Lewis Seiler

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Birth Name: Lewis Seiler

Date of Birth: September 30th, 1890

Date of Death: January 8th, 1964

Number of Films that Lewis Seiler Made with Humphrey Bogart: 5

The Lowdown

Well, it was a bit tough to find much information on Lewis Seiler, which surprises me just a little considering that he directed at least 88 films over his career and was a contract worker for Warner Brothers.

A few things did come to light, though. Seiler seemed to treat his job as a director as just that – a job. He worked slow. He rarely read scripts before showing up for the day. He had to be reminded that he should precede the cast to the set each day.

So John Huston he was not.

What he was was a “house director” for many Warner Brothers films when Bogart was beginning his career. They had a script. They had a cast. Call the next name on the director’s list and he’d show up. Starting in comedy shorts, then moving on to Tom Mix Westerns, Seiler would eventually direct the much-acclaimed war film, The Guadalcanal Diaries for Fox.

All that being said, I think there are a lot of underrated gems in his filmography, especially a few in his Bogart collaborations. Seiler was known as the man who could get a gritty gangster film done efficiently, but as I’ll point out in just a bit, his experience in comedies led to one of my favorite Bogart guilty pleasures.

So, without further ado, let’s welcome Lewis Seiler into The Usual Suspects!

The Filmography

Crime School – 1938

Crime School Poster

A remake of 1933’s The Mayor of Hell, Bogart is now in the role of the prison reformer that James Cagney played in the original. Crime School is also incredibly similar to another film by stars Bogart, Billy Halop, Gale Page, and Director Seiler that would come out a year later – You Can’t Get Away With Murder, as once again Halop would play a good kid who’s made some bad choices and just needs the right mentoring. Page would even go on to play the exact same character of an exasperated older sister in the later film.

So as you’ve probably already guessed, there’s nothing new or groundbreaking going on in Crime School. That’s not to say that it’s terrible – it’s not. The performances are all decent, the direction is straight forward, and the plot is the “kid friendly” version of what we saw between Bogart and Pat O’Brien in San Quentin. All that being said, it’s probably not a must-see unless you’re a big Bogart fan, or you really like the “Dead End Kids”

Tepid Bogart at best, but not the worst in his filmography. You can check out my original post on the film here.

King of the Underworld – 1939

King of the Underworld Poster

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. It seems as if Director Seiler 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.

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 Bogart and his Kay Francis 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 experimentation 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 Seiler’s own It All Came True, or Vincent Sherman’s underrated gem, All Through the Night.

You can read my original post on the film here.

You Can’t Get Away with Murder – 1939

You Cant Get Away With Murder

Problems with this one aside (see the aforementioned Crime School), there are numerous good scenes of comedy, action, and drama which all help elevate the film above a sub par script. The second joint effort between Bogart, Seiler, and Billy Halop, Warner Bros certainly seemed to be trying to mold “Dead End Kid” Halop into a new leading man.

The melodrama can skew a little heavy as Halop wrestles with his secrets while in prison.  There are multiple crying-into-the-elbow moments, and a few “You ain’t the bossa me!” teenage rebellion outbursts. While Halop occasionally appears a little green, and his sibling tension with Gale Page often seems unmotivated, there are some flashes of good work in his performance.

The biggest problem, I felt, was that Director Seiler was a scene or two short in setting up the seemingly unbreakable bond between stars Humphrey Bogart and Billy Halop. Money and power lured them together, but after ending up in the jail, what kept Halop loyal?

Again, not the worst film in Bogart’s filmography, but you could do better. You can read my original post on the film here.

It All Came True – 1940

it all came true poster

Now we come to my favorite film between Bogart and Seiler! This is exactly the kind of movie that I was looking for when I started this blog – a thoroughly entertaining Bogart film that I’d never seen or read anything about.

On top of that, I had one of those Ah-ha! moments with an actor.  My whole life I’ve heard people rant and rave about Ann Sheridan, but for some reason she’s never clicked with me. I always figured that I’d just never seen the right movie, and now I have. What a spitfire. From her first machine gun conversation with the B&B folks, to her final song, she was amazing.

While It All Came True isn’t rated well on IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes, it’s got a great cast, capable directing, and wonderful timing. There were lots of moments that reminded me of the all-time great screwball comedies like Arsenic and Old Lace and Bringing up Baby – movies that were able to balance wonderful gags with just enough pathos to keep me hooked on the characters. Seiler’s early comedy chops get to shine here at their brightest.

