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.*

The Westerns

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Welcome to a new segment on The Bogie Film Blog called Character Reference. In this section of the blog we’ll dissect the genres and character types that Bogart played over his career. How many times did he play a jailbird? An escaped jailbird? A detective? A cop? A journalist? A soldier? A cowboy? Those and many more will hopefully be covered in the coming years!

The GenreWesterns

Today we start with The Westerns. Perhaps not Bogart’s most auspicious genre, this class of film was certainly as troubling for the Hollywood legend as it was productive. Coming to fame during the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s in Hollywood meant that an actor would more than likely have to tangle with a Western film at some point, and Bogart was no exception.

Make no mistake, Bogart is not John Wayne, and save for one Western, he probably should have skipped the genre all together. That’s not to say that a few of the films aren’t worth seeing, but it is to say that Bogart was often miscast with a wide brimmed hat and sat upon the back of a horse.

There’s the accent for starters. Whether he sounds like a big city gangster or tries to adopt something more authentic (ugh, we’ll get into it), the man just did not sound like someone who should have been inhabiting the old west.

Then you’ve got the physicality. You could do a lot with a fancy suit, a trench coat, and a fedora. Height could become fuzzy. Build could be hidden. But put a man in a tight-fit shirt and a ten gallon hat on the back of a horse and it’s pretty hard to hide an atypical cowboy frame.

It helps a bit that he was always villainous. The villains don’t have to look nearly as good as the white hats. But come on, even with six shooters Bogart had a hard time playing the part of a threatening bad guy.

Still – there’s more than one Western in his filmography that might be worth your while!

The Westerns

A Holy Terror – 1931

Holy Terror Poster2

It’s a stereotypical bad guy role for Bogart here as he plays Steve Nash, the head cowhand for a cattle ranch. No backstory is given. He’s got a bunkhouse full of goons. He’s quick to use murder to solve all his problems. When the ending arrives, you will wonder Why in the heck would anyone have this guy on the payroll?

All that said, Bogart’s the standout performance here by far. The role is essentially the same as any of his early gangster roles, complete with the East Coast accent, and no one could play stock tough guys better than Bogie. He whines, grouses, argues, sneers, and loses his temper throughout the film and it never gets old.

As one of only four Westerns in his filmography, there is enough here to make it a must see for Bogart completists as he does get a lot of screen time with all the other leads. But the script is bad, bad, bad.

At fifty-three minutes, the review for this one was almost “Watchable.” Then I got to the twist ending which immediately calls into question everything that just happened in the previous fifty-two minutes and should potentially create an incredible legal nightmare for all the shooting, fighting, and death that the took place around the main protagonists. Instead, the twist is embraced by all the characters, laughed about, and taken as a neat and tidy wrap-up for a tragically violent story. I’m obviously tip-toeing around spoilers here, but the head rancher in the film is so negligent in his communication to the other characters that he should spend the rest of his life in prison.

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Oklahoma Kid – 1939

Kid Poster

I had heard so many bad things about this film that I’d prepared myself for the worst. I’d heard that it was “the film with the two shortest cowboys of all time.”  True enough, but I did think that nicknaming Cagney ‘The Oklahoma Kid’ helped a lot. It probably would have been better to pair him with someone a tiny bit more threatening in stature other Bogart, though.

I’d also heard it was “the film with the cowboys that have gangster accents.” This complaint is completely understandable considering that everyone in the film besides Cagney and Bogart seem to have more Midwestern accents, if not full out drawls. Our two stars though, sound just as if they’d plopped right down outta The Roaring Twenties.

I’d also read from multiple sources that it was “the cowboy film with goofy outfits,” as even Bogart himself thought that Cagney’s costume made him look like a big mushroom:

oklkidcag

Although when you consider Bogart’s chapeau:

oklkidbogiehat

It makes me wonder, were they out of medium sized hats that day???

I had a lot of similar feelings watching this film as I did the first time I watched The Return of Doctor X. It may not be the best use of Bogart’s or Cagney’s talents, but it is an enjoyable film if you can forgive all the casting drawbacks. Cagney especially seems to be full of endless joy as he grins and charms his way through this movie.

