You Can’t Get Away With Murder (1939) Lewis Seiler

    By 1939, the gangster film was running out of steam evidenced by “You Can’t Get Away With Murder,” a run of the mill, déjà vu flick that must have left even filmgoers of the period wanting more. They used to call these kinds of film programmers. Many theaters back them changed programs twice a week, subsequently, a lot product was needed. Made the same year as “The Roaring Twenties,” “You Can’t Get Away With Murder” is Humphrey Bogart still at “B” level in the Warner gangster hierarchy portraying another of his despicable weasel roles.  Frank Martin is a small time gangster who takes young Johnny Stone (Billy Halop) under his wing until a botched robbery where Martin shoots the proprietor leaving Johnny’s borrowed gun at the scene of the crime. Even more unfortunately is Johnny “borrowed” the gun from his sister Madge’s (Gale Page) fiancée, Fred Burke who is arrested and sent to death row in Sing Sing. Martin and Johnny are also arrested on an earlier gas station robbery and also land in Sing Sing. Johnny spends most of his time working in the library with Pop, (Henry Travers) worrying on whether to tell the truth and rat on Martin so they will free Fred from being on death row. Martin, of course, does not trust that Johnny will not squeal to the bulls so when he and a couple of other cons plan a breakout they get Johnny to come along. Only Martin intends to make sure Johnny never talks again.

    If the film sounds somewhat familiar it may be because the cast (Bogart, Page and Halop) and director Lewis Seiler worked together the previous year in “Crime School.” Page and Halop were also brother and sister in that film. In addition, Bogart’s character Frank Martin could be a sibling of Baby Face Martin, Bogie’s character in “Dead End.”  

    Warner Brothers always had a great supporting cast of actors and here is no exception. We have Henry Travers as the librarian “Pop” a lifer who befriends Johnny. Eddie “Rochester” Anderson as Sam who reads cooks books, Joe Sawyer, who sure his appeal is going to be approved soon and George E. Stone as Toad who books bets on which prisoners will get the chair. While Bogart and Gale Page get top billing this is really Billy Halop’s film. Getting a chance to break away from the Dead End Kid films Halop was arguably the most talented of the group. It’s sad to say that Halop’s career never received the shot in the arm it needed, once he grew up, to propel him to stardom. He continued to act up, mostly in “B” films, into the 1970’s when he passed away. “All in the Family” fans may remember Billy when he played “Bert Munson” in a number of the episodes. Gale Page is pretty much forgotten today. She previously appeared in “Crime School” and “The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse,” both films with Bogart and Halop. She was also in “Four Daughters” as one of the Lemp Sisters and its sequel “Four Wives.” Other notable films include “They Drive by Night,” where she played Bogart’s wife and “Knute Rockne, All-American.” Though she made a few more films and some TV appearance she pretty much retired in the late 1940’s to concentrate on her marriage.

Here Bogart may not be the grade A star yet he would become but here he is one of the most low life vile characters he ever played and he has played some real weasels in the early days of his career. However, Bogart is always a pleasure to watch even in a minor effort like this. And while this film does not rank up there with “High Sierra” or “Angels With Dirty Faces” or “The Roaring Twenties” it keeps you interested.

    The film appears on TCM on occasion and since there is no DVD release, keep your eyes peeled for a showing.

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