Vincent Sherman

vincentsherman

Birth Name: Abraham Orovitz

Birthdate: July 16, 1906

Number of Films that Vincent Sherman Made with Humphrey Bogart: 5

The Lowdown

Born and raised in Georgia, Vincent Sherman started his show business career acting on Broadway before making the transition to small parts in Hollywood, and then eventually writing and directing for some of Tinseltown’s biggest stars.

There are a number of good interviews with Sherman available on YouTube that are easy to find if you search for his name. (Forgive me if I don’t link them directly, but I’m not sure of their legality and I try my best to keep ‘The Bogie Film Blog’ on the straight and narrow!) A couple of them give some great insights into Sherman’s work with Bogart and Sherman talks about how Warner Brothers tasked him with taking a well-known heavy (Bogart) and trying to do something else with him – including trying to make him a leading man. While Bogart had received some great reviews for High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon, Sherman says that more than a few people questioned Bogart’s ability to “get the girl” when Sherman was asked to direct the actor in All Through the Night.

In short, I really love and appreciate all five of the films that Sherman and Bogart collaborated on together. Other than Across the Pacific, I think one of the defining aspects of all the films that Sherman worked on with Bogart is that he was able to insert an incredible sense of humor into all of the stories, giving them a camp-like feel as he took well-worn genres (horror, gangster) and turned them on their heads.

From both of their interviews, it sounds like Sherman and Bogart admired and respected each other greatly, even if Sherman says Bogart “groused” a lot about the scripts.  It’s a relationship that paid off well onscreen and left us a few of Bogart’s most unique roles.  . It’s also fun to note that Sherman was on both sides of Bogart’s transition from B-films (The Return of Doctor X) to more A-list affairs (Across the Pacific).

Both men also did their fair share of battling with The House Un-American Activities Committee, although Sherman got the shorter end of the stick as he was eventually punished by being blacklisted.

The Filmography

Crime School – 1938 (Screenplay, Dialogue Director)

Crime School Poster

Credited for the screenplay alongside of Crane Wilbur, this is probably my least favorite film out of all the collaborations that Sherman had with Bogart. It’s a fairly pedestrian script that is incredibly reminiscent of an earlier Bogart film (San Quentin), and it doesn’t have as much of Sherman’s humor injected into it like the next three films. Not a terrible movie, but probably not a must see unless you’re a Bogart completist, or you really like The “Dead End” Kids who appear in a few solid roles. You can read my original write up on the film here.

King of the Underworld – 1939 (Screenplay, Dialogue Director)

King of the Underworld Poster

Credited for the screenplay alongside of George Bricker, this one’s a step up from Crime School, but suffers quite a bit tonally as Director Lewis Seiler can’t seem to decide whether or not we’re supposed to laugh at, or fear, Bogart. I have a suspicion that since both Sherman and Seiler had a penchant for funny gangster films (Seiler would go on to direct It All Came True) they couldn’t help but add a little too much humor into this one. One of the best moments – and one of my all-time favorite comedic moments for Bogart, comes in this film when Kay Francis, playing a doctor, diagnoses Bogart’s gangster kingpin as “the moronic type.” Being a bit dimwitted, Bogart takes the diagnosis as if it might be a life threatening disease. (And perhaps it could be argued that it is for him in this film!) Again, not a must see, but there’s a lot of fun to be had in this script. It’s a bit reminiscent of The Petrified Forest as there’s a traveling writer who’s taken hostage by gangsters and eventually falls in love; but it’s not so close as to ruin the film by comparison. You can read my original write up on the film here.

The Return of Doctor X – 1939 (Director)

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After reading everything written about Sherman’s directorial debut, I fully prepared myself to hate this one. Sherman said that he was given the choice to do this horror film or a comedy, and chose this one as the lesser of two evils. Bogart supposedly hated the movie. Critics hated the movie. The script was supposedly awful. There was surely no way this was going to be enjoyable was there? I loved it. I’m not kidding; this film is a campy blast. Sherman shows a great eye for scene setup and playing soap opera melodrama for full effect. Yes, the script was bad, but Sherman seems to be filming every moment with a tongue-firmly-placed-in-cheek style humor. To follow up just two years later with All Through the Night, I have to believe that Sherman was intentionally playing with clichéd horror movie tropes, poking fun at the very fans that were paying to see this film. Fortunately, he does it with such style that I couldn’t help but thoroughly enjoy myself for all 62 minutes of this feature. You can read my original write up on the film here.

