AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Black Legion
Director: Archie L. Mayo (Dir)
Release Date:   30 Jan 1937
Production Date:   began late Aug--5 Oct 1936; added scenes 2-3 Dec 1936
Duration (in mins):   83
Duration (in reels):   10
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Cast:   Humphrey Bogart (Frank Taylor)  
    Dick Foran (Ed Jackson)  
    Erin O'Brien-Moore (Ruth Taylor)  
    Ann Sheridan (Betty Grogan)  
    Helen Flint (Pearl Davis [Danvers])  
    Joseph Sawyer (Cliff Moore [Summers])  
    Clifford Soubier ([Michael F. ] Mike Grogan)  
    Alonzo Price (Alf Hargrave)  
    Paul Harvey (Billings)  
    Dickie Jones (Buddy Taylor)  
    Samuel Hinds (Judge)  
    Addison Richards (Prosecuting attorney)  
    Eddie Acuff ([Ted] Metcalf)  
    Dorothy Vaughan (Mrs. Grogan)  
    John Litel ([Thomas W.] Tommy Smith)  
    Henry Brandon (Joe Dombrowski)  
    Charles Halton (Osgood)  
    Pat C. Flick (Nick Strumpas)  
    Francis Sayles (Charlie)  
    Paul Stanton ([Frank] Barham)  
    Harry Hayden (Jones)  
    Egon Brecher (Dombrowski)  
    Robert Barrat (Brown)  
    Ed Chandler (Policeman)  
    Robert E. Homans (Policeman)  
    William Wayne (Counterman)  
    Frederick Lindsley ("March of Time" voice)  
    Fred Mackaye (Radio announcer)  
    Frank Nelson (Radio announcer)  
    John Hiestand (Radio announcer)  
    Ted Bliss (Radio announcer)  
    Larry Emmons (Man in drugstore)  
    Don Barclay (Drunk)  
    Emmett Vogan (News commentator)  
    John Butler (Salesman)  
    Frank Sully (Helper)  
    Max Wagner (Truck driver)  
    Carlyle Moore Jr. (Reporter)  
    Dennis Moore (Reporter)  
    Milt Kibbee (Reporter)  
    Lee Phelps (Guard)  
    Wilfred Lucas (Bailiff)  
    Jack Mower (County clerk)  

Summary: At a midwestern factory, machinists speculate about who will fill the opening for a line foreman now that Tommy Smith has been promoted. Most agree that the job will go to Frank Taylor, who has seniority. That night Frank, his wife Ruth and son Buddy celebrate, but in the morning, Frank learns that the job has gone to Joe Dombrowski, a younger man who has invented a time saving device for the plant. When Cliff Summers, another worker, sees how angry Frank is about losing his job to a "foreigner," he suggests that Frank join the Black Legion, a secret organization dedicated to eliminating foreigners from the country. Their first action is to burn down a chicken farm run by Dombrowski and his father, then throw them onto a freight train leaving town. After this, Frank is made foreman, but pressure from the founders of the Legion force him to spend time recruiting new members and he is demoted in favor of his neighbor, Irish-American Mike Grogan. That night, the gang attacks Grogan, almost whipping him to death. Co-worker Ed Jackson, who is engaged to marry Grogan's daughter Betty, starts to suspect Frank's connection to all the trouble. After he says something to Ruth, she confronts Frank, whose violent reaction drives her away. Frank continues to drink, loses his job and begins to associate with Pearl Danvers, a woman with a bad reputation. One night, when Frank and Pearl's drinking turns loud, Ed throws Pearl out of Frank's hosue, then laces into Frank, who reveals his membership in the Legion but says that he cannot quit. After Ed threatens to go to the police, Frank confesses what happened to Cliff, who gathers the Lggion members and kidnaps Ed. Unlike the other victims, though, Ed is not afraid, and when he tries to escape, a panicky Frank shoots him. Frank is then arrested for the murder and Ruth returns from her parents' house to stand by him. However, after Brown, a Legion representative claiming to be a lawyer visits Frank in jail, Frank claims self-defence in Ed's killing, fearing that Ruth and Buddy will be harmed. At Frank's trial, Pearl, who has been bought of by the Legion corroborates Frank's story of self-defence, but when Frank himself takes the witness stand he breaks down and confesses the truth. The entire Black Legion then is sentenced to life in prison for Ed's murder. 

Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Archie L. Mayo (Dir)
  Michael Curtiz (Addl scenes dir)
  Jack Sullivan (Asst dir)
Producer: Robert Lord (Prod)
  Jack L. Warner (Exec prod)
  Hal B. Wallis (Exec prod)
Writer: Abem Finkel (Scr)
  William Wister Haines (Scr)
  Robert Lord (Story)
Photography: George Barnes (Photog)
  George Nogle (2d cam)
  Gene Davenport (Asst cam)
Art Direction: Robert Haas (Art dir)
Film Editor: Owen Marks (Film ed)
Costumes: Milo Anderson (Gowns)
Music: Bernhard Kaun (Mus)
Sound: C. A. Riggs (Sd)
Special Effects: Fred Jackman Jr. (Spec eff)
  H. F. Koenekamp (Spec eff)
Production Misc: Frank Mattison (Unit mgr)
  Edward J. Dillon (Research)
Country: United States
Language: English

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. & The Vitaphone Corp. 29/1/1936 dd/mm/yyyy LP6843

PCA NO: 2507
Physical Properties: Sd:
  b&w:

 
Genre: Drama
 
Subjects (Major): Factory workers
  Secret societies
  Terrorism
  Xenophobia
 
Subjects (Minor): Drunkenness
  False accusations
  Immigrants
  Murder
  Reputation
  Trials

Note:        On screen credits list Helen Flint's character as "Pearl Davis," but some contemporary reviews call her "Danvers," the name which she is called in the film. Onscreen credits and contemporary reviews call Joseph Sawyer's character "Cliff Moore," but he is called "Cliff Summers" in the film. Actor Clifford Soubier, who portrays Mike Grogan in the film, had been an NBC broadcaster working out of Chicago. According to information in the Warner Bros. Collection in the USC Cinema-Television Library, Robert Homans was at one time considered for the part of "Mike Grogan."
       Memos in the files noted that executive producer Hal B. Wallis had suggested Edward G. Robinson for the lead, but producer Robert Lord objected on the grounds that Robinson looked too "foreign." He felt they needed a "distinctly American looking actor to play this part." According to a memo dated 10 August 1936, Paul Graetz and Joseph Crehan were signed for roles, but neither actor appeared in the released film. A memo from Lord to Wallis indicated that Glenda Farrell was considered for the part of "Pearl Danvers." Outdoor scenes were shot at the Warner Ranch, Calabasas, CA and the Providencia Ranch, Universal City, CA. The Taylor and Grogan homes were shot on location in Hollywood, CA.
       The film, which was made for a total cost of $235,000, was inspired by an actual case involving the Black Legion in Michigan, the May 1935 murder of WPA worker Charles Poole. Dayton Dean, the Legion executioner, turned state's evidence at the trial. According to a NYT article about the film, the Legion's "stock in trade is blatant 'Americanism' coupled with persecution of those differing in economics and racial viewpoints....a sort of 'America for Americans' jehad in which native-born labor was to carry the banner--and take the risks." Warner Bros. memos indicate that the studio sent Edward J. Dillon to Detroit for several weeks to follow the Black Legion trial and suggest possible "story angles" to be incorporated into the picture.
       According to Warner Bros. memos, the studio requested permission from Time , Inc. to use the name and familiar theme music of The March of Time for a sequence in the story in which the exploits of the Black Legion were recreated for a radio program. File letters confirmed that permission was not granted, based on Time 's long-standing policy. Within the film, a radio program emulates The March of Time but neither the name nor the theme music were used. Additional Warner Bros. memos and daily production records reveal that, on 2-3 Dec 1936, two months after principal photography had been completed, director Michael Curtiz was assigned to directed additional scenes. Two of these scenes included in the released film were: the hotel scene in which Black Legion head "Frank Barham" (Paul Stanton) discusses his financial