So what am I missing with all the bad reviews?!?  Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong!

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Big Shot – 1942

The Big Shot Poster

The fifth, and last film from Director Seiler and Bogart’s collaborations, this one showed such a devotion to detail for the Film 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, 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.

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.*

Henry Travers

Henry Travers High Sierra

Birth Name:  Travers John Heagerty

Birthdate: March 5, 1874

Number of Films that Henry Travers Made with Humphrey Bogart:  3

The Lowdown

It probably shows how little I truly know about classic film to admit that I learned Henry Travers was an English actor while researching this post!  I’m embarrassed, but at the same time delighted, to discover that Travers is still able to surprise me with the depth of his talent long after his passing.  The guy’s Midwestern drawl was perfect!

I’m also ashamed to confess that until a few years ago, I only knew Travers from It’s a Wonderful Life and a childhood viewing of The Bells of St. Mary’s.  While I’m sure that I’d seen him in other films when I was a kid, his name and face didn’t register for me until much later in life when I really began to indulge my film obsession.

Trained as a stage actor in England, it wasn’t until 1933 that Travers made his way to Hollywood.  With relatively few films to his credit compared to most actors of his era (just over 50), Travers was able to make a career out of playing easy-spoken, good natured, grandfatherly saints.  Who wouldn’t want to hug this guy if they had the chance?

And while his role as the angel Clarence Oddbody will probably forever overshadow the rest of his work, Travers was solid in numerous other films, especially his portrayal as ‘Pa’ in High Sierra, which is still my personal favorite since he got to share so much screen time with Bogart – helping bring the heart and soul to gangster Roy Earle.

The Filmography

Dark Victory – 1939

Travers Dark VictoryWith Geraldine Fitzgerald

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Travers plays Dr. Parsons, Bette Davis’ personal physician.  The role is small, but it’s the quintessential Travers part as he’s the fatherly doctor that wants the best for Davis as he refers her on to a more specialized doctor in George Brent.  You can read my original write up on the film here.

You Can’t Get Away With Murder – 1939

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Travers plays Pop, the grandfatherly inmate in charge of the prison library.  He immediately takes an interest in Billy Halop’s young street thug and begins to mentor him into a better life.  Again, it’s the prototypical Travers character as the wise but simple hearted saint, but is there anyone who could play it better?  Travers and Halop have some of the best scenes in the film, and Bogart’s intimidation of Travers is in stark contrast to their relationship in High Sierra.  You can read my original write up on the film here.

High Sierra – 1941

Travers High Sierra

Travers plays the grandfatherly Midwesterner Pa, uncle to Joan Leslie, and confidant to Bogart’s gangster, Roy Earle.  This was Travers largest role out of all three collaborations with Bogart, and they get to share a lot of screen time together.  Off the top of my head, I can’t think of many Bogart films where he shares the same type of father/son relationship with another actor as he does with Travers here, and their chemistry together is great.  Travers wonderfully tempers Earle’s ruthless side and is able to help Bogart push his role beyond the typical two-dimensional gangster that he’d often had to play before.  While the film may not be perfect, the scenes between Bogart and Travers hit exactly the right notes, making this my favorite Travers film.  (Although, I need to dig a little deeper into his filmography!)  You can read my original write up on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing feature on The Bogie Film Blog where time is taken to highlight those folks who collaborated multiple times with Bogart.  You can read the rest of the posts 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

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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

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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.

You Can’t Get Away With Murder – 1939

You Cant Get Away With Murder

My Review

—Decent Melodrama— 

Your Bogie Film Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Lewis Seiler

The Lowdown

Johnnie Stone (Billy Halop) is a teenager heading down a dangerous path after he falls in with small time gangster Frank Wilson (Humphrey Bogart).  After being sentenced to Sing Sing Prison for a gas station holdup, Johnnie is torn when his soon to be brother-in-law, Fred (Harvey Stephens), joins him in prison after getting the death penalty for a murder in which Frank and Johnnie were actually involved.

What I Thought

I had to wonder while watching this film if Warner Brothers wasn’t trying to create a new B-movie Bogart gangster with Billy Halop.  One of The Dead End Kids, this was the fourth film that Halop made with Bogart (Dead End, Crime School, Angels With Dirty Faces), and Bogart was clearly an influence on the young actor’s style and presence.

