Black Legion (1936) starring Humphrey Bogart, Dick Foran, Ann Sheridan, directed by Michael Curtiz
Editorial review of Black Legion, courtesy of Amazon.com
Black Legion – One of Humphrey Bogart‘s earliest starring vehicles, this 1936 melodrama typifies the Warner Bros. touch in its modest but potent production values and Depression-era social acumen. Prompted by contemporary news reports of new neofascist groups targeting political and religious minorities, the script conjures up a shadowy, Klan-like organization preying on factory workers to set them against blue-collar immigrants. Bogart is Frank Taylor, a hard-working drill-press operator hoping for a promotion that can help him better provide for his adoring wife and cherubic young son. Frank’s coworkers reassure him he’ll snag the foreman’s post, but when a studious young Polish American gets the nod, Frank’s bitter disappointment sets the stage for the tragedy that follows. What proceeds in this 83-minute feature is a pointed morality play about tolerance and democracy. The legion’s rank and file invoke a “free, white, and 100 percent American” future in justifying their scare tactics, which hound Frank’s rival out of town, briefly gaining him the coveted job. But his deepening involvement in the mob soon drives wife and son away, costs him his job, and ultimately spurs him to murder his best friend, Ed (Dick Foran). Indicted for the murder, Frank is nearly acquitted by a crooked defense team funded by the corrupt businessmen who are bankrolling the legion (more to profit off the sale of robes and revolvers than to incite any real political change), but his climactic, cathartic pang of conscience brings the tale to its moralistic end.
Bogart, who dutifully marched through dozens of features before graduating to true stardom, gives the simplistic story its modest power through a credible performance that traces Frank’s descent from streetwise but principled worker to angry, disillusioned thug. The supporting cast also includes Ann Sheridan, likewise fine in an otherwise two-dimensional role as Foran’s wife. —Sam Sutherland
Movie quotes from The Black Legion
Cliff Moore (Joe Sawyer): Read!
Frank Taylor (Humphrey Bogart): [reading the Black Legion oath] In the name of God and the Devil, one to reward and the other to punish, and by the powers of light and darkness, good and evil, here under the black arch of Heaven’s avenging symbol, I pledge and consecrate my heart, my brain, my body, and my limbs and swear by all the powers of Heaven and Hell to devote my life to the obedience of my superiors and that no danger or peril shall deter me from executin’ dere orders. That I will exert every possible means in my power for the extermination of the anarchist, the Roman hierar…
[He has difficulty in pronouncing it]
Frank Taylor (Humphrey Bogart): … hierarchy and their abettors. I swear that I will die fighting those whose serpent trail has winnowed the fair fields of our allies and sympathizers. I will show no mercy but strike with an avengin’ arm as long as breath remains. I further pledge my heart, my brain, my body, my limbs never to betray a comrade and that I will submit to all the tortures mankind can inflict and suffer the most horrible death rather than reveal a single word of this, my oath, before violatin’ a single clause or implied pledge of this my obligation. I…
Frank Taylor (Humphrey Bogart): Do I have to say dis?
Cliff Moore (Joe Sawyer): Say it!
Frank Taylor (Humphrey Bogart): I will pray to an avengin’ God and an umerciful Devil to tear my heart out and roast it over the flames of sulfur, and lastly may my soul be given into the torment that my body be submerged into molten metal… and stifled into the flames of Hell, and that this punishment may be meted out to me through all eternity. In the name of God, our creator, Amen.