Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Black Legion (1937)

I promise to finish what I started and this Bogie marathon will have 24 posts! Since I didn't have either Kid Galahad (1937) or Black Legion (1937) in my Bogie boxed set (due to a technical error) I had to wait for these to come from Netflix. Black Legion (1937) is quite a depressing film but I think it's an important role for Bogie and it's important for the time period. In a pre-High Sierra role, Bogie stars (yes stars!) in Black Legion (1937), a typical exposee fare from the 1930s. The film exposes underground white supremacist groups who find "justice" in bullying and causing harm to people who they see as different and dangerous. Bogie plays Frank Taylor, a machinist at a factory who feels he is this close to getting a promotion. He's so close he can already taste the money he'll earn and is planning on how he can spend the money on his wife and young son. However, when Joe Dombrowski, a hardworking mechanist who attended night school while all the others spent their evenings drinking, gets the promotion, Frank tastes blood. It doesn't help that Joe happens to be a Jew. Frank's anger and envy drive him to join the secret society of the Black Legion and it all goes downhill from there.

This film depressed me greatly. I'm the daughter of two immigrants who worked really hard to give me opportunities that they didn't have themselves in their respective countries. Because of their hard work and the work ethic they instilled in me, I was able to earn my high school diploma, my Bachelor's degree and my Master's degree and to develop a career of my own chosing. I'm forever grateful to them for that.

I place myself in the position of Joe Dombrowski, who works all day as a mechanist, studies at night and helps his family out at their chicken farm. America is a land of opportunity. Frank Taylor thinks those opportunities are only for his notion of who is an "American". Jews, the Irish and foreigners don't count. I'm sure if African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanic-Americans were involved in the story, he'd discount them too. Unless you are 100% Native American you can't claim yourself as coming from a non-immigrant family. So while I felt bad for Frank Taylor and all the trouble he got himself in, I despise the notion that America is a land of opportunity for some and not for all. And I hope the audiences in 1937 who watched this film felt the same way.


  1. i agree Quelle! tho we feel a certain sympathy for what he got himself into, it was his own ignorance and blind hatred that got him there in the first place. in other words he asked for what he got. i like this film because the main character isnt sympathetic yet (and sadly) his type are all around us even today, i.e. those that believe they have a 'right' to something by mere birthright or circumstance as opposed to actually working towards and earning it. So to me this is a film that paints a not so pleasant picture of a not so pleasant fact of reality and does so with no holds barred which is something to admire even if it is not enjoyable as we usually think of a film being enjoyed. major kudos to WB for even green lighting a film like this.

  2. Paulie - Something I learned about Warner Bros. from the documentary I reviewed a little while back, is that the studio took risks, making movies about difficult subject because their whole thing was about enlightening, entertaining and educating their audiences. WB wasn't perfect but the fact that they took financial risks with tricky subjects like that in Black Legion, makes me respect them.

  3. its one of the many reasons they're my favorite of all the studios from that era Quelle.

  4. It's interesting that they would have put out a movie like this, but then again things were quite a bit different back then. It's too bad the views were so narrow. I'm with you, hopefully the audiences took a more positive outlook and were able to be introspective about the topic. Great job with the review on this one.

  5. Danielle - I think view points are narrow these days as well. People belittle Mexicans and Brazilians who have come to this country looking for a better life and to make a living. And many of us treat them like second-rate citizens. This kind of racism is still prevalent today and I don't think it will end. As long as we categorize people as "other" and are reluctant to accept anything new. :-( Thanks for stopping by!


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