Sidney Fox

midnight 3Sidney Fox with Humphrey Bogart in Midnight / Call It Murder

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Name: Sidney (Leifer) Fox

Birthdate: December 10, 1907

Number of Films Made With Humphrey Bogart:  2

The Lowdown:

After an all too short career, personal turmoil overcame young actress Sidney Fox and she took her own life just a month shy of her 35th birthday.  While critics didn’t make a lot of her two roles with Bogart, I personally thought that their chemistry stole the show in both of their films.  Even when playing the bad girl, Fox was able to keep the audience’s sympathy on her side despite some pretty horrendous onscreen behavior.  While Fox won’t go down in history as one of Bogart’s most famous or celebrated costars, I thought that she deserved a spot in The Usual Suspects considering she was the first early love interest that I thought Bogart had real magic alongside.

The Filmography

The Bad Sister – 1931

The Bad sister 3

Fox plays Marianne Madison, a mischievous young woman who can have any man in town, but has the poor choice to fall for con man Valentine Corliss (Humphrey Bogart).  Marianne’s relationship with Corliss quickly causes trouble for her family as Corliss is able to swindle her father and his friends out of a lot of money.  Sidney’s so cute though, that I was ready to forgive her for all of the horrible behavior right up until the point that she rages against her father for not falling in with Corliss.

Fox and Bogart have really wonderful chemistry, and they are given a lot of time shine here.  They click so well together as they con everyone around them that it’s a wonder Valentine didn’t take Marianne on the road with him.  It’s also the first film for Fox’s costar, Bette Davis, and the two play off each other well in the scenes that they share together.  You can find my original write up on the film here.

Midnight / Call It Murder – 1934

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Fox plays Stella Weldon, the daughter of a jury foreman.  Stella meets up with small time hood Gar Boni (Humphrey Bogart) while watching her father chair a jury on a murder case.  Again, I thought it was another great showcase for Fox and Bogart’s chemistry, and the moment that they share sitting together after Gar Boni insults the jury before realizing who he’s sitting next to, is sweet and funny.  If the rest of the film had used more of their chemistry, it might have turned out better.  The problem is that the two actors with the most onscreen charisma – Bogart and Fox – are also the two main actors that appear the least in the film.

Stella eventually becomes the focus of the movie after confessing to a murder that we’re never sure she committed.  It’s a bit of a stretch for the young actress to pull off at the end of the film, but she does well up until the climax.

My favorite scene comes when Gar has to break a date with Stella and ends his apology like this:

Bogart:  Kiss?

Fox:  No.

Bogart: Mad at me?

Fox: You know I am.

Bogart: Well, kiss me anyway.

And they do!  You can find my original write up on the film here.

Sidney Fox’s IMDB entry and Wikipedia page.

The Bad Sister – 1931

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My Review

—A Decent Drama With Some Good Comedy— 

Your Bogie Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Hobart Henley

The Lowdown

Marianne Madison (Sidney Fox) is a young woman who relishes the fact that she can have her pick of any man in town, but when she falls for a shady con man (Humphrey Bogart), Marianne soon finds herself, and her family, in an incredible amount of trouble.

What I Thought

This is a movie that can take some jarring shifts between comedy and drama, but when it really gets cooking, it does both pretty well.

It was great to see Sidney Fox in another starring role after just watching MIDNIGHT / CALL IT MURDER not that long ago. (She was the actress who had a very short career and eventually took her own life). Fox and Bogart have really wonderful chemistry, and they are given a lot more time to shine here.

A cautionary tale not unlike the one portrayed in In This Our Life, a later Bette Davis drama where Davis gets to play the bad girl, The Bad Sister focuses on an impulsive young woman who takes what she wants from life regardless of the consequences. Other than a few abrupt tonal shifts between light comedy and drama, the film is a fun watch with a number of enjoyable performances. I’m also very glad that director Henley tried to end on a happier note than what we might have been led to expect from the climax.

The only real sticking issue I had is that Marianne has such a hold over her trio of young suitors, Wade Turnball (Bert Roach), Dr. Dick Lindley (Conrad Nagel), and Valentine Corliss (Humphrey Bogart), that I began to wonder if there were any other women in town. After all, is Bette Davis really that much of a consolation prize that no one gives her a second glance until Marianne is long gone?!?

The Bogart Factor

One of his very early roles, Bogart does seem just a tad green here. He talks in a bit of a shrill voice and can be a little stiff in his movements. Valentine Corliss is another role in the same vein of Bogart characters that I’ve dubbed the young punks.  He’s definitely hiding bad intentions, but he’s also very, very skilled at charming the pants off of everyone around him.

I have to admit that I had a lot of fun watching Valentine get the better of Dr. Lindley early on in the film when he’s able to steal Marianne away from the Dr. by simply offering her a car ride home. Really, Dr. Lindley?  A woman dumps you over a car ride and you still don’t give up on her?

Bogart gets a good deal of screen time for the first three quarters of this movie, and it’s a lot of fun to see him so young and effervescent at thirty years old. For only his fourth feature film release, it’s a pretty big part.

The Cast

Sidney Fox is so cute as Marianne Madison that I was ready to forgive her for all of her nastiness right up until she loses it on her father. She and Bogart click so well together as they con everyone around them that it’s a wonder Valentine didn’t  take her on the road.  After seeing Fox for a second time, I’m definitely going to explore her filmography further.

This was Bette Davis’ first film, and as the wallflower younger sister, Laura Madison, the only drawback from her performance is that I think she’s just too doggone cute to have been ignored by all the young men in her town for so long.

Conrad Nagel is top billed as Dr. Dick Lindley even though his part isn’t that big.  Probably the best moment in the film comes when he finally kisses Bette Davis over a newborn baby to ignite their romance.

