Saturday, March 28, 2015

DVD Review: The Big Shot (1942)



The Big Shot (1942)

Released March 03, 2015 by the Warner Archive Collection

Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia


Summary:  How to go from “Big Shot” to “being shot” in under ninety minutes.   


Nestled, quite literally between the ultra-classics “The Maltese Falcon” (1941) and “Casablanca” (1942) is this undiscovered Humphrey Bogart gem that is surprisingly good for something so unknown that it took until 2015 for even a Warner Archives release.  


When one thinks of Humphrey Bogart and celluloid gangsters by the name of “Duke”, one’s thought’s immediately turn to THIS FILM, and its Bogart tough-guy criminal archetype “Duke Mantee”.  But, six years removed from Duke Mantee, and again between Sam Spade and Rick Blaine, we are introduced to Joseph “Duke” Berne, a three-time loser whose next conviction will ensure life in prison. 


Down on his luck, watched with prejudice by police, and openly disrespected by fellow criminals as a has-been, Duke Berne feels he has no choice but to throw in with some former underworld associates and head an armored car robbery, masterminded by Martin T. Fleming, crooked lawyer and the true villain of the piece.  

Adding to the intrigue, lawyer Fleming has also married Duke’s old flame Lorna, during Berne’s last prison stretch.  However, Lorna still “has it” for Duke, leading to some complications for all involved.    


As the heist is about to go down, Lorna makes her way to Duke’s seedy quarters, begs him not to do it, and finally pulls Duke’s gun on him to prevent him from going.  

Making her point! 
Without Duke, the caper goes awry, in more violent action than one might expect in a “Hays Code” era film.  Yet, the police, with their own axe to grind, coerce a witness into testifying that Duke was present at a crime he did not commit. 


Fleming, having learned of his wife’s dalliance with Duke, agrees to defend Duke in court, but ultimately betrays him to the prosecution – sending him and his “intended alibi” naive young car salesman George Anderson up the river. 

While Duke is now a lifer, George is sentenced to only a year.  During their stretch, Duke shuns George, telling him to keep away from career criminal types and get out with time off for good behavior. 


Duke meets and conspires with “The Dancer”, another lifer with whom he plots an escape, using a prison musical as a cover.  Yes, this might sound “funny”, but the escape is both violent (again, for the times) and treated quite seriously. 


George, up to now a model prisoner, is inadvertently implicated in the escape and subsequent murder of a prison guard, and now faces life as well.  The Dancer is also killed in the escape, but Duke makes it out and high-tails it to the mountains with Lorna, who is now no longer with Fleming and ready to make a life with Duke. 

Does George spend the rest of his life in prison for something he did not do?  What of Duke and Lorna, and scummy lawyer (was one of those last two words needless?) Fleming? 

Whuddya think happens to Fleming? 
The answers are found not here, but are on this DVD, because we always stop short of complete spoilers in these reviews.  

But I will say there is one heck of a car chase through the snowy mountains of upstate New York.  Yeah, it’s small time compared to the blood and axle-thunder chases of modern cinema – but, for the time, it was VERY unusual, and rather amazing!  Kudos to director Lewis Seiler (who also directed Bogart in THIS FILM and THIS FILM) for this outstanding sequence!  Watch it, and you’ll see what I mean.  Oh, yeah… and bullets fly, and such. 


 The Big Shot” is a release of “The Warner Archive Collection”.  Please GO TO OUR STANDARD LINK for more on this popular enterprise of Warner Home Entertainment. 

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.  


The CONS:

It’s Warner Archives:   Generally, as barebones a product as can be.  None of the Extra Features that defined the quintessential “DVD experience” in its earlier years, beyond a lone theatrical trailer.  No subtitles, commentaries, “making-of” features, etc.  Produced in DVD-R format that will not play on a computer.  See many of my older Warner Archive product reviews for the standard list of items lacking. 



The PROS:

It’s Warner Archives:  That means we get film and other entertainment product that would probably not garner sufficient support for a general release.  This is especially true of today’s market, where the Warner Archive Collection has taken on a more significant role than ever before.  Despite any CONS I may continue to list, I’m pleased that the Warner Archive Collection is there every Tuesday with new releases.  


Robo-Promos:  No long and unwanted series of “Robo-Promos” kick off upon activation of the disc.  How refreshing not to be annoyed by automatic advertisements for things you’re probably not going to buy!  

Warnings: The overabundance of Copyright Violation Warnings, present on standard Warner commercial releases, in more languages than most consumers could EVER comprehend, has simply never manifested itself on Warner Archive Collection product.  Just curious… Are they less concerned over people burning unauthorized copies of Warner Archive product, than standard Warner releases?   

You may CLICK to ENLARGE. 

The Extra Feature (Singular):  Theatrical Trailer (02:36):  Cue Bogart’s VOICE-OVER…

Take a good look!  Yeah, it’s me!  The Big Shot!  The guy who knew all the angles!

