After police captain, McLaren becomes commissioner, former detective Johnny Blake knocks him down convincing rackets boss Al Kruger that Blake's sincere in his effort to join the mob. "...
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After police captain, McLaren becomes commissioner, former detective Johnny Blake knocks him down convincing rackets boss Al Kruger that Blake's sincere in his effort to join the mob. "Buggs" Fenner thinks Blake is a police agent.Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
In the film, it is suggested that Joan Blondell's character got the idea of the numbers racket from her assistant, "Nellie". In reality, the numbers racket was pioneered by black gambling racketeers in Harlem. The "Nellie" character was based on Stephanie "Madame Queen" St. Clair (Nellie scoffs at being called "Madam Nellie"). As in the film, the numbers racket was eventually taken over by Dutch Schultz and 'Lucky Luciano' (the Humphrey Bogart and Barton MacLane characters, respectively). See more »
When Herman is delivering a bag of money to Lee Morgan, he takes out a roll of coins and covers it with his right hand so that it is barely visible. In the next cut, however, the roll is now protruding out of his hand and quite visible. See more »
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 ) 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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