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The Big Shot
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The Big Shot

Career criminal Duke Berne decides to go straight after getting caught a third time, but after he proves unable to find a normal job he is lured into joining a robbery organized by the lawyer Martin T. Fleming. When Duke visits Fleming's office, he learns that Fleming's wife is Lorna, his former lover. Lorna convinces Duke to back out of the robbery, but when it goes awry the police suspect him anyway.

The Big Shot (1942) was the last bona fide gangster film of Humphrey Bogart's career. In fact, Warner Brothers might not have assigned it to him had the original lead actor George Raft not backed out. In what must surely be one of the worst cases of short-sightedness in Hollywood history, Raft previously turned down High Sierra (1941) and The Maltese Falcon (1941), the two films that really gave Bogart an opportunity to shine as an actor and established him as one of the great stars of the Forties. Despite the formulaic nature of the script, Bogart brings to The Big Shot some of the emotional complexity he had demonstrated in his previous gangster film, High Sierra. The director, Lewis Seiler, had worked with Bogart on various lesser projects such as Crime School (1938), King of the Underworld (1939), You Can't Get Away with Murder (1939), and It All Came True (1940). He was best known for directing a number of silent Tom Mix Westerns and the hard-hitting war film Guadalcanal Diary (1943), the latter for Twentieth-Century Fox.

Irene Manning, the lead actress, got her start at Republic Pictures under the name "Hope Manning," appearing in films such as the Gene Autry vehicle The Old Corral (1936). Her real forte was the stage, especially musical theater; her move to Warner Brothers in the Forties reflected that accordingly, with a memorable role in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). She also landed major roles in the musicals The Desert Song (1943) and Shine on Harvest Moon (1944), and the wartime comedies Hollywood Canteen (1944) and The Doughgirls (1944). Manning spent the latter half of the decade on the stage in England, and even briefly hosted a BBC television show entitled An American in England before returning to the US.

The frank atmosphere surrounding gangster pictures was evidently not Manning's cup of tea. She recalls about Bogart in Jeffrey Meyers' 1997 biography on the actor: "He was basically all business, not really my kind of guy. He used a lot of four-letter words, which shocked me. Still, he was always prepared and professional, and he did give me some good advice." Some of this advice, she recalled, included: "Never mind the camera, never mind the lights. Just get to the set, and say the lines."

While The Big Shot is by all accounts a minor entry in Bogart's career, it was nonetheless moderately well received. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote: "Mr. Bogart, with his patient fatalism and his sense of the futility of it all, is able to impart a certain dignity to an otherwise silly role." He also praised the "sharply written script and a good cast." While not holding much regard for the script, the reviewer for Variety similarly took note of Bogart's performance and the director Lewis Seiler's ability to bring out the suspenseful aspects of the story.

Director: Lewis Seiler
Script: Bertram Millhauser, Abem Finkel, Daniel Fuchs
Director of Photography: Sid Hickox
Art Director: John Hughes
Film Editor: Jack Killifer
Music: Adolph Deutsch and Leo F. Forbstein
Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Duke Berne), Irene Manning (Lorna Fleming), Richard Travis (George Anderson), Susan Peters (Ruth Carter), Stanley Ridges (Martin Fleming), Minor Watson (Warden Booth), Chick Chandler (Dancer), Joseph Downing (Frenchy), Howard Da Silva (Sander), Murray Alper (Quinto), Roland Drew (Faye), John Ridgely (Tim), Joseph King (Toohey), John Hamilton (Judge).
BW-83m.

by James Steffen

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