BOSS, THE (director: Byron Haskin; screenwriter: Ben Perry (front for Dalton Trumbo); cinematographer: Hal Mohr; editor: Ralph Dawson; music: Albert Glasser; cast: John Payne (Matt Brady), William Bishop (Bob Herrick), Gloria McGhee (Lorry Reed), Doe Avedon (Elsie Reynolds), Roy Roberts (Tim Brady), Rhys Williams (Stanley Millard), Robin Morse (Johnny Mazia), Bill Phipps (Stitch), Percy Helton (Desk Clerk); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Frank N. Seltzer; United Artists; 1956)
“Effectively done but not memorable.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Arguably John Payne’s best screen performance is in this hard-hitting Byron Haskin crime drama, which is written by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo under the name of real screenwriter Ben Perry–a believer in the cause who was willing to let other blacklisted writers use his name in the credits. Payne stars as a once troublesome ne’er-do-well child and now a swaggering WW1 captain, Matt Brady, returning home in 1919 to a parade from his unnamed Midwestern town, who rejects his alderman/saloon owner brother Tim’s (Roy Roberts) offer to be groomed as his replacement as ward boss. When his best pal, Bob Herrick (William Bishop), who also returned with him from the war, seems overjoyed that Tim gives younger brother a tongue-lashing, the two pals get into a drunken brawl. This causes Matt to miss his date with his nice girl sweetheart, school teacher Elsie Reynolds (Doe Avedon), where he was to ask her to marry him. Showing up late and drunk at Elsie’s doorstep, she closes the door on him and he insults her. Later that same night at a pub, Matt rescues a lonely woman, Lorry Reed (Gloria McGhee), from getting ripped off by the bartender. In a drunken state Matt coerces her to marry him that night, ignoring her complaints that she’s plain looking and will hate her in the morning when he sobers up. In the morning, Lorry gives Matt a chance to get a divorce on that day but if he refuses she’ll never grant him a divorce. Tim shows up and says this is just another jam he’ll have to get his brother out of, and belittles Matt as a tough kid to raise without parents. Matt tosses his brother out and says he’ll never get a divorce. Soon desk clerk Percy Helton knocks on Matt’s door to tell him that Tim dropped dead from a heat-attack in the lobby.
Matt becomes the local ward boss inheriting his brother’s influence, and builds a powerful corrupt machine, eventually, becoming a state boss. Never happy and always belligerent and unlikable, Matt is still fighting the ghost of his brother as he fixes elections and forces his way into becoming partners in a cement business, and puts all his energy into his work and coldly maintains a loveless marriage for convenience. With his sudden rise in power and wealth Matt welcomes back Herrick, who is now a lawyer married to Elsie, by making his only pal chief counsel of his corrupt organization. The bubble bursts as reformers go after Matt and in his need for quick money he makes a bad deal with underworld gangster Johnny Mazia. It leads to the slaying of a cop and Johnny’s refusal to go along with the boss’s request to let the slayer get arrested and go to the electric chair. Johnny kidnaps Herrick and threatens to kill him unless Matt follows his directives, and to the gangster’s surprise Matt remains loyal to his only friend and gives up nearly everything to get him released. But the favor is not returned by Herrick, who soon turns state evidence against Matt and helps get him convicted of corruption charges. Lorry gives the lone wolf Matt her farewell speech and seeks a divorce, telling him as long as they lived together he never took the trouble to care how she felt. It was like living with a stranger. I was never your wife.
This low-budget political drama about the rise and fall of a powerful politician, was effectively done but not memorable. It’s loosely modeled on the Pendergast machine of Missouri.
REVIEWED ON 5/6/2005 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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