Yeah, look at me!  Duckin’ down alleys!  Hidin’ from cops!  Getting’ pushed around by everybody because I’m a three-time-loser!   An’ one more rap puts me in stir for life!

The Big Shot!  Takin’ it from cheap punks!  Double-crossed by chiselin’ mouthpieces!  Two-timed by dames! 

[JOE’S NOTE: Would that make him a two-timed three-time loser… facing a lot of, um… “time”?]

A cheap punk and a dame... all that's missin' is the mouthpiece! 

Well, I ain’t gonna take it no more, see?  I was a Big Shot once, an’ I can be one again!  A lot o’ people are gonna be awful sorry they shoved me around!

LARGE ON-SCREEN TEXT:    

It’s the shot heard ‘round the underworld – when Humphrey Bogart – starts blasting his way back – as “The Big Shot”

With Irene Manning [Lorna] – She’s dynamite wrapped in sable!

[Various quick cuts of Duke, Lorna, Fleming, etc. in action and romance – including Lorna pulling the gun on Duke.]


TEXT CONTINUES:

Look into his eyes – They tell the whole story – of his endless flight from crime! 

Of a thousand days and nights –

Of the woman whose love was his greatest adventure!

Humphrey Bogart stopping at nothing to top everything in his big-time career!

Irene Manning – You’ll want to see MORE of her!

The Big Shot – BIG!” 


[JOE’S NOTE: Sometimes you don’t fully realize just how weirdly some of these trailers were worded, until you actually write them out like this!  Oh, how I would love to have been able to write some of these things!]



The Cast:

·         Humphrey Bogart as “Duke Berne” (Three-time loser).

·         Irene Manning as “Lorna Fleming” (Made up for lost time with Duke).



·         Richard Travis as “George Anderson” (Did time, unjustly).

·         Susan Peters as “Ruth Carter” (Not in time to keep George from prison).

·         Stanley Ridges as “Lawyer Martin T. Fleming” (Time he got what he deserved).

·         Chick Chandler as “The Dancer” (Ran out of time during the prison break).

·         John Hamilton (Perry White on TV classic THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN) as “Judge” (At no time did he say “Great Caesar’s Ghost!”).

OVERALL: 

It’s as if I’d found a “lost Bogart treasure”!   

No, “The Big Shot” does not compare with the Bogart classics that bookend it.  And, for the sake of complete accuracy, “All Through the Night” (1941, with Bogie as a Nazi-fighting New York gangster – that’s crossing your genres all right!) and “Across the Pacific” (1942) also surround “The Big Shot” in its place between The Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca”.  That’s a lotta films in such a short time! 


But it is unexpectedly good for a film that has fallen into such obscurity – especially one starring such a legendary actor in a prime period of his career. 

On the subject of Bogart’s career, it would seem that, if one follows the chronology of his films HERE, that “The Big Shot” might very well be Humphrey Bogart’s final portrayal of a gangster, before moving solidly and forever into the role of Hero / Anti-Hero.  If so, you’ll pardon me for saying that, with “The Big Shot”, he went out with a “Bang!” 


That is not, by any means, to say the film is without flaws.  A politically-incorrect “blackface” element of the prison break sequence is SO integral to the plot that it could not be deemphasized, or outright excised – and perhaps is a key reason for the picture’s otherwise undeserved obscurity.  If there is any small consolation to this at all, it is that actor Chick Chandler (in his role as “The Dancer”) who dons the racially insensitive makeup, and not Bogart himself.    


Finally, what we DO get is Humphrey Bogart in his prime, playing the type of role that first brought him stardom, in a film that (in many places, such as death of law enforcement personnel and general level of criminal violence) pushes the imposed censorship boundaries of the period – and, with the elaborate car chase sequence, goes well beyond typical moviemaking standards of the time.  …And that’s more than good enough for me! 

The Big Shot” is recommended for fans of Humphrey Bogart, classic Warner Bros. gangster films, and the Golden Age of Hollywood in general. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Wake Up to Humphrey Bogart this Saturday Morning!



Though, hopefully, not like this! 

On Tuesday, March 03, 2015, The Warner Archive Collection unearthed yet another “lost” Humphrey Bogart gem.  (Ya gotta wonder why they don’t do very much of this with ANIMATION, but I digress!)

I received my copy on Saturday, March 14 and excitedly “ate it all up”!  Now, I’m ready to “spit it back at you” in the form of one of our “Looong DVD Reviews”! 
I haven’t done one of these in a while, folks, so be here on Saturday, March 28, 2015 to “Wake Up to Humphrey Bogart” – loaded gun optional, of course.   



Waking up in the morning is hard enough without THIS!  

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Is “Core Four”, as Applied to Disney Comic Books, Now in General Use?


Yes, I know this is from LOST IN SPACE, but the post is not.