Whip McCord is a pretty two-dimensional bad guy for Bogart, and there are several times during the film when the character disappears for extended periods. Any shortcomings though, stem more from the script than from Bogart’s performance. He does his best with a limited role, and he even looks kind of comfortable on horseback. His lack of screen time might have partially been due to the fact that he was concurrently filming Dark Victory with Bette Davis while he was making this film.

It does have an AMAZING fight scene at the end!

You can read my original post on the film here.

Virginia City – 1940

Virginia City Poster

Oh, thank the good Lord that High Sierra was just around the corner. Don’t get me wrong, this is not bad film, but Bogart is terribly miscast as a Hispanic outlaw with a very bad accent. His name is John Murrell – couldn’t they have made him an ex-pat hiding in Mexico rather than a native? Especially since they were going to stand him next to REAL MEXICANS for the entire film.

It’s just the wrong, wrong, wrong movie for Bogart to be in. The part’s small. The accent was a terrible choice. And putting him next to Errol Flynn and Randolph Scott accentuated his slight stature in a way that shocked me despite having seen almost all of his films. Not his greatest showcase.

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – 1948

Treasure Poster

While many of you might argue that this one’s not a “true” Western, it’s listed as such on IMDB and has many of the Western tropes that Classic Hollywood was famous for.

While I wouldn’t consider Bogart’s portrayal of Fred C. Dobbs to be quite as evil as some reviews have made it out to be, there’s no doubt that this is one of the most darkly realistic characters that he ever played. Slowly consumed by greed, Dobbs is a man that is primed and ready for something to send him over the edge.

And yet the tightrope that Bogart and Director John Huston are able to walk here with Bogart’s likability is pretty astounding. Even after attempting to murder Tim Holt, we watch – and continue to hope – that Bogart will somehow make it through his final desert journey and evade the bandit Goldhat one more time in order to claim his fortune. Dobbs is the good friend that we all know and continue to root for despite the fact that he occasionally makes some really despicable life decisions. It’s the same likability that Bogart brought to so many of his earlier criminal roles, and to the cynical loners later in his career that refused to stick their necks out for anyone.

How drastically different would this film be if someone other than Bogart had been cast as Dobbs? Perhaps someone more typically villainous? Having all three main characters start out as protagonists on equal footing lends a powerful punch to the film’s climax and the final moments between Walter Huston and Tim Holt.

While it’s not my absolute favorite Bogart performance, I don’t argue too hard with people who do claim that it’s his best. It’s certainly got to fall within the top five for me.

You can read my original post on the film here.

*Character Reference is an ongoing segment of The Bogie Film Blog where we dissect the different recurring genres and characters from Bogart’s filmography. You can find the rest of the entries here.* (Eventually 🙂 )

James Cagney

Cagney Bogart Roaring Twenties PS

Name: James Francis Cagney, Jr.

Birthdate: July 17, 1899

Number of Films James Cagney made with Humphrey Bogart: 3

The Lowdown

Although I’ve always enjoyed James Cagney, it wasn’t until I began to write for this blog that I discovered my true love for the man. Rivaled only by Bogart as far as onscreen charisma is concerned, James Cagney could steal every scene and command every frame that he was in with just a few menacing words, a well-timed comedic line, or just the right smile – a smile that could often combine joy and danger. The man was bursting with an endless stream of energy that seemed to be contagious to any cast that surrounded him.

Cutting his teeth in vaudeville as a dancer and comedian, Cagney would go on to work with Warner Brothers in what would turn out to be an incredibly fruitful, but often tumultuous relationship. With films like The Public Enemy and White Heat, Cagney left behind the defining example of what it meant to be an onscreen gangster – tough, unnerving, funny, and always on the edge of emotional explosion.

Cagney made three films with Humphrey Bogart, and I have to say that I really love all three – even the one that gets the most flak from the critics and modern day TCM viewers (The Oklahoma Kid). With great pleasure, I add James Cagney to ‘The Usual Suspects.’

