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Humphrey Bogart appeared in six movies in 1938, capping things off with Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), one of his best of the period. Men Are Such Fools (1938), on the other hand, is likely a title that even his ardent fans will not be familiar with, and for good reason: it's no Angels with Dirty Faces, and Bogie is given very little to do.
He's billed third, under Wayne Morris and Priscilla Lane, two young actors whom Warner Bros. was trying to build up as a team: they had just appeared together in Love, Honor and Behave (1938) and would be paired again in Brother Rat (1938) and its sequel Brother Rat and a Baby (1940). Here, Lane plays an advertising executive caught between the demands of work and marriage, personified by boss (Bogart) and husband (Morris).
Critics were unimpressed, with Variety calling it "routine" and complaining that Morris and Lane seemed too young for their parts. The New York Times declared it to be "about an hour too long" -- a sarcastic swipe since the film runs barely over an hour.
According to Bogart biographers A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax (Bogart), Warner Bros. had just signed Bogart to a new contract that would pay $1100 per week for forty weeks with an option for two more years at $2000 per week. Why they put him in an unremarkable romantic comedy like Men Are Such Fools is puzzling. The film was "so weak that at one point [Hal] Wallis was ready to scrap the whole thing. He probably would have done so if the story about hanky-panky in an ad agency had not already been purchased for Busby Berkeley...who yearned for new challenges."
Indeed, director Berkeley was looking to demonstrate that he was more than just a genius at making innovative musicals. "I wanted to prove," he later said, "that I could handle a straight dramatic assignment..., and that is why I did films like Comet Over Broadway , They Made Me a Criminal , Fast and Furious , and Men are Such Fools. I had done dramatic work during my period of working on the stage back east and knew that I could do a good job with dramatic or comedy films." (Bob Pike and Dave Martin, The Genius of Busby Berkeley)
Berkeley was impressed with Bogart's professionalism in such a trivial role. It would have been very easy for the actor to ham it up or not take it seriously as a way of protesting the assignment. "Bogie was never any trouble to me at all," recalled Berkeley. "He felt, and I agreed with him, that he should be working in better films, but whatever discontent he felt, he took out on the bosses, not on the people he was working with. As far as I know, he never refused to play a part. His credo was to keep working, and I agreed with him on that point, too." (Tony Thomas, The Busby Berkeley Book)
Apparently Bogart's good work ethic extended even to a scene that he resisted doing to the last minute - finally he gave in, and dived into a swimming pool in a shoulders-to-thigh bathing suit.
Look for Carole Landis in an uncredited bit part, playing a girl named June.
Director: Busby Berkeley
Screenplay: Norman Reilly Raine, Horace Jackson; Faith Baldwin (novel "Men Are Such Fools"); Stanley Logan (uncredited)
Cinematography: Sid Hickox
Art Direction: Max Parker
Music: Heinz Roemheld (uncredited)
Film Editing: Jack Killifer
Cast: Wayne Morris (James 'Jimmy' Hall), Priscilla Lane (Linda Lawrence Hall), Humphrey Bogart (Harry Galleon), Hugh Herbert (Harvey C. Bates), Johnnie Davis (Tad Turkel), Penny Singleton (Nancy Crowel Turkel), Mona Barrie (Miss Beatrice 'Bea' Harris), Marcia Ralston (Wanda Townsend), Gene Lockhart (Bill Dalton), Kathleen Lockhart (Mrs. Dalton), Donald Briggs (George Onslow), Nedda Harrigan (Mrs. Gertrude Nelson)
BW-69m. Closed Captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold