KING OF THE UNDERWORLD
(director: Lewis Seiler; screenwriters: George Bricker/Vincent Sherman/from the novel “Dr. Socrates” by W.R. Burnett; cinematographer: Sid Hickox; editor: Frank Dewar; music: Heinz Roemheld; cast: Humphrey Bogart (Joe Gurney), Kay Francis (Dr. Carole Nelson), James Stephenson (Bill Stevens), John Eldredge (Dr. Niles Nelson), Jessie Busley (Aunt Josephine), Arthur Aylesworth (Dr. Sanders), Raymond Brown (sheriff), Harland Tucker (Mr. Ames), Ralph Remley (Mr. Robert), Charley Foy (Slick), Murray Alper (Eddie), Joe Devlin (Porky); Runtime: 69; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Bryan Foy; Warner Bros.; 1939)
“It’s not a very good melodrama, but it was nevertheless enjoyable.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Company man filmmaker Lewis Seiler (“Whiplash”/”Molly and Me”/”South of Suez”) directs this farfetched, silly, so-so crime drama that comes three years before Humphrey Bogart hit the jackpot in Casablanca and graduated to A films. It was filmed before in 1935 with Paul Muni as “Dr. Socrates.” Writers George Bricker and Vincent Sherman adapt it from the novel “Dr. Socrates” by W.R. Burnett.
Gambler Dr. Niles Nelson (John Eldredge) is the personal physician of city crime boss Joe Gurney (Humphrey Bogart) and his vicious gang, who is killed by the police while attending to one of Gurney’s men. For some reason his physician wife, Dr. Carol Nelson (Kay Francis), is suspected of being a member of Gurney’s gang. Threatened with the loss of her medical license, Carol in an effort to clear her name sets up her medical practice in the small town in which two of Gurney’s gangsters are in jail. Gurney, who thinks he’s the Napoleon of Crime (Bogey stood only at 5’8”), leads a successful daring daytime jailbreak. During the jailbreak a gun exchange with the locals leads to the wounding of Gurney, who gets Carol to treat him. Meanwhile Carol befriends Bill Stevens (James Stephenson) an impoverished but erudite author on a book about Napoleon, who innocently hitches a ride with the mob who later make him join them in the jailbreak. When he escapes, Bill’s shot in the shoulder by the locals and treated by Carol. The egomaniacal Gurney has his boys kidnap Bill when the police release him so he can write his biography in the kingpin’s country hideaway. With the federal agents about to arrest Carol, she tricks Gurney into believing he has an eye infection and temporarily blinds the mobsters with adrenaline eye drops. She then calls the federal agents and the blinded Gurney is mowed down in a gun battle with them. After getting her revenge, Carol is exonerated and Bill becomes her new love interest.
It’s not a very good melodrama, but it was nevertheless enjoyable.
REVIEWED ON 9/19/2008 GRADE: C+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/