Richard Brooks

brooks

Birth Name: Reuben Sax

Date of Birth: May 18, 1912

Date of Death: March 11, 1992

Number of Films that Richard Brooks Made with Humphrey Bogart: 3

The Lowdown

When I started The Usual Suspects portion of the blog, I thought that it would be a great way to give folks a resource on some of Bogart’s best and more regular collaborators. (Did you like Peter Lorre in Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon? Well, you should definitely check him out in All Through the Night!) Yet, Richard Brooks is a real anomaly to The Usual Suspects formula as the two films in which Brooks directed Bogart could not be more different.

On the one hand, you have the melodramatic journalism boiler Deadline U.S.A. On the other, you’ve got the M*A*S*H prequel and dramatic rom-com Battle Circus. To Brooks’ credit, his history as a writer, journalist, and war filmographer reveal both of these films to make perfect sense for his talents. But the shift in tone might make it hard to grasp that the same director did both films.

Brooks met Bogart after the actor showed interest and respect for Brooks’ homophobia-in-the-military book The Brick Foxhole, and they became lifelong friends who spent a lot of time together on and off screen – even sharing a fateful trip to Washington D.C. to help other Hollywood luminaries fight the rise of McCarthyism.

I’m a big fan of all three films that they collaborated on together, and I’m happy to add Brooks to The Usual Suspects today!

The Filmography

Key Largo – 1948

Key Largo Pic

Brooks is given a writing credit here in a film that I don’t think has a single wrong note. It’s claustrophobic, emotionally overwhelming, and occasionally explosive. Bogart and Edward G. Robinson finally reverse roles when it comes to who get the upper hand at the end. Bogart and Bacall smolder. Robinson gets a great opportunity to shine in his post-popularity with plenty of great monologues. Bogart gets to play the antihero who almost waits too long to save the day. What’s not to love?

You can read my original post on the film here.

Deadline U.S.A – 1952

deadline usa

There’s no rush here as Writer/Director Richard Brooks takes us inside The Day, a fictional big city newspaper run by the last honest editor in town. The story is laid out for us piece by piece, leaving no doubt as to where it will end up, and for a crime drama done skillfully, that’s a good thing. If you enjoy against-the-clock journalism films like All the President’s MenThe Paper, and Spotlight, you’ll surely enjoy this one.

Bogart was right in the midst of his Hollywood vs. McCarthyism fight, and Director Brooks has gone on record about how much of a toll it all took on Bogie. No one plays stoic and world weary nearly as well as Bogart does, and Brooks takes full advantage. Bogart’s character of journalist “Ed Hutcheson” doesn’t seem that far removed from the aging and pessimistic man that Brooks has described personally, and the portrait of newspaper editor past his prime is played wonderfully full-tilt here.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Battle Circus – 1953

Battle Circus Poster

And here we have an entry into into the Brooks/Bogart filmography that doesn’t quite match up to thier two previous collaborations.

I’m a huge fan of June Allyson, but the chemistry between her and Bogart doesn’t click as well as it needed to for the film. Plus, Director Brooks can get a little lost in the minutia of the hospital’s daily grind. But I do think that this film is far more watchable than critics have said, and I’ve rewatched it happily several times.

It’s certainly the most lighthearted of the three films that Brooks and Bogart did together, and Brooks’ previous journalism and war experience is what really shines here. Could they have paired a more compatible actress with Bogart? Sure. Could they have given the plot a little more gravitas and a little less cutesy-love stuff? Perhaps, but I’d argue that with June Allyson in the mix, it would have been nearly impossible.

You can read my original post on the film here.

* ‘The Usual Suspects’ is an ongoing feature at The Bogie Film Blog where we highlight some of Bogart’s most celebrated costars. You can read the rest of the posts in the feature here. *

 

Battle Circus – 1953

Battle Circus Poster

My Review

—A Solid War Dramedy—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

3 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Richard Brooks

The Lowdown

Major Jed Webbe (Humphrey Bogart) deals with the stress of being a surgeon during the Korean war by drinking heavily and bedding nurses. When Lieutenant Ruth McGara (June Allyson) is assigned to his mobile hospital, he begins to fall in love even though he knows he doesn’t want a long term commitment.

What I Thought

This is the second Richard Brooks film that I’ve reviewed for the blog, the first being Deadline U.S.A., and the man is clearly a talented and very competent director.

Battle Circus is another one of those films that I found entirely watchable and very entertaining, despite the fact that the critics have been a little hard on it. No, the chemistry between Bogart and Allyson doesn’t click as well as it could have. Yes, Director Brooks can get a little lost in the minutia of the hospital’s daily grind.

