Film Review: Black Legion (1937)

Release Date: January 17th, 1937 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Archie Mayo, Michael Curtiz (uncredited)
Written by: Robert Lord, Abem Finkel, William Wister Haines
Music by: W. Franke Harling, Howard Jackson, Bernhard Kaun
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Dick Foran, Erin O’Brien-Moore, Ann Sheridan

Warner Bros., 83 Minutes

Review:

“So, you’re afraid! Maybe they better change the name of your outfit from the Black Legion to the Yellow Legion.” – Ed Jackson

I was talking about Humphrey Bogart, my favorite actor, with a friend of mine when he asked, “Did you see that one where he was in the KKK?” I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I looked it up and found this film, which Bogart did really early in his career, before reaching superstardom. Also, it’s not the actual KKK but it is a group based on them called “the Black Legion”.

This film is rather short but it’s definitely got a lot packed into a small package. It’s a true thriller and very noir-esque before film-noir was a thing.

The gist of the story surrounds a hard working man that is looked over for a promotion that he was pretty sure he was going to get. It weighs heavily on him and eventually, some bad seeds take advantage of that and influence him into joining their cause. That cause, sees them dressing up in black hoods, similar to the KKK’s white hoods, where they go out at night in an effort to chase off the foreigners who are coming in and taking their jobs. So the Klan (or “Black Legion”) in this isn’t so much racist, as they are xenophobic.

In his heart, Bogart’s Frank Taylor was opposed to the madness he found himself entangled in but he was already in over his head and couldn’t leave the group for fear of what they might do to him and his family. It all comes crashing down when Frank murders his best friend that was trying his damnedest to save him. Regretful and remorseful, will Frank work to bring down the Black Legion or is the fear of his family’s safety too great?

The film is intense and it moves swiftly. It was hard for me to turn away from it and the acting of Bogart, as well as his best bud, Dick Foran, was superb and kept me glued to the screen.

While this isn’t Bogart or Foran’s best picture or performance, it really goes to show that both men were definitely capable of something greater. Luckily, for us, both men would have busy careers, especially in the noir style of the ’40s and ’50s.

Black Legion is certainly worth a watch. While most movie sites don’t list this as a thriller, it definitely is… and a pretty effective one from start to finish.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Bogart films before he became a big star: High Sierra, They Drive by Night and Crime School.

Film Review: Mildred Pierce (1945)

Release Date: September 28th, 1945 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Written by: Ranald MacDougall, Catherine Turney (uncredited)
Based on: Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth

Warner Bros., 111 Minutes

Review:

“If you take a swim, I’d have to take a swim. Is that fair? Because you feel like killing yourself, I gotta get pneumonia.” – Policeman on Pier

Mildred Pierce is one of the most critically acclaimed film-noir motion pictures of all-time. But when you put master director Michael Curtiz with acting legend Joan Crawford, a magical concoction is ensured. It was a fantastic pairing that lead to Crawford winning the Academy Award for her performance. Curtiz wasn’t nominated but he probably should have been.

Ann Blyth and Eve Arden both got nominations for Best Supporting Actress but lost out to Anne Revere for her role in National Velvet. The film also received nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography.

This is also considered one of Crawford’s best performances. Honestly, she has hit it out of the park with every single performance I have seen from this era. She was one of the most capable actresses of her time, or any time, and she elevated not just the picture but the other actors around her. She had to carry many scenes but she was able to pull some of the best work out of her co-stars that they have ever showcased. I can’t ignore Curtiz’s direction in this either but if you go back and watch Crawford, especially in the ’40s, you’ll see how she elevates the performances of those around her.

The story is mostly told through flashback. It focuses on Mildred Pierce, a mother that has been through some rocky relationships but is willing to give all she can to make her materialistic and ungrateful daughter whatever she wants. The film taps into this heavily and definitely makes you question Mildred’s character and her motivations. The reason being, her ex-husband has been murdered and Mildred is the focal point of the police investigation. But this is a noir and there must be twists and surprises. All I’ll say is that I never saw the ending coming.

That being said, this was a well orchestrated plot and the screenwriters and director did a fantastic job of moving this story along, dropping in little hints and some suggestive nuances. I won’t say whether they are red herrings or not but it’s pretty entertaining watching this all unfold.

I thought that the Max Steiner score was really good. I also loved the cinematography by Ernest Haller, who was involved in Gone with the Wind and also worked a lot with Crawford, as well as Bette Davis and Ingrid Bergman.

