Barton MacLane

MacLane

Birth Name: Ernest Barton MacLane

Date of Birth: December 25, 1902

Date of Death: January 1, 1969

Number of Films Barton MacLane Made with Humphrey Bogart: 6

Barton MacLane is a memorable guy. Large, gruff, and generally projecting a face that makes you assume that his stomach has been sour for several hours, MacLane was a staple tough guy in Hollywood films and television for five decades.

While many recognize MacLane from his role as Lieutenant MacBride in the Torchy film series, or his extended run as General Peterson on I Dream of Jeannie, I would guess that most casual Classic Film fans know him from his work alongside of Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, High Sierra, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

MacLane has been an actor that I’ve long planned on placing into The Usual Suspects. While most of his characters in Bogart films – either crooks or cops – tend to have the same gruff demeanor and bleak outlook on life, MacLane is one of those actors that made a long and successful career out of playing exactly the man you’d expect him to be based on his appearance.

That’s not to say that MacLane didn’t have a few surprises up his sleeve. Yes, he played college football, but did you also know that he could play the violin? Sure he played a cowboy for film and television and lived up to that Western persona as he worked his own cattle ranch in his down time, but did you know that he also attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, wrote and performed on Broadway, and was married to the talented and beautiful actress Charlotte Wynters?

wynters

Regardless of how you might know Barton MacLane, the one thing I know for sure is that he was never miscast in a Bogie film. Gangster or Detective. Prison Guard or Conman. MacLane elevated every film he starred in with his commanding presence and his well-honed acting skills. (Plus, he and Bogart were both Christmas babies!) So today we welcome Barton MacLane into The Usual Suspects!

The Filmography

Bullets or Ballots – 1936

bullets-or-ballots

MacLane plays racketeer Al Kruger, the man who tries to lure Edward G. Robinson into a life of crime after a scandalous dismissal from the police force. Despite the fact that the movie might not be the best, this is perhaps MacLane’s most likable role in a Bogart film. Playing “the thinking man’s gangster,” MacLane is able to elicit sympathy from both the film’s hero (Robinson) and the tough-guy gangster (Bogart) who tries so desperately to convince him that Robinson is a no good double dealer. If he’d only listened to Bogart! Why, Al, why? Definitely my favorite MacLane role on this list.

You can read my original post on the film here.

San Quentin – 1937

san-quentin

MacLane plays prison guard Lieutenant Druggin who just wants to be the captain of the yard if not for Pat O’Brien’s meddling ways. MacLane’s Druggin wants hard-nosed justice. Prisoners should be put in their places, forcefully, the moment that they step out of line. O’Brien’s dashing prison captain believes in a much more subtle approach – respecting the prisoners as men in their own rights who deserve the benefit of the doubt. It’s a role that calls for the gruffest and sourest that MacLane has to offer, and he’s perfectly cast in the film.

You can read my original post on the film here.

High Sierra – 1941

high-sierra

MacLane plays Jake, the right hand man to Donald MacBride who plays the ailing ringleader of Bogart’s robbery crew. The part is a bit smaller than the previous two in his Bogie filmography, but MacLane does well as he spends his time giving Bogart the suspicious eye while trying to muscle in on MacBride’s soon-to-be open position.

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Maltese Falcon – 1941

bcmf

MacLane plays Lieutenant of Detectives Dundy in a semi-friendly role to Bogart’s private detective, Sam Spade. Most of the film’s sparse comic relief comes from MacLane’s one-step-behind pursuit of Bogart, and both men seem to be enjoying their time on screen together as they appear to be on the verge of smiling at each other’s faux tough guy antics. Probably MacLane’s most well know Classic Film, his perfectly cast supporting role only adds to the iconic status of this movie.

You can read my original post on the film here.