Bert Roach is the rotund young suitor Wade Turnball.  He’s got the most satisfying ending in the entire film, and his comedic touch lightens the movie at just the right moments.

David Durand plays Marianne and Laura’s kid brother Hedrick.  He does such a great job of stealing scenes and playing an impish brat that even I wanted to smack him.

The standout role here though, is none other than Zasu Pitts as the Madison’s servant, Minnie. Her timing is impeccable, and after It All Came True, I’m ready to say that she’s one of my favorite comedic film actresses from Classic Hollywood. Her continual repetition of Hmmm! whenever she gets frustrated had me smiling every time. After looking through her filmography on IMDB a bit, it looks like she was an experienced silent film actress before the talkies. I need to find more of her work!

Classic Bogie Moment

I’ve mentioned it time and time again on this blog – but Bogart can do a lot with just a little.  In A. Sperber’s Bogart biography, she talked a lot about how he would often trim back his lines and try to convey his message with as few words as possible. We get a classic example of that here as he adds a subtle pause in a line as Valentine responds to an offer from Marianne:

MarianneHow’d ya like to take a little walk, Mr. Corliss?

Valentine:  There’s nothing I’d rather do than . . . take a walk.

Just that tiny pause, with a little added smile, is more than enough to tell us that he’s got more on his mind than walking.

The Bottom Line

Much like Big City Blues, this is a film with a lot of comedic touches before it takes a sharp right-turn into a painful and heavy climax. Still, it ends on a much brighter note, and overall, the cast gels very well together. A great early role for Bogart!

Midnight / Call It Murder – 1934

midnightcall it murder

My Review

—Decent— 

Your Bogie Fix:

1 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  – Chester Erskine

The Lowdown

A jury foreman (O.P. Heggie) questions his responsibility in sentencing a woman to death after murdering her husband in a crime of passion. In a wild coincidence, on the night of the execution, the foreman’s daughter (Sidney Fox) claims to have committed the same type of crime.

What I Thought

Based on the 1930 play Midnight (which apparently was a bomb?!?), this film never really takes off. Originally released under the name Midnight, it was re-released again with the new name, Call It Murder, after Bogart became a big star. His billing also shot up from eighth to first, although his screen time probably doesn’t warrant the move.

The film opens promisingly enough at a court trial where we meet small time hood Gar Boni (Humphrey Bogart) flirting with Stella Weldon (Sidney Fox) while they watch Stella’s father chair the jury for a murder case. The moment that they share together, as Gar Boni insults the jury before realizing who he’s sitting next to, is sweet and funny. A lot of that smooth and classic Bogart style comes through, plain as day, in this early career film. While they could have used some more scenes between the two lovebirds, it does a decent job of holding up with less charismatic actors.

The film really centers around Stella’s father, played by O.P. Heggie. (Having trouble picturing O.G.? He was the blind man in Boris Karloff’s version of Frankenstein.) Much of the movie is spent in close up on Heggie as we watch a mostly silent internal debate rage within him about his work on the jury. He’s not a bad actor, and Director Erskine uses those silent close-ups to good effect, occasionally juxtaposing the images of Heggie with the death row inmate awaiting execution.

Erskine also delivers a good scene at a pool hall between a reporter (Henry Hull) and Heggie’s onscreen son-in-law (Lynne Overman) that gives us the bleary, claustrophobic feeling of what it’s like to talk to a drunk at a bar.

The Bogart Factor

Some added screen time for Bogart would have definitely benefited this production. Most of the film’s conflict takes place because of multiple crazy coincidences, making themes on fairness and justice feel shoehorned into the story rather than earned. So, are we to believe that Bogart and Fox just happen to meet at the trial, fall in love, and then have their big blow-up fight the very night that the murderer’s execution takes place? And there also just happens to be a reporter on hand to cover it? Is a jury foreman’s immediate reaction to an execution really front page news? Weren’t there other jury members to blame? Heggie can’t be held solely responsible can he? It’s all a little too convenient.

Bogart actually does a great job here, though, making the most of what little time he has.  There are certainly seeds of his later gangster roles – a cool and collected gunman that’s smooth with the ladies and talks a good game.

The Cast

There are flashes of talent here as Henry Hull plays the reporter, Nolan,giving the climax of the film a lot of unearned gravitas.

O.P. Heggie  does more with his role as the troubled father than what the script probably deserved, especially considering the original source material flopped on stage before being adapted to the big screen.

Sidney Fox is a real treat, and I was sad to learn that her career plummeted not long after this film and that she eventually took her own life. I’ll have to see what else is available from her filmography.

Lynne Overman makes something out of his small role as the ne’er do well son-in-law that has big dreams, no work ethic, and more than a bit of a drinking problem. Overman’s probably the biggest hidden gem of the film as his character work is spot on.

Classic Bogie Moment

Easy one! Bogart and Fox get to share two very passionate onscreen kisses. Both of which will immediately remind you of Bogart/Bergman and Bogart/Bacall love scenes. I’m drawing a blank on kissing scenes where Bogart doesn’t use this shoulder grabbing, full mouthed passionate style, which always looks very convincing considering that he supposedly hated love scenes. Perhaps his best moment in the film comes after he tells Sidney Fox that he can’t go out on a date with her:

Bogart:  Kiss?

Fox:  No.

Bogart: Mad at me?

Fox: You know I am.

Bogart: Well, kiss me anyway.

And they do.

The Bottom Line

This film is definitely rough around the edges, and the ending will likely leave you more than a bit confused, but it’s worth a watch. While you might not find it all that re-watchable, there are a couple of decent Bogart moments for you completists.