All Through the Night – 1942 (Director)

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With a star-studded cast that included Bogart, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, Kaaren Verne, Frank McHugh, William Demarest, Jackie Gleason, Phil Silvers, Barton McClane, Ben Welden, and Jane Darwell, a hilarious script, and wonderful action scenes, this is easily my favorite film out of all the Sherman/Bogart collaborations. There are multiple laugh-out-loud moments. Lorre plays one of the best creepy villains of all time. Bogart gets to sock Nazis! What else do you need? Watching Bogart and Demarest go undercover into a secret Nazi meeting as munitions experts is so stinking funny that it’s worth owning the DVD for that scene alone. A gangster chasing down a gang of Nazis for killing his favorite baker? It’s a preposterous plot, but Sherman never takes the film seriously long enough to let you think about it. The way he’s able to balance action, drama, and comedy all in one film makes me wonder why this one’s not more talked about. It’s definitely in my top five re-watchable Bogart films and it should be in yours too. You can read my original write up on the film here.

Across the Pacific – 1942 (Director, Final Scenes)

Across the Pacific

Directed by John Huston and reuniting an amazing acting trio (Bogart, Astor, and Greenstreet) from The Maltese Falcon’s cast, Sherman was only brought in at the very end to finish up the last few scenes when Huston had to go off to make documentaries for the U.S. during World War II. If you didn’t know about the director switch ahead of time, you’d never notice. Sherman does fine with his few minutes, making them blend in seamlessly with Huston’s work. As the story goes, the day Sherman came in to take over, Huston was filming the scene where Bogart is trapped in a movie theater at the end of the film. When Sherman asked Huston how Bogart gets out, Huston told him it was his problem to figure it out. He was off to the war! Whether it’s true, or (more than likely) just the stuff of Hollywood legend, it’s a fun story, and it shows the respect that Sherman had earned over his years as a director to be called in to finish such a big film. You can read my original write up on the film this Sunday.

*The Usual Suspects is a portion of the blog where I highlight some of Bogart’s multi-film collaborators. It’s usually anyone who has struck my fancy. The only rule is that I have to have reviewed/posted all of their films before writing them up. You can see the rest of the growing list of suspects here.

King of the Underworld – 1939

King of the Underworld Poster

My Review

—A Confused, but Watchable Film—

Bogie Film Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Lewis Seiler

The Lowdown

A doctor (Kay Francis) follows gangsterJoe Gurney (Humphrey Bogart) to a small town in the hope of clearing her name after her husband (John Elderidge) is killed while helping Gurney’s gang.

What I Thought

The key word to this film is potential. There’s a lot of potential to be had here, but unfortunately, King of the Underworld falls short of living up to it.

I’m a fan of Lewis Seiler’s work, and while he doesn’t make perfect films, he’s a capable director when he has the right script. This time though, it seems as if he can’t decide whether he’s making a crime drama, a gangster comedy, or a love story. King of the Underworld feels like a mashup between the taut dramatics of Bogart’s gangster-on-the-run film The Petrified Forest and the goofy shenanigans of Seiler’s own gangster-in-hiding film It All Came True.

Bogart is initially shown as a ruthless murderer, reclining on a couch while he shoots one of his own men one moment, and then later playing for laughs as he doesn’t understand that a doctor is being insulting when she diagnoses him as the “moronic” type.

Then there’s the English writer (James Stephenson) hitchhiking his way across the country, accidently coming across Bogart’s crew after their car breaks down. Later, he falls for Francis after he gets stranded in the small town. Both plot points directly out of The Petrified Forest. Stephenson is solid with what he has to work with, but he’s given no real time to develop his relationship with Francis, and seems to exist for little more than plot advancement.

