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BROTHER ORCHID (director: Lloyd Bacon; screenwriters: Earl Baldwin/from a Collier’s magazine story by Richard Connell; cinematographer: Tony Gaudio; editor: William Holmes; music: Heinz Roemheld; cast: Edward G. Robinson (Johnny Sarto), Ann Sothern (Flo Addams), Humphrey Bogart (Jack Buck), Donald Crisp (Brother Superior), Ralph Bellamy (Clarence Fletcher), Allen Jenkins (Willie ‘The Knife’ Corson), Cecil Kellaway (Brother Goodwin); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Mark Hellinger/Hal B. Wallis; Warner Bros.; 1940)
“It’s a pic that delights in being so ridiculous and corny.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Veteran studio director Lloyd Bacon (“A Slight Case of Murder”/”The Oklahoma Kid”/”Marked Woman”), known for his speed and efficiency during a shoot, directs this oddball gangster farce that requires a suspension of disbelief. It’s a pic that delights in being so ridiculous and corny. Humphrey Bogart was not yet a star (to come soon with High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon) and had to play second-fiddle roles. Star Edward G. Robinson was tired of being typecast in gangster roles and told the studio he wanted to do more serious films, and uses his box-office clout to get the part in The Sea Wolf when he finished this film. The screenplay is by Earl Baldwin and it’s taken from a Collier’s magazine story by Richard Connell.

Warning: spoiler in next paragraph.

Little John Sarto (Edward G. Robinson) gets upset when his mob organizes a rubout and announces that he’s quitting the rackets to go to Europe to get some class. After five years he returns broke and when he insists on taking over leadership of the old gang, the new boss Jack Buck (Humphrey Bogart) throws him out on his ears. Vowing to get a new gang and get even, Sarto seeks out his bimbo former girlfriend Flo (Ann Sothern). He discovers she’s no longer a cigarette girl but now owns the nightclub where she previously worked. Hayseed cowpoke Clarence Fletcher (Ralph Bellamy) gave her the money and also moved her into a penthouse suite in the luxury Biltmore hotel, but never came onto her. Sarto gets a gang together and immediately puts pressure on Buck’s protection racket and a full-scale gang war looms. Flo, who is still in love with Sarto, thinks if she can get Sarto together with Buck things could be straightened out. But Sarto, unaware of her dumb plan, goes to meet Flo in the sticks at a mobster bar hangout called Fat Dutchy’s, where Buck pulls a double-cross and has his contract killers take Sarto out in the woods for a final sendoff. But somehow Sarto, though wounded, escapes and is given shelter in a monastery. He’s rechristened Brother Orchid by the Brother Superior (Donald Crisp), and gets sanctuary for six months as a novice growing flowers. When Sarto learns that Flo is to marry Clarence and that Buck’s protection racket won’t let the monastery anymore sell their flowers in the market, Sarto returns to the city and takes care of business. In the end, he learns that true class can be found in the monastery by helping the unfortunate and withdraws from the world to permanently join the monastery.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”