The Filmography

Angels with Dirty Faces – 1938

Cagney OBrien AngelsCagney with Pat O’Brien
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Cagney plays Rocky Sullivan, a small time hood that grows up to be a big time criminal. It’s a wonderfully charismatic performance from Cagney, and it’s the film that makes me think there might need to be a Cagney Film Blog when I’m done with Bogart. Cagney is able to pull off an incredible amount of likability from the viewers even while we watch him do some pretty terrible things to his friends and to the kids that he begins to mentor. A really good film is elevated to great just by the delivery of his final lines in the movie. Even though we see nothing but a quick glimpse of his hands, that last scene still has a deeply moving and painful tone that haunted me for days afterwards. Cagney said that he chose to play his final scene with enough ambiguity that the audience wouldn’t know his real motivation for what he says and does. The choice was genius. You can read my original write up on the film here.

The Oklahoma Kid – 1939

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Cagney plays western outlaw Jim Kincaid, and although the real ‘bad guys’ in the film spend their time doing MUCH worse things than Cagney, the law seems to only want to pursue him. For all of the bad things that I’d heard about this film, I thought that Cagney played a great cowboy. Bogart reportedly referred to him as the mushroom because of his oversized hat, but just take a look at Bogart’s hat:

oklkidbogiehat

Was the wardrobe department out of mediums that day, or what? Other than the chapeau snafus, Cagney is endlessly watchable here and seemed to be enjoying himself as he flirts, cons, shoots, and rides his way through the film. I’d say it’s a must see Cagney film as he really seems to be having fun. You can read my original write up of the film here.

The Roaring Twenties – 1939

Bogart and Cagney

Cagney plays Eddie Bartlett, a WWII vet who returns home only to find that an honest job with a decent paycheck is all but impossible to get. So what’s a man to do other than to turn his talents towards an illegal bootlegging operation? Cagney gets to run the gamut from celebrated soldier boy, to big time gangster, and then all the way down to flat broke drunk. Cagney’s charisma is off the charts and every moment he’s on screen you just can’t take your eyes off of him. 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. His comedic timing is perfect and there’s wonderful chemistry with the entire cast. You can read my original write up of the film here.

*UPDATE* – You gotta check out this rare clip that Judy posted on her Movie Classics blog of Cagney in a screen test!  What a great moment!  Linkety-link.

‘The Usual Suspects’ is an ongoing feature on the blog that highlights some of Bogart’s best collaborators. You can find the ever-growing list of names here.

The Oklahoma Kid – 1939

Kid Poster

My Review

—Better Than You’ve Been Led to Believe—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Lloyd Bacon

The Lowdown

Jim ‘The Oklahoma Kid’ Kincaid (James Cagney) is an amiable outlaw who really only steals from people who deserve it.  When his father and brother are put in harm’s way by a ruthless land thief (Humphrey Bogart), Kincaid looks to set things right.

What I Thought

I had heard so many bad things about this film that I’d prepared myself for the worst.

I’d heard that it was “the film with the two shortest cowboys of all time.”  True enough, but I did think that nicknaming Cagney ‘The Oklahoma Kid’ helped a lot.  And who cares if the bad guy’s short?  Lots of famous bad guys are short!

I’d also heard it was “the film with the cowboys that have gangster accents.”  This complaint is a bit more understandable considering that everyone in the film besides Cagney and Bogart seemed to have more Midwestern accents, if not full out drawls.  Our two stars though, sound just as if they’d plopped right down outta The Roaring Twenties.

I’d also read from multiple sources that it was “the cowboy film with goofy outfits,” as even Bogart himself thought that Cagney’s costume made him look like a big mushroom:

oklkidcag

Although when you consider Bogart’s chapeau:

oklkidbogiehat

It makes me wonder, were they out of medium sized hats that day???

I had a lot of similar feelings watching this film as I did when I watched The Return of Doctor X.  It may not be the best use of Bogart’s talents, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable film.  Cagney especially seems full of endless joy as he grins and charms his way through this movie.

This is my fifth Lloyd Bacon film for the blog after Brother Orchid, Action in the North Atlantic, Marked Woman, and San Quentin, and out of the five, I actually think it’s the film where Bacon has taken the biggest risks.  With about twenty minutes left of the movie, I anticipated that it was about to wrap up in the standard, Hollywood cliché, cowboy film way – with Cagney blasting the pistols out of evil doers’ hands and roping everyone up into prison.  Much to my surprise, I ended up watching a film that could be labeled as an early precursor to Eastwood’s Unforgiven.  (In the tone of the final act only, mind you!)

