Sunday, February 04, 2018

Tonight's Movie: King of the Underworld (1939) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Humphrey Bogart and Kay Francis star in the enjoyable KING OF THE UNDERWORLD (1939), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Bogart's star was rising when this film was released, and the Warner Archive box notes this was his first "above the title" role. Francis's career was moving in the opposite direction, and she rates a mere "With Kay Francis" after the title, but this is every bit as much a "Kay Francis movie" as it is a gangster film.

Francis plays Dr. Carole Nelson, whose husband, Dr. Niles Nelson (John Eldredge), is a great surgeon who sadly likes gambling even more than medicine. He ends up on the payroll of gangster Joe Gurney (Bogart), a source of easy money in return for taking care of Joe's men.

Niles is killed in a police shootout, but Joe escapes. Carole had been at the scene of the shootout for innocent reasons and has three months to clear her name or lose her medical license.

Carole manages to locate Joe and his gang and follows them to the town where they're hiding, intent on finding a way to bring Joe down and save her career. She's unexpectedly aided by an itinerant writer (James Stephenson of THE LETTER) who's recruited by Joe to write his memoirs. Joe, you see, likes to think of himself as the "Napoleon of Crime"...

This is a brisk 67-minute tale which puts some creative spins on the standard Warner Bros. gangster film. It's got all the usual guys in fedoras with machine guns, typical of the genre which was a staple for the studio in the '30s, melded with a Francis "woman's picture," also important for the studio in that decade. Mashing the two styles together leads to a surprisingly effective film. The climax, in which Francis uses her medical skills to engineer the gang's capture, was a great deal of fun.

The screenplay, based on a story by W.R. Burnett, was cowritten by future director Vincent Sherman, who also served as dialogue director. Sherman began his own feature film directing career the same year.

Lewis Seiler directed, with black and white filming by Sid Hickox.

The Warner Archive DVD has a few random scratches but all in all looks and sounds quite good. The disc includes the re-release trailer.

Fans of the lead actors should enjoy this one. I did!

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older