The Big Shot – 1942

The Big Shot Poster

My Review

—A Hidden Noir Gem—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

3.5 Bogie

 

 

Director: Lewis Seiler

The Lowdown

A recently paroled convict (Bogart) tries to go straight but ends up in trouble again after agreeing to lead a group of thieves in an armored car heist.

What I Thought

This film caught me off guard in the best possible ways. The fifth film from Director Lewis Seiler that I’ve done for this blog (following Crime School, King of the Underworld, You Can’t Get Away with Murder, and It all Came True), this one showed such a devotion to detail for the Noir genre (in most parts) that it’s hard to imagine this is the same director who helmed the four previous Bogart collaborations.

Other than a brief chair tipping scene, gone is almost any element of silly gangster antics à la King of the Underworld and It All Came True. And other than a few minutes in a cabin hideaway between Bogart and Irene Manning, gone are any of the melodramatic trappings of teenage rebellion or love-angst as we saw in Crime School and You Can’t Get Away with Murder.

With its dark atmosphere, low camera angles, nightmarish voice montages, anti-hero protagonists, and ultra-violent shootouts and car chases, this film is almost a straight-up Film Noir thriller. The only time Seiler seemingly errs away from Noir is the aforementioned scene where Bogart goes on the lam to a mountain hideout with his dame. Then, for a few minutes, we get some lighthearted romantic comedy, but only just the smallest of doses. Does it detract from the overall film? Maybe a bit, but I could also see someone arguing that the moment of levity helps round out Bogart and Manning’s characters while giving us a chance to catch our breath before the big finale.

So why is The Big Shot not more widely known? I’m not sure. It’s not a perfect picture by any means, but it certainly seems like a more important film for Bogart’s Noir filmography than it’s given credit for. There is a character that appears in blackface for a short section of the second act, but he’s already been established as a not-so-nice guy, and Classic Film fans can be pretty forgiving when it comes to racial tension from a different era, so I would imagine that’s not the reason – although it probably doesn’t help.

Regardless, if you get a chance to catch this one on TCM, take it. Guaranteed to stir up some good conversation on what it means to be an “innocent” criminal, Seiler is able to explore some deeper territory here than what I’m used to seeing in his previous films. While it might have a few stumbling blocks that keep it from being a true classic, it’s more than watchable, and it’s a fun Noir film that’s not afraid to get its hands a little bloody.

The Bogart Factor

Playing the recently released convict Joseph ‘Duke ’Berne, Bogart is presented as a man who’s trying to reform but just can’t keep himself out of trouble. Director Seiler doesn’t hesitate to show us how truly dark and vicious Bogart can be as the film plays out, yet at the same time, he’s also not afraid to ask us for our sympathy towards Bogart’s plight for a new life. Case in point – late in the film, Bogart laments that another character is taking a rap for him in regards to a jail break. At no point however, does Bogart lament the prison guard that died as a result of the break. Shouldn’t we feel a little more disgust for Bogart’s callous display of priorities? We should, but we don’t. Director Seiler, the script, and Bogart do a great job of painting a likable criminal who spends so much time in the “gray” area of life that he’s essentially made up his own rules about right and wrong.

It’s a fun role for Bogart, and I’d say it’s a must see for anyone who’s a fan of the actor or the Noir genre. Considering it was released while he was filming Casablanca, it would be fun to do this one as a double feature with that great classic for an interesting taste of how diverse one year in the life of Bogart’s film career could be.

The Cast

Irene Manning plays Lorna Fleming, the former flame to Bogart’s ex-convict who leaves her husband to aid Bogart after his release from prison. A professional singer who got to dabble a bit in acting, Manning is cast well as the femme fatale that seems anxious to dump her attorney husband to run off with the bad boy. She has a look and an attitude that suits the character.

Richard Travis plays the car salesman, George Anderson, who attempts to give Bogart an alibi for a robbery and fails – only to go on to take the rap for a later prison escape by Bogart and another inmate. It’s not a particularly well developed role as he’s seemingly only needed to arouse pathos for Bogart. That being said, I think a lot of Noir films from the era would have used Travis’ character as the main protagonist, so I’ll give the writers some credit for not giving in too easily to expectations. (Does anyone else wonder though, about why Travis’ future parents-in-law, who initially hated him, would become so supportive after he takes part in a crime for money?!?)

Stanley Ridges plays Attorney Martin T. Fleming, the man who pulls Bogart back in for one more caper, tries to defend him in court, and then sabotages any chance he has to avoid life in prison. Ridges is fun in the role and has some good scenes with Manning that lead us to believe it might not be your conventional marriage.

