Saturday 28 April 2007

The Big Shot (1942) Lewis Seiler

Title card one: Humphrey Bogart. Title card two: The Big Shot. Warner Brothers were really capitalising on their long overdue discovery of the talent they'd been wasting as second fiddle in otherwise fine Jimmy Cagney and Eddie G Robinson movies. He'd become a name in High Sierra and a star in The Maltese Falcon. At this point he had only one more to go before Casablanca so it's a really interesting time for him. Massively on the way up, after what to him must have seemed like forever, but not quite yet at that point of immortality, Bogie was something to watch indeed.

He gets a decent part too, as Duke Berne, a three time convict trying to go straight. He doesn't have a gang any more, or a girl or much else. The good guys think he's a bad guy and the bad guys think he's nobody any more. 'He used to be a big shot', they say, while trying to hire his talents, but he still has it and he soon gets to use it when hiring up for an armoured car job. It goes badly but he'd backed out at the last minute, at the request of a former girl, now the wife of the attorney calling the shots on the entire job. Unfortunately the elderly lady used as a hostage picks him out under a little pressure from a mugshot. So Berne is hunted for a job that he should have been on but backed out of. How's that for irony?

The film is a strange one. Some of it feels like practiced, tried and true gangster film, the sort of great tense black and white melodrama that made the era such a special one. Bogie is on fire and he damn well knows it, relishing the sort of part he had got used to supporting for so many years instead, so much so that he even grins a few times. His sheer charisma makes this film and he's impossible not to watch, even when he's not doing anything except be on the screen. However some of it feels far more modern than the 1942 release date would warrant, especially in how the armoured car job goes down. There's also some truly great stunt driving on ice towards the end of the movie, which again feels out of time, even if the film is obviously sped up a few times.

The support is fine, most notably from Irene Manning as Duke's love interest if mostly because she's so obvious in the company of everyone else, but also from Chick Chandler as a dancing convict and Stanley Ridges who I find that I've seen a bunch of times before without realising who he was. He's Duke's lawyer here, the husband of Duke's girlfriend, and as a crooked lawyer he's fine. I know other cast members here without realising it: Murray Alper, Minor Watson and Richard Travis, who plays the young man who goes to jail for providing a false alibi for Duke. He's fine here as an innocent in a gangster movie, a lot more impressive than the other credit part I've seen him playing, in the awful B movie Mesa of Lost Women.

As for this one, it's more interesting than great. Bogart is awesome at a really dynamic moment in his personal film history and it's fascinating to watch just for him. There's more but how great it would be had the lead been played by someone else, I really don't know.

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