Kid Galahad is a solid entertaining Warner Brothers film starring Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, so you can hardly go wrong. The film was directed by Micheal Curtiz who just a few years later would direct Bogie in one of cinema’s greatest classics, Casablanca. Here Bogie is still a second string player in one of his typical, for the time, gangster punk roles he was being typecast to play. He had the unlikely name of Turkey Morgan. Like what tough guy has a nickname of Turkey?
Eddie G. Is Nick Donati. He and Bogie’s Turkey Morgan are boxing promoters. Morgan’s got the champ, while for Donati, getting the boxer with the right stuff has been an elusive dream. Usually because the punk boxer’s won’t listen to him and he dumps them. That is, until he comes across the innocent Ward Gusinberry (Wayne Morris), a bellhop who knocks out the champ in a scuffle at a hotel party one evening after the champ insults Fluff (Bette Davis), Donati’s girl. This sets up Donati to finally get the man, really a naive farm boy, who he can mold into the next champ. However, the unexpected happens when Ward meets Donati’s sister Marie (Jane Bryan), who Nick has kept hidden from his world of slugs and thugs, in a convent.
The fight scenes are innovative and exciting with some excellent cinematography. Just don’t expect Raging Bull type sequences. The plot itself offers no surprises. In fact, the final shootout is sort of a reiteration of the Robinson/Bogart shootout one year earlier in Bullets or Ballots. Even in death during these years Bogart never got the girl. As Ann Sperber writes in Bogart, “various shootouts with Robinson, Cagney, et al., left him instantly dead, while giving his antagonists “Pieta-like death scenes in the arms of Davis, Joan Blondell or Gladys George.” In Bullets or Ballots Bogie even had to endure another odd nickname, “Bugs” Fenner. Not much of an improvement over Turkey Morgan. The fun is in watching the three stars. Robinson’ s Nick Donati is full of himself. He bluster’s and bullies his way throughout. Especially with his kid sister, Jane Bryan, with whom he acts as more of an over protective father than a brother. For Bette Davis, the role of Fluff is a bit of a change. She’s tough, yet vulnerable and sympathetic, even girlish at times. Bogart’s Turkey Morgan, as I mentioned, is typical for this period in his career. A tough, nasty hard ass lacking any kind of moral center.
Edward G Robinson was no fan of Bette Davis as an actress. He writes in his autobiography, All My Yesterdays “Miss Davis was every inch a lady – polite, mannerly, gracious, even self-effacing. But by today’s standards she could never have gotten a job in a high school production of East Lynne.” He goes on, “Miss Davis was, when I played with her, not a very gifted amateur.” And there’s still more, “In her early days Miss Davis played the image, and not herself, and certainly not the character provided by the author.” As for Davis, she hated kissing Robinson in their love scenes and thought of him as “liver lips.” It’s not that she disliked him, she thought him a cultured and gentle man. She just rather have been kissing Clark Gable. As for Wayne Morris, Warner’s was grooming him to be a star. However, when the war broke out his joined the Naval Reserve as a pilot. After he came back to civilian life his career lost its spark and his spent most of his career afterward in low budget westerns and other cheap productions.
Kid Galahad is no masterpiece, but it did spawn two lessor remakes. There was the 1941 film The Wagons Roll at Night with Eddie Albert as a naive grocery clerk, whose turned into a lion tamer instead of a bellhop into a boxer, and the 1962 film that starred Elvis Presley as a pop singing boxer. The latter film, directed by Phil Karlson (Kansas City Confidential 99 River Street, the Silencers, Walking Tall), should have been a change of pace for Elvis, an improvement over his usual fare, instead of another cheap flick with a half a dozen mediocre songs which is what it turned out to be.
All My Yesterdays: An Autobiography – Edward G. Robinson
I’d Love to Kiss You…Converstions with Bette Davis – Whitney Stine
Bogart – Ann Sperber