Screen Guild Theater – If You Could Only Cook – 1941

My Review

-A Little Too Light on the Comedy-

Honorary Radio Bogie Fix:

The Lowdown

A frustrated car executive (Adolph Menjou) meets up with a unemployed secretary (Priscilla Lane) in the park and they pretend to be married so that they can get hired on as a cook and a butler for a big time gangster (Bogart).

What I Thought

This one’s an easy listen, but there’s not much meat on the bone, even for Classic Radio fans. While I’ve never seen the original film starring Jean Arthur, its positive reviews would lead me to believe that something was lost in the translation to radio. At a mere 30 minutes, the plot is pretty bare and any thought of character development seems to have been tossed out the window.

Is it worth a listen? Maybe if you’ve got a long drive or flight and you’re a big fan of Priscilla Lane.

The Bogart Factor

Playing a foodie gangster, Bogart’s portrayal of Dan Nolin is not much more than a stock racketeer role that he could play in his sleep. While he gives it his all, the script doesn’t give him enough to make the role more than an amusing extended cameo. It’s mentioned at the end that he was out promoting The Maltese Falcon.

The Rest of the Cast

Priscilla Lane plays Joan, the unemployed secretary that pretends to be married so that she can get a job as Bogart’s cook. As I said before, there’s very little here for the cast to work with. While Lane probably has the meatiest role in the whole production, her motivations for wanting to work for a gangster and for falling in love don’t really get time to add up. That said, Lane is talented enough to make the most out of this small part and it’s not hard to see why the men in the production would find her so cute.

Adolph Menjou plays the frustrated car executive James. Perhaps the film version spends a little more time explaining Jim’s motivations for disappearing from his job (nobody seems to notice) and leaving his fiancee for days leading up to their nuptials (again, apparently unnoticed) when it merely seems like he’s having a bad day. He falls in love. Why? His fiancee is supposed to come off as a real shrew, you know, because she called him at work once.

Roger Pryor hosts the show and plays Bogart’s gangster sidekick, Flash. Normally this type of role would be comic relief, but in a light comedy where the main gangster is already playing for comic relief, Pryor doesn’t have much to do but say lines that could have been given to Bogart.

The Bottom Line

Not a complete waste of time, but probably only entertaining for die hard Priscilla Lane or Bogart fans.

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.

The Roaring Twenties – 1939

roaring twenties

My Review

—Great Film—

Your Bogie Fix:

3 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Raoul Walsh

The Lowdown

Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney) returns from fighting in World War I and finds that the only way he can make a decent living is by selling homemade liquor.  Soon Bartlett is running a bootlegging operation, in love with a naïve young singer (Priscilla Lane), and teaming up with two old war buddies (Jeffry Lynn and Humphrey Bogart) to deliver cheap booze to as many speakeasies as he can muscle.  Before long though, Bartlett finds that his unrequited love and his jealous partner are more than he can handle while running a business.

What I Thought

This film is a whole lot of fun.  While it may not be Cagney or Bogart’s best gangster movie, it’s still fantastic and well worth the watch.

Cagney gets to run the gamut from celebrated soldier boy to big time gangster, and then all the way down to flat broke drunk.  I use the word charisma a lot on this blog when I talk about Bogart’s command of the big screen, but Cagney is another one of those actors that you just can’t take your eyes off of.  He looks great in a uniform, a tuxedo, and a bum’s clothes.  He can switch from coy and charming one minute, to fierce and ruthless the next, and it always plays believably.  Plus, he has a great sense of comedic timing and isn’t afraid to let his costars shine.  Good guy or evil, it’s hard not to root for him in any role.

While the story of bootlegging gangsters might not be new or groundbreaking, it is quite layered, weaving many different characters in and out of the life of Cagney’s returning war veteran, Bartlett.

Many gangster movies of the time were satisfied with introducing one female lead to hold the main hood’s coat and be a good little mobgirl stereotype – The Roaring Twenties gives us two, and neither one of them turns out to be the typical squeaky moll that we might expect.

The young singer that Bartlett adores won’t return his loving glance, let alone his proposal ring.  All the while, the older speakeasy madam is quietly pining away for him, but Bartlett can’t bring himself out of his puppy-love daze long enough to notice.