All Through the Night – 1942

bcattn

MacLane plays Marty Callahan, one of Bogart’s rival gangsters that ends up coming to help when it’s time to punch some Nazis. MacLane’s best moments in this small role come when he has to deal with Bogart’s frazzled mother as she storms his nightclub looking for the murderer of a local baker. Again, not a huge role, but MacLane’s involvement is just another piece of this great ensemble cast that makes the film great.

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre –1948

treasure

MacLane plays McCormick, a less-than-reputable foreman who cheats Bogart and Tim Holt out of some very hard earned wages. It’s a chance for MacLane to be a bit more blowhard, and a bit less tough than how we usually see him in the rest of his Bogart filmography, and it all leads to a great great bar fight between MacLane, Bogart, and Holt that’s brutal, bloody, and incredibly satisfying when it comes to enacting revenge on the man who stole their paychecks!

You can read my original post on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing section of the blog where I highlight some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators. You can read the rest of the write ups here.*

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Lloyd Bacon

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Birth Name: Lloyd Francis Bacon

Date of Birth: December 4, 1889

Date of Death: November 15, 1955

Number of Films that Lloyd Bacon Made with Humphrey Bogart: 7

The Lowdown

The son of an actor, Lloyd Bacon would follow in his father’s footsteps into vaudeville before moving on to act in silent films, and then finally directing some of Hollywood’s greatest legends on the big screen.

From all reports, Bacon was an incredibly capable director who could work well with actors, bring a film in on time, and stay within the allotted budget. From performing stunts, to acting on the stage, to being in front of and behind the camera, Bacon spent a life learning the craft of film making, and while he wasn’t known as a flashy or incredibly famous director, Warner Brothers saw him as more than able to handle a long string of films in many different genres.

Bacon’s work with Bogart alone saw films with gangsters, cowboys, lawyers, prisoners, monks, and navy seamen. No, none of the films they collaborated on are remembered as classics, but almost all of them hold up as a decent pictures in their own rights. Bogart was supposedly happy to work underneath him as a director, so that tells you a lot right there!

There is a line in the Sperber/Lax Bogart bio that says Bacon directed Bogart seven times before their final film Action in the North Atlantic. Researching on my own, I only have them working together seven times in total, so if anyone has any info on whether or not this was a mistake in the bio, let me know!

But today, let’s welcome Lloyd Bacon into The Usual Suspects!

The Filmography

Marked Woman – 1937

marked

This one’s really grown on me over time. Part of the that is a growing appreciation for some of the other actors in the film (Ben Welden, Bette Davis, Mayo Methot, etc.), part is the appreciation that I now have for Director Lloyd Bacon. Warner Brothers used Bacon for several “ripped from the headlines” films, including this one, and Bacon comes off as a good, straightforward, meat and potatoes director who gets the job done.

Loosely based on the fall of gangster Lucky Luciano, there is plenty to appreciate in this film. The cast has been put together well, the script is tight, and it’s always fun to see Bogart and Davis looking so young in their roles. Davis is as bright-eyed and gorgeous as she ever would be, and Bogart has got the healthiest and most filled out physique that I ever remember seeing on him.

You can read my original post on the film here.

San Quentin – 1937


san quentin

Almost all of the ingredients are here for a great film– great actors, capable director, great cinematographer, etc. – but the one thing lacking is an interesting script. Through no fault of Pat O’Brien, Ann Sheridan, Humphrey Bogart, or Joe Sawyer, there’s just not much excitement or drama to be had in this film. Everyone seems to be sleepwalking through their parts, especially O’Brien, who was more than capable of carrying a good role if he got one.

Perhaps it’s the fact that O’Brien’s Captain Stephen Jameson is just written too blandly to evoke any sympathy. His range of emotion shifts back and forth between mildly uncomfortable and slightly content. Perhaps it’s the fact that every time some real motivation for drama occurs, all the tension is quickly let out of the scene with a few lines of dialogue that wraps up any conflict before it takes off.

Bacon’s direction feels a little more loose here, especially in some of the final chase scenes that could have been tighter.

Am I being too hard on the film? Maybe. I’ll check it out again sometime, but it is a great showcase for regular Bogart collaborator, Joe Sawyer!