The melodrama can skew a little heavy as Halop wrestles with his secrets while in prison.  There are multiple crying-into-the-elbow moments, and a few “You ain’t the bossa me!” teenage rebellion outbursts with Johnnie’s sister.  While Halop occasionally appears a little green and the sibling tension often seems unmotivated, there are some flashes of good work in his performance.

The film is very watchable, despite the fact that there were a few plot points that I had issues with.  Why was Johnnie so dead set on making trouble when he was surrounded by people who loved him?  Was there supposed to be motivation for his behavior implied by the fact that he had absentee parents?  Why wouldn’t his sister Madge (Gale Page) instantly assume that he and Frank were responsible for the murder after they’re busted for the other robbery?  When faced with a more than typically friendly prison staff and inmates, why does Johnnie wait so long to spill the beans on Frank?

I ended up feeling that Director Seiler was a scene or two short in setting up the unbreakable bond between Johnnie and Frank.  I know that the lure of money and power can be overwhelming for a young kid without direction, but once they were in prison, what kept Johnnie loyal, almost to the bitter end?

Problems aside, there are numerous good scenes of comedy, action, and drama which all help elevate the film above a subpar script.

The Bogart Factor

Playing another one of his “young punks” who thinks he has the world by the tail (á la Up the River, The Bad Sister, Big City Blues, Midnight/Call It Murder, etc.), Bogart gets a good deal of time to flesh out his wannabe-gangster persona as he leads young Johnnie astray.  There’s plenty of cool talk and gun play as the elder thug mentors his protégé on the fine art of the criminal lifestyle.

While not fleshed out to a fully three-dimensional character, Bogart’s still very good as the murdering thief whose over-confidence in his own skills continues to trip him up.  Playing the film’s main antagonist, Bogart’s able to pose a physical and psychological threat to Halop with his performance despite the fact that the script doesn’t give Halop a lot of motivation to fall under Bogart’s sway.

Is it Bogart’s best bad guy role?  Not by a longshot.  It’s not even in the top ten.  But I can’t blame the studio for hiring the guy who could look cool, talk tough, and handle a gun better than anyone else to fill the role.

The Cast

Billy Halop as Johnnie Stone deepens his “street tough” persona beyond what we’ve come to expect from The Dead End Kids.  He often tips the line into over-playing his emotions, but what young actor from the time doesn’t?  Even Bogart had to feel his way through a few dozen films before he fully grasped the importance subtlety and nuance.

Gale Page plays Johnnie’s older sister, Madge, and she does all right with a character who only appears when plot advancement requires it.  Page worked a number of films with Bogart in supporting roles, so it’s always good to see her, but she definitely deserved more depth than this.

Harvey Stephens plays Fred Burke, the fiancé to Madge, and he suffers from the same lack of character development that she does.  Existing for little other purpose than the movie-goer’s sympathy, Fred comes and goes whenever Johnnie needs an extra emotional push to move the story along to the next level.  Stephens doesn’t get the time to shine here as he did in The Oklahoma Kid.

Henry Travers plays Pop, the old timer librarian that tries to mentor Johnnie into a better man.  It’s a character that we immediately expect Henry Travers to play, so there’s no new ground broken here for the well know character actor, but Travers is always a treat, so it’s great to see him.

George E. Stone, Harold Huber, and Bogie Film Blog favorite Joe Sawyer all show up in roles as inmates alongside Bogart and Halop – each with their own great character quirks and scene-stealing moments.  It was especially fun to see Sawyer as Red since it’s the only Bogie film in my memory where Sawyer plays a good guy.  We’re even left with an ambiguous ending for Red as he disappears over the wall.  Did they catch him?  I hope not!  After all those gangster and inmate roles, he deserves at least ONE successful escape!

Don’t Forget to Notice

The stuntmen on this film deserve a lot of credit for the prison escape scene.  Two falls have to happen off of a wall that’s somewhere between fifteen and twenty feet high.  The second one looks incredibly painful, and there’s no appearance of padding or trickery.  I winced for sure!

Classic Bogie Moment

I mentioned the same thing about Cagney in a previous post, but Bogart is an actor that can put on any costume and still look cool.  Fancy gangster suit?  You bet!  Down on his luck bum?  Sure.  Cowboy outfit?  Well . . . except for those silly hats, yes!  To put a bullet point behind it though, just take a gander at these pics of Bogart in his prison gear:

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With Halop and Travers

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This is a prime example of the man making the clothes.

The Bottom Line

Not a must see for non-diehards, but there are a few good glimmers of fun and talent to enjoy here.