Friday 6 April 2018

All Through the Night (1942)

Director: Vincent Sherman
Writers: Leonard Spigelgass and Edwin Gilbert, from a story by Leonard Q. Ross and Leonard Spigelgass
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Conrad Veidt, Kaaren Verne, Jane Darwell, Frank McHugh, Peter Lorre, Judith Anderson, William Demarest, Jackie C. Gleason, Phil Silvers, Wally Ford, Barton MacLane and Edward Brophy

Index: 2018 Centennials.

The studio system was an evil creature in many ways but it did allow the studios to cultivate talent and put together casts like this film can boast. It’s a Warner Bros. picture, starring Humphrey Bogart at a key point in his career. It was in a Warner Bros. picture, The Petrified Forest, that he found his first success, but they weren’t sure how to capitalise on that so put him in some truly bizarre movies. For instance, when you think Humphrey Bogart, do you immediately conjure up ideas of hillbilly wrestling comedies and mad doctor horror movies? Well, just check out Swing Your Lady and The Return of Doctor X to see how badly he did in them. Of course, they figured it out eventually or you’d be asking me who he was right now. High Sierra made him a leading man, The Maltese Falcon made him a star and Casablanca made him a legend. That’s two films from 1941 and one from 1943; All Through the Night came right in the middle of those in 1942 and it’s a fascinating piece of work. It’s not as good as I remember it but it’s still a bundle of fun.

And just look at the names backing him up! His nemesis is played by Conrad Veidt, who had been a star in Germany, in important silent films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Man Who Laughs; he escaped the Nazis and become a star in the English language too, most notably opposite Bogart again in Casablanca. One of Veidt’s key men here is played by another escapee from the rise of the Nazis, Peter Lorre, an Austro-Hungarian who had started out in one of the greatest films ever made, Fritz Lang’s M, and made his way to Hollywood via England, where he starred in The Man Who Knew Too Much for Alfred Hitchcock, even though he couldn’t speak English; he learned his lines phonetically. By this point, he was a star in the States too, not only from eight Mr. Moto movies but also for Mad Love and The Maltese Falcon. Of course, he would be back for Casablanca as well, which makes this start to sound like a dry run, especially given that the subject matter revolves around regular folks and their interactions with the Nazis.

Well, there is one big difference: the leading lady here isn’t Ingrid Bergman but Kaaren Verne, who would have been one hundred years old today. Like Veidt and Lorre, she was a European actor who escaped the Nazis and flourished under a stage name. She was born in Berlin, as Ingeborg Greta Katerina Marie-Rose Klinkerfuss—and you thought László Löwenstein made a good decision to be Peter Lorre on screen instead! Also like Lorre, she initially moved to England, where she debuted in Ten Days in Paris, but when the war followed her, she moved on to the States where Hollywood was very happy to put another escapee from fascism to work in a selection of anti-Nazi movies, like Sky Murder and Underground, which directly led to this film. Sky Murder pitted Nick Carter against fifth columnists in the United States, while Underground focused on Germans fighting the Nazis at home, broadcasting propaganda against them from the underground. All Through the Night grew out of Underground but it’s more similar to MGM’s Sky Murder.

Backing these stars up are almost all the usual suspects at Warner Bros.: Frank McHugh, Barton MacLane, Edward Brophy... pretty much everyone except Allen Jenkins. There’s Judith Anderson, who had recently been nominated for an Oscar for her supporting role in Rebecca; she lost out to Jane Darwell, who played the matriarch of the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath. Oh, she’s here too. There’s William Demarest, who most people still know as Uncle Charley in My Three Sons, unless they grew up on Preston Sturges comedies; by this point, he’d already made The Lady Eve and Sullivan’s Travels. There’s Sam McDaniel, brother of Hattie, who never reached his sister’s heights but did still make over two hundred films. There are even a couple of actors who shouldn’t have been in the movie at all but were added into the script simply because studio boss Jack Warner wanted them there. They’re a couple of nobody comics called Phil Silvers and Jackie Gleason, neither of whom, of course, would stay nobody comics for long.
They’re both there at the outset, with Phil Silvers explaining troop manouevres and how the allies can catch the Nazis with their panzers down. When Demarest chimes in to say, “That stinks!”, we pull back to see that Silvers is nothing but a waiter, Louie by name, who works at Charlie’s Restaurant in New York City. The table, which Demarest has arranged with toy planes and tanks, is Bogart’s regular and all the toy soldiers are swept away when he shows up. He’s Alfred Donahue, who goes by Gloves, and he’s a big time “promoter” on Broadway, which presumably translates to “gambler”, but, given the way this progresses, he seems more like a proto-Godfather, merely with a different speech impediment. Demarest is Sunshine, his right hand man, and Gleason plays Starchy, another of his crew. There’s also Frank McHugh as Barney and he shows up soon, having collected money from someone called Callahan. “Any message?” asks Gloves. “Should I leave out the curse words?” replies Barney. “Yeah.” “No message.”

