Bogart is a happy-go-lucky auto worker who receives a jolt when Brandon, a hard-working Polish immigrant, gets the promotion Bogart has been expecting for himself. Sullen and bitter, Bogart is easily recruited into a secret organization known as the Black Legion, which advocates hatred of foreigners and different races. Its leaders make a fortune selling disgruntled workers outlandish Klan-like costumes (black robes instead of white), badges, trinkets, even arms. Learning what happened at the plant, the leaders order Bogart and others to drive Brandon and his family out of town, which they do, burning down the immigrant’s house. Bogart gets Brandon’s job and lavishes gifts on his family: a new washing machine for his wife, O’Brien-Moore, a car for himself. But his home life goes to pot as he spends more and more nights doing the Legion’s dirty business. His wife confronts him, and he slaps her, then takes to drink out of guilt. O’Brien-Moore packs up the kids and leaves to stay with her father. Bogart drinks more, taking up with trollop Flint. Foran, Bogart’s best friend, tries to get him to reform, and Bogie blurts out the atrocities he has committed with the Legion, outlining the secret group’s activities. When sober, Bogart panics, thinking Foran will inform on him. He tells Legion bosses and Foran is abducted. Taken to a remote spot where he is to be whipped, Foran breaks away and beats up several of the members before fleeing. Legion bosses order him shot and Bogart instinctively draws a pistol and kills his best friend. Bogart runs wildly into the woods but later surrenders after being consumed by guilt. Legion lawyers visit him in prison and threaten to kill his wife and children if he talks. Bogart’s trial is fixed. Flint goes on the stand to say that Bogart killed Foran after he was attacked; it was self-defense and she witnessed it, she says. It appears that Bogart will get off and the Legion go unscathed, but, unexpectedly, Bogart insists upon taking the stand and blurts out his guilt, naming names and detailing the “whole rotten bunch’s” activities. Sawyer, and other Legion members who have packed the courtroom, jump to their feet to flee but are immediately arrested and charged. All are later given long prison terms; Bogart receives life.
A grim, often brutal film, this is one of Bogart’s first starring roles and he made the most of his unsympathetic part. Foran is really the hero, sort of an all-American boy, much like the role he essayed in THE PETRIFIED FOREST. Sheridan, as his wife, has a thankless part, almost a bit, given her limited screentime. THE BLACK LEGION caused quite a stir since it was taken right out of the headlines only months after authorities broke up a real-life Black Legion organized in Detroit. This was the essential Warner Brothers formula movie in the 1930s. Read the headline, then see the film. Robert Lord earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Story, but lost to A STAR IS BORN. leave a comment