On the verge of becoming one of the most iconic film stars in motion picture history, Humphrey Bogart, scored above the title billing while fading Kay Francis was relegated to second billing and below the title thanks to her ongoing struggles with studio kingpin, Jack Warner.
Bogie has once again been assigned to play a hood sporting a handgun at his home studio, Warner Bros. A performance that by this point in his career he could have mailed in while staying at home battling with wife Mayo Methot. The couple were affectionately known about town as The Battling Bogarts. But Bogie does nothing of the sort and takes center stage in each and every frame of film he’s captured on. Not surprisingly he has a gang of hoods surrounding him with character names including Slick, Mugsy, Slats and Porky.
Miss Francis and her husband, John Eldredge, are a pair of doctors and when the film opens Eldredge has made the decision to operate on a gunshot victim saving the man from certain death. The patient was one of Bogie’s soldiers and he rewards Eldredge with cash making him his personal underworld doctor to fix up all gunshot wounds and other ailments he and his gang may fall victim to. The police take notice.
Turns out that Kay and her hubby are not happily married and his penchant for gambling on the horses ( A suckers game as Bogie warns him) is disrupting their future plans. Not to worry, Eldredge, gets shot down during a police raid on Bogie’s hideout where he was removing a bullet from one of Bogie’s thugs. For his part, Bogie, escapes police custody and is a wanted man.
Bogie sees himself as “The Napoleon of Crime” and frequently quotes the historical figure. All to the amusement of James Stephenson whom the gang pick up during a chance encounter on a country road. Turns out Stephenson is a writer who once published a book on Napoleon which endears him all the more to the uneducated Bogart.
Bogie decides to have Stephenson ghost write his own memoir.
Back to Kay. She’s on the verge of losing her license to practice medicine thanks to a hubby who was mixed up in the world of crime. She’s deemed guilty by association despite having no idea what her late husband was doing. She figures that if she can get to Bogie before the police she’ll be able to prove her innocence and once again be able to hold her head high in the medical circle.
We all know Bogie is going to have his lights put out in the final reel which was par for the course in the majority of his films during this stretch. Still, you’ve got to love Bogie’s final line to his biographer as The Big Sleep descends, “Don’t tell them that a Dame tripped me up.”
Based on a story by W.R. Burnett, the end result is a rather foolish affair and may have been better served as an outright comedy along the lines of The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse in which Bogie appeared alongside Edward G. Robinson. Among Burnett’s novels that resulted in highly successful movies you’ll find High Sierra again with Bogie and the John Huston classic, The Asphalt Jungle.
The screenplay was credited to Vincent Sherman who also did double duty as the Dialogue Director. Sherman would turn director this same year with the must see Bogie title, The Return of Dr. X in which our legendary icon portrayed a blood sucking vampire of sorts. Sherman would direct a number of highly successful films at Warner Bros. during the 1940’s including All Through The Night (again with Bogie), Mr. Skeffington and The Adventures of Don Juan.
“B” film director, Lewis Seiler, was assigned King of the Underworld, one of five films he guided during the all-time great year of 1939 in motion picture history. The other four being You Can’t Get Away With Murder with Bogie again, a boxing entry with Pat O’Brien called The Kid From Kokoma, the Dead End Kids in Hell’s Kitchen and a John Garfield picture, Dust Be My Destiny. Still to come were popular titles like 1942’s Pittsburgh with Marlene Dietrich and 1943’s Guadalcanal Diary among others.
Not uncommon in films during this period are comic relief characters and in this case it’s Bogie’s second in command Slick played by Charles Foy. The son of Eddie Foy, Charles was one of The Seven Little Foys on vaudeville in the family act. Their story was eventually told in the Bob Hope film of 1955. With all due respect, Foy, had a short career in films and comes off as if he’s imitating Allen Jenkins. Considering Jenkins was a Warner Bros. contract player and frequent Bogie costar they should have just cast him in the film. Here they are in the 1937 classic Dead End while on loan to Samuel Goldwyn.
Surprisingly, aside from Bogie and Miss Francis there really isn’t any recognizable faces in the background for a studio film. No Jenkins, Ward Bond, Joe Sawyer or any number of “faces” that buffs have become accustomed to seeing in Warner Bros. titles.
Bogie was a workhorse in the late thirties while under contract to Jack Warner’s studio. He’d appear in 25 films between 1936 and 1939 including 7 titles to close out the decade in ’39. King of the Underworld, The Oklahoma Kid, You Can’t Get Away With Murder, Invisible Stripes, Dark Victory, The Roaring Twenties and the infamous The Return of Dr. X. It wouldn’t be long before the actor was transformed into Rick Blaine of Casablanca and immortality.
Kay Francis found her greatest successes early on during the 1930’s in titles like One Way Passage, Mandalay and Trouble In Paradise. She kept busy in the first half of the 1940’s before finally retiring from the screen in 1946 following the release of Wife Wanted released by the lowly Monogram Studios on poverty row.
No original poster here to speak but if you’re looking to see this Bogie effort keep your eyes peeled to the TCM schedule which is where I happened across it allowing me a long overdue revisit.