You can read my original post on the film here.

Racket Busters – 1938

Racket Busters Poster

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.

I thought this was the weakest collaboration out of all of work that Bacon did with Bogart. 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 George Brent’s friend and mentor played by George O’Shea – you know, maybe just put him in a coma – our sympathies might have held out.

There’s a reason this one is harder to find! You can read my original post on the film here.

The Oklahoma Kid – 1939

Kid Poster

If you’re any sort of regular reader here on the blog, you know that I’ve written about this one numerous times. Should Cagney and Bogart have played cowboys. No. Should we still enjoy the film? Yes! It’s actually not half bad! Add into it that Cagney and Bogart have an awesome fight scene at the end, and it’s well worth your time! You even forgive the fact that it’s pretty obvious when the two icons switch places with their stunt doubles.

This film will show you two things about Director Bacon. First – he could helm a Western pic with great skill. Second – his work as a stuntman really shines through in his directing here!

You can read my original post on the film here.

Invisible Stripes – 1939

Invisible Stripes

The cast of George Raft, William Holden, Jane Bryan, Flora Robson, and Bogart is are a very good ensemble, and all the character relationships really crackle – especially Raft and Robson who give us most of the heart in this film. Director Bacon handles them so well, especially in the quieter, character building moments of love and loss with Raft’s family. Raft’s final line to Robson is so subtly done that I almost missed it, even though it’s an incredibly heart wrenching moment.

I can see why this movie might not have gotten the most glowing reviews. The story of an ex-con trying to go straight had been done so many times before this that it must have felt like old cliché. Bogart does his absolute best with the role that he’s given, but he’s underused, and a young William Holden still seems a little green as it’s only his fourth film. All that aside though, the film is entirely watchable and keeps the drama and action chugging along at a pace that held my interest even on multiple viewings.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Brother Orchid – 1940

brother orchid

This one’s a comedy crime drama that can’t quite seem to decide whether it wants to be more comedy or more lighthearted drama. While you don’t get a great Bogart fix, Director Bacon does get a lot out of Edward G. Robinson and the wonderful Ann Sothern.

The standout of the film for me, Sothern has a wonderful moment in the film during a scene after she hangs up on a phone call with Robinson. She slowly sits back in her seat, lightly biting her bottom lip. Director Bacon and Sothern do a great job with that small moment of satisfaction.

Plus, it’s the only movie, out of the five that they made together, that neither Robinson nor Bogart dies!  You can check out my original post on the film here.

Action in the North Atlantic – 1943

action

My favorite film from their collaboration, this one is probably most notable for Bacon as he was dismissed with a quarter of the filming left due to the fact that he couldn’t agree on a new contract with Warner Bros. He was replaced by Byron Haskin, but you don’t notice any obvious shift in the final act.

Although it could easily be considered a WWII propaganda film, Action in the North Atlantic does a fine job of transcending the clichéd patriotism that we might expect from a film like this, and gives us a lot more character depth and nuance than most propaganda films can muster.

Bacon makes some bold choices in direction – especially in regards to some longer scenes on the German U-boat where the viewer can go several minutes only hearing German. There is clearly a lot of trust on the part of Director Bacon that we’ll be able to understand the gist of the scenes even though no English is used, and it works well. The scenes effectively elevate the tension as the viewer begins to understand a little German shorthand for what’s going on with the Nazi sailors.

Again, attributing all the directorial choices to Bacon may not be a safe bet as he was replaced by Haskins, but since he directed a majority of the film, I’ll give Bacon as much due as I can!