Then there are Bartlett’s two pals that would give him the shirt off their backs and all he does is lead them down a dangerous and tragic path.  Bartlett’s roommate Danny (Frank McHugh) is willing to do absolutely anything to help his buddy make it, and it costs him big when Bartlett continually puts him in harm’s way.  And Bartlett’s old war buddy, Lloyd (Jeffry Lynn), who’s now a lawyer, barely makes it out of Bartlett’s racket by the skin of his teeth.

What sets this film apart from so many gangster of the time is that director Raoul Walsh gives us a story that’s more epic in nature than what we’ve come to expect from these sorts of crime films.  These are three dimensional characters that all have interests and desires that, like in real life, don’t all orbit around one central character so that everything wraps up nicely before the credits.

Cagney’s Bartlett is a man with a serious tragic flaw – he can’t always put aside his own ambition to see the bigger picture.  It costs him in the end when he passes up one too many chances to take care of his business partner, and rival, George Hally (Bogart), leaving us with a bittersweet finale after Bartlett finally does the right thing, albeit a little too late.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart’s got a strong first ten minutes in the film and then disappears until about halfway through.  It’s not as well rounded a character as Cagney has to play with, as Bogart plays a slightly more typical bad guy, but it does have its moments.

Director Walsh is able to misdirect us a bit, making Bogart’s George Hally a borderline likable guy.  There’s an inkling here and there that Hally could go bad, but we really don’t know for sure until the final act of the film.

Small scenes are given to Bogart’s character that are able to show his menace, while at the same time giving us motivation for his eventual turn on Cagney.  In particular, Walsh crafts a great little side story where Hally comes across his old, belligerent army Sergeant (Joe Sawyer) as the bootleggers are committing a robbery.  Through just a few lines earlier in the movie, we know that Hally feels as if he’s been mistreated by the Sergeant, a man that Hally has always felt superior to.  At both points in the film, we don’t yet know that Bogart’s going to turn on Cagney, and so it’s not hard for us to understand Hally’s satisfaction in getting revenge on his old tormenter. It also adds a little color to Bogart’s character as we learn that he doesn’t like taking orders from anyone – which ends up being George Hally’s tragic flaw.

The Cast

Priscilla Lane is very good as Jean Sherman, the teenage girl who writes Cagney during the war and then steals his heart when he gets home.  She very convincingly plays ignorant to Cagney’s advances, and it’s easy to believe that she’d fall for a character like Jeffrey Lynn’s stand-up Lloyd.

Perhaps my favorite moments of the film happen with Frank McHugh’s portrayal of Cagney’s best friend, Danny.  McHugh’s comic timing and expressive face inject a lot of good nature and levity into the early part of the movie, and he works very well with Cagney.  McHugh pops up here and there in a lot of Classic Hollywood films, and I need to further explore his filmography.

Another high point is Gladys George (Iva Archer in The Maltese Falcon) as a speakeasy hostess who has a thing for Cagney.  She takes the role well beyond the caricature that it could have been, and gives the audience a strong character that we can relate to as she watches Cagney spin out of control.

Don’t Forget to Notice

A number of Bogie regulars show up in character roles – Joe Sawyer as the Sergeant, Ben Welden as a bar owner, and Eddie Acuff as a taxi driver.  My goal before this blog is done is to create a cross referenced list of all the actors who pop up in Bogart’s movies again and again.

Classic Bogie Moment

The scene that sticks out to me most is one that comes early in the film and shows Bogart’s skill at mixing humor and menace in the same moment.  Bogart, Cagney, and Lynn are all in a firefight, taking shots at Germans just before the war ends.  Lynn lines up a man in his sights, but can’t bring himself to fire:

Bogart:  What’s the matter Harvard?  You lose the Heinie?

Lynn:  No, but he looks like a kid about fifteen years old.

Bogart:  (TAKES THE SHOT AND SNEERS) He won’t be sixteen . . .

The Bottom Line

This is a great film, and while it might not be one of Bogart’s most iconic roles, he plays his part very well and gives us a heavy that can stand up against Cagney as a believable threat.