumb ape falls in love with the ox-like blacksmith – they kiss – and the fight is off.  Luckily for Hatch, there are plenty of enormous hillbilly bumpkins running around, and one of Sadie’s unrequited suitors, Noah Wulliver (Daniel Boone Savage), comes running in to defend the woman that he loves from the traveling wrestler.

So a new match is on!  Skopapoulus vs. Wulliver, and Sadie will be the prize for the winner!  Except Hatch doesn’t want to drag Sadie all over the country with his champ, so he tells Skopapoulus to take a dive.  (So why are they in this town?  To gain attention by losing?  But no one will notice because they’re in the Ozarks, right?  So why go on with the match???)  Yet, lo and behold, the powers that be in professional wrestling get wind of the fight, and offer the winner a match . . . get ready for this . . . at Madison Square Garden!  So now Hatch’s fighter needs to win!

Whew.

Fortunately, what the movie lacks in plot coherency, I thought it actually made up for in charm.  Are a few of the characters a little over-caricatured?  Sure.  But every one of them was able to squeak out at least one or two laughs from me.

And don’t be fooled like I was by any of Bogie’s biographies that make it sound like he was unhappily sleepwalking through this role.  He’s Bogie, and even with so little to work with, he’s a lot of fun to watch as the slick, big city promoter who’s always thinking two steps ahead of his current scheme.

Script flaws not withstanding, this movie is far more watchable than I’d been led to believe, and if it reran on TCM, I’d probably watch it through again.  It’s harmless, family-friendly fun.  Ronald Reagan even shows up in a very small role as a reporter towards the end of the film.

The Great

Penny Singleton’s character of Cookie doesn’t have a whole lot to do or say, but when she starts singing (Oh, did I forget to mention that this movie is almost/kind of a musical?) she is so doggone wonderful and cute that I gave the rest of the movie a pass.  Turns out that Cookie is a bit of a hillbilly at heart, and she jumps right in with the locals on a few song and dance numbers.  Most will remember Singleton as Blondie Bumstead from all of those 40’s movies.  Her second song towards the end of the film is so adorably endearing, I admit that I may have developed more than a little crush on her.

The Good

Hmmmm.  I easily made it all the way through the movie even though I’d been led to believe that I wouldn’t.  That’s good, right?  The supporting cast is adequate here, mostly diving deep, deep, deep into hillbilly cliché and caricature.  That being said, I think if you go into the movie with the knowledge that it’s an over-the-top screwball comedy, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Classic Bogie Moment

Bogart gets to use his comedy chops here, as only he can do.  It’s great to see someone who can be so menacing, effortlessly play light as well.  One of my favorite exchanges comes when Hatch asks Sadie if she’s interested in a match:

Bogart: Do you wanna wrassle?

Sadie:  What fer?

Bogart:  For money.

Sadie:  Sure!

And she immediately lunges at a wide eyed Bogart as if he meant for it to happen with him on the spot.

There’s also a great little interrogation scene where Bogart and his crew are trying to find out what’s wrong with Skopapoulus.  Bogie slips back a bit into his gangster persona as he yells, “Now listen ya conniving baboon, I’ll give you one more chance!  I’ll make ya talk!”

The Bottom Line

If you don’t mind gags that involve chickens falling out of cars and moonshine jugs, you won’t be offended by this.  It’s fun.  Don’t take it too seriously.  If nothing else, Bogie gets to play a character that we don’t see him tackle much in the rest of his films, and I dare say that it looks like he might even be having a little fun!

Fun Fact

Penny Singleton was the voice of Jane Jetson!  Really???  I may have to go back and watch this movie sooner than later!