You can read my original post on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing section of the blog where I highlight some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators. You can read the rest of the write ups here.*

Ann Sheridan

Ann Sheridan It All Came True Pulbicity Shot

Birth Name: Clara Lou Sheridan

Birthdate: February 21, 1915

Date of Death: January 21, 1967

Number of Films Ann Sheridan made with Humphrey Bogart: 7

The Actress

The daughter of a Texas auto mechanic, Ann Sheridan grew up as a bit of an athlete and Tomboy who would later take a page out of her father’s handbook and develop a passion for restoring cars. On track to become a school teacher until her sister entered her in a “Search for Beauty” contest, Sheridan’s bathing suit picture was enough to win over the judges and earn her a bit part with Paramount Pictures.

Twenty-four films later, Sheridan made her way over to Warner Brothers where she would end up working alongside of Hollywood’s greatest legend, Humphrey Bogart. While Hollywood dubbed her the “Oomph Girl,” Sheridan reportedly hated the nickname, but her pin-up popularity and alluring film roles did nothing to dissuade the general public from picking up on the moniker and keeping it alive.

Full disclosure – I have a heavy, heavy, crush on Ann Sheridan, so any opinion I have on her movies is deeply colored by my adoration. Having made 7 films with Bogart, this post is late in coming to ‘The Usual Suspects’ portion of the blog.

Free tonight? Pop in It All Came True and try – just TRY – not to fall in love with this woman!

The Filmography

Black Legion – 1937Ann Sheridan Black Legion

Sheridan appears as Betty Grogan, the girl-next-door girlfriend to Bogart’s best friend in the film, Dick Foran. She’s sweet enough in the role but doesn’t get a lot to work with as she spends most of her time trying to be the good girl who reforms her beer drinking boyfriend into marriage material. You can find my original write up on the film here.

The Great O’Malley – 1937Ann Sheridan The Great O'Malley

Sheridan plays school teacher Judy Nolan, the woman that tames, teaches, and eventually falls for Pat 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. It’s fun to watch her strut her stuff to the chagrin of O’Brien as she gets to play the street-smart gal to a man who expects all women to fall into a cookie-cutter housewife stereotype. You can read my original write up on the film here.

San Quentin – 1937San Quentin Sheridan

Sheridan gets a little more to work with here as the lounge singing May, girlfriend to Pat O’Brien’s prison warden. Suffering from a few character inconsistencies, Sheridan begins the film as a sultry nightclub act, only to switch over to the innocent girl-next-door type for the rest of the film. It certainly doesn’t ruin the film, but it might have been more interesting to see her with a bit of a darker character, especially since she’s playing the sister to Bogart’s small-time hood. This was also supposedly the film where Sheridan and Bogart became good friends off screen. You can read my original write up on the film here.

Angels with Dirty Faces – 1938Ann Sheridan Angels With Dirty Faces

Sheridan plays Laury Ferguson, and while she does the best she can here, she is severely underused in this film. There are 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. Still, she does look great, and it’s fun to see her onscreen mixing it up with James Cagney and Pat O’Brien. You can read my original write up on the film here.

It All Came True – 1940 Sheridan It All Came TrueSheridan = perfection here. I know this isn’t a great film by any means, but her portrayal of the dancing and singing Sarah Jane Ryan goes toe-to-toe with Bogart’s dastardly gangster and she steals nearly every scene that she shares with Hollywood’s biggest legend. If any Bogart collaboration captures her spitfire personality, it’s this one. From her first entrance to her final song, she was amazing. You can read my original write up on the film here.

They Drive by Night – 1940They Drive by Night Sheridan

Sheridan plays truck stop waitress Cassie Hartley who falls for George Raft after he’s more than a little persistent. Sheridan does a good job of giving us the impression that she’s a good girl who’s perhaps done some dark things in her past, and she has some really nice scenes with Raft as they share a hotel room for a night before eventually falling in love and making a life together. I can’t get enough of Sheridan, and this is one of her most solid Bogart film appearances. You can read my original write up on the film here.

