All Through the Night (1941) Vincent Sherman

Bogart Takes on the Nazis.

Produced and released  by Warner Brothers, always the most socially conscience of the studios,  this 1941 propaganda film came out just months before America would enter World War II. Starring Humphrey Bogart as “Gloves” Donahue, a local hoodlum who runs the neighborhood bookie operations. “Glove’s” is a long way from Bogart’s other roles as a gangster. Here he is sort of a neighborhood Robin Hood with his gang, a bunch of Damon Runyonesque type comedic characters.

Most of the neighborhood seems to like “Gloves”, except for the cops, and his rivals led by Barton McLane. Conrad Veidt plays Ebbing, the head Nazi who commands an underground organization of fifth columnist with sabotage on their mind. Peter Lorre is Pepi, Ebbing’s little weasel of an assistant.

“Gloves” involvement begins when a neighborhood German baker is murdered by the master of creepiness, Peter Lorre. The baker was a friend of “Gloves” mother and made his favorite cheesecake, so at his mother’s beckoning he begins to look into the killing. When a nightclub bouncer is also murdered and one of “Gloves” gloves is found at the scene, the police can only conclude one thing, he is the murderer.

While trying to prove his innocence “Gloves” investigation leads him to discover a group of fifth columnist with plans to sabotage the New York Harbor by blowing up a naval battleship. The police, who are clueless about the German threat, are only interested in  fingering “Gloves” for the murders.

Surprisingly, the film is amazingly light in its humor considering that the war was going strong in Europe by this time. Released on December 2nd, according to IMDB, only days before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and America would enter the war. The release may have been only in Los Angeles though because the New York Times review is dated January 24th  1942 and makes note that this is a “pre Pearl Harbor” film, “lest anyone raises the  objection that it plays too fast and loose with a subject much too serious for melodramatic kidding in these times.”  The review, by Bosley Crowther, then goes on to say, “One would hate to think that an enemy plot of such elaborate magnitude as the one presented here should be so completely overlooked by our capable F. B. I. (italics mine), and that the responsibility for licking it should fall upon a semi-gangster. So don’t even let yourself think that this picture pretends to be fact. It is straight, unadulterated fiction pulled out of a script-writer’s hat.”

So here we are now some 70 years later, and considering what we have been going through since 2001, such blind faith in the F.B.I. or Homeland Security or any other Government Agency is naiveté of the highest order. I am not picking on Mr. Crowthers, as I usually do, I’m sure that many Americans had blind faith in and felt secure that organizations like the F.B.I had security matters well in hand back in those days.

Much of the films humor is supplied by members of “Gloves” gang, consisting of fanciful character actors like William Demarest and Frank McHugh along with some additional bizarre casting of Jackie Gleason and Phil Silvers. McHugh’s character is newly married and the running joke throughout the film is that he cannot consummate his marriage because he is always helping  “Gloves” in hunting down the Nazis. Gleason and Silvers are regulated to humorous roles that are close to slapstick level.

There is a touch of seriousness thrown into the mix when “Gloves” in his search to find the murderers comes across nightclub singer Leda Hamilton (Karren Verne), a young woman who is first made to seem to be aiding the Nazis. We soon find out that Leda is being forced to help them because her father is a prisoner in Dachau. Ebbing promises to keep him alive as long as she helps them with their sabotage plans.

The cast also includes Jane Darwell as “Gloves” mother, Judith Anderson as an assistant to Ebbing and Barton McLane as Callahan, the rival gang leader. Bogart handles his role in typical Bogie fashion, cool and unflappable. Peter Lorre and Karren Verne would marry, in real life, a few years after this film was made. Today, “All Through the Night” comes across as a bizarre little film, somewhat uncomfortable in its humor, melodramatic with some odd casting but still entertaining enough.

***

The Hustler (1961) – Director: Robert Rossen

                 

The Hustler is a prelude of the kind of films that would rise to prominence with the film generation a few years later. Films like Bonnie and Clyde and Midnight Cowboy. Robert Rossen, the director and co-screenwriter, had a background of making films with social issues and concerns, he either wrote or directed such as films as Marked Woman (Prostitution), All the King’s Men (Political corruption), and Body and Soul (boxing and corruption). He heroes were usually loners, social misfits, outsiders of society. So the story of Eddie Felson fit Rossen perfectly. Felson was the first anti-hero of the sixties generation.
Felson is a cocky pool hustler convinced that he’s the best player there is. He comes to New York to challenge Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) and in their first marathon session lasting something like 36 hours he starts out winning but as the hours go by he becomes more arrogant, cocky and uncontrollable. He’s now drinking and as time goes on Felson loaded with alcohol and arrogance eventually loses to Fats. After the match he meets Sarah Packard, an alcoholic with a lame leg. Broke, he moves in with her and Eddie begins a series of small time hustlers in dumpy pool halls. He eventually comes across the wrong victim and is beat up by four thugs who break his thumbs. After recuperating, he agrees to let crooked gambler Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) manage him, that is, for 70% of the profits. Eddie, with Sarah, travel the country playing pool, hustling big time, Gordon arranging the matches with well off willing suckers. While Eddie is winning things are not well for Sarah who is continually harassed by Gordon who demands all of Eddie’s time. Sarah alcoholic and emotionally defeated commits suicide. Devastated at what happened realizing how much he loved Sarah and how much his self-centeredness has cost him, Eddie quits Gordon, goes back to New York to challenge Fats again.
You can easily see what attracted Martin Scorsese to do the sequel 25 years later. Sin and redemption are common themes in Scorsese’s work as they are here in Rossen’s original. In the end Felson rids himself of Bert Gordon and plays Fats but in doing so loses the chance to ever play for the big bucks again. This ending of course is what sets us up The Color of Money.
Paul Newman gives the performance of a lifetime as Fast Eddie Felson, his moves, his talk, his complete actions are at a perfect pitch. The way he chalks the stick and the way he moves around the table are right on. He is Fast Eddie Felson. Newman who has said he never picked up a pool stick before filming The Hustler, was trained by the great Willie Mosconi who was the technical advisor on the film, and who can also be seen in the movie. Jackie Gleason plays Minnesota Fats as a man who does not show the sweat. Cool, dressed in a suit with a flower in his lapel. He’s a man who knows he’s the best and does not have to prove it. In the first pool session between Fats and Eddie there’s one scene where after 24 hours of playing, Eddie’s up eleven thousand dollars, but he’s tired and drunk. His manager is telling him to quit, he’s winning, but Eddie knows he can’t quit unless Fats calls it quits. While his manager is telling the tired Eddie to quit, Fats is seen in the background washing his hands, powdering them up and putting on his suit jacket. Dressed like he’s about to get married Fats, all refreshed, announces “Eddie, let’s play pool!” Twelve hours later, Felson is broke and Fats the winner. George C. Scott also gives an intense strong performance as the slimy Bert Gordon. Piper Laurie is also wonderful as the doomed Sarah. All four leads were nominated for Oscars.
Credit must also be given to cinematographer Eugene Schufftan whose claustrophobic black and white photography (he won an Oscar for best cinematography) contributed immensely to the atmosphere, as did the location shooting in real pool halls in New York giving it a realistic feel. Rossen was also nominated for Best Director and screenwriting (along with co-writer Sidney Carroll). The film was also nominated for Best Picture.