Joan Leslie

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Birth Name: Joan Agnes Theresa Sadie Brodel

Date of Birth: January 26, 1925

Date of Death: October 12, 2015

Number of Films that Joan Leslie Made with Humphrey Bogart: 5

The Lowdown

Born in Michigan, Joan Leslie jumped into show business early, joining her two older sisters in a family singing trio known as The Three Brodels. Leslie was two-and-a-half years old at the time, and would go on to perform around the country with her sisters on the vaudeville circuit to help her folks earn money during The Great Depression.

Discovered by MGM while performing with the trio in New York, Leslie made her way through more than a dozen films in bit parts and uncredited roles before landing a contract with Warner Brothers where she appeared with a high profile role in High Sierra next to an about-to-explode Humphrey Bogart.

Leslie would go on to receive great reviews in several more high profile films (Yankee Doodle Dandy and Sergeant York, notably) before finally being blacklisted by Warner Brothers after breaking her contract on religious and moral grounds. Leslie would eventually end up back with MGM, the studio that started it all for her, and finished out her career on the big screen and television before retiring in 1991.

I’ve always considered Joan Leslie to be a real joy to watch on screen. Mostly cast alongside of Bogart in the young and naive ingenue role, Leslie’s real life moral convictions played well on the big screen. And while she may have quit Warner Brothers to keep her convictions intact, Leslie was not afraid during her career to show a darker side to her characters if the script called for it in a sensible way.

I’m very happy to add Joan Leslie to the pantheon of The Usual Suspects!

The Filmography

High Sierra – 1941

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Leslie plays Velma, the young and disabled love interest to Bogart. Director Raoul Walsh uses her in small but powerful doses, and he doesn’t shy away from showing us that Leslie has a bit of a darker side towards the end. Leslie does great in the role and holds herself up against Bogart very well. Perhaps the best and most nuanced of her roles with Bogart, the audience is left feeling both sad for Bogart at the loss of potential redemption through love, but also a bit relieved at the thought that this young child won’t end up with a much older gangster. You can read my original post on the film here.

The Wagons Roll at Night – 1941

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Leslie plays Bogart’s baby sister, and the main love interest to Eddie Albert, Mary Coster. While she’s an even more innocent country kid than she was in High Sierra, Leslie doesn’t really have a whole lot to work with. Director Ray Enright’s instructions may well have been, “Look cute and fall in love with Eddie Albert. That’s all you need to know.” The role is almost identical to the one that Jane Bryan played in Kid Galahad as the younger sister who gets caught up in danger after falling for simpleton who’s making his way through showbiz. You can read my original post on the film here.

Thank Your Lucky Stars – 1943

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Leslie plays Pat Dixon, an aspiring young song writer who’s willing to do anything to get her music heard by the world. Leslie is a lot of fun in the role, although it’s a bit underwritten. She adds a nice little physical mannerism to Pat in that every time she starts to get a great idea, she tucks her head down and pounds on her temples. It’s also a lot of fun to see her impersonate James Cagney’s “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you. . .” speech from Yankee Doodle Dandy, considering that she’s the one who costarred with him in that film! Unfortunately, Leslie doesn’t appear in Bogart’s brief cameo, but it’s a fun film that you need to see regardless! You can read my original post on the film here.

I Am an American – 1944

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Leslie plays herself in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo with several other Hollywood celebs (including Bogart) during a rally to support the war effort. None of her lines are heard, and Leslie is shown for just seconds speaking to a crowd before it cuts to a speech by Dennis Morgan. You can read my original post on the film here.

Two Guys from Milwaukee – 1946

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Leslie plays the manicurist love interest to both Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson, Connie Read, and she’s very good in the role. Yes, she does seem a little shallow to leave Buzz behind for a prince just because he’s a prince. And yes, I’m still not quite sure what the whole psychotherapy dream at the end had to do with making her choice between the two men – but again – plot coherency shouldn’t be at the top of your priorities for enjoying this film. Again, no face time with Bogart during his small cameo, but the film is lots of fun and worth a watch. 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.*

Ray Enright

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Birth Name: Ray Enright

Date of Birth: March 25, 1896

Date of Death: April 3, 1965

Number of Films that Ray Enright Made with Humphrey Bogart: 3

The Lowdown

Ray who? Okay, settle down. Before anyone throws a hissy fit, just take a deep breath and realize that Director and Editor Ray Enright was the type of guy that kept Warner Brothers rolling. Were his films giant colossal hits? Not really. But on many weekends, when there was nothing huge in the theater, people could often relax and enjoy a musical, a romantic comedy, or a Western directed by Enright.