Director Bacon doesn’t hold back as multiple main characters start to meet violently disturbing ends.  Cagney’s Oklahoma Kid responds in kind, finally living up to the reputation that we’ve heard about for the entire movie but hadn’t yet seen, as he systematically begins to take apart Whip McCord’s (Humphrey Bogart) gang one by one.

It made me wish that we could have seen a darker side to Cagney throughout the first three quarters of the film when Director Bacon really seemed to be leaning harder on the comedy while the end of the film probably needed a bit more of a dramatic setup.  Quite a few times you’ll wonder, Why exactly are they working so hard to track down The Oklahoma Kid when there are much worse gangsters already destroying everything?  

Is it a perfect film?  No, definitely not.  Is it a great western?  No, not really.  But it is a decent movie with lots of fun moments, and it has two Hollywood legends playing outside of their normal wheelhouse of roles.  With only a finite amount of Cagney and Bogart films to enjoy, I’ll lend The Oklahoma Kid a lot of grace for its lack of credibility.

The Bogart Factor

Whip McCord is a pretty two-dimensional bad guy for Bogart, and there are several times during the film when the character disappears for extended periods.  Any shortcomings, though, stem more from the script than from Bogart’s performance.  He does his best with a limited role, and he even looks comfortable on horseback.  His lack of screen time might have partially been due to the fact that he was concurrently filming Dark Victory with Bette Davis while he was making this film.

We do get to see, what I would consider, the greatest fistfight that I’ve seen in a Bogart movie to date when Bogart and Cagney finally have it out at the end of the film.  Starting on the second landing of the saloon, both men (and their stunt doubles) get to the main floor the hard way.  Check out the way that Bogart high-kicks Cagney right in the face and then goes after him with a broken bottle!  It’s a gritty, violent, and incredibly enjoyable Western fistfight if there ever was one.

If nothing else, we get to see Bogart dressed in black and riding a horse – that’s worth the price of admission alone, isn’t it?

The Cast

James Cagney is pretty good as Jim Kincaid.  Did this guy ever do a bad role?  Cagney is endlessly watchable onscreen and seemed to be enjoying himself as he flirts, cons, shoots, and rides his way through the film.

Rosemary Lane is Jane Hardwick, Cagney’s love interest.  Much like The Return of Doctor X, I found her capable, but incredibly underwritten.  How is it that the same gal gets shortchanged in both of Bogart’s wildest genre films?

Harvey Stephens and Hugh Sothern play Ned and John Kincaid, Cagney’s brother and father, respectively.  Both men are solid, holding up a majority of the film when Cagney’s not present.  Stephens plays especially earnest and honorable as he rallies a group of men against Bogart’s outlaw with this great line:

Ned Kincaid:  “Shootings, killings, robberies, and a mighty orgy of drunkenness!  Gambling and vice!  All directly traceable to McCord’s influence!”

Hugh Sothern’s exit from the film shocked me, and added the first real emotional weight to the film as it switches gears from lighthearted western to dark revenge tale.

Don’t Forget to Notice 

Ray Mayer, who made a career out of showing up in films as a piano player/musician, has one of the funniest moments in the film as Cagney makes a request for a song in the saloon, despite the fact that there’s a man nearby who happens to be trying to kill him.

Classic Bogie Moment

I think that what makes Bogart so great and believable as a bad guy is that even when he’s given a two-dimensional role, he’s able to add some realistic vulnerability.  When a typical film villain hears bad news from a henchman, what does he do?  He might grimace and grit his teeth.  He might furrow his brow and clench his fists.  He might snarl and bark with spittle flying in all directions.  Not Bogart.  While getting bad news in two scenes in particular, he does exactly what an actor is supposed to do.  He listens.  And while he listens, we can see him actually thinking about what’s being said:

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Bogart slowly turns away from the other actor, looking upset, confused, stressed, and even a little scared as he’s forced to adjust his plans in dealing with Cagney and his family.  It’s a little trait that I recognize from a lot of his other films, and it’s used well here.

The Bottom Line

If you like Cagney, you need to see this film.  If you’re more than a casual fan of Bogart, you’ll find a lot to love about The Oklahoma Kid despite its flaws.