From Humphrey Bogart’s Santana Productions by way of Columbia’s distributing we find Bogie once again donning the trench coat in far off Damascus mixed up with gun running, spies and the French military in 1925. Though the film may be somewhat run of the mill it does feature a first rate performance by Lee J. Cobb.
The backdrop of this black and white Curtis Bernhardt film is the French Military run by Everett Sloane ruling Damascus while the Syrian underground want the military out and the governing of their country returned to them. With the constant ambushing of French soldiers, Sloane wants to play rough and orders five executions for every French soldier killed. This doesn’t sit well with his second in command Lee J. Cobb. Cobb would much rather seek peace and have men discussing their differences by means of diplomacy then with arms.
Turning up is Bogie as an “importer/exporter” in most any kind of goods. Notably he’s been running guns and ammunition to the Syrians and is the man that Cobb seeks to stop. According to Bogies file “he’s a man with a colorful past.” Cobb has his suspicions and his personal life is about to be upended when his wife played by Marta Toren takes a liking to the man she meets in a nightclub. You guessed it. Bogie himself.
You’ll find Zero Mostel in here as another businessman in various goods that Cobb puts pressure on to snoop around his friends and competitors turning Mostel into his very own Judas. Mostel actually appeared opposite Bogie in two consecutive films. This one and another 1951 release, The Enforcer.
While Cobbs life at home off the battle field is coming apart with Toren, Bogie’s has crumbled when his and partner Nick (Va Va Voom) Dennis are unveiled as the gun runners. The French are hunting the catacombs and back alleys for them. To complicate matters for our man in the trench coat, Toren has run away from her slap happy husband and wants to escape with Bogie by dead of night.
Nothing will come easy for any of the characters down the stretch in this film that one could almost look at as a continuation of the Rick Blaine character though it precedes Casablanca in the era of which the story takes place. Though it’s not quite the future life many may have envisioned for the famous Bogie character.
Cobb’s portrayal is a man of contradictions. On the battle field he seeks peace and abhors violence looking down his nose at Sloane’s brutish tactics. At home with Toren he is incapable of holding back his anger and abuses her when she will not bend to his will. It’s a matter of appearance to the public and her dalliance with Bogart only increases the rages with in. Before the film concludes he’ll have to confront his own demons, Bogie and what to do with Toren.
By no means a bad film, it’s just not memorable in the Bogie catalogue of winners. Having said that it’s still the classic image of Bogie and any one of several scenes casts Bogie in the classic pose we see on countless posters to this day.
There are plenty of well known cast members sprinkled throughout including Jeff Corey under a ton of make up, young Harry Guardino and Gerald Mohr.
Leading lady Marta Toren would sadly pass away at the age of 30 in 1957 due to a brain hemorrhage. Other titles in her brief career include One Way Street and Assignment: Paris.
When it’s all said and done, just remember it’s a Bogie film. In the end that’s good enough for me.