I’ll also admit that one of his Bogie collaborations – Swing Your Lady – is in my “Top 3” guilty pleasures of Bogart’s filmography. But more on that later.

Born in Indiana and raised in L.A., Enright started as a cutter in Hollywood before taking a break to serve in World War I, and then returning to Warner Brothers to cut for two more years before becoming a director. I’ve done a little research on what exactly a “cutter” is, since it seems to me that if Enright had strictly been an editor, it would be listed that way. The cutter appears to be an assistant position alongside an editor on a film that works on some of the more manual tasks of physically cutting the film and rearranging scenes according to the editor’s desires.

Yes, Bogart has been quoted as saying that Enright directed his “worst” film (again, we’ll get to that later…), but come on. . . there are a handful of real doozy’s out there. To claim that any of the three films Enright was a part of were the “worst” is kind of stretching it. (A Holy Terror, anyone???)

Enright was also the director who was inadvertently involved in Bogart being suspended from Warner Brothers after the actor balked at starring in the Enright directed Western, Bad Men from Missouri. According to the Sperber/Lax Bogie bio, the actor returned the script with “Are you kidding–?” written on the cover.

All that said, Enright is a multi-time Bogart collaborator. The man worked with everyone from Rin Tin Tin to Joan Blondell to Randoph Scott. And I personally love one of his flops. Hey! I’m in charge here! The man goes into The Usual Suspects! If ya got a problem with that, and you wanna get slapped, come on over and complain about it!

The Filmography

China Clipper – 1936

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There was a moment about fifteen minutes into this film where I thought I might have found a real hidden gem. China Clipper isn’t widely available to watch or purchase, and I was just getting ready to write my complaint email to Warner Brothers when I suddenly understood the lack of enthusiasm behind the film.

The problem comes about midway through. Star Pat O’Brien seems to hit the peak of his character arc and just kind of flat lines. He learns his lesson on why he shouldn’t abuse his friends, family, wife, and coworkers, and he makes his apologies. Unfortunately, there’s still a good forty minutes left in the movie and the character apparently has nowhere left to go. Not only that, but whatever growth supposedly took place is quickly ignored as he reverts back to old habits, except now we’re supposed to be sympathetic to the same plight that alienated him from everyone who loves him.

This is a rare melodramatic turn for Director Enright who tended to go for lighter fare. If you like to watch repetitive shots of an airplane flying through clouds, maybe you’ll like the ending better than I did, but once O’ Brien’s character began to lose steam, I did too.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Swing Your Lady – 1938

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Ronald Reagan. Frank McHugh. Nat Pendleton. Penny Singleton. Allen Jenkins. Come on! You can give this one some grace, can’t you?

For all of the horrible things that I’d heard about this movie, I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as its reputation. It’s got a 4.5 user rating on IMDB and that seems unfairly harsh. Perhaps my expectations were so low that anything would’ve seemed better than the horror that I expected. I watched this one late at night in a hotel and enjoyed it so much that I immediately bought the DVD.

This film is much more along the lines of Director Enright’s usual fare of goofy characters, stretched out plots, and light love stories. Bogart is Ed Hatch, a traveling professional wrestling promoter who’s trying to break into the big time at Madison Square Garden.

Fortunately, what the movie lacks in plot coherency, I thought it actually made up for in charm. Do Bogart’s small town intentions make sense? In the long run, nope. Are a few of the characters a little over-caricatured? Oh, yeah. But every one of them was able to squeak out at least one or two laughs from me. There are some fun musical numbers (another Enright-ism) and enough comedic actors packed in to make it worth at least one viewing. Come on, people! Let’s get those user ratings up for this one!

And to be fair, Warner Bros agreed to give Bogart a raise if he agreed to to this one. So, worth it, right? Okay, sure, it bombed at the theaters – but some critics of the time liked it!

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Wagons Roll at Night – 1941

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So . . . this one might have been in trouble from the beginning as the name for the film was changed from Carnival to The Wagons Roll at Night to try and cash in on that really popular “at/by night” theme that worked so well with They Drive by Night. You know how audiences turn out in droves to see films that take place at night, right?