It’s odd to see Bogart doing comedy after The Maltese Falcon had explained to the studios just what the forties would look like and what he’d be doing in them, but he plays it straight here, letting the comedians around him have fun. They’re all fast talkers and he lets them talk fast and land the laughs. The comedy in Bogart’s part is in the details. For instance, when he issues a hardboiled threat, it’s not to some other member of the criminal underground, it’s to Louie the waiter because the cheesecake he brought is not from Miller’s Bakery; Charlie’s should only source its cheesecake from Miller’s, he explains, “or else”. Miller turns out to be a pivotal character, even though he doesn’t live long. Peter Lorre shows up at the bakery and, just as politely as you’re imagining, asks for some information. When Miller refuses, Lorre turns just as sinister as you’re imagining and punches him down the stairs to the basement, then follows him down with a gun. Whatever work he was doing, Miller is now permanently retired.
In a way, this becomes a mystery. Sure, we watch Lorre’s character, Pepi, kill Miller. Sure, we watch Gloves, having been called to the scene by his mother, who lives next door to the bakery, find his corpse manhandled into one of his own storage bins. But the latter doesn’t know about the former. All Gloves knows about is the beautiful young lady who had just showed up at the bakery to talk with Miller about something personal that she won’t discuss with anyone else, who vanishes when Gloves turns his back. She isn’t too hard to find, though, given that Gloves’s mother tracks her down quickly. She’s a singer, Leda Hamilton, and her gig is at the Duchess Club, which is run by Marty Callahan, the one who didn’t give Barney a message two paragraphs up. This movie, for a while at least, moves so quickly that it’s hard to keep up. Blink and you’ll miss Barney showing back up to introduce his new wife to the boys, because ten seconds after he does so, they all head out for the Duchess, leaving her alone on her wedding night.

The mystery starts to unravel for Gloves at the Duchess, because he chats with Leda Hamilton at the bar, after she sings, and she’s well-informed on him. She seems to be very much on Miller’s side. But up walks Pepi and she changes her whole story, obviously so. Gloves plays along but it all ends in conflict and Callahan’s manager, Joe Denning, throws him out of the place. He sneaks back in just in time to find Joe, who’s been shot, dying on the floor outside Leda’s dressing room. He’s seen and he accidentally leaves a glove, one of the recognisable kind from which he takes his name, by the corpse so, by the time he gets home, that name is being bandied about on the radio as the only suspect in a murder investigation. That’s hardly a good situation to find yourself in when you’re trying to investigate a murder yourself, but then the authorities are the weakest link in this picture. The cops are morons and the higher authorities are entirely absent. “There’s more here than meets the FBI,” is a line that’s truer than it should be.
The point, of course, is to explain to the American people that the Nazis aren’t just over on the other side of the pond, posing no threat to the American way of life. They’re here as well, planning and plotting to take over the United States. Warner Bros. was known throughout the thirties for its gangster pictures, featuring many of the actors in this one, up to and including Humphrey Bogart himself, so it must have seemed like a logical step for producer Hal B. Wallis and director Vincent Sherman, who had made Underground with Kaaren Verne as a propaganda piece, to explore the same territory but on American soil with a set of palatable criminals discovering, in the common language of Gloves Donahue, that the Nazis are “part of a mob that makes you and me look like Little Bo Peep.” “Those babies are strictly no good from way down deep,” he explains to Callahan. “They're no bunch of petty racketeers trying to muscle in on some small territory—they want to move in wholesale, take over the whole country.”

