Saturday, May 15, 2010

Edward G. Robinson, florist

The hook connecting all of tonight's TCM movies is the fact that they've got flowers in their titles. This includes the comedy/drama Brother Orchid, airing overnight at 3:30 AM ET.

Edward G. Robinson stars as gangster Johnny Sarto. Although he's a gangster, what he really wants is class, so he leaves behind his girlfriend (Ann Sothern) and leaves the racket to second in command Jack Buck (Humphrey Bogart), going off to Europe. Unfortunately, he finds that you can't just buy class, and, having been unable to obtain class in Europe, he returns to the States having spent all of his money and wanting control of the racket back.

Of course, Buck is in no mood to give up the racket, and he uses Johnny's old girlfriend and her new suitor (Ralph Bellamy) to try to set up Johnny. The plan is to get Johnny out in the middle of nowhere one night, and shoot him where it will take the authorities quite some time to find the body. Johnny naturally has no intentions of dying, and tries to run away from his pursuers, eventually escaping wounded when he winds up in... a monastery!

This being a monastery, they're all isolated from the world, and don't know about Johnny's past. Instead, they spend their time raising flowers, which allows them to make a living, as well as beautify the world around them. And it's good for Johnny, too; not only does it afford him a place to hide, but he finds that he's got a green thumb as well, causing the monks to call him "Brother Orchid". All good things can't last, though, and soon enough Buck comes along looking for protection money. The monks don't know what to do, but they also don't know they've got a gangster in their midst who does know what to do....

Brother Orchid is an interesting movie that constantly veers back and forth between comedy and drama, and that is ultimately the thing that keeps it from being a great movie. Robinson and Bogart are both pretty good, as they always are, but the material doesn't really allow them to shine. That's not to say that Brother Orchid is a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. It helps, of course, that the studios back in those days were able to call upon a great range of character actors to fill out the supporting roles. Here, that includes Allen Jenkins as one of the gangsters, Donald Crisp as the head of the monastery, and Cecil Kellaway as another of the monks.

Brother Orchid has been released to DVD, as part of the same Warner Gangsters box set that gave us Picture Snatcher.

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