Black Legion (1937) Review

Directors: Archie Mayo and Michael Curtiz

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 83 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Black Legion has one of the most intriguing plots for a film of its time period. After factory-worker Frank Taylor (Humphrey Bogart) is passed over for a promotion that’s awarded to an Eastern European immigrant, Joe Dombrowski (Henry Brandon), the former decides to join an underground terrorist organization that resembles the Ku Klux Klan. This very good movie has a ripped-from-the-headlines quality to it, as there actually did exist a xenophobic Black Legion in the American Midwest in the 1930s.

It’s a fascinating (and relevant) story, told well with minimal fat (it is only 83 minutes long, after all). It carefully sets out everything you need to know and escalates tension and action from there. Perhaps the highlight of the picture is the scene where Bogart’s character takes his oath to join the Black Legion. Now there’s a creepy sequence for you! The main character clearly makes some very poor decisions over the course of the runtime, and it’s hard not to agonize over his choices.

Black Legion isn’t a subtle movie, which may turn off some viewers. The bad guys are very clearly evil and the forces of righteousness get a speech or two to explain the sins of lawless and prejudiced behavior. The courtroom finale doesn’t really feel like the most explosive way to conclude the story, and it goes on for a while (considering the runtime). Oh, well, it’s still a swell, little flick.

This motion picture features a nice message and efficient storytelling. It has a few interesting touches, like a behind-the-scenes look at a live news broadcast over the radio. Fans of Humphrey Bogart and anti-fascist cinema will want to rent a copy. Also, check out that whoopee cap that Bogie wears in the factory scenes! My, how fashion has changed!

My rating is 7 outta 10.

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