Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on July 30, 1938
Directed by Anatole Litvak
Written by John Wexley and John Huston, based on the play by Barré Lyndon
Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Claire Trevor, Humphrey Bogart, Allen Jenkins, Donald Crisp, Gale Page, Henry O’Neill, Ward Bond, Maxie Rosenbloom, Vladimir Sokoloff, Thurston Hall, Ronald Reagan (voice)
Have you ever gone into a film not knowing anything about it—literally, not one freaking thing—but in the end came out surprisingly entertained, and wondering how you’d ever missed it? That was me and The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, an oddly-titled 1938 crime drama starring Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart, that was hidden inside a four-movie Bogart set—along with the more-recognized High Sierra, The Petrified Forest, and All Through the Night—that’s been sitting on my shelf for years. I finally got around to giving it a try last night, only because I was in the mood for a Bogart movie, and wanted one I’d never seen before.
Of course, at the time I didn’t realize it was a crime film, and had simply assumed by the title that it was a biopic about an extraordinary medical professional who invents a miracle cure for some sort of deadly disease. Well, at least I got the ‘medical professional’ part right; Robinson plays T.S. Clitterhouse, a respected doctor who in his free time robs the homes of the wealthy as part of a research project. He’s hoping to help medical science understand how criminals are affected, both mentally and physically, by unlawful behavior; now, he wants to become involved with ‘real’ thieves, where he can take his studies a step further, while hopefully keeping himself out of harm’s way.
Though Claire Trevor held her own as the gang’s leader, and Bogart was obviously on his way to bigger and better things playing a resentful—and dangerous—gang member, it was still Robinson’s show all the way, and he was outstanding. His acting was smooth and skilled, and I loved how effortlessly he used his knowledge and manner of speaking to manipulate both the gangsters and the authorities…especially during a memorable bit where he smartly backtalks a police lieutenant, earning the respect of the gang. And what made this so amusing was, he was strictly in this scheme for the medical research, never once batting an eye as he mixed it up with thieves and hoodlums, all in the name of science.
This film had three important aspects going for it: Bogart and Trevor in commendable early roles (the supporting cast wasn’t bad, either), the outstanding work of Robinson, and a story that was just different and off-kilter enough to keep you intrigued. I could watch this again strictly for Robinson alone; I can’t remember him ever disappointing me in a role, and he certainly doesn’t here. And though there are better gangster films out there, and there are certainly better Bogarts to be had, if you like your crime on the lighter side, and your Eddie G. performances captivating, then this combination is sure tough to beat. (7/10)