Thank Your Lucky Stars – 1943Sheridan TYLS

Sheridan plays herself in this star-studded wartime musical, although she doesn’t share any scenes with Bogart. Singing Love isn’t Born It’s Made, Sheridan teaches a group of young ladies who are pining over their singleness how to proactively search for love. Wearing a slinky, silky, white dress, Sheridan’s musical number is definitely one of the highlights of the film, even with the audio turned off! You can read my original write up on the film here.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – 1948no Sheridan

It’s another Bogie Film Blog cameo that never was! While Sheridan is listed on IMDB with a cameo in the film as a pretty woman walking by a storefront, the woman in question is clearly not Sheridan. A few online sites say that there are test photos of Sheridan in the costume, so perhaps John Huston initially had her in the film and then decided the cameo was too distracting? Again, if anyone has any info on how this rumor got started, let me know. You can read my original write up on the film here.

* ‘The Usual Suspects’ is a regular feature on the blog where we highlight one of Bogart’s regular collaborators. Check out other posts here. *

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.

Joe Sawyer

Black Legion

*This post is a part of the “What a Character” Blogathon over at Aurora’s Gin Joint  hosted by @citizenscreen!  Check out the rest of the great posts over there!

Birth Name: Joseph Sauers

Birthdate: August 29, 1906

Number of Films that Joe Sawyer Made with Humphrey Bogart: 6

The Lowdown

There were two actors that inspired me to start ‘The Usual Suspects’ portion of this blog. The first was a character actor named Ben Weldon. The second was Joe Sawyer. With a crooked nose, cleft chin, devilish smile, and a build like a brick house, Sawyer popped up time and time again in character roles in over 200 films and television shows.

While most people would probably recognize Sawyer from his recurring role as Sgt. Biff O’Hara on The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Sawyer’s unique look made him stand out to me immediately while watching Bogart film after Bogart film. Who was this guy? What’s his story? How many Bogart films was this guy in?

I actually had the chance to chat on the phone with Sawyer’s son a couple of months ago and he told me that his father was an independent contractor that usually hired himself out to studios for a week or two at a time – hence the smaller roles. While he wasn’t apparently a close friend with Bogart, they did both originate their roles in The Petrified Forest onstage together in New York, and on a few occasions they went out for drinks after a day of shooting.

While you may not recognize his name, I have no doubt that if you’re a fan of classic films, you’ll recognize Joe Sawyer’s unmistakable face!

The Filmography

The Petrified Forest – 1936

Petrified ForestSawyer with Bogart and Adrian Morris

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Sawyer plays Jackie, one of Bogart’s henchmen. A role he also originated on stage, Sawyer is a lot of fun in this small part, especially when he taunts Boze the gas station attendant. Sawyer plays Jackie with a wonderfully cruel sense of humor, and it’s pretty admirable that in between Bogart, Bette Davis, and Leslie Howard, Sawyer can hold his own. Plus, he gets to give Bogart the greatest introduction that he ever had in a film! You can read my original write up on the film here.

Black Legion – 1937

Black Legion

Sawyer plays Cliff, good friend and work buddy to Bogart. He’s great here as the borderline-intelligent bully that can cause a lot of havoc with just a little effort. He ropes Bogart into the violently anti-immigrant secret society known as The Black Legion, and it all goes downhill from there. Don’t we all know someone like Cliff? That guy or girl who’s incredibly likable one second, and then suddenly spouting some horrible ethnic joke or slur the next? You can read my original write up on the film here.

San Quentin – 1937

San Quentin

Sawyer plays Sailor Boy, the repeat offender who’s serving time with Bogart in San Quentin Prison, and he’s the real standout of the film. Sawyer and Bogart have great chemistry, and of all the films they did together, Sawyer gets the most chance to shine here. Sailor Boy is another role for Sawyer in which he gets to play the likable bad guy, and there’s a real glint of craziness behind his eyes throughout the film. You can find my original write up on the film here.

