BROTHER ORCHID

(1940)
With Edward G. Robinson, Ann Southern, Humphrey Bogart, Ralph Bellamy, Donald Crisp, Allen Jenkins
Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Black and White
Reviewed by JB

"Come on, Bogey, you know I'm gonna kill you in the last reel!"      After establishing himself as one of the screen's most unforgettable gangsters in LITTLE CAESAR, Robinson had great fun throughout the years poking fun at his own "tough guy" image in comedies.  BROTHER ORCHID is one of his most unusual and effective variations on the gangster roles he was famous for.  Here he plays Johnny Sarto, a lowbrow gangster with highbrow ideals who searches for class everywhere and, on the outs with his mob, finds himself hiding out at a monestery.  The film effortlessly shifts from comedy to drama to gentle religiosity throughout, thanks to Robinson's rock-steady and hilarious performance and an excellent supporting cast which include Ann Southern as his ditzy girlfriend and Donald Crisp as the kindly and wise Brother Superior.  Watching Robinson figuring how to "play the angles" of daily monastic life provides some rich comedy, and his eventual spiritual awakening pays off with an ending that can bring a tear to the eye of a grown man (I speak from experience).  Bogey plays "the other gangster", the kind of thankless one-dimension role he so often played in support of Cagney and Robinson. It wasn't too long after this film that HIGH SIERRA and THE MALTESE FALCON would make him the top man at Warner Brothers. 

     BROTHER ORCHID may not be CASABLANCA or ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, but it is a perfect lesser-known example of the kind of wonderful stuff Warners Brothers could do in those golden days.   - JB

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