(director: Lewis Seiler; screenwriter: based on the novel “Better Than Life” by Louis Bromfield/Michael Fessier/Lawrence Kimble; cinematographer: Ernie Haller; editor: Thomas Richards; music: Max Steiner; cast: Ann Sheridan (Sarah Jane Ryan aka Sal), Jeffrey Lynn (Tommy Taylor), Humphrey Bogart (Grasselli aka Chips Maguire), Zasu Pitts (Miss Flint), Una O’Connor (Maggie Ryan), Jessie Busley (Mrs. Nora Taylor), John Litel (Mr. ‘Doc’ Roberts), Grant Mitchell (Mr. Rene Salmon), Felix Bressart (The Great Boldini), Brandon Tynan (Mr. Van Diver), Charles Judels (Henri Pepi de Bordeaux); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Mark Hellinger; Warner Bros.; 1940)

It has a winsome light touch.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Lewis Seiler (“The Smiling Ghost”/”Guadalcanal Diary”/”Pittsburgh”)directs this well-made sentimental fairy tale story about a hardened gangster fugitive going soft to help some innocents in a jam. It has a winsome light touch as a comedy/crime drama.It’s adapted from Louis Bromfield’s novel “Better Than Life” by writers Michael Fessier and Lawrence Kimble. It was released before Humphrey Bogart became a superstar in High Sierra (1941) and The Maltese Falcon (1941), therefore his scene-stealing gangster role only earns him third billing to popular star of the day Ann Sheridan and the handsome leading man Jeffrey Lynn. Sheridan sings a number of songs that include “Angel in Disguise” and, in a sexy black evening dress, she also sings “the Gaucho Serenade.”

Big-time racketeer Chips Maguire (Humphrey Bogart) goes on the lam from the cops after his nightclub is raided for illegal gambling and he kills the squealer who tipped off the cops. Chips, under the alias Grasselli, hides out in the quaint museum-like NYC boardinghouse just inherited by long-term employees of the boardinghouse Norah Taylor (Jessie Busley) and Maggie Ryan (Una O’Connor), where the guests are daffy former vaudeville performers. Mrs. Taylor’s son Tommy (Jeffrey Lynn) is the piano player in Chips’s Cairo Club who was promised to be helped by the connected gangster to get his music published but was never helped and is unhappy with the boss. After the raid, Chips blackmails Tommy to help him since the murder weapon was registered under Tommy’s name.

Returning home after away for five years, Tommy reunites with struggling nightclub singer Sarah Jane Ryan (Ann Sheridan), a feisty old flame who uses the stage name Sal and is the daughter of Maggie Ryan. Sarah just moved back to the boardinghouse after a gig in Atlantic City went sour. She’s upset that Tommy never wrote her in five years and wants to rekindle their romance, but he’s hostile. She was employed at one time as a showgal by Chips and realizes the good-for-nothing thug has something over Tommy, as she tries her best to give Tommy her love and support. Meanwhile Norah and Maggie do their best to be motherly to the hard-boiled Grasselli, who tries his best to deflect their good intentions.

When Norah and Maggie are about to lose the boardinghouse to the bank for not paying taxes, Chips pays the taxes and transforms their boardinghouse into the Roaring 90s nightclub. The gangster gets one of the eccentric guests, a failed magician named The Great Boldini (Felix Bressart), to act with his dog in the show along with headliners Tommy and Sal. The gangster figures this way the maternal boardinghouse ladies won’t lose their property and he won’t be bored anymore.

On opening night, the repressed boarder who imagines men follow her home, Miss Flint (Zasu Pitts), becomes tipsy and afraid for her life and inadvertently tips off the police where Chips is hiding, as she just read a detective magazine and realizes from a photo that the new boardinghouse guest is Chips Maguire.

Sentimentality gets played like a violin in an orchestra for the predictable happy ending, as Chips takes the high road, realizing Sal and Tommy are meant for each other, and decides to take the rap without implicating Tommy.

This ignored gangster comedy is a treat because Sheridan and Bogie give it star power, while the character actor supporting cast are wonderfully zany. Bogie has the film’s best line: “I hate mothers: all this ‘silver-threads-among-the-gold’ stuff!”