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Sunday, December 11, 2011

THE WAGONS ROLL AT NIGHT (1941)

Warners tossed Humphrey Bogart into one last B-picture in ‘41, the year HIGH SIERRA and THE MALTESE FALCON permanently bumped him up to Grade A starring roles. It’s a lumpy rewrite of KID GALAHAD/’37 that swaps boxing out for (wait for it) lion taming! (Even the trailer thought twice about this, hiding the circus element.) In GALAHAD, Eddie G. Robinson accidentally discovered a natural slugger and rode him to the top; here, Bogie finds a local kid who’s a natural cat handler. It sounds pretty silly, literally so with a dismal background score that can’t figure out whether to play things straight or for laughs. Sylvia Sidney, after two years off the screen, dropped in to play the old Bette Davis role, now a Fortune Teller & Girl Friday to Bogie’s circus manager. (She dropped back out for another four years after this one.) As the kid, young Eddie Albert is charming, and looks just like DUMBO’s Timothy Mouse in his spangled outfit. But the only interesting element, an add on to the GALAHAD template, is Bogie’s neurotic over-protection of his little sister, Joan Leslie, when she gets a crush on Albert. Bogie really knew how to throw a crazed fit. Don’t get your hopes up though, one of the lions goes crazy, in a surprisingly scary climax, and sorts everything out for a quick finish.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Of course, there’s KID GALAHAD/’37 with Robinson & Davis; or KID GALAHAD/’62 with Elvis Presley, Gig Young and Charles Bronson. Bronson & Presley. Who knew? But why not stick with the circus milieu and watch the best damn circus film of '41, or any other year, DUMBO.

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