Sunday, January 9, 2011

The 'Kid' Pays Off

I had a friend ask why Humphrey Bogart wasn’t on my list of favorite 1930s actors. While he had a breakout with “The Petrified Forest,” Bogart was still growing as an actor. He made plenty of films in the late 1930s, but it wasn’t until the next decade that he began hitting his stride.

In reviewing “Black Legion” a few months back, I mentioned that I’d like to look at some of these early films of Bogart so I could watch his progression as an actor under contract at Warner Brothers. So, I recently watched “Kid Galahad,” a boxing film that stars Edward G. Robinson and Bette Davis, with Bogart more of a supporting player as a rival boxing promoter.

Frankly, when I first started watching “Kid Galahad,” I had to stifle a chuckle at the romantic pairing of Robinson and Davis. I really thought this was going to be forced in either a bad way or hilarious way (I was betting on the latter). By the end credits, though, I’d lost that bet with myself. Not only did the pairing work, but “Kid Galahad” was a thoroughly engaging movie that built beautifully to its climax, both exciting and unexpected.

Here’s a movie that manages to expertly weave all its threads together. The title character is played by Wayne Morris, an actor who became a much-decorated war hero during World War II. Here he’s a naive bellhop named Ward Guisenberry, called to work at a party thrown by Nick (Robinson) and Louise (Davis) after their prizefighter loses and is cut loose by Nick. Ward arrives at the multi-day affair, first day on the job, unable to mix drinks, but handsome enough to draw the attention of all the women. Louise takes a liking to him immediately, although Nick is jealous.
When rival promoter Turkey Morgan (Bogart) and world boxing champ Chuck McGraw (William Haade, above with Bogart) arrive at the party to gloat, Nick welcomes them. Then Chuck insults Louise, and Ward decks him with one swing. Nick is no longer jealous, now seeing Ward as his next fighter. Soon he’s grooming the Kid – dubbed Kid Galahad by Louise – for a shot at the world title. Ward doesn’t drink, smoke or swear, and he maintains this demeanor as Louise falls in love with him. However, Ward secretly falls for Nick’s sister, Marie (Jane Bryant), who Nick has always tried to protect.

“Kid Galahad” may be named after the boxer, but he’s more or less what forces Nick to look at himself, a man who wants to train that world champ but is held back by his own secret doubts. As for the romance, Robinson and Davis (below) are such good actors that they not only make it work but do so with great tenderness. Despite the Production Code, it’s clear their characters have been lovers for years. And yet during a breakup scene, neither throws any punches. The script keeps it simple without the melodramatic trappings, and these two fine actors add the endearing affection that would exist between two people who have been together for years.

Robinson is in fine form, as is Davis, who had already won an Oscar but was still fighting for better scripts. If this is a film about a promoter and his boxer, Davis does her best without taking over.

What about Bogart? While it looks like he’s simply playing a thug, he has more to do as the film goes on, ending up in a cat-and-mouse game with Nick over the championship battle.

I loved how this film wove together the excitement of boxing with well-staged bouts, the two romances between Nick/Louise and Ward/Marie, the media and PR work surrounding boxing, and a criminal aspect in terms of fixes, gangsters and an assertion of power. I was willing to give it some leeway at times when the story veered toward the forced, as when Louise inadvertently lets some vital information slip toward the end. It was cruel for the screenwriter to place Louise in that position, and it wasn’t necessary to the overall story.

Still, “Kid Galahad” was a welcome surprise. Bogart may have been relegated to playing a stereotypical tough guy, but he was still learning, still moving his way up the ranks.

“Kid Galahad” is part of the "Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection," a 13-disc DVD set with 24 Bogart films from the 1930s and 1940s as well as “The Brothers Warner” documentary. It has plenty of commentaries and featurettes, and I like how the movies are also packaged as “a night at the movies” old-school style, complete with shorts and trailers. All of the major titles from this period are included, from “Maltese Falcon” to “Casablanca” to “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” to his films with wife Lauren Bacall.



  2. I like this one too, but I wish they had given Bogart's character a different name. Turkey Morgan?

  3. I know ... what a crazy character name!

  4. The name is really very weird.But the video says many thing itself.Loved the concept & content.