Humphrey Bogart is deservedly remembered for his tough-guy roles, even the “soft-centered” tough guys like Rick Blaine in Casablanca or The African Queen. Sure, he may have cowered a little from Cagney in The Roaring Twenties but you didn’t believe it. He just didn’t do “scared” very well. When Death finally came for him in ‘57, I like to think Bogey slapped him around a little.
So it should come as no surprise that he was taking on the Nazis before it was fashionable. The year before he landed in Casablanca and film history, and begun just two months after The Maltese Falcon hit the screens, making him a star, Bogart headlined a wartime gangster comedy called All Through the Night.
Often described as a “Bowery Boys” wartime movie, All Through the Night is a Runyon-esque story about dapper gambler “Gloves” Donahue and his band of misfit miscreants who get involved with some Fifth Columnists when Gloves sets out to discover who murdered the baker who made his favorite cheesecake. (Pause for disbelief… I ain’t gonna repeat myself here.) Gloves uncovers a Nazi plot right there in New York and neither he nor his boys are gonna stand for that sorta stuff on their main turf. As is declared at one point: “We got ‘em by the seat of their Panzers!”
Relatively lightweight throughout, you’re not putting on All Through the Night for the deft storytelling, though the script by Leonard Spigelgass and Edwin Gilbert (based on a story by Leo “The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N” Rosten) is a blast not for the plot but for the fun characters set loose on the Nazis. Conrad Veidt, who would be much more formidable as Strasser in Casablanca, plays chief conspiracist Ebbing, but Bogey and his boys run roughshod over him. Among his group are such wonderful character actors as William Demarest as “Sunshine”, Phil Silvers as “Louie” , and other familiar faces include Peter Lorre and Barton MacLane in smaller roles. Heck, even Gloves’ Ma, played by Jane Darwell, gets into the act. Last but not least is Jackie Gleason as “Starchy”, a master of grifter “nonspeak” which provides Gloves with some hilarious double-talk during a classic auction scene. Possibly the highlight of the movie, Gloves is on the run from both Veidt’s bad guys and the cops, who suspect him of murdering a rival crook. Ducking into an auction house, Gloves has to use some fast talking to delay both parties. It’s here that Bogart’s under-appreciated comic timing is displayed. Up until The Maltese Falcon he’d primarily played rock-bottom villains and second-banana hoods. His lighter side, on display in All Through the Night is what makes the movie such a treat.
Other familiar faces include Peter Lorre and Barton MacLane in smaller roles. Heck, even Gloves’ Ma, played by Jane Darwell, gets into the act. Some of the dialogue seems corny today, but that’s only because we’ve had to suffer through seventy years of Three Stooges shorts that made use of the same kind of malapropisms employed by the Donahue Gang. Get down off your high-horse, Prince Mishkin, and enjoy the movie.
Unfortunately for all involved, All Through the Night began production very shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and a Nazi-themed comedy seemed doomed from the start. Warner Brothers rushed production through, hoping to recapture some of the sneering propaganda spirit of pre-Pearl Harbor while injecting a little bit of gravity into the story by citing Dachau and the Normandie Bombing. But All Through the Night got lost among headier fare hitting the screen as the U.S. officially joined the war effort. It was still fun propaganda, but the portrayal of Nazis as buffoons wasn’t as popular in ’42. That was fine and well for Bugs Bunny, but people wanted to see Bogey taking on the enemy in a big way, leading to Across the Pacific and Action in the North Atlantic. The hoods vs. Germany just didn’t cut the mustard.
Sixty-nine years later, though, we have a little more perspective, not to mention healing time, so we can now safely enjoy All Through the Night without fear of making light of the matter (besides, the movie was an afternoon television staple through the ’50s and‘’60s, prompted by Gleason’s success with The Honeymooners and Silvers’ home run with Sgt. Bilko, so I’m sure our tender sensibilities have toughened by now). It’s an almost-forgotten little classic but the good news is that it’s readily available on DVD. So whaddya waitin’ for? Christmas? Get learnin’, Herman! There’s more to this than meets the FBI.