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A Movie A Day: BROTHER ORCHID (1940)
Flo, sometimes you got me guessin’ whether you’re even a nitwit.

It wouldn’t be right to follow up Orson Welles’ underrated noir THE STRANGER with an Edward G. Robinson flick that was anything else but a gangster movie. With today’s BROTHER ORCHID we get not just a gangster movie, but one that is almost a commentary on the gangster movies of the time.

Robinson plays the head of a criminal outfit who gives it all up to travel across Europe. He retires at the very beginning of the movie, his boys (including his number 2, Humphrey Bogart) giving him a friendly send-off. He even hooks up the doll that hangs on him (Ann Sothern) with a candy girl job at the local hot night club, even though she desperately wants to go with him. Then we’re treated to a montage of clips, photos and headlines following Robinson as he lives a life of luxury and notoriety, rubbing shoulders with the world’s elite. That is until he spends all his money on what is supposed to be a priceless jewel and it turns out to be a fake. Five years have gone by and now he returns home expecting to take his old job back, his old lady back and generally wants to go back to his old routine. Not so fast, says Humphrey Bogart. Bogie is actually kind of a dick here. He and the boys have a big welcome home party for Robinson, letting him believe he’s going to have everything he had before only to spring the reality on him. Bogart now runs the gang and he doesn’t plan on giving it up. Everybody Robinson treated like peons back Bogie and Robinson has to try to regroup those loyal to him to retake what’s his.

Sounds like a pretty conventional set-up for a ‘40s gangster flick, but that’s essentially the first 1/3rd of the film. The story takes a radical turn, which leaves Robinson bleeding on the doorstep of a monestary. The monks take him in and teach him their ways, finding peace cultivating and selling flowers. Even before that screwball the film seemed like an exaggeration of the gangster film of the ‘30s. Every single hardnose shouts out a long, drawn-out “Seeeeeee?” after every line. It almost seems like a comment on those kinds of films… maybe one I don’t agree with, about how they glorify ignorance and reward violence, but I think there’s definitely a statement in there.

The love story between Robinson and Sothern is quite unconventional. He treats her like dirt, but soon realizes that she is the only person on this earth that can and will love him for who he is… even if she is a ditz. When he returns from his European adventure, he finds that she has become a star, but her love hasn’t changed. She’s there for him just as when she was a nobody, even if she has a tall, dumb and handsome cowboy following her around like a puppy-dog. There is a bit of a triangle there, but it’s like one I’ve never seen. There isn’t really a rivalry, even though there is some hurt feelings over choices Sothern has to make. In the end, the two men get along really well and are surprisingly supportive of each other.

I guess the heart of the film is with the monks and their viewpoint on life. That’s also the comedy of the film, too. Robinson initially views the privacy of the monestary as a perfect place to lay low while Bogie’s people get comfortable thinking he’s dead. He doesn’t take the place and his duties within it seriously, so he gets his work done using techniques he learned during prohibition. For instance, he is highly praised for his ability to coax three times the milk out of the monks’ cow and he acts all humble about it, but in reality he’s cutting the milk with water. Stuff like that. But Robinson realy does play up the heart of the character as he grows to respect the monks and their outlook on life. His character has to look inward and find that he too can find doing something for others just as rewarding as having things done for him, if not moreso. That doesn’t mean he lets Bogart off the hook. No, siree Bob. There’s a nice fist-fight between the two to close the film. Funnily, this is the only team up between Bogart and Robinson where at least one of them didn’t end up dead. The overall film is a kind of bizarrely heartfelt gangster comedy. Bogart is great, just on the cusp of exploding into the history books and Robinson shows a subtle versatility here that he’s not exactly known for. If you were to just half-watch this movie you’d miss it, but he does some great work with his face, slight body language and eye tics telling you everything the character is thinking and feeling. Sothern is a tad annoying, but that’s her character. She’s hot, so all is forgiven. Final Thoughts: Lloyd Bacon directs a surprisingly multi-layered examination of a typical gangster story that has more heart and humor than I expected when I first popped it in. It’s a quick and light story, but atypical and all the fresher for it.

