The Big Shot (1942) Lewis Seiler

Joe “Duke” Berne (Humphrey Bogart) is a three-time loser. One more arrest and the law will send him away for life. With that ingrained into his head, Duke has given up the criminal life. The problem is getting a regular job, you know how it is, who’s  going to hire an ex-con? No one, so here he is roaming the streets, unshaven, wondering where his next meal is going to come from. 

In desperation, Duke gets involved with some old cronies who are planning an armored car robbery. At first Duke wants nothing to do with it. He wants to remain clean despite taunts from a young punk named Frenchy who calls Duke a coward even throwing a glass of milk in his face. Duke takes it all.

When Duke finds out mob lawyer, Martin Fleming (Stanley Ridges) in backing up the deal he becomes interested.

Duke visit’s Fleming who is now married to Lorna (Irene Manning), Duke’s former lover. It’s obvious from the first time they see each other, Lorna still has a thing for Duke and visa versa. With Duke in charge they plan the robbery (Duke straightens Frenchy out by throwing a glass of milk in his face and kicking him off his chair) which all seems to think will be a piece of cake except for Duke. The night of the robbery as Duke is getting ready to join the boys, Lorna shows up at his door pleading with him not to go through with it. She tells him they could run away together and start a new life. Duke, still hooked on Lorna, stays with her.

The robbery, without Duke goes bad, all the criminals are killed except for Frenchy who will get his revenge on Duke soon after. A witness to the robbery, an elderly woman, is brow beaten by the police into mistakenly identifying Duke as the crook who got away.   

Duke, now being hunted by the police, figures the only way to get himself off the hook is to get Fleming to defend him by setting up a full proof alibi. Fleming double crosses Duke after Frenchy, getting his revenge, tells Fleming about finding Duke and his wife together.

The remainder of the film spirals out of control as Duke escapes from prison, but in an unbelievable moment of weakness agrees to give himself up in order to set the record straight about a young con who is innocently being accused of being part of the escape plan and the resulting murder of a prison guard. We know from the beginning, Duke is doomed since the entire story is told in flashback from Duke’s deathbed in prison.

“The Big Shot” was made after Bogart had finally become a major Warners star that is after “The Maltese Falcon” and “High Sierra” so it is surprising to see him in a film that has the look and feel of a programmer. Still, Bogie is Bogie and he makes the film enjoyable but overall there is not much there. The car chase sequence toward the end is poorly planned with state police on motorcycles chasing after Bogie and his girl along a snowy icy twisting road. The motor cycle cops are implausibly shooting at Bogart’s car with one hand while managing to steer the motorcycle along the icy curved road with the other. 

Directed by Lewis Seiler, who spent most of his career cranking out standard melodramas and westerns of little distinction. Bogart during his second tier days worked with Seiler in quite a few films (Crime School, You Can’t Get Away With Murderer and King of the Underworld), Seiler’s other works include some early westerns starring Tom Mix, “Tugboat Annie”, “Pittsburgh” and “Guadalcanal Diary”, probably his best known work. George Raft turned down this role and as he did with “High Sierra” and “The Maltese Falcon” and just like those earlier flicks, Bogart took over the part.  Don’t expect much from this minor film other than Bogie who makes it worth at least one viewing considering it was his last gangster role.


8 comments on “The Big Shot (1942) Lewis Seiler

  1. Dave says:

    “Still, Bogie is Bogie and he makes the film enjoyable but overall there is not much there.”

    This is a perfect summation, in my opinion. Not that impressive of a film, but with Bogart involved it’s still worth watching if it’s on. I’ll watch anything once if it has Bogey starring, so I’m glad that I have at least seen it once.

    It’s also interesting how you not that he had already launched his incredible 1940s run, kicked off by High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon, so it is such an oddity that he did this one. Contractual obligations, maybe? I have no clue, but I think you’re right that it is odd to look at the timeline now.


    • John Greco says:

      Yeah Dave, I am the same way. If Bogart is in it, I’ll watch it. I suspect he did this film because he was under contract to WB but admittedly don’t know. I had a Bogart biography but it somehow got lost in the shuffle. Thanks!


  2. Judy says:

    Great review, I really want to see this now, although I accept it is minor Bogart – still, like you and Dave, I’m another one who will watch anything with Bogart! I came unstuck the other day when TCM claimed they were showing ‘Kid Galahad’ starring Bogie and Bette Davis, but it turned out to be the musical remake with Elvis – still hoping to see the original of that one too!


    • John Greco says:

      LOL! Yes Judy I can see how that would be a disappointment, your mouth watering for Bogart, Davis and Robinson and ending up with an Elvis flick, though Kid Galahad is one of his better films…considering.


  3. Sam Juliano says:

    Yep, Seiler is a potboiler director from the Golden Age, and this film is as pedestrian as any Bogart. It goes to show you that everyone has a bad day, even those who have achieved through time and scrutiny a marked iconic status. Seems inocuous enough for a rainy day, or for completists, but there are more pressing essentials out there. Your typical exhaustive approach with all sorts of historical goodies.


  4. Waldo Gemio says:

    Hold on a minute! Stop dismissing this film as minor Bogart! Let’s imagine it was Garfield or even Raft in the role, as originally slated, and it would still be a good movie. Anybody who loves gangster flicks, and film noir (this is in Spencer Selby’s list of the 796 US noirs) will find much to enjoy in this film. Despite being a former gang leader, mainly as a heist planner, the character Bogie plays is essentially a decent man, so it isn’t at all surprising that he would try to clear the young man who was going to fry in his place. The opening scenes, with Bogart being tormented by coppers and cons alike, the way fate conspires to frame him so that he ends up in the big house yet again, and the escape plan from prison, is all done very slickly, and the photography is a marvel. Bogart made lots of bad movies, and lots of ordinary ones, but this is hugely entertaining. And the little-seen Irene Manning is a revelation. This film is long overdue a reassessment.


  5. John Greco says:

    Lewis Seiler was no Raoul Walsh and it shows in how this film is made. One particularly bad scene is the car chase which I mention in the article. It’s laughable. Waldo, I am a big Bogart fan but this film is not very well made. It’s enjoyable but strictly for Bogart fans and fans of gangster films. Hope you will continue to stop by. I never mind a difference in opinion.


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