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.  


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. 


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!


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.]


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!”).


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. 


scarecrow33 said...

The title's resemblance to "The Big Sleep" might also have contributed to its being overlooked for so long. During the promotion of that film, studio execs may have decided to downplay the earlier similar title in Bogey's catalog of roles...since "The Big Sleep" is hugely iconic and was a major pairing of Bogey and Bacall. It might also have been Bogart himself or his agent deciding that his early 40's roles should emphasize his "bad good guy" image rather than his "good bad guy" image. The fact that this film IS such an anomaly for this period of Bogart's career may be a prime reason for its undeserved obscurity.

Thanks for this awesome review! What a treat for Saturday morning to get a review of a "must-see" film that I had never even heard of before! It is truly a treasure! Long live the Warner Archive Collection! I can't stop using exclamation points!

Joe Torcivia said...

Good and valid points on the film’s obscurity, Scarecrow!

I’d never seen it either, before this. “Long Live The Warner Archive Collection”, is right! As the market for such material contracts, they have become a more important resource than ever before. And that’s why I support and enthusiastically endorse their efforts.

…Now, release more ‘60s and prior animation, please!

top_cat_james said...

Say, if "Duke", was sent to the slammer once again, wouldn't that make him a "hard-core four-time loser", and as such, eligible for discounts on the following titles from the prison commissary-

*"Walt Disney's Confessions and Alibis"
*"Donald, the Sitting Duck"
*"I Got Slipped a Mickey, Mouse"
*"Say Uncle, Scrooge!"

Gold Jail Key Comics - They're a lethal injection...of FUN!

Joe Torcivia said...

And you wonder why I miss you when you don’t comment for a while, TCJ?

…THIS is why!

Some of those are even beyond MY freakish “reaching ability”! Great job!