On that level, this film succeeds admirably. It gives us a suitably villainous face for the enemy in Conrad Veidt, undercover as an auctioneer called Franz Ebbing. Adding Judith Anderson as a gloriously haughty right hand woman makes their deeds seem even more sinister. And, not only are they in the country spreading sinister propaganda, under a painting of Hitler—“Shicklgruber the house painter,” cracks Sunshine—but they’re actively planning what today we would recognise as a terrorist attack, literally, in the sense that it would serve to spread terror among the people of New York. Where this movie fails is to instil any confidence in us is in the way that the authorities completely fail to do anything constructive. I’m talking about the complete absence of any of the alphabet agencies. We might hope that at least one of them might notice an operation on the scale that Ebbing and his cohorts are planning. I don’t care if it’s the CIA or the FBI or the YMCA but they’re all blissfully unaware and that’s the scariest thing.
Bogart and Demarest have a lot of fun here from the outset but have more and more fun as the movie runs on. At one point, they infiltrate one of Ebbing’s planning meetings and Sunshine sieg heils with his fingers crossed. With everyone who would instantly recognise them conveniently out of the room, they’re even asked to speak and they end up doing so in a stream of wild gibberish that confuses the traitors completely. According to an article by Mark Frankel for TCM, this wasn’t in the original script. Vincent Sherman, the film’s director, thought up the idea and explained it to Hal Wallis, the producer and the film’s driving force. Wallis hated it but Sherman shot it anyway. Wallis saw it and told him to take it out, but Sherman left a little in for a test screening. The audience “exploded with laughter” and so Wallis subsequently told Sherman to put it all back in. It is funny material, as silly as it is, and it’s fantastic to see Bogart tag team so well with a fast-talking comedian of the calibre of William Demarest.

Of course, I’m watching for Kaaren Verne, who proves herself highly capable in the usual role for the time of heroine in distress. While she was shooting this film, she and Judith Anderson both simultaneously worked on Kings Row, a controversial picture that had a lot of trouble with the Hays Office but one that helped make 1942 a strong year for her. In all, she made four films that year, wrapping it up with Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, one of the overt wartime propaganda films in the Basil Rathbone series. This picture was having another knock-on effect for her, though, namely a relationship with her on screen tormentor here, Peter Lorre. They married in 1945, soon after she had divorced her first husband, Arthur Young, and he his first wife, Celia Lovsky. The marriage only lasted five years, each of them marrying again after that; Lorre had ironically convinced Bogart to marry the much younger Lauren Bacall by explaining that, “Five good years are better than none.”
They may or may not have been five good years for Lorre and Verne, but they resonated. Lorre’s first wife continued to be a major part of his life after their divorce, serving as his publicist, manager and secretary, to name but three roles. Similarly, Verne stayed in his life not just after their divorce but after his death in 1964 too; she and her third husband, film historian James Powers, chose to adopt Lorre’s only child, a daughter by his third wife, Annemarie Brenning. By that point her movie career was almost done; it had never been a busy one and she’d taken a complete break from the screen after 1944’s The Seventh Cross, not returning until an uncredited role in The Bad and the Beautiful in 1952. She appeared in A Bullet for Joey, which starred Edward G. Robinson and George Raft, the actor who had turned down the lead in this picture, gifting Humphrey Bogart with yet another opportunity, but further down the cast list. She was uncredited in Silk Stockings as a postwoman and wrapped up her career in 1966 as a nurse in Madame X.

Perhaps her time had just passed, in more than one way. Hollywood has never appreciated actresses once they can’t be passed off as young any more, but Verne wasn’t just a pretty face and a decent actress. She was obviously European and her time was during the war, as a pretty face and decent actress who had left Germany to come to the States and tell everyone how bad the Nazis were. She was a human interest story, in a sense, perfectly cast in movies like this. That conversation between Gloves and Callahan that I quoted from earlier epitomises this. “It don’t make no difference to me who runs the country,” says Callahan, “as long as they stay out of my way.” Gloves tells both him and us: “Listen, big shot. They’ll tell you what time you get up in the morning and what time you go to bed at night. They’ll tell you what you eat, what kind of clothes you can wear, what you drink. They’ll even tell you the morning paper you can read.” Sadly, Kaaren Verne’s career was mostly being a witness to that, living proof that Gloves is right.

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