Saturday, January 31, 2015

Stubs – It All Came True

It All Came True (1940) Starring: Ann Sheridan, Jeffrey Lynn, Humphrey Bogart, ZaSu Pitts, Una O’Connor, Jessie Busley. Directed by Lewis Seiler. Screenplay by Michael Fessler, Lawrence Kimble. Based on the short story "Better Than Life" by Louis Bromfield in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan (Jan 1936). Produced by Jack L. Warner, Hal B. Wallis. Run time: 97 minutes. US. Black and White. Comedy, Crime, Musical, Drama

On the cusp of the 1940’s, Bogart was still a B-actor making B-movies at Warner Bros. He seemed to be a perpetual second or third on the bill, never the headliner. Known for portraying gangsters, he played it tough, but always got outsmarted or outgunned by a bigger name, like James Cagney or Edward G. Robinson.

75 years ago finds Bogart one year away from his big break, The Maltese Falcon, but it must have seemed like it was never going to happen for the 40-year-old actor. He had no way of knowing that in a year’s time he would become an icon and eventually become perhaps the biggest star Hollywood ever created.

While making It All Came True, Bogart was working on another film, the big-budget Errol Flynn western, Virginia City, in which Bogart was fourth billing behind Miriam Hopkins and Randolph Scott. Literally, for weeks he traded off between the roles, playing urban gangster in the morning and a western desperado in the afternoon.

Aspiring songwriter and piano player Tommy Taylor (Jeffrey Lynn) pins his hopes on the promises of his employer, gambler, gangster, and recluse "Chips" Maguire (Humphrey Bogart). Having finally had enough, Tommy tells Chips that he’s through and wants to quit. But the resignation is halted when the police raid Chips’ nightclub.

Taking Tommy with him, Chips escapes, but discovers that one of his associates, Monks (Herb Vigran), has betrayed him to the police. Using a gun registered to Tommy, Chips shoots and kills Monks on the spot. Chips informs Tommy in their taxi cab escape that he had Tommy carry the gun for just such a situation. If the police find the gun, Tommy will be the fall guy.

When Chips (Humphrey Bogart) discovers one of his associates, Monks,
has betrayed him, he gets his own revenge. Tommy (Jeffrey Lynn) watches.

Chips uses this to blackmail Tommy into providing him a hiding place, a theatrical boarding house owned by his mother, Nora Taylor (Jessie Busley), and her longtime friend, Maggie Ryan (Una O'Connor). Tommy hasn’t been home for five years and Nora keeps thinking up stories to explain this. She tells Maggie that Tommy will someday be a big success. They need for that to come true, because the mothers owe back taxes, less than $1200, and are on the verge of losing the boarding house to the bank.

Nora is overjoyed to see her son after such an absence and is only too happy to rent a room to Tommy’s friend, who pretends to be a man named Grasselli recovering from a nervous breakdown. The room used to belong to a long-time tenant, now dead, whose taxidermy specimens are still on display. Grasselli is told not to touch anything, nor does he want to.

By chance, Maggie's showgirl daughter, Sarah Jane (Sheridan), returns home the same day. And once again she is flat broke. While the two mothers dream of their children getting married, they’ve known each other all their lives, Tommy seems indifferent to Sarah Jane.

Sarah Jane becomes suspicious of Grasselli, since he does his best to avoid being seen. She eventually hides in the hall bathroom and recognizes him, having worked for him once. Unwilling to get Nora and Maggie in trouble, she agrees to keep Chips' secret. Chips asks her to come by and talk to him sometime since he’s going stir crazy looking at the stuffed monkeys.

Meanwhile, Sarah Jane makes up with Tommy, who she finds is writing songs. (There seems to be a rule that all sound Warner Bros. films have a song in them somewhere.) Tommy plays a couple of his compositions for her, "Gaucho Serenade" and "Angel in Disguise". He teaches her the songs and she decides they could work up an act (of course).