This is just a really good story, plotted out wonderfully, well directed and superbly acted. Plus everything looks and sounds great. This is a motion picture comprised of nothing other than strong positives.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Other film-noir pictures with Joan Crawford: Humoresque, Possessed and Sudden Fear.

Film Review: The Breaking Point (1950)

Release Date: September 30th, 1950
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Written by: Ranald MacDougall
Based on: To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
Music by: Howard Jackson, Max Steiner
Cast: John Garfield, Patricia Neal, Phyllis Thaxter, Juano Hernandez

Warner Bros., 97 Minutes

Review:

“I ain’t got no choice. All I got left to peddle is guts. I’m not sure I got any. I have to find out.” – Harry Morgan

I haven’t seen John Garfield in a lot but I’m working my way through his noir-esque stuff. While this isn’t as good as The Postman Always Rings Twice, it is pretty close and an enjoyable experience, all its own. Plus, he looks pretty damn good in a captain’s hat.

This film was adapted from a Hemingway story, which made for a special kind of film-noir. This one had a nautical twist and much of the film took place on a boat bouncing around the coastline of California and Mexico.

The story sees a family man and boat captain get caught up in some criminal activity, as he’s trying to support his family and prevent losing his business due to the debt he has racked up on his boat. He has a black first mate and a femme fatale that tags along throughout the movie, although the femme fatale isn’t really all that dangerous and although Patricia Neal gives her some sass and a rough edge, she is mostly sweet. Really, she’s just there to create some sexual tension and to challenge Garfield’s wife, played by Phyllis Thaxter.

The contrast between Neal and Thaxter is really good and actually makes both characters look stronger, as both care about Garfield and the mess he’s dealing with.

The big finale, which sees Garfield take on some mobsters on his own boat is pretty exciting and while you don’t see any way that things will conclude smoothly, this is noir and to be true to the style, the shit has to hit the fan in a somewhat tragic way.

Garfield’s partner gets murdered by the mobsters and the final shot of the film is of a young black boy, standing on the dock, looking for his missing father. It’s a gloomy and sad ending, especially since Garfield’s partner was a nice guy just trying to help his friend and paid a price for Garfield’s secrets and criminal activity. All the white people run off with the injured Garfield, leaving behind this young black boy, as the camera fades out. It’s pretty heartbreaking.

One thing I like about the film is that a lot of it takes place in tropical bars with lots of bamboo and a Tiki aesthetic. It really transports you to the era and the location of where this was made and where it was set.

The Breaking Point isn’t noir at its best and it isn’t a strict noir. It does show how the style evolved in a different way and that a noir movie didn’t have to be set in the city or on a country road with a mad man.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The Postman Always Rings Twice and Key Largo.

Film Review: Captain Blood (1935)

Release Date: December 28th, 1935 (USA)
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Written by: Casey Robinson
Based on: Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini
Music by: Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Cast: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Ross Alexander

Cosmopolitan Productions, Warner Bros. Pictures, 119 Minutes

captain-bloodReview:

Captain Blood is quite possibly the most important swashbuckling film in history. It is what really ignited the genre and turned it into a guaranteed money maker for years to come. It also launched the career of the great Errol Flynn, as it was his first, of many, leading roles. The film opened the door for his co-stars Basil Rathbone, who would have a legendary career, and Olivia de Havilland, who would win an Oscar for To Each His Own.

Directed by the quite accomplished Michael Curtiz, who also directed Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Mildred Pierce and a ton of other great films, Captain Blood might be the ultimate epic of his voluminous and impressive catalog.

The movie follows Dr. Peter Blood. It starts as he is arrested unjustly for treason while tending to an injured soldier of a rebellion. The story then follows his trial, his being sold into slavery in Jamaica, his escape and ultimately his metamorphosis into Captain Blood, leader of a band of pirates. A lot happens in the picture and thus, it moves along at a quick pace and fills its two hours nicely.

Flynn does a superb job as the uber cool and incredibly smooth Peter Blood. Basil Rathbone is tremendous as his ally then bitter rival, in what is one of my all-time favorite Rathbone roles. I honestly wish he had more screen time or even a spin-off film. However, spin-offs weren’t too common in 1935. Olivia de Havilland is alluring as the leading lady and even though her motivations aren’t the clearest, you feel as if she is a kind and genuine person despite being involved with slave owners and a corrupt government.

The cinematography, for its time, is beautiful. Often times, lesser-made swashbuckling films come off as too dark and grainy. Captain Blood was well lit and visually, came off as crisp and clean.

If you are into swashbuckling movies but haven’t given this a watch, you really need to. I’d rather be absorbed in this than another Disney Pirates of the Caribbean movie.