Humphrey Bogart in Black Legion (1937)


(director: Archie Mayo; screenwriters: story by Robert Lord, Abem Finkel, William Wister Haines; cinematographer: George Barnes; editor: Owen Marks; music: Bernhard Kaun; cast: Humphrey Bogart (Frank Taylor), Dick Foran (Ed Jackson), Erin O’Brien-Moore (Ruth Taylor), Ann Sheridan (Betty Grogan), Robert Barrat (Brown), Helen Flint (Pearl Davis), Joe Sawyer (Cliff Moore), Henry Brandon (Joe Dombrowski), Dickie Jones (Buddy Taylor), Charles Halton (Osgood); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Lord; Warner Bros.; 1937)

A gripping social drama based on the newspaper headlines of the day.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A gripping social drama based on the newspaper headlines of the day. Director Archie Mayo (“Angel on my Shoulder”/”A Night in Casablanca”/”Moontide”) does a nice job keeping things real. The story is by Robert Lord. The taut screenplay is by Abem Finkel and William Wister Haines.

Frank Taylor (Humphrey Bogart) is a hard-working and popular drill press operator in a Midwestern factory, who loves his wife (Erin O’Brien-Moore) and cheerful young boy (Dickie Jones). When he doesn’t get a promotion to foreman, as expected, Frank becomes irritated. When the person promoted is a deserving industrious Polish immigrant, Joe Dombrowski (Henry Brandon), it brings out Frank’s dark side and he questions why foreigners get jobs over so-called pure white Americans. His bigotry connects him with fellow unhappy worker Cliff (Joe Sawyer), who thinks likewise about foreigners. Cliff introduces the disgruntled worker to a secret hate group, the Black Legion, wearing black robes as uniforms instead of the KKK’s white robes. Filled with hatred, Frank joins the Legion and turns from a regular happy-go-lucky guy into a monster attacking immigrants and burning down their homes. His wife can’t tolerate this and moves out with the kid to her father’s place. Things get even more sticky when Frank goes on trial for killing his best friend (Dick Foran), after fearing he will inform on him, and when he sobers up it finally dawns on him that he took a wrong turn with an evil group and must find a way to redeem himself.

Ann Sheridan has a thankless part of being Foran’s wife, where she is given no chance to develop her character. This is an early starring role for the young Bogie, where he makes the most of his unsympathetic part.

It leaves the viewer with an earnest moral message about intolerance. The B film was well-acted and its grim message is still relevant today.