21 April 2019 | lugonian
TWO AGAINST THE WORLD (Warner Brothers, 1936), directed by William McGann, goes on record as the first motion picture starring Humphrey Bogart. Having been in the movie business since 1930, he was usually a secondary character normally supporting its leading players. Having made an impression as Duke Mantee on both stage (1935) and screen (1936) versions of THE PETRIFIED FOREST, Bogart landed a contract with the Warner Brothers studio where he worked in a variety of roles, better suited playing gangster types. For TWO AGAINST THE WORLD, he's not a villain, but one of the bosses working for a radio studio supported by Warner Brothers stock players as his co-stars.
Set in New York City's United Broadcasting Company, "The Voice of the people," Sherry Scott (Humphrey Bogart) is called in by Bertram C. Reynolds (Robert Middlemass) the studio manager, to come up with new plan to help with popular appeal following its recent audience loss and low ratings, it is decided do a new radio series based on a 15-year-old notorious "Gloria Pembroke Case" by which the woman in question had murdered a man, but acquitted by trial and jury. Cora Latimer (Claire Dodd) and Martin Leavenworth (Harry Hayden) are hired to dig up articles in the archives to serialize the stories on a daily basis. Scott's loyal secretary, Alma Ross (Beverly Roberts) is against the idea, but the management goes on with it to boost up its ratings no matter who gets hurt. In the meantime, the real Gloria Pembroke, now known as Martha Carstairs (Helen MacKeller), living not far from the radio studio in an apartment on West 93rd Street, is alive and well, happily married to James (Henry O'Neill), who knows of her past. Their daughter, Edith (Linda Perry) is engaged to marry the following day to Malcolm Sims (Carlyle Moore Jr.). After presenting them their wedding present being a furniture-sized radio, the first thing they listen to is advertisement of the upcoming "Gloria Pembroke Case." Not wanting the young couple of ever learning about Martha's past, both Jim and Martha try in vain to keep these broadcasts from taking place. Mistaking Leavenworth for a minister connected with their daughter's upcoming wedding, Leavenworth discloses the information to the radio station for program use. However, after Jim loses his position at the bank, and Malcolm's upscale parents (Douglas Wood and Virginia Brissac) arrive demanding the wedding is not to take place, a series of unfortunate events soon follow, changing the lives of both families and the radio station as well. Others in the cast include: Hobart Cavanaugh, Frank Orth and Paula Stone. Bobby Gordon, who plays messenger boy, Herman Mills, may look familiar for anyone who's ever seen Al Jolson's THE JAZZ SINGER (1927), for which Gordon, a Jolson look-alike, was the one who played Jolson's character as a young boy early in the story.
If the plot summary sounds familiar, it's because the plot was earlier done by Warners as a newspaper story titled FIVE STAR FINAL (1931) starring Edward G. Robinson, Marian Marsh, Aline MacMahon and Boris Karloff in the Bogart, Perry, Roberts and Hayden parts. This remake, released five years later, changes much of its background to a radio station but retains it characters assuming different names. Nearly a half hour shorter, the remake suffers from rush production, leaving out material explaining certain incidents leading to connecting sequences, namely as to how the Leavenworth character was able to trace the actual Grace Pembroke to Martha Carstairs so quickly after being assigned and able to work into the Carstairs confidence by masquerading as a minister in their home. Maybe connections leading to subsequent scenes have been shortened (57 minutes) to the current circulating print under a different title showed on Turner Classic Movies of ONE FATAL HOUR. Theatrically released at 64 minutes, possibly its new title was substituted to avoid confusion to the studios' earlier 1932 drama bearing the same name but different story Constance Bennett and Neil Hamilton.
Though the central players give sincere performances, TWO AGAINST THE WORLD pales in comparison to FIVE STAR FINAL. It is interesting to note both Henry O'Neill and Helen MacKeller, normally found playing much smaller parts in other films, are given the rare opportunity becoming central characters as two against the world. Only debit, Linda Perry's bad acting towards the end, though not as over-the-top acting as Marian Marsh's performance in FIVE STAR FINAL. Regardless of differences in presentation, both films are satisfactory in both entertainment and star value. (** radios)