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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Chain Lightning - Bogie in the Air

I believe I have mentioned that I LOVE these old posters
I finished watching Chain Lightning, a Humphrey Bogart film from 1950. I actually enjoyed this one more the second time around.
After years of complaining about being forced to make bad pictures, Bogie had formed Santana Productions, so he could call the shots. Chain Lightning, a Warner Brothers film, was sandwiched between two Santana flicks, Tokyo Joe and In a Lonely Place. Bogart plays Matt Brennan, a bomber pilot who signs on to test jet planes after the end of World War II. Chuck Yeager had broken the sound barrier in 1947 and super speed jets were a hot topic around the world. In fact, the film was dubbed and released in eleven countries.

Raymond Massey (seen a few years before in Bogie’s Action in the North Atlantic) played the industrialist looking to make some money, with Eleanor Parker as the love interest. Parker was a popular female lead at the time and would be nominated for an Academy Award in her next film, Caged. Richard Whorf is the idealistic engineer (and romantic rival). Whorf, about to move from acting to a successful career as a tv director, had starred in Midnight, back in 1934. Bogart was a gangster in the last film of his second attempt to make it in pictures. He gave up and went back to Broadway. If Leslie Howard hadn’t insisted Bogie play Duke Mantee in the movie adaptation of the hit play The Petrified Forest, Midnight might have been Bogart’s last film: and there would be no “Bogie.” While almost an important footnote, it's not much of a film.

It’s Whorf who holds this film together. Bogie is rather unlikeable and you wonder why Parker leans towards him and away from the much better man that Whorf is (girls always go for the bad guy!). It’s Whorf that gives the viewer someone to pull for while Bogart and Massey move the plot along.
Chain Lightning is full of experimental innovations (Bogie wears what looks like a B-movie space suit) and daring flight maneuvers. Along with the flashback footage of bombing missions over Germany, the flying scenes are neat, though the JA-3 jet plane looks like something out of a Buck Rogers serial.

There’s a big finish that sets everything right and softens Bogart (who sings in this movie!). With The African Queen coming the next year and only three years removed from Key Largo, Chain Lightning seems rather lightweight Bogart. And it is. But it’s not a bad movie. It slows a bit during the big test flight, but otherwise is well paced. This is in that category of Bogart movies that don’t make any of his “Best” lists, but offer a solid view. It’s not The Enforcer, but I’d put it ahead of Sahara.

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