From The Warner Archive: You Can’t Get Away with Murder, 1939 (dir. Lewis Seiler)
Available for the first time on DVD from the Warner Archive, this crime film from Lewis Seiler features post-Duke Mantee, but pre-mega star Humphrey Bogart in one of his most dastardly villainous roles.
The screenplay (written by Robert Buckner, Don Ryan and Kenneth Gamet) is based on a stage play “Chalked Out” co-written by Jonathan Finn and Lewis E. Lawes, who was once actually Warden of Sing Sing prison. Lawes’ most famous work is probably Twenty Thousand Years In Sing Sing, which was made into a movie in 1932 starring Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis.
The film’s main protagonist, Johnny, is played by Billy Halop one of the original Dead End Kids. Halop appeared with Bogart twice before – in William Wyler’s 1937 crime drama Dead End (with Sylvia Sidney and Joel McCrea; man’s man) and Michael Curtiz’s 1938 gangster flick Angels With Dirty Faces. While Halop is eclipsed by Bogart (how could he not?), he does a pretty great job with role. Johnny is a kid who, despite his sister’s pleas, gets caught up in the romance, if you will, of the gangster lifestyle. Bogart’s Frank is just too charming and Johnny will follow wherever he leads. Unfortunately, he ends up following him all the way to prison.
I just really love Bogart when he plays villains. I mean, I love his tough-guy anti-hero roles, too. But there is just something really special when he plays truly bad men. I can’t really think of anyone I like more as a villain.
I also just have to talk for a second about how beautiful he is because damn. Just look at him. Just look. Gaze. Take in the beauty. Bask in it.
Henry Travers is one of my favorite character actors ever. His role as a seasoned prisoner/ librarian really reminded me of the Brooks character in The Shawshank Redemption. Makes me wonder if Frank Darabont was perhaps a fan of this film.
Watching this film I was trying to remember where I’d seen Gale Page before but I wound up having to look her up. It turns out I’ve seen quite a few of her films. I think she is probably best known for her role in Michael Curtiz’s 1938 film Four Daughters; she’s the only daughter not played by one of the Lane sisters. It’s also famous for John Garfield’s Oscar-nominated debut performance. Page is luminous as ever in this film, though the role is maybe not the most original. It’s a little too similar to the role played by Sylvia Sidney in Dead End, though Sidney was able to transcend beyond the character’s limitations.
I’m not gonna lie, the end of this film had me tearing up a bit, even though it was a bit cheesy. Regardless, this film is an interesting film, partly because of its exploration of allure of the gangster lifestyle and also because it’s one of the last pure villain roles Bogart ever played.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a review disc given to me by the Warner Archive, though the opinions are all my own.
Posted on February 20, 2012, in Classic Film, DVDs and tagged 1939, Billy Halop, Don Ryan, Gale Page, Henry Travers, Humphrey Bogart, Kenneth Gamet, Lewis Seiler, Robert Buckner, the Warner Archive, Warden Lewis E. Lawes, You Can't Get Away with Murder. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.