Despite all of my issues with the tone and script of this film, it’s not unwatchable. The acting is well done, Seiler knows how to frame a shot and keep a story moving, and the plot has a few interesting turns.

I think that the fault for any shortcomings might lie both with Director Seiler’s inability to pick a mood, and the fact that the screenplay was written in part by another multi-time Bogart collaborator, Vincent Sherman. Sherman, as many regular Bogie Film Blog readers know, directed two of Bogart’s more offbeat films – The Return of Doctor X and All Through the Night – both films that I contend were meant as spoofs of the horror and gangster genres respectively.

So was King of the Underworld meant more as a parody? I don’t think so. So much real angst was built into the story between Francis and Bogart that I think the comedic moments were just a bit too overplayed. There’s just enough humor thrown in that it undercuts Bogart’s threat as an antagonist. My guess is that Sherman and Seiler were both still in the infancy of their experimentations with turning the gangster genre on its head, and they put in a little too much silliness to make any of the gravitas truly effective.

Regardless, this one might be a fun double feature with Director Seiler’s own It All Came True, or Vincent Sherman’s underrated gem, All Through the Night.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart could be comedic, dramatic, romantic, threatening, subdued, and whimsical – and while several of those are attempted at various points here, the performance comes off as uneven. In some scenes he’s wonderfully despicable. In others, his comedic timing is flawless. While that kind of varied personality works well in some films (see All Through the Night, High Sierra, The Roaring Twenties), it comes off as fragmented and uneven here.

Again though, the character of Joe Gurney is incredibly interesting and has so much potential. The story of a gangster obsessed with Napoleon, yet too shortsighted to see that they share the same tragic flaws, should lead to a much more satisfying character arc than it does here. Especially when you add in the relationship with the historical author who’s on hand to chronicle it all. But wait, there’s that Francis/Stephenson love story to contend with. And the side story about how the townspeople don’t like Francis. Then there’s the out for justice/revenge plot that keeps disappearing and reappearing, grabbing for our attention. It’s just too many under-developed story fragments in too short of a film.

All of that said, I’d still say this one is probably a must see for diehard Bogart fans as so many of the elements that made him a great ‘bad guy’ are here on display in various moments.

The Cast

Kay Francis plays Dr. Carol Nelson, the wrongfully accused woman who’s trying to clear her name by chasing down the gangster. Francis is good here despite being lost in the plot details. I would have loved to have seen another 10 minutes added to this 67 minute film that fleshed out her relationship with James Stephenson.

James Stephenson plays Bill Stevens, an English writer hitchhiking across the states. It’s impossible not to compare him to the great Leslie Howard in The Petrified Forest, as it’s essentially the exact same character, but Stephenson does well with an incredibly underwritten role. This could have been a film that revolved entirely around a man taken hostage and forced to write a gangster’s biography, as it’s a pretty interesting idea, but we only get a little taste of that plot point here.

Arthur Aylesworth plays Francis’ small town medical practice competition, Dr. Sanders, who’s none too happy to have a new doctor in town as he questions her relationship with Bogart. Aylesworth is fine; the part is small and he’s mainly used to move the plot forward when needed.

John Eldredge plays Niles Nelson, Francis’ husband, who falls in with Bogart at the beginning of the film and ends up losing his life because of it. Again, his role is small and doesn’t quite give us the emotional stakes that we need to fully invest in Francis, but he’s fine in the role.

Then there’s Bogart’s crew, who even though I’m going to lump them together, deserve a mention. Charley Foy, Murray Alper, Joe Devlin, Elliott Sullivan, Alan Davis, John Harmon, and John Ridgely all add a lot of color to the film with their brief scenes and comedic lines. Director Seiler uses them just enough to help the film without overcrowding it.

Classic Bogie Moment

Need someone that can leisurely kill a man from the sofa while reading about Napoleon? Who better than this guy?

King of the Underworld

The Bottom Line

I think it’s worth a watch, and despite the plot issues, there’s still a lot of good moments in the film. It’s certainly not the worst Bogart film I’ve done for the blog so far!

