Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Black Legion (1937)



“I swear that I will die fighting those whose serpent trail has winnowed the fair fields of our allies and sympathizers. I will show no mercy but strike with an avengin' arm as long as breath remains. I further pledge my heart, my brain, my body, my limbs never to betray a comrade and that I will submit to all the tortures mankind can inflict and suffer the most horrible death rather than reveal a single word of this, my oath, before violatin' a single clause or implied pledge of this my obligation.”

            Countless films throughout the history of cinema have been based on true life stories and current events. I always like to see current event-based films from the 1930s since I like the time period. I like the gangster films and the ones about the hard luck people that were hit from the depression. I did not know what  Black Legion was about until I sat down to watch it. The story is based off an actual event where an anti-immigrant/foreigner group called the Black Legion attacked foreigners in Michigan. Times were obviously much tougher than they are now and Americans who were out of jobs or wanted better jobs would get upset that these “non-Americans” those who were not born in America or those who had “non- American” sounding names were taking what they thought should be their jobs away from them. I found the story to be powerful and sad.
            Frank Taylor (Humphrey Bogart) works in a metal shop. He makes a decent living and lives in a nice house with his wife and son. A foreman has been promoted leaving his former position open. All of Frank’s friends tell him he is a shoe in for the job since he has been working for the company for a long time and knows the machines so well. When Frank goes home that night he and wife Ruth talk about all the things they want to get and do once he gets the job and a raise. He wants to get a new car and she wants a new vacuum and to fix up the house.
            The new foreman is named the next day but it is unfortunately not Frank but a young Polish man named Joe Dombrowski. Joe reads on mechanics and engineering and is up on all the new machines and how they work he was perfect for the job. Frank is very upset mostly because everyone said he would definitely get the job. That night on the radio he hears a man talking about how American jobs need to be given to American men not foreigners. This strikes a chord with Frank.
            Frank finds out about The Black Legion and is invited to one of their meetings. He is very taken with what he hears and signs up. The Legion violently goes after immigrants and foreigners without a care. The first person the Legion goes after is Joe. They burn down the farm his father runs and put them on a train out of the state. Since Joe does not came back Frank is given the job as foreman.
            Things go well for Frank for a while until he was caught off the job as he was trying to recruit a new guy to the Legion. His Irish neighbor who is also a mechanic at the same place Frank works gets his job. He goes to the Legion and they kidnap and beat the poor man. After this incident Ruth begins to put things together. She confronts Frank about being mixed up with the Legion but he gets nasty. She takes their son and leaves for her family’s house.
            After Ruth leaves Frank’s life spirals out of control. He cannot leave the Legion without being him or his family being killed. Frank makes a huge mistake that ruins his life.
            Humphrey Bogart was excellent in this film. I think this is the first time I have ever truly enjoyed him and his performance. Bogart did a great job portraying Frank as a man who was brainwashed into this cult-like group because he was upset and then it just ruins his life. This is my favorite role I have seen Bogart in. He was not playing a tough guy he was a nice family man who finds himself in bad circumstances. Frank is the hero but also the villain he is the anti-hero in some ways and that is a character Bogart would play over and over again. I have to mention that I do not think Bogart was a very good looking man but I found him strangely handsome in this film.
            The rest of the cast was very, very good. Ann Sheridan is in the film as the next door neighbor and friend of Ruth and Frank. The thing I love about Sheridan in the films I have seen her in is how she was always the tough girl not to be messed with. Even in this film she had a sharp attitude I went nuts over. I always love a girl with a ‘tude they are so much to watch. I never heard of Erin O’Brien- Moore (not too Irish at all) who played Ruth, before this film. I liked her she was very pretty and did not over act at all. For some reason she reminded me of Fay Wray a little bit looks wise.
            Black Legion is a very good film. It is not an essential viewing unless you are a fan of Humphrey Bogart. The only reason I sat through it was because I saw some promotional pictures that were really interesting with Bogart, Sheridan, and O’Brien-Moore (I guess they did their job they made me interested in seeing the film). If you can find the film somewhere see it but do not go crazy.