Here’s what we have lined up for the next week: Sunday, December 21st: THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936)

Monday, December 22nd: MOONTIDE (1942)

Tuesday, December 23rd: NOTORIOUS (1946)

Wednesday, December 24th: THE INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS (1958)

Thursday, December 25th: THE HIGH COMMISSIONER (1968)

Friday, December 26th: THE SILENT PARTNER (1979)

Saturday, December 27th: PAYDAY (1972)

I found some internet while on the first of two layovers on my way back to Austin. I don’t get back home until midnight tonight… at which time I will slip into a small coma. After the coma is over (providing I don’t awaken years into the future with the ability to see that the ice is too thin or that my nurse’s daughter is going to be in a fire) I will be following Humphrey Bogart over to THE PETRIFIED FOREST. See you folks then! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler
November 16th: Once Upon A Time In America
November 17th: Salvador
November 18th: Best Seller
November 19th: The Holcroft Covenant
November 20th: Birdman of Alcatraz
November 21st: The Train
November 22nd: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
November 23rd: Mystery Street
November 24th: Border Incident
November 25th: The Tin Star
November 26th: On The Beach
November 27th: Twelve O’Clock High
November 28th: Gentleman’s Agreement
November 29th: Panic In The Streets
November 30th: The Hot Rock
December 1st: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
December 2nd: The Day of the Dolphin
December 3rd: Carnal Knowledge
December 4th: The Cincinnati Kid
December 5th: Pocketful of Miracles
December 6th: Mikey & Nicky
December 7th: Two-Minute Warning
December 8th: The Sentinel
December 9th: How To Steal A Million
December 10th: What’s New Pussycat?
December 11th: Being There
December 17th: The Party
December 18th: Casino Royale
December 19th: The Stranger

Readers Talkback
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  • Dec. 21, 2008, 2:53 a.m. CST

    I'm totally watching this right now.

    by YouAreAllMyBastardChildren

    What a strange coincidence.<p>I'm lying.

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 2:54 a.m. CST

    Trip down memory lane

    by Shan

    Or back to the past.

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 2:56 a.m. CST

    What was the sequel called? Sister Tulip?

    by YouAreAllMyBastardChildren

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. ROFLMAOUTSDMFAIHURL. This bitch is ripe for a remake. Am I right, my little bastards?

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 3:06 a.m. CST

    sounds interesting

    by Bloo

    very interesting, and Quint take it easy to push yourself

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 7:02 a.m. CST

    Love this film!

    by jvblhc

    Eddie G. is my alltime favorite actor, and this is one of his best and strangest films. The end brings a tear to my eye every time.

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 7:57 a.m. CST

    LOVE the Burn After Reading Harry animation...

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    ...but it's a MAJOR SPOILER for the film.

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 10:08 a.m. CST

    Guessing this movie influenced Plastic Man

    by catlettuce4

    A gangster who has a change of heart after hanging out with monks was later a major point in the origin of "Plastic Man". Given how big a star Robinson there's a good chance that Jack Cole'd seen it and borrowed the idea to explain how Plas went from a gangster to a superhero.

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 11:50 a.m. CST

    I saw the Plastic Man connection as well...

    by Continentalop

    I saw this film years ago at the LACMA's Tuesday matinee, and while it didn't impress me I couldn't help but think this is the where Jack Cole got the inspiration for Eels O'Brien's redemption. <p> A better Robinson movie in a somewhat similar vein is "The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse." Yeah, the name is a little off putting, but the movie itself is actually quite entertaining with Robinson as an upper class doctor who becomes a criminal mastermind to learn how the criminal mind works, and Bogie and Claire Trevor in it as well. You seem to have a Edward G. Robinson box set Quint, do you have that one as well?

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 2:02 p.m. CST

    Robinson and Bogey in a fistfight!!

    by BobParr

    Which 5'4" tough guy won?

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 2:07 p.m. CST

    Why didn't you mention Ralph Bellamy?

    by BobParr

    I wonder if he was typecat early in his career as the handsome dumb guy ala HIS GIRL FRIDAY.

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 3:11 p.m. CST

    cagney, bogart, robinson

    by bacci40

    out of the 3, only bogie was ever allowed to really stretch his acting chops....and that is kinda sad...btw, do kids today take the time to really watch the classics?

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 3:22 p.m. CST

    quick trivia

    by bacci40

    donald crisp, who plays the leader of the order and was a great character actor, was also a great director of the silents

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 3:25 p.m. CST

    Quint...I was going to mock you for using funnily.

    by Lukecash

    But it's an actual adverb. Imagine that! Anyways this is a great film. It is definitely a satire on Gangster films and the reasons why men act the way they do.<p> Robinson is great in this movie as well as the cast.<p> I often wondered if Jack Cole was inspired by this movie in creating the origin of Plastic Man?

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 3:42 p.m. CST

    hey quint...can you do something special for xmas eve?

    by bacci40

    xmas is the anniversary of charlie chaplin's death....could you switch out your reviews and do one of his films?