Director Enright does a good job working the camera angles and cutting the film in such a way that it’s easy to forget Eddie Albert, Sig Ruman, and Bogart were rarely (if ever, in some cases) in the cage with the lions. It’s these life-or-death situations that lend an extra dose of gravitas to the film.

It’s important to note that Warner Brothers got some flack for making a movie that seemed to be a real retread of a previous Bogart film. You might find that understandable if you take just a second to consider this plot –

An entertainment promoter replaces his top drawing performer with an untrained yokel. The promoter’s girlfriend then ends up falling for the yokel and believes that he might be falling for her as well. Due to outside circumstances, the yokel has to disappear for a while until some trouble simmers down and ends up staying at the farm where the promoter grew up. While at the farm, he ends up falling in love with the promoter’s sister and it eventually leads to a life or death scenario for several of the characters involved . . .

Sound familiar to you Bogart die hards? It should. As it’s the exact same plot for both 1937’s Kid Galahad as well as 1941’s The Wagons Roll at Night. Replace boxing with the circus, Edward G. Robinson with Bogart, Bette Davis with Sylvia Sydney, and Wayne Morris with Eddie Albert, and Wagons is practically identical. (To carry the comparison to completion, you also have to replace Kid Galahad’s Bogart with The Wagons Roll at Night’s man-eating lion. Pretty even swap, if you ask me.)

Still, despite the similarities, there’s plenty to enjoy here. Yes, we lose Robinson and Davis, but Sylvia Sydney does fine, and Eddie Albert might even be an ever-so-slight step up from Wayne Morris’ stiff amateur boxer. The change of locale is really what helps this film distinguish itself from Galahad, as the excitement of the circus life and the action with the lions adds an entirely new element of tension to the story.

While the stakes in Galahad rest in the possibility of eventual death at the hands of mobsters, The Wagon’s Roll at Night is able to present a much more immediate and constant threat for its protagonist from the hazards of the lion taming occupation.

Is one better than the other? Well, if I had my druthers, I’d always prefer to keep Robinson and Davis in the equation with Bogart, but overall I found The Wagons Roll at Night to be a more re-watchable film. More than likely that’s because Bogart got top billing and appears in a majority of the scenes – but entertainment wise, I think this one has an edge over its boxing predecessor.

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 Wagons Roll at Night – 1941

Wagons Roll at Night Poster

My Review

—An Enjoyable Retread—

Your Bogie Film Fix (Out of 5 Bogies):

3 Bogie

 

 

 

Director: Ray Enright

The Lowdown

A circus promoter (Bogart) replaces his lion tamer (Sig Ruman) with a small town rube (Eddie Albert) in the hopes of boosting ticket sales.

What I Thought

Take just a second to consider this plot. An entertainment promoter replaces his top drawing performer with an untrained yokel. The promoter’s girlfriend then ends up falling for the yokel and believes that he might be falling for her as well. Due to outside circumstances, the yokel has to disappear for a while until some trouble simmers down and ends up staying at the farm where the promoter grew up. While at the farm, he ends up falling in love with the promoter’s sister and it eventually leads to a life or death scenario for several of the characters involved . . .

Sound familiar to you Bogart diehards? It should. As it’s the exact same plot for both 1937’s Kid Galahad as well as 1941’s The Wagons Roll at Night. Replace boxing with the circus, Edward G. Robinson with Bogart, Bette Davis with Sylvia Sydney, and Wayne Morris with Eddie Albert and Wagons is practically identical. (To carry the comparison to completion, you also have to replace Kid Galahad’s Bogart with The Wagons Roll at Night’s man-eating lion. Pretty even swap, if you ask me.)

Still, despite the similarities, there’s plenty to enjoy here. Yes, we lose Robinson and Davis, but Sylvia Sydney does fine, and Eddie Albert might even be an ever-so-slight step up from Wayne Morris’ stiff amateur boxer. The change of locale is really what helps this film distinguish itself from Galahad, as the excitement of the circus life and the action with the lions adds an entirely new element of tension to the story.

While the stakes in Galahad rested in the possibility of eventual death at the hands of mobsters, The Wagon’s Roll at Night is able to present a much more immediate and constant threat for its protagonist from the hazards of the lion taming occupation. Director Ray Enright does a good job working the camera angles and cutting the film in such a way that it’s easy to forget Eddie Albert, Sig Ruman, and Bogart were rarely (if ever in some cases) in the cage with the big cats. It’s these life-or-death situations that lend an extra dose of gravitas to this film while Kid Galahad tended to lean more towards the lighter side of drama.