You Can’t Get Away With Murder – 1939

sawyer 2

Sawyer plays Red, a fellow inmate to Bogart, and for the only time in their collaboration, Sawyer plays a good guy. (You know, except that he’s a convict…) Red is doing his best to play life straight, but when the chance to escape comes up, he jumps at it. The plan eventually fails and everyone is shot or recaptured, except for Sawyer who’s left with an ambiguous ending after disappearing over a wall. Did they catch him? I hope not! After all those gangster and inmate roles, he deserves at least ONE successful escape! You can read my original write up on the film here.

The Roaring Twenties – 1939

Roaring TwentiesJames Cagney, Sawyer, and Bogart

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Sawyer plays The Sergeant, the tough as nails commanding officer who bullies Bogart during the war only to come face to face with him years later after Bogart has become a gangster in a bootlegging operation. The role is small, and Sawyer’s not given much to work with as far as his lines are concerned, but his side story with Bogart plays an integral part to Bogart’s overall character arc. Their final confrontation is one of the triggers that blows up the relationship between Bogart and Cagney. You can read my original write up on the film here.

Deadline U.S.A. – 1952

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The last collaboration between Bogart and Sawyer was Sawyer’s smallest role out of all six of their films together. He plays Whitey Franks, one of the henchmen for a gangster named Rienzi. To be honest, I don’t even remember if Sawyer has any lines here, as his job is to intimidate and rough up one of the witnesses against Rienzi’s. You can read my original write up on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing feature on The Bogie Film Blog where I take time to highlight some of Bogart’s best collaborators. You can read the rest of the entries here.

San Quentin – 1937

san quentin

My Review

— Lackluster — 

Your Bogie Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director – Lloyd Bacon

The Lowdown 

An army man (Pat O’Brien) is brought in to shape up the inmates at San Quentin Prison, only to find out that a troublemaking new convict (Humphrey Bogart) is the brother to a lounge singer (Ann Sheridan) with whom he’s recently become smitten.

What I Thought

Almost all of the ingredients are here for a great film– great actors, capable director, great cinematographer, etc. – but the one thing lacking is an interesting script.

Through no fault of Pat O’Brien, Ann Sheridan, Humphrey Bogart, or Joe Sawyer, there’s just not much excitement or drama to be had in this film.  Everyone seems to be sleepwalking through their parts, especially O’Brien who was more than capable of carrying a good role if he got one.

Perhaps it’s the fact that O’Brien’s Captain Stephen Jameson is just written too blandly to evoke any sympathy.  His range of emotion shifts back and forth between mildly uncomfortable and slightly content.  Perhaps it’s the fact that every time some real motivation for drama occurs, all the tension is quickly let out of the scene with a few lines of dialogue that wraps up any conflict that was about to occur.

Am I being too hard on the film?  Maybe.  I’ll have to revisit it a few months from now and see if I still feel the same way.  Director Bacon made quite a few films with Bogart, some far better than others.  I personally feel like this is one of their less enjoyable collaborations.

The Bogart Factor 

While Bogart gets a lot of screen time in the movie as restaurant thief Joe “Red” Kennedy, he doesn’t seem to have a lot to work with as far as his character arc is concerned.  There are flashes of a charming con man towards the beginning when he meets with Ann Sheridan at a nightclub, but the moment that Bogart’s arrested, he spends the rest of the movie shifting between a hardened convict persona, and a naïve new jailbird who just needs to catch a break to become a better man.  Neither side of the character really has time to stick, so the final payoff for the film felt a little flat for me.  I wasn’t sure that “Red” Kennedy’s final act of redemption felt earned after everything we’d seen throughout the film.

Then again, I hold true to my motto that, “Any Bogart character is a good Bogart character.”  I feel like San Quentin offers us a chance to see Bogart in a role that is often overshadowed by his more iconic film archetypes.  We know the tough as nails gangster, the detached detective, and the loner expatriate, but there were also a number of roles where Bogart ably played a less-than-likable punk – a character who might be a gangster or a convict, but without the audacity or the wit that would make him likable.

I think it’s pretty impressive that Bogart could slightly fine tune his choices from one film to the next to make a gangster cool and dangerous in one movie (Petrified Forest), and a sniveling whiner in the next (Kid Galahad).  He could be confident and in control as one convict (High Sierra), while abrasive and unlikable as another (San Quentin).