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 3:48 p.m. CST

    Bacci40....all three had a chance to show their acting chops

    by Lukecash

    They were all considered great actors. They just hit different heydays. Bogart was clearly the best of them and a forerunner of the method acting. His best films were near the end of his life and Career-when he started doing non-ganster type pictures. Cagney had his best roles when he first started. He made comedies, biographies, song and dance and even a Shakespeare film. He quit when he was no longer enjoying acting and lived for a few decades afterwards. During that time, fame dwindled. He even had a minor comeback with Ragtime. But Robinson had a long and steady career until his death. However he started doing television and shlock pictures. He was often miscast (For example: Ten Commandments) His last memorable role was in "Soylent Green" By all things considered their on screen personas differ from their actions in real life. Bogart was well red, but not a nice fellow. Cagney was no where near as outgoing as his characters and Robinson, who normally played such evil men, was considered the nicest guy in Hollywood.

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 4:14 p.m. CST is what i meant

    by bacci40

    robinson couldve been a great comedic actor...i think it hurt him that he was typecast as the little tuff guy (i always thought that demille told him to do dathan as a over the top heavy) robinson couldve done deeper roles if he had really been given the chance...and you have to agree that he brought out the best in heston in soylent green...he made that relationship believable...i pray that the remake never gets off the ground

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 4:41 p.m. CST

    The big difference between Bogie and Robinson's career...

    by Continentalop

    Yes, all three had great careers (although Cagney had a long retirement and Bogart died to early) and all three men displayed range. The one big difference between the three, however, is that both Cagney and Bogart found success as the classic Hollywood leading man, a figure who beats his foe and wins the girl. Robinson played that part a couple of time, but without success. Lets be honest, while none of the three men were anything close to Adonis, at least the other two had a rugged handsomeness while Robinson was just a short, pudgy guy. In modern terms you could say that you wouldn’t consider Adrian Brody or Joaquin Phoenix to be the best looking guys in Hollywood, but at least they can play romantic figures or action heroes unlike Paul Giamatti. <p> Still, I think Robinson was able to display the most range. Besides his now stereotypical gangster roles in “Little Caesar”, “Bullet or Ballots”, “Larceny Inc.”, “Brother Orchid”, “A Slight Case of Murder”, and “Key Largo”, he also showed himself to be the capable, dogged detective (“Double Indemnity”, “Nightmare”), a milquetoast (“Scarlet Street”), an intellectual (“The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse” and “Woman in the Window”), a psychotic with lust for his adoptive daughter (“The Red House”), a sophisticated card-player (“The Cincinnati Kid”), a egotistical director on the way down (“Two Weeks in Another Town”), a Ivy League educated man turned homeless drunk (“Tales of Manhattan”), and be the inspiration for Chief Wiggum. Robinson has played pretty much every level of society: from the Social Elite to the bums on the streets, from gangsters to politicians, from recent immigrants to blue bloods, from city dwellers to rural farmers, from sophisticated men of taste to brutes without manners, from doctors to high school dropouts. A pretty wide range if I say so myself <p> Now if Chris Nolan can just get a time machine and bring him back to life to play the Penguin in the next Batman movie.

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 5:50 p.m. CST

    Um, you know Nasty...

    by Skyway Moaters

    The new GIF animation wasn't 'technically' a spoiler, until you attributed it!

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 6:28 p.m. CST

    Can you link Humphrey Bogart to Kevin Bacon in 3 moves?

    by Leafar the Lost

    Since Kevin Bacon has been in 33% of every movie ever made, then it should be easy to link Bogart to him in less than 3 moves. I can, but I want to see if anyone else has can to.

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 6:37 p.m. CST

    leafer the lost....ez

    by bacci40

    just do it though bacall...any of the movies they did together...

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 7:53 p.m. CST

    I can do it in 4 without checking IMDB

    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    I don't know if I can get three.

  • Dec. 21, 2008, 10:10 p.m. CST

    angels with dirty faces is on youtube

    by bacci40

    another film cagney didnt get the academy award for...but deserved did obrien

  • Dec. 22, 2008, 7:50 a.m. CST

    If it is so "EZ" Bacci40, why don't you show us?

    by Leafar the Lost

  • Dec. 22, 2008, 8:24 a.m. CST

    I have linked Bogart to Bacon in three moves...

    by Leafar the Lost

    Humphrey Bogart was in "The Big Sleep" with Lauren Bacall; Bacall was in "Diamonds" with John Landis (he played a gambler); John Landis directed Kevin Bacon in "Animal House". Now that was "EZ"!