For Reel

King of the Underworld (1939)
December 16, 2013, 11:59 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Lewis Seiler
2.5 Stars
King of the UnderworldKay Francis was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the 1930s, however her career was in decline by the end of the decade and Warner Brothers was looking for a way out of her expensive contract. In an effort to get her to leave the studio, she was assigned the part of a doctor in the remake of the 1935 Paul Muni vehicle Dr. Socrates, which Jack Warner didn’t believe she’d want anything to do with. She did indeed agree to the film and it would be released with a major slap-in-the-face in her second billing behind Humphrey Bogart, then hardly a star (in fact, her name is barely visible on the poster). The behind-the-scenes drama is far more interesting than the film itself, which spins a rather typical gangster yarn in which Bogart plays a naive hothead who forces Francis to serve as his doctor and James Stephenson to write his autobiography. Bogart is entertaining in the part, even if the imbecilic dialogue doesn’t sound right coming out of the world-weary sophisticate’s mouth. The final sequence, in which Francis blinds Bogart and his gang in order to assist with their arrest, is the highlight. At a brisk 67 minutes, it’s the kind of fast-moving, digestible entertainment that Warner Brothers could reliably churn out, however it’s not much better than you’d expect of a film that was made primarily to embarrass its star.

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