Would it have helped if “Red” had been more likable in San Quentin?  I think it would have, but it’s still a great film to see a side of Bogart that doesn’t always make the highlight reels.

The Cast 

Pat O’Brien, as Captain Jameson, really only has a one-note character to work with.  Moments for his character to display some real internal conflict (whether or not to date Sheridan, how to handle an insubordinate MacLane, etc.) are downplayed in favor of his ease and confidence as the Captain of the yard who has a plan that can solve everything.  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 just an inconvenience!

Ann Sheridan gets a little more to work with here as May, O’Brien’s lounge singing girlfriend, than she had in Black Legion.  Sheridan, though, suffers from character inconsistencies as well – playing the sultry nightclub act in the opening, and then switching over to the innocent girl next door type for the rest of the movie.

Barton MacLane is very good as the undermining Lt. Druggin who loses out on the Captain’s job in favor of O’Brien.  I think a little more focus and interaction towards the beginning of the film would have made his payoff in the climax more satisfying.

The real standout of the movie is character actor Joe Sawyer.  Sawyer has popped up a few times so far in this blog, once as a thug in Petrified Forest, and once as an anti-immigrant bully in Black Legion, but here he really has a chance to shine and play off of Bogart as the repeat offender, Sailor Boy.  What I love about so many of these Classic Hollywood studio films is that some of the character actors who appear over and over again seem to really be enjoying themselves in their roles.  Sawyer and Bogart have great chemistry, and their relationship is one of the film’s better components.

Classic Bogie Moment

We get a glimpse of the smooth Bogart gangster during the opening nightclub scene, and a little bit of the vengeful convict later on in prison as he utters the phrase, “I’ll make that guy eat those words if I have to spend a year in solitary!”

Perhaps the more classic moment, however, happens when we get to watch Bogart make a more subtle, physical choice.  One of the skills that Bogart displays so well is the ability to shift emotions right before our eyes.  Specifically, there’s a scene in the barracks as one of the convicts tells Bogart that all his prison perks come because the captain is dating his sister.  Watch the close up on Bogie’s faces as it switches from a wistful smile to a frowning rage, hitting every beat inbetween, in a fraction of a second.  Good stuff.

Don’t Forget to Notice

My “Don’t Forget to Notice” moments have, so far, always been little gems of greatness within a film – usually an actor in a small, but memorable role.  This time, however, there was one moment in the film that I found laugh-out-loud ridiculous.

When Bogart and Sawyer are escaping from the police in a stolen car, we get a long chase scene around country roads, through meadows, and over mountains.  In one abrupt cut, we go from Bogart and Sawyer on a level road, to the sudden insertion of a motorcycle cop missing a mountainous curve and flying off the edge.  Wait, what happened there?  It didn’t even look like they were on the same road!  Was he even close to the bad guy’s car, or did he just lose his concentration and trash a piece of government property?

I can imagine the conversation that must have happened to get the scene put in, though:

Lloyd Bacon:  William, what’s with the motorcycle guy out of nowhere?

Film Editor William Holmes:  Well, Lloyd, I know it doesn’t really fit or make sense, but Eddie busted up his back pretty bad on that stunt, and I kinda felt like we owed it to him to get it in there somewhere.

Bacon:  Yeah, that did look pretty bad.  Stick it in.

The Bottom Line

It’s watchable, but not memorable.  If anything, pay a little homage to Joe Sawyer as he gets more screen time than usual.

Plus – we watch as O’Brien pretends to some police officers that he hasn’t been shot so that Bogart’s “Red” can escape, but what are we supposed to think happens the next day when he shows up to work?  Isn’t anyone going to find it odd that both an escaped convict and the captain of the yard have been shot?  Is O’Brien going to pretend he’s not wounded forever?!?

Ah, the wonders of a less-than-stellar script . . .