*UPDATE – You know, it’s been about a week since I watched this one, and I’m already kind of itching to watch it again. Rereading the review, perhaps I was a little harsh on it considering that I’m already looking back fondly. I still stand by my first opinions, but take it all with a grain of salt!

The Return of Doctor X – 1939

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My Review

—A Campy Blast—

Bogie Film Fix:

My Sign  (Un-ratable – an honorary 3 Undead Doctors!)

Director:  Vincent Sherman

The Lowdown

When reporter Walter Garrett (Wayne Morris) stumbles across the body of a murdered actress and calls the police, he soon finds himself in hot water after the body disappears and he’s accused of making a false report.  Later, when the dead actress shows up alive, Garrett loses his reporting job and teams up with a doctor (Dennis Morgan) to investigate a series of mysterious deaths that involve a mad scientist (John Litel) and his undead assistant (Humphrey Bogart).

What I Thought

I don’t know what else to say except I absolutely loved this film.  I had heard and read so much about it over the years (it’s terrible camp, the script is awful, Humphrey Bogart hated it, he was forced into the role by the studio, it’s unwatchable, etc. . .) that I might have over-prepared myself to dislike this movie.

I’m not a huge fan of films that are considered “so-bad-they’re-good.”  It might get me a lot of hate email to write this, but I went to showings of Plan 9 from Outer Space and The Rocky Horror Picture Show in college and I left disappointed both times.  What was the big deal?  How can someone watch and rewatch movies that are so bad?  If I’m going to spend a large portion of my time at the cinema, I’d much rather see something good!

I think the difference with The Return of Doctor X is the fact that this is a horrible movie that’s actually directed very well.  Vincent Sherman’s first film as a director, The Return of Doctor X is a fast paced one hour and two minutes of well shot silliness.  The cinematography is great, the actors are committed, and the production value is high.

The only real problem with this film is the script . . . and yes, I realize that a terrible script is a pretty big problem to have.  But it’s terrible in a slap-your-forehead-funny kind of way.

Dr. Rhodes (Dennis Morgan) wants to help reporter Walter Garrett (Wayne Morris) investigate the murders, but he has a date with a nurse (Rosemary Lane)!  He can’t cancel the date because that would be impolite, so what does he decide to do?  Bring her along, of course!  Even though bringing her along means that all she does is sit in the car until one a.m. and then go home, but it’s better than letting the poor woman sit at home alone, right?

Then there’s the moment that reporter Garrett convinces Dr. Rhodes that he should help him investigate the possible resurrection of a mad scientist.  They need to run over to the cemetery to see if Humphrey Bogart’s Dr. X is really dead.  (Don’t worry, Garrett has a friend who’s a caretaker at the cemetery and he’ll apparently let them dig up any body that they want, no questions asked – cause, you know, reporters should be able to do that kind of thing.)  The whole conversation is this simple:

Garrett:  The burial took place at Greenlawn Cemetary.  Okay, let’s go out to the cemetery and find out tonight.

Dr. Rhodes:  (SHRUGGING NONCHALANTLY, AS IF JUST ASKED OUT FOR COFFEE)  All right.

No argument.  No conversation.  No exclamations or questions of, “Are you mad man?  Digging up corpses in the middle of the night?  You’re a reporter and I’m a respected surgeon!  What are you thinking?!?”  Just a simple, “Yeah, you betcha.  Let’s go!”

And, of course, there’s the final gun fight, where the police apparently deem it appropriate to give guns to a doctor and a reporter that they were ready to arrest only moments before.  Every hand in a gun fight helps, right?

Plus, we get lines like:

Garrett:  (ON THE PHONE, REPORTING THE INITIAL MURDER) There’s nobody here except a monkey, and he couldn’t have done it!

Exactly why does a retired actress have a pet monkey?  It’s not explained, and apparently doesn’t need to be.  That’s just what retired actresses do.  (I’m guessing there was a monkey on the studio lot that day and director Sherman figured, Aw, what the heck, why not?)

Then there’s Dr. Flegg discussing his undead assistant, Quesne (pronounced “Cane”):

Flegg:  (WISTFULLY) His interest in blood almost equals my own.