But I think what was so exciting to me about this film, was that it must have been an influence on Richard Hooker’s novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, and surely a subtle influence on Alan Alda’s portrayal of Hawkeye Pierce on the subsequent television series. The number of similarities between Battle Circus and all the incarnations of MASH that followed are overwhelming:

The Korean War is treated with humor . . .

There’s a surgeon who keeps above the stress with booze and women . . .

A hospital crew bends over backwards to save a dying Korean boy . . .

Surgeons and nurses deal with an enemy soldier who has a grenade in the O.R . .

A surgeon massages a patient’s heart until it beats again . . .

I think a great double feature would be to pair Battle Circus with Robert Altman’s MASH, and then perhaps even top it off with the first episode of the television series. While Battle Circus might not be in Bogart’s top ten, it’s certainly solid enough to warrant a viewing by any Bogart or classic film fan.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart plays the line between drama and comedy perfectly. Major Jed Webbe is a slightly different spin on his dismissive and fatalistic role of Sgt. Joe Gunn from Sahara. I love the fact that Director Brooks and Bogart didn’t hold back in making Webbe look like an unabashed cad – having Bogart trying to romance Allyson in the back of a moving truck alongside other nurses with whom he’s surely tried the same moves before.

While the script is flawed, this is a good solid Bogart fix. A. Sperber’s Bogart bio Bogart talked a lot about how he really wanted to serve in the military beyond his stint in WWI, and his roles as service men were the best contribution that he could make. He always does his military roles justice, playing the scenes for honesty and pain, especially in the roles where he might not have been the perfect bright and shiny soldier.

So Battle Circus isn’t a groundbreaking film and it occasionally dips into wartime cliché? So what? It’s good Bogart, and if there were another dozen movies like it added to his filmography, I wouldn’t complain.

The Cast

June Allyson plays Bogart’s love interest, Lt. Ruth McGara. Her chemistry pales in comparison to some of Bogart’s previous leading ladies, but Allyson is still very good in the role. I can never get enough of that smoky voice coming out of that cute and naïve looking face. Allyson does very well here playing the part of an overwhelmed nurse caught up in the middle of a horrifying situation. Her scene with the Korean soldier and the grenade is one of the best in the film.

Keenan Wynn plays Bogart’s right hand man, Sgt. Orvil Statt. I loved Wynn in the role, and he added a lot of heart in his side story with the wounded Korean boy. This film certainly made me want to check out the rest of his filmography.

Robert Keith plays Bogart’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Hilary Whalters. (IMDB lists it as “Walters” despite the film’s credits spelling it “Whalters.”) Keith is good here as the tough-but-understanding CO, and I have no doubt that the role of Henry Potter from the television series dipped a little bit into this character’s bucket for Harry Morgan’s portrayal.

Classic Bogie Moment

There are lots of great little bits of classic Bogart humor throughout the film – not the least of which is his facial reaction when Allyson mentions the word “marriage.” But one of the quick little scenes that stuck with me the most happens early in the film when Bogart is helping to load a wounded soldier onto a chopper near enemy lines. As he’s helping the soldier into the cockpit, machine gun fire draws a line in dirt just a few feet behind him. Bogart turns, quickly and coolly, back to glance at the bullet spray before carrying on with his job.

The man could show a wonderful grace and nonchalance under pressure!

The Bottom Line

Like Sahara? You’ll like this. Plus, who can ever get enough of June Allyson?!?

Deadline U.S.A. – 1952

deadline usa

My Review

—A Very Solid Drama— 

Your Bogie Fix:

4 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Richard Brooks

The Lowdown

Pulitzer prize winning newspaper editor Ed Hutcheson (Humphrey Bogart) fights for one last big story as his paper is sold out from under him and scheduled to be shut down.

What I Thought

There’s no rush here as director Richard Brooks takes us inside The Day, a fictional big city newspaper run by the last honest editor in town.  The story is laid out for us piece by piece, leaving no doubt as to where it will end up, and for a crime drama done skillfully, that’s a good thing.

The Day is being shut down . . .

The staff is staying on despite the fact that they only have two weeks of pay left . . .

Murderous gangster Tomas Rienzi (Martin Gabel) is about to escape prosecution if no one steps up to stop him . . .

Editor Ed Hutcheson decides that the story is still going to be written whether it makes a difference for the paper or not . . .

If you’re going to have a tough-as-nails crusader that decides to make a last stand for the public good, it might as well be Humphrey Bogart, because no one else is going to do it better.  This is a film that’s filled with one grandiose speech after another, all about the importance of honest journalism, freedom of the press, and the public good – almost all delivered by Bogart, and almost all hitting the exact right chords to drum up the maximum enthusiasm from the supporting cast (and movie goer).