Is one better than the other? Well, if I had my druthers, I’d always prefer to keep Robinson and Davis in the equation with Bogart, but overall I found The Wagons Roll at Night to be a more re-watchable film. More than likely that’s because Bogart now has top billing and appears in a majority of the scenes – but entertainment wise, I think this one has an edge over its boxing predecessor.

The Bogart Factor

In his first ever top billing, Bogart plays Nick Coster, the owner/operator/promoter of the circus. It’s an interesting role as the script seems to be calling for him to be a somewhat-sympathetic protagonist at one moment, and a less-than-desirable villain the next. Is the script confused? I’m not sure. In Kid Galahad, Robinson played the overeager somewhat good guy lead to Bogart’s dark mobster bad guy. Here though, both roles seem combined into one. It creates a much darker, and possibly more well-rounded character than Robinson’s Nick Donati in Kid Galahad, although I’m sure that Nick Donati and Nick Coster would get along rather well if they ever went out for drinks.

It’s another slick huckster role for Bogart in the same vein as the ones he played in Midnight and Swing Your Lady, and it’s a role that he can do well. We believe that he has a heart and actually cares about the people around him, but at the same time, we’re not surprised when he’s willing to turn on them if it means making some quick money or getting a little bit of revenge.

Probably not a must see for most casual Bogart fans, but the film is entirely watchable and doesn’t overstay its welcome even if the ending is a little more predictable than it should be.

The Cast

Sylvia Sidney plays Flo Lorraine, the circus’ fortune teller and the main squeeze of Bogart’s circus promoter. Sidney’s very good here even if she is in the shadow of Bette Davis’ performance in Kid Galahad. Sidney has a more convincing look as a gal from the wrong side of the tracks, and her adoration of Eddie Albert’s showbiz naivety seems a little more rooted in reality. What I really enjoyed about her performance here was the relationship with Bogart. They truly seemed like one of those couples that’s been together forever but are just waiting for an excuse to move on. It was fun to see her get an expanded role from Dead End where she plays a somewhat similar character but with less to do.

Eddie Albert plays the grocery store clerk turned lion tamer, Matt Varney. In one of the film’s best moments, we get to see Albert catch a runaway lion in his store and then relay the adventure to an ecstatic group of kids who hang on his every word. It’s a wonderful scene that does a great job of setting up exactly who Varney is, and who he is to become. Albert is solid here, and as most of my exposure to him comes from Green Acres, I’m a little curious to visit his other film roles now.

Joan Leslie plays Bogart’s baby sister, and the main love interest to Albert, Mary Coster. The last time we visited Leslie on this blog, she was playing the young disabled gal in High Sierra that broke Bogart’s heart. She’s a little more sympathetic here, but doesn’t really have a whole lot to work with. Director Enright’s instructions may well have been, “Look cute and fall in love with Albert. That’s all you need to know.”

Sig Ruman plays the drunken lion tame that loses his job to Albert, Hoffman the Great. He does well as the big blowhard who seems to forget when he’s on or off stage. His fight with Albert amongst the lion cages has some of the most convincing punches I’ve seen in a Bogart film as well.

And then there’s ‘Bogie Film Blog’ favorite Charliy Foy as Snapper, the right hand man to Bogart’s circus promoter. After Swingtime in the Movies and King of the Underworld, Foy has really stuck out to me as a talented character actor, and here he gets his best chance to shine alongside of Bogart. In perhaps my favorite scene from the film, Bogart refunds a customer’s ten dollars after being accused of employing pickpockets at the circus. He then immediately instructs Foy and another man to escort the customer off the grounds. Seconds later, Foy returns, hands a ten dollar bill to Bogart, and says, “Here’s your ten back, boss.” This guy’s going into ‘The Usual Suspects’ soon.

Classic Bogie Moment

He’s fought cops, mobsters, cowboys, convicts, street thugs, Nazis, bootleggers, AND giant octopuses. Why wouldn’t he face down a man-eating lion?

Bogart Wagons Classic

Yup, that’s just how Bogart rolls.

The Bottom Line

Don’t force yourself to pick between this one and Kid Galahad. Watch them back to back as a double feature on a Friday night and enjoy the best of both!