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Bullets or Ballots (1936)

Approved | | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir | 6 June 1936 (USA)
3:00 | Trailer

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After Police Captain Dan McLaren becomes police commissioner former detective Johnny Blake knocks him down convincing rackets boss Al Kruger that Blake is sincere in his effort to join the ... See full summary »



(screen play), (story) | 1 more credit »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
'Bugs' Fenner
Joe King ...
Capt. Dan McLaren (as Joseph King)
Ed Driscoll (as Richard Purcell)
Wires Kagel
Grand Jury Spokesman
Ward Bryant
Mr. Hollister
Mr. Thorndyke
Mr. Caldwell
Nellie LaFleur
Norman Willis ...
Louie Vinci


After Police Captain Dan McLaren becomes police commissioner former detective Johnny Blake knocks him down convincing rackets boss Al Kruger that Blake is sincere in his effort to join the mob. "Buggs" Fenner thinks Blake is a police agent. Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


WHO Rules The Rackets ? This picture puts the finger on the political higher-ups! See more »


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

6 June 1936 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Balas o votos  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


This film was made as part of Warner Bros.' response to the Production Code Administration and the Legion of Decency, which had condemned the studio's previous gangster movies with Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney as glorifying the criminal life. In response, Warners had both actors make crime movies with their characters on the right side of the law, with Cagney playing an FBI agent in 'G' Men (1935) and Robinson playing an undercover cop here. See more »


Early in the film while Johnny Blake (Robinson) is sitting at a table with Joan Blondell talking, one of the old "Mugs" he'd sent to sing sing prison walks over to him and smarts off. Without standing, he trips the mug with his leg and punches him to the floor. While leaning over and chastising the unconscious mug you can see that Blake's (Robinson) hair has moved forward on the right side and is messed up. In the next shot when he leans back up to the table to talk to Joan Blondell his hair is perfectly neat and combed. See more »


Capt. Dan 'Mac' McLaren: I don't care to say.
See more »


Featured in Breakdowns of 1936 (1936) See more »


The Lady in Red
(1935) (uncredited)
Music by Allie Wrubel
Whistled by Edward G. Robinson
See more »

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User Reviews

BULLETS OR BALLOTS (William Keighley, 1936) ***
14 April 2008 | by (Naxxar, Malta) – See all my reviews

This is one of the few gangster classics from that genre's golden era and featuring its iconic stars which was never available in my neck of the woods until it surfaced on DVD. It was also the first of five films teaming (or rather pitting one against the other) Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart; the former was the real star and he was already starting to branch out from gangster roles – the latter was still a supporting actor (having just had his big break with THE PETRIFIED FOREST [1936]) and five more years would pass till he achieved his long-deserved stardom (nevertheless, in spite of the lack of range offered by the scripts for these type of roles, Bogie always made an impression at it).

By this time, the Hays Code had come down on Hollywood for their glorification of the gangster; Warners had pulled a clever switch with "G" MEN (1935), where these same crimes were presented from the viewpoint of law enforcement officers (that film had also been helmed by this film's director, William Keighley, and starred another of the great genre actors, James Cagney). In this case, the narrative allowed Robinson as an undercover cop to still be involved in the criminal activity, and rise through the ranks as always, without taking active part in them: however, censorship of the time still dictated that his character had to die at the end (unless it was a way of showing the risk inherent in such police work). Interestingly, Keighley would return to a similar situation – this time revolving around the F.B.I. – many years later with the noir THE STREET WITH NO NAME (1948), which I've just watched as part of my ongoing tribute to Richard Widmark; having mentioned the noir, while I admire the vitality and raw power of the gangster films, their limited plot lines rather prevents them from having the same pull of the fatalistic thrillers often involving tortuous plots and where the protagonists – apart from the dark city streets – could be as much a private detective as the next man, but always gullible and at the mercy of a femme fatale...

To go back to BULLETS OR BALLOTS, the film is typically fast-moving – it's not just the action that crackles but the dialogue as well – and, while some of the edge of the very earliest gangster pictures, has been lost by way of repetition (and the standards of the Code), it's still a satisfactory and highly entertaining entry. For the record, two of the very best efforts in this influential genre were still a couple of years away – namely ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938) and THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939), both with Cagney as an anti-hero and Bogie ever the irredeemable and duplicitous mobster. Here, alongside the two stars, are Joan Blondell as Robinson's on-off girl on whom Bogart has his eyes as well (interestingly, she's got her own particular racket going!), Barton MacLane as the big boss whom Bogart is forever trying to oust (again, a role he would often play) and Frank McHugh providing the comic relief (ditto).

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