Chick Chandler plays convict Frank ‘Dancer’ Smith, the man who co-escapes with Bogart. Chandler is pretty entertaining as the wannabe dancer (despite the blackface), and shows up again in an uncredited role in Action in the North Atlantic.

Susan Peters plays Travis’ girlfriend, Ruth. Other than a wonderfully shaken performance in the big trial scene, Peters isn’t given a lot to work with here.

John Ridgely has a small role as Tim, a wisecracking cop. What’s interesting to note here is that Ridgely appeared in FIFTEEN different films with Bogart – all of which were small parts and cameos like this one until his big part as Eddie Mars in The Big Sleep!

Classic Bogie Moment

Our classic moment comes from Bogart’s ability to create a laugh in what should be a tense scene. Appearing briefly alongside of fifteen-time costar John Ridgely, Bogart goes to turn himself in to the police and we get this exchange:

Ridgely: (TO ANOTHER POLICE OFFICER WHILE PLAYING CARDS) Only the other day Irene says to me, “Tim!” she says, “How soon do you ‘spose we can afford to have a baby?” How do you like that? Afford to have a baby! Like it was a battleship or somethin’. “Hold on,” I says to her, “Take it easy!” I says. “Not till we can afford to buy a teethin’ ring,” I says to her. I’d hate to tell ya the chances I’d take to get my hands on Duke Berne and get some of that reward money!

Bogart: (COOLLY WATCHING AS HE LEANS AGAINST THE FRONT DESK) Ya got it now, Tim. Tell your wife to go right ahead and have that baby, with my compliments.

Officer 2: Duke Berne!

Ridgely: (LEAPING UP AND GRABBING BOGART BY THE SHOULDERS) Lieutenant! Lieutenant! Come on out here and see what I got!

Bogart: (AS THE LIEUTENANT APPROACHES) Tim’s havin’ a baby.

The Bottom Line

Keep your eyes on TCM’s guide and wait for this one to pop up! (Unless they finally get wise and put it out on DVD first!)

 

Raymond Massey

Massey Action in the North Atlantic

Birth Name: Raymond Hart Massey

Birthdate: August 30, 1896

Number of Films Raymond Massey Made with Humphrey Bogart: 2

The Lowdown

A veteran of the Canadian Army from World War I and World War II, Massey had a long and distinguished career in film and television – and even achieved the honor of having a drink named after him in his hometown of Toronto, Ontario! (A ‘Raymond Massey’ is comprised of 5 ounces of Champagne, 2 ounces of Canadian Rye Whiskey, and ½ ounce of Ginger Syrup. Shake the whiskey and syrup over ice, remove the ice, and add the champagne. You’re welcome!)

It’s funny to me how many different ways people seem to remember Massey. Whether it was one of his multiple portrayals of Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Gillespie on Dr. Kildare, Anton the Spymaster on I Spy, or Jonathon Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace, Massey’s furrowed brow and distinctive jowls have created countless fond memories for fans of Classic Film and Television.

It’s great to know that Bogart and Massey were good friends off screen. Stephen Bogart has a great anecdote in Bogart, In Search of My Father where Massey hides in the Bogart’s bathtub along with several other friends to surprise Bogie on Christmas Eve for his birthday. Only sharing the screen with Bogart twice, Massey played father figures to Bogart both times, albeit with two very different motivations.

The Filmography

Action in the North Atlantic – 1943

Massey Action in the North Atlantic 3

Massey plays Captain Steve Jarvis, commanding a Merchant Marine tanker with Bogart as his second in command. Both men share a very good-natured relationship here as Massey gently nudges Bogart to step up for more responsibility in his life while Bogart repeatedly advises Massey that times are changing and sailing the seas is a young man’s game. Perhaps the best part of the whole film is Massey’s onscreen marriage to Ruth Gordon. Every moment that they’re together is wonderful and their brief scenes alone are worth giving this film a chance! You can read my write up on the film here.

Chain Lightning – 1950

Massey Chain Lightning

Massey plays Leland Willis, the man in charge of the aviation company that’s building planes designed by Richard Whorf and flown by Bogart. Massey is about as close to a bad guy as we get in the film as he helps fuel Bogart’s ambitions, indirectly crushing Whorf’s dreams and driving a wedge between the two friends. Massey is just subdued enough in his greed and determination that it’s an uncomfortably realistic portrayal of a driven entrepreneur who’s begun to lose sight of the human cost that can come at the expense of big business. You can read my original write up on the film here.

The Usual Suspects is an ongoing series on The Bogie Film Blog that highlights some of Bogart’s regular collaborators. You can find the rest of the write ups 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

Screenshot_2015-11-09-21-24-53

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.