Ed Hutcheson:  (LAMENTING THE SURGE OF TABLOID JOURNALISM) It’s not enough anymore to give’em just the news – they want comics, contests, puzzles!  They want to know how to bake a cake, win friends, and influence the future.  Ergo, horoscopes, tips on the horses, interpretation of dreams – so they can win on the numbers lottery, and, if they accidentally stumble on the first page – news! 

Hutcheson is a no-nonsense, old-school journalist who wants nothing more or less in his paper than the plain facts.  When a young reporter asks permission to chase down mob boss Tomas Rienzi, Hutcheson is quick to crack down on him:

Reporter:  I’d like to stay with the Rienzi story. 

Bogart:  You’re wasting your time, baby. 

Reporter:  Not if we can prove he’s guilty! 

Bogart:  It’s not our job to prove he’s guilty!  We’re not detectives and we’re not in the crusading business! 

But guess who’s quick to join the “crusading business” when his back’s to the wall and the paper’s about to be broken up?  We get a front row seat as Hutcheson breaks some of his own journalistic code and personally joins the fray as his paper goes after Rienzi, despite the threats and strong armed retaliations.

Are we ever truly afraid for Bogart’s safety?  Maybe for a few minutes towards the end, but that’s not the point.  Brooks is more concerned about presenting a story with a firm grip on journalistic realism than he is about making a tight and gripping melodrama.  Fortunately for us, his style works, and we get the best of both worlds.

The Bogart Factor

He’s great here.  I thought there were an enormous amount of similarities between this film and Bogart’s The Enforcer which came out the year before.  Both portray strong and aloof heroes who are pressed for time to complete a grueling job.

Again, no one plays stoic and world weary nearly as well as Bogart does.  This was a great role for him, as the character of Ed Hutcheson doesn’t seem that far removed from the aging Hollywood star that was portrayed in the A. Sperber biography Bogart.  Both the character and the actor had reached an age where they felt as if they were being forced out of their profession, despite the great work they had done, in lieu of a crop of younger, more flashy talent.

As he’s in nearly every scene, this is Bogart’s film to carry, and it’s obvious that he put the effort in to do the role justice.  I can’t imagine another actor being able to handle the repeated grandstanding that was necessary for the character as time and again Bogart stops to lecture, chide, or instruct a room of people on the moralistic duty of the press.

A definite must see for casual and hardcore fans alike.

The Cast

Ethel Barrymore is excellent as Margaret Garrison, the widow who’s selling the paper.  She and Bogart have possibly the best scene in the film towards the end as they talk about the changing landscape of journalism over drinks.  It ends with Bogart proposing.  We know it’s a joke, but both actors have enough chemistry that we want it to be real.

Kim Hunter plays Bogart’s estranged wife, Nora Hutcheson.  Of all the places this film could have fallen into cliché, it was with the wife of the tireless reporter.  That’s not what we get, though, as the script plays the role believably, and we don’t have to spend time wondering if there will be a reconciliation while Bogart burns the midnight oil at the paper.

Ed Begley plays Frank Allen, Hutcheson’s right hand man and confidant at The Day.  Based on my own experience in a newsroom, Begley is perhaps the most believable journalist out of the bunch and is solid in the role.

Martin Gabel is mobster Tomas Rienzi.  He doesn’t get a lot of time to shine in this film, as his main role is to play the villain for Bogart to rail against, but the two men do have a great scene towards the end in Rienzi’s car.  It’s the first moment in the film where I realized that there was a good chance Bogart might not make it out alive.  I appreciate the fact that Richard Brooks had enough self-control to hold off on this nail biting moment until it would be most effective for the story.

Don’t Forget to Notice

Regular Bogie Film Blog favorite, Joe Sawyer, as one of the henchmen that roughs up troublemakers for Rienzi!

Classic Bogie Moment

No one plays a better drunk than Bogie.  We’ve seen him dance, sing, slur, fight, stumble, and speechify, but here, we see him play the piano!

In another little nod to the film’s overall campaign towards life, liberty, and the pursuit of the free press, we get a scene where Bogart is tickling the ivories after a night of mourning over the soon-to-be-defunct newspaper.  He’s not particularly good, as he takes his time to hunt and peck his way across the keys, but it’s a great character moment, and an important transition in the film.  What does he play?  The Battle Hymn of the Republic.  The song would go on to punctuate almost every momentous scene for the rest of the movie.

Now stop for just a moment and think to yourself, how often has a piano played a key role in a Bogart film?  How many of his movies would be completely changed if the instrument was removed?  Was it a planned use of a Bogart-film trademark, or just a happenstance of scriptwriting at the time?  I’m not sure, but it’s a wonderful scene in this film, and one of the best quiet moments we get with Bogart’s character.

The Bottom Line

This is a very solid movie and a great role for Bogart.