Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bullets Or Ballots (1936)

Robinson vs. Bogart - Round 1

- Over a decade before legendary actor Edward G. Robinson co-starred with fellow legendary actor Humphrey Bogart in their last and most popular (and, in my opinion, highest quality) film together, Key Largo (1948) - where Robinson plays a supporting bad guy to Bogie's lead hero - the two starred in their first film together back in 1936: Bullets Or Ballots - only Bogart plays the supporting bad guy to Robinson's hero.

This little 1936 gangster film opens by reminding the viewer that its setting is its current age of gangsters, rackets, and the RICO Act through a fictional Movietone-like cinema preview as gangster tycoon Al Kruger (Barton MacLane) and his mean #2 man "Bugs" Fenner (Humphrey Bogart) watch on in disgust. Crime is running amok - and the cops are upping the ante after Captain Dan McLaren (Joe King) is promoted to Commissioner. Enjoying all the perks that being a weathered and respected cop, Johnny Blake (Edward G. Robinson) is stunned and angered when he finds out that he has been cut from the force as part of McLaren's cleaning house - angered so much that the next time Blake and McLaren meet, Blake very publicly punches him out. Kruger feels like he could use a man like Blake to help him and his rackets duck the newly upped police activity and attention and, after Blake's public break with the police department, brings Blake aboard his outfit. But are Blake's loyalties with Kruger's or is he really just in on a sting?

Robinson gets to play type-against-type as a smart and tough-as-nails cop and gangster; incredibly fun is watching him do his tough guy act and Robinson carries most of the film by himself as a result. Bogart terrifically plays Kruger's oily and violent #2 man Fenner, especially distrustful of Johnny Blake, and it is also incredibly fun to watch Bogie to his evil guy act next to Robinson doing his tough guy act. A nicely done gangster performance from Barton MacLane and a beautiful Joan Blondell as a Robin Hood racketeer and Robinson's love interest add more great performances and characters to the film.

Bullets Or Ballots is a very entertaining film but I wonder if it would be a throw-away gangster flick had it not been for the presence of Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart. I found the film to be a nice sit-back-and-kick-your-feet-up enjoyable classic, nothing too brilliant but everything entertaining - the enjoyable characters of Robinson and Bogart complimented by a great story and atmospheric lighting. Bullets Or Ballots is a very good piece of the classic gangster genre, that is for sure, even if it is no Little Caesar (1931), Scarface (1932), or The Public Enemy (1931).

CBC Rating: 8/10

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