For years, at least since the days they were published by Boom! Studios, I’ve referred to the “cornerstone” Disney comic book titles as the “Core Four”. 


That would be WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES, MICKEY MOUSE, DONALD DUCK, and UNCLE SCROOGE, as those four titles were the “constants”, regardless of era and publisher.    


Today, randomly, while looking for additional items on the upcoming IDW Disney comic book launch, I ran across THIS.  

Page down, and you will see the term “Core Four” in what appears to be a commonly accepted use.  Naturally, it amazed me, because I simply coined it as a sort of referential shorthand that I used in e-mails and other private communications since those final months of Boom! to designate those titles. 

Ah, those great final months of Boom! 

Imagine my additional susprise, when I decided to GOOGLE “Core Four Disney Comics” (TRY IT BY CLICKING HERE) and saw how many times this descriptive phrase is now in use. 

Methinks I may have started something. 

Now, comes IDW - and I can't wait!

For the record, HERE is what appears to be the first time I used it in a Blog Post, to define the particular quartet of Disney Comic Books. 



And, to give credit where it is REALLY DUE, I must confess that I borrowed the phrase from the New York Yankees, who employ the term when referring to the four Yankees that have been together for their five modern championships.  HERE’S where I first used it on this Blog, in a Yankees context. 

Left to Right: Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada.

Earlier today, I sent out a series of e-mails to personal friends, telling them about this.  But now, I’ve decided it’s Post-worthy.  So, apologies to those who’ve already heard from me on this.   Feel free to leave similar comments to those you’ve returned to me, so that all might enjoy your observations.   


How about the way some things take off, eh?   


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

IDW’s UNCLE SCROOGE # 3 (# 407)


Publisher: IDW PUBLISHING 
(W) Romano Scarpa, Joe Torcivia (A) Romano Scarpa, Tony Strobl (CA) Marco Rota

"The Duckburg 100": How fast can Donald and the Beagle Boys turn a hundred dollars into a million? And why is Scrooge desperate to stop them?

Item Code: APR150431
In Shops: 6/10/2015
SRP: $3.99 

------------

Had to put up this great cover by Marco Rota! 

Thanks to Friend of This Blog Dan Cunningham for bringing this to my attention!  


Sunday, March 15, 2015

“Not Pony Tales, or HORSES Tales, but DuckTales! Whoo-oooh!”



There’s a convention in writing, particularly when the subject encompasses the various forms of entertainment, suggesting that, whenever you mention the name of an actor, director, etc., that you parenthetically add at least one (possibly more) well-known credit to directly follow the individual’s name – perhaps to serve as a common point of reference. 

Thus, when writing about particular pop-culture personages, one might tend to adopt this form, especially when it comes to a TV or film review, advertising copy, or descriptive text for a product. 

“Lorne Greene (Bonanza)”, or “Michael Curtiz (Casablanca)”, might be two prime examples of this convention if you were to write about either individual OUTSIDE of the context of “Bonanza” or “Casablanca”, respectively. 


Most often, it is the best-known credit on that person’s resume that finds itself between the parentheses – or, perhaps the one with the greatest overall impact. 

Alternately, if one is referring to a CHARACTER PORTRAYAL, the ACTOR'S NAME might appear within the parentheses, along with another well-known credit - such as: LOST IN SPACE'S "Professor John Robinson (Guy Williams, Zorro)".  


Shifting gears (but don’t worry, we’ll bring it all together in the end), as part of 2014’s “Black Friday Festivities”, I purchased MISTER ED: THE COMPLETE SERIES on DVD. 


MISTER ED (of course, of course) starred the great Alan Young as “Wilbur Post”, the original “horse whisperer”. 


WILBUR:  “What kind of name is ED for a horse?

MISTER ED: “What kind of name is WILBUR for a man?” 

Reading the “back of the package descriptive text” for MISTER ED: THE COMPLETE SERIES, we find Alan Young described per the above-mentioned convention this way: 



Click to Enlarge - in order to read the entire text!

How about that!  An offhanded (though convention satisfying) reference to Disney’s DuckTales, in which Alan Young starred as the voice of Scrooge McDuck!


 Traditionally, one might have expected to see Alan Young associated in this way with his classic role in the film “The Time Machine” (1960), which starred Rod Taylor.   And, indeed, one of the interior “season set cases” contained within this COMPLETE SERIES package does exactly that. 





But, it’s a real treat for us animation, comic book, and Carl Barks fans to see Alan Young so nicely – and unexpectedly – associated with DuckTales… per that good old convention!  (…Told ya I’d bring it all together!)

Say, you think I might ever be referred to as Joe Torcivia (“The Issue At Hand Blog”)? 

…Or, Joe Torcivia (“A Game of One-Cupmanship”, “Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold Again”)? 

Hey, if a horse can talk, a guy can parenthetically dream, can’t he!