3.5 stars out of 4. A strikingly bold picture for the time, and an early Bogart classic.
This is not an easy one to swallow. black Legion deals with a realistic KKK-like organization that unjustly takes out the frustrations of citizens against innocent foreigners and those of foreign descent. Based on a real life incident and court case, this is a great example of Warners adept production and refinement of the social issue picture.
Bogie stars as a worker passed over for a promotion he had been waiting for in favor of a better educated candidate who happen to be both younger and of foreign descent. This leads others to suggest he go to a secret meeting which of course turns out to be for the titular Legion, and it is at this point that he falls down the rabbit hole and will never make his way back out again. Seen today, what is most chilling is the degree to which the Legion infiltrates all aspects of society and these men’s lives, much as we have seen throughout modern times with the rise of various terrorist groups and factions hidden in plain sight.
Black Legion predates the Noir movement by a number of years but fits in right alongside other Warners productions from this era that effectively hint at what would later arise as Noir. Warner was always the studio that focused on real life dramas or stories of the streets. Aside from the gangster films, it was their continued adaptation of stories based on true events that set them apart from the other major studios.
Archie Mayo directed this film and it shares a number of similarities with The Petrified Forest (1936), particularly in its strong use of Bogart as a dramatic performer. Mayo was able to get the most out of Bogie in both films before he was relegated to just playing the heavy or Gangster no.2 second fiddle to the rest. It is really only in these two films that you are able to see his range later glimpsed in his breakout role of Roy “Mad Dog” Earle in High Sierra (1940). Assisting this strength is a great gathering of the great WB stock company of actors, including the later forgotten Dick Foran.
So if you’re in the mood for a hard hitting and truly dark drama from the 30’s that feels miles ahead of its time, or are a Petrified Forest fan, this one’s for you.
The transfer is great, as always from WB’s classic titles, and being from the Gangsters Vol. 3 set has commentary and Night at the Movies option. Another great rendering of a studio classic.
A must own for Bogie fans.