This seems like a perfectly acceptable thing to say when you’re in a conversation with another doctor, as Rhodes doesn’t respond with, “That’s the creepiest doggone thing I’ve ever heard!  What’s up with that forked goatee and the weirdly suspended monocle?”

Do you know what this film reminds me of?  One of those standalone episodes of The X-Files where the humor was intentional and dark, and the series took a moment to satirize itself.  (It even has an obsessed investigator teamed up with a skeptical doctor!)  The Return of Doctor X, after more than seventy years, came off to me more like a self-aware spoof of a mad scientist horror movie than a film trying to take its genre seriously.  While this may not have been the original intention, the film’s tone gives it a little more room to breathe within its own absurdity.

Director Vincent Sherman would also go on to direct Bogart again in All Through the Night in 1941, a comedy gangster film where Bogart fights the Nazis in New York.  With the tone of that movie leaning so closely to spoofing gangster films, I have to wonder how much of The Return of Doctor X isn’t done with tongue firmly placed in cheek.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart may have hated this film, but you have to give him credit, he threw himself into the role.  There’s no sense that he’s sleepwalking through his lines or dissatisfied with his character.  The Return of Doctor X is another reason that I’ve come to deeply appreciate Bogart’s work ethic as an actor.  Regardless of what role he plays, he always seems committed.  If you’re going to force him to play an undead mad scientist, then he’s going to play an undead mad scientist!

I realize that I’m looking through the lens of someone who is a huge Bogart fan and that I’m seven decades removed from the film’s original theatrical release, but isn’t it great to see a Hollywood legend take a role like this?  A zombie doctor!  Is there anyone else of Bogart’s stature that even tried a character so outlandish?  Stewart?  Grant?  Flynn?  At most, they might have played a villain, but nothing close to sci-fi horror.

Check out his entrance in the film as he strokes a rabbit in full mad scientist gear, and greets Wayne Morris:

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“Looking for something?  Perhaps I can help you. . .”

Surely James Bond’s nemesis, Ernst Blofeld, was borrowed just a bit from Bogart’s Doctor X?

The Cast

After not giving him much credit for his character in Kid Galahad, I was happy to see Wayne Morris do such a good job with his Wichita-hick-moved-to-the-big-city reporter Walter Garrett.  Morris seems like a good natured guy in real life, and was an actual WWII war hero, so I’m happy to see him do good work here.  He’s bumbling, affable, naïve, and just charming enough to make his character fun.  If you want to read a little more about him, I’d suggest you check out a quick write up on the guy at Comet Over Hollywood here.

Dennis Morgan, as Dr. Michael Rhodes, comes off as the type of melodramatic physician that would fit perfectly into an afternoon soap opera, and I thought he was a great choice for the role.  He’s able to deliver dialogue that has little or no motivation behind it in a believable and engaging way.  I’d like to check out more of his filmography.

Rosemary Lane as Nurse Vance seems to have been a bit of a throwaway role – her character really only existing as a plot device.

John Litel as Dr. Flegg is good and appropriately creepy.  It helps that they went all out on his character design – giving him a monocle (How does that thing stay in place???) and a strange, forked goatee.

Classic Bogie Moment

This character was so out of Bogart’s normal realm that I thought it was going to be tough to find a “Classic Bogie Moment,” but then we came to the film’s climactic gun fight.  As you watch Doctor X attempt to shoot his way out of the cabin, just try and tell me that you’re not reminded of Duke Mantee’s final gunfight in The Petrified Forest!  Bogart even uses the same physicality of holding his hands at his waist in both roles.

The Bottom Line

You need to make some good food, invite a bunch of classic film fans over, and have a good time with this movie.  You could make a drinking game out of it, taking a swig every time Wayne Morris and Dennis Morgan look dramatically over their shoulders at one another, but you’d probably be dead from alcohol poisoning based on the last fifteen minutes of the movie alone.

For another fun write up on The Return of Doctor X, you should check out this post on Balladeer’s blog!

And for a great insight into some post-silent film stars who make an appearance in the film, check out this post by @moviessilently!