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BULLETS OR BALLOTS (director/writer: William Keighley; screenwriter: Seton I. Miller/story by Martin Mooney; cinematographer: Hal Mohr; editor: Jack Killifer; music: Herbert Stothart; cast: Edward G. Robinson (Johnny Blake), Humphrey Bogart (Nick “Bugs” Fenner), Barton MacLane (Al Kruger), Joan Blondell (Lee Morgan), Frank McHugh (Herman McCloskey), Joe King (Captain Dan ‘Mac’ McLaren), Dick Purcell (Ed Driscoll), Henry O’Neill (Ward Bryant, Newspaper Publisher), George E. Stone (Wires); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Louis F. Edelman; Warner Bros.; 1936)
“An agreeable action-packed gangster flick.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Contract Warner Brothers veteran director William Keighley (“G-Men”/”Each Dawn I Die”) helms an agreeable action-packed gangster flick. Martin Mooney, a Manhattan crime reporter, wrote the original story, and based the undercover cop character played by Edward G. Robinson on real life rogue cop Johnny Broderick–he was known as “The City’s Toughest Cop.” The mob boss character played by Barton MacLane resembles real life gangster Dutch Schultz. Seton I. Miller wrote the screenplay that featured the snappy dialogue that the public loved about the popular genre. This was the first of five films Robinson and Humphrey Bogart did together. It’s routine fare, but something the public gobbled up to make a big box office smash.

When crime crusading newspaper publisher Ward Bryant (Henry O’Neill) gets knocked off by the mob, Johnny Blake (Edward G. Robinson) volunteers to go undercover. It’s arranged that tough detective Blake is fired by his former friend Capt. Dan McLaren (Joe King), now in charge of investigating the rackets and given a free-hand by his superiors. To make it look good, Blake punches out McLaren at a boxing match while the main suspect for the murder, Al Kruger (Barton MacLane), is in attendance. Kruger once tried to recruit Blake to join his gang. After Blake turns down a position in his old friend Lee Morgan’s (Joan Blondell) flourishing numbers racket, he accepts a post with Kruger. This upsets Kruger’s number one gunman Nick “Bugs” Fenner (Humphrey Bogart), who doesn’t trust cops. It finally boils down to Blake and Bugs shooting it out, with supporting star Bogie dying first and star Robinson soon afterwards when he puts the finger on the political higher-ups who are Kruger’s secret bosses. As a result, the racketeers are all busted by the good guys.

The plot was far-fetched, but it was fun watching future superstar Bogie snarling and Robinson cuff guys around who rubbed him the wrong way. It was a slick gangster film that fit its time but has become outdated.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”