You Can’t Get Away with Murder (1939)

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It’s amazing in retrospect just how long it took Humphrey Bogart Bogart’s career to launch.  Literally several years and a few dozen movies.  Our latest film is 1939’s You Can’t Get Away with Murder.  Here he is top billed but the movie sadly is a fairly pedestrian and typical gangster film which Warner Brothers was known for during the era.

What is exciting is to see Bogart on the cusp of stardom.  Some of his signature traits are in evidence and in retrospect one gets a sense of his future path, though thankfully he would depart from gangster films for the most part, though this aspect of his career surely climaxed in High Sierra.

Bogie is the leader of the gang if you will as Frank Wilson. His crew consists of many of the fine Warners stock company which comprised the Dead End Kids in other films with Bogart, most notably among these is Billy Halop, who plays the foil here.

Billy Halop himself is an interesting character who perhaps deserves more recognition today.   Sadly he never really got beyond some his rather juvenile early roles, but You Can’t Get Away with Murder shows a hint of what his career may have been if the wheels hadn’t come off.

As ringleader, Bogie sets up Billy (as Johnny Stone) when a murder-robbery goes bad, but they all end up in the joint, though for an earlier heist.  The only unique twist in this is that Bogie thought he was leaving Johnny’s gun behind.  In reality it belongs to policeman Fred Burke (played by Harvey Stephens).   Burke is soon rotting in the same prison as Bogie and Billy, though for murder.

In prison the film takes on a bit of a Shawshank Redemption aspect, especially with Pop, the prison librarian (Henry Travers).  There is the usual morale wrangling between the inmates, especially as Johnny slowly loses his sanity knowing that Burke is incarcerated for a crime he committed.

Hard to say this is a great picture given that it follows really for the most part as expected and is rather formulaic.  It has just come out in a remastered edition from the Warner Archives and if you are a big fan of Bogart or Halop probably well worth a look over at The WB Shop..

Review copy provided by Warner Bros. Thanks!

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