Sarah Jane (Ann Sheridan) finds out her old boyfriend, Tommy, also writes songs.

Nora starts mothering Chips, as does Maggie after a while. Chips, who doesn’t like mothers, now has two. Tired of hiding in his room all the time, Chips emerges and becomes acquainted with the other boarders: Miss Flint (ZaSu Pitts), Mr. Salmon (Grant Mitchell), washed-up magician The Great Boldini (Felix Bressart), and Mr. Van Diver (Brandon Tynan).

Chips doesn't like mothers, but ends up with two: Nora Taylor (Jessie Busley) and Maggie Ryan (Una O'Connor).

In honor of his coming down, the former performers put on a show for Chips. Mr. Salmon reads his original poetry and The Great Boldini does his magic act, but unwillingly, thanks to his dog, ends up doing a comedy routine. Sarah Jane and Tommy steal the show with their song and dance number.

Chips watches the other tenants perform and dreams of making the boarding house into a nightclub.

That night, when Sarah Jane learns that Nora and Maggie are about to lose their house, she turns to Chips for help. He gives her the money but tells her that it will only postpone their financial problems. He suggests (out of sheer boredom) that they set up a small exclusive nightclub, The Roaring Nineties, in the boarding house, with the added advantage that Tommy and Sarah Jane can showcase their talents. Nora is enthusiastic and makes up a story about how a successful nightclub could save them, but it takes some persuasion to get Maggie to go along.

Meanwhile, Miss Flint sees Chips' picture in a crime magazine and recognizes him as Mr. Grasselli. She confronts him and enjoys feeling control over him. Chips starts to pack to leave, but Sarah Jane knows if he leaves, the boarding house will close. Sarah Jane intimidates Miss Flint into keeping quiet, since guys like Chips have stool pigeons killed and in a gruesome manner.

Sarah Jane intimidates Miss Flint (ZaSu Pitts) to keep her from talking to the police about Chips.

On opening night, Chips makes remarks that further scare Miss Flint. Drunk on too much champagne, she becomes so frightened that she goes to the police asking to be arrested for her own protection. When she finally confesses that it’s Chips Maguire she’s afraid of, two detectives go to the nightclub to arrest Chips.

The policemen agree to let him watch the rest of the show, as he promises something if they do. Tommy sees the cops and assumes the worst, that he, too, will be arrested. He goes to the roof to be alone. When Sarah Jane joins him there, he finally admits he loves her. She urges him to flee, but he refuses to run away.

After the show, even though he can easily incriminate Tommy, Chips sees how happy Sarah Jane is with Tommy and decides to let the police take him in, even though he refuses to talk without his lawyer present.
In the end, all of Nora’s stories about love and money do seem to all come true.

Seeing how happy Sarah Jane and Tommy are, Chips decides to give himself up to the police.

Sort of an odd film, a mashup of the gangster, musical comedy, and drama. There is a murder committed early on, but the rest of the film is interesting without being tragic. While Bogart doesn’t embarrass himself, it is clear why he’s not best remembered as a comedian. The role of Chips Maguire was originally offered to George Raft, who turned it down, deeming it a Humphrey Bogart part. I don’t think that was meant as a compliment.

You almost feel sorry for Bogart, because he is clearly typecast and trapped in the B-movie universe at Warner Bros. In It All Came True, he’s playing a part he could no doubt play in his sleep by this point in his career. Still, he has a screen presence that demands the attention of the viewer. Clearly, he hasn’t earned the respect of the studio heads and is biding his time waiting for better things to come.

While this would appear to be a star-vehicle for Ann Sheridan, Sarah Jane is a role Bette Davis reportedly turned down first. Sheridan is good in the part, even if she’s not the reason I wanted to see the film.

Shapely with a head of red hair, Sheridan got into films almost as a joke. While attending North Texas State University, Sheridan’s sister, Kitty Kent, sent her photo to Paramount Pictures’ “Search for Beauty” contest. Ann, then called Clara Lou, emerged the winner of the local contest. The prize was a bit part in a Paramount Pictures film and Clara left college for Hollywood. Her first appearance in film was at the age of 19 in the movie that resulted from the contest, Search for Beauty (1934).

After playing parts at the studio where she didn’t receive screen credit and with no one trying to develop her talent-wise, she moved to Warner Bros. It was at Warners where a press agent dubbed her The Oomph Girl. While she reportedly loathed the moniker, Paul Muni convinced her that it would further her career, so she acquiesced and became an overnight sensation.

She is best remembered for her roles in films such as Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), Dodge City (1939), Indianapolis Speedway (1939), Torrid Zone (1940), They Drive by Night (1940), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), Kings Row (1942), Nora Prentiss (1947), The Unfaithful (1947) and I Was a Male War Bride (1949). During her career, she worked with such actors as James Cagney, George Raft, Bogart, Ronald Reagan, and Cary Grant.

Her film career slowed down considerably in the 1950s, with parts becoming harder for her to get, so she moved to television, appearing on Stop the Music (a Name That Tune type of show) in 1950, Wagon Train, and the soap opera Another World. She died in 1967 at the age of 51 of esophageal and liver cancer.

The other actor receiving billing over Bogart is Jeffrey Lynn. Lynn, a former school teacher, first appeared in Out Where the Stars Begin (1938), but received notice in Four Daughters (1938) appearing with Claude Rains, John Garfield, and the Lane Sisters: Rosemary, Lola, and Priscilla. The film spawned two sequels Four Wives (1939) and Four Mothers (1941), all including Lynn. A fourth film, Daughters Courageous (1939), has much of the same cast but is about a different family than the other three.

Following the success of Four Daughters, Lynn was screen-tested for the part of Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind (1939). Though the part would eventually go to Leslie Howard, Lynn was used extensively in the “Search for Scarlett” screen tests. He also appeared in The Roaring Twenties (1939) and The Fighting 69th (1940). His career was interrupted by military service during World War II, but when he came back to Hollywood he never did find his groove. He appeared in A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and Strange Bargain (1949), but his career stalled. In the 1960s, he would also appear in Butterfield 8 (1960) and Tony Rome (1967). His last appearance was on an episode of Murder, She Wrote in 1987, The Days Dwindle Down, a remake of Strange Bargain, and reunited him with his co-stars from that film, Martha Scott and Henry Morgan.

Compared to Bogart, Lynn doesn’t have the same screen presence. Again, like Sheridan, he’s good, but I can’t stop thinking he’s taking away screen time that should have gone to Bogart.

The rest of the supporting cast is pretty solid, featuring the likes of ZaSu Pitts, whose career is touched on in the review of The Plot Thickens (1936); Felix Bressart, perhaps best remembered as Pirovitch in The Shop Around the Corner (1940); Una O’Connor, who had small but memorable parts in such horror classics as Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man (1933) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1936); and Jessie Busley, a stage actress/comedian who appeared in only six feature films: Personal Maid (1931), Brother Rat (1938), King of the Underworld (1939), Brother Rat and a Baby (1940), It All Came True and Escape to Glory (1940).

Felix Bressart and ZaSu Pitts head up the supporting cast of It All Came True.

The film also features some rather forgettable stage acts: Tommy Reilly, The Lady Killer's Quartet, The Elderbloom Chorus, Bender and Daum, and White and Stanley; no doubt vaudeville performers getting their shot in Hollywood. I don’t believe any of them ever caught on and for good reason.

The story is strictly movie fare, in that there is no way this would really happen in real life. Realism is never a requirement for a movie, but this is obviously not ripped from the headlines, the way so many Warner Bros. gangster films seemed to have been. The main curiosity for watching the movie is Bogart. He’s still struggling with third-billing behind actors that his career would soon enough eclipse. It All Came True is a solid-B picture and no doubt provided a pleasant diversion when it was first released. Still does to this day. 

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