You Can’t Get Away With Murder (1939)

You Can't Get Away With Murder starring Humphrey Bogart

It’s amazing in retrospect just how long it took Humphrey Bogart’s career to launch: literally several years and a few dozen movies. One of his underrated films is 1939’s You Can’t Get Away with Murder. Here he is top billed, but the movie sadly is a fairly pedestrian and typical gangster film which Warner Brothers was known for during the era.

What is exciting is to see Bogart on the cusp of stardom. Some of his signature traits are in evidence and in retrospect one gets a sense of his future path. Thankfully, he would depart from gangster films for the most part, though this aspect of his career surely climaxed in 1941’s High Sierra.

Bogie is the leader of the gang if you will as Frank Wilson. His crew consists of many of the fine Warners stock company which comprised the Dead End Kids in other films with Bogart, most notably among these is Billy Halop, who plays the foil, young Johnny Stone, here.

Halop himself is an interesting character who perhaps deserves more recognition today. Sadly, he never really got beyond some his rather juvenile early roles, but You Can’t Get Away with Murder shows a hint of what his career may have been if the wheels hadn’t come off.

As ringleader, Wilson sets up Stone when a murder-robbery goes bad, but they all end up in the joint, though for an earlier heist. The only unique twist in this is that Frank thought he was leaving Johnny’s gun behind. In reality it belongs to policeman Fred Burke (played by Harvey Stephens). Burke is soon rotting in the same prison as Wilson and Stone, though for murder.

In prison the film takes on a bit of a Shawshank Redemption aspect, especially with Pop, the prison librarian (Henry Travers). There is the usual moral wrangling between the inmates, especially as Johnny slowly loses his sanity knowing that Burke is incarcerated for a crime he committed.

Hard to say this is a great picture, given that it follows really for the most part as expected and is rather formulaic. It has just come out in a remastered edition from the Warner Archives, and if you are a big fan of Bogart or Halop it is certainly well worth a look.

Classic Film Freak was started in the fall of 2008 as has just celebrated its second anniversary.  Its founder, Orson de Welles, is a second generation classic film fan.  Although the site wanders at times into more mainstream classic films, it tries to stay away from the ‘biggies’ of classic cinema such as Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, and the like.  He grew up with the sweeping swashbucklers, especially those of Errol Flynn and scored by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.  He doesn’t see current movies at all except in reference to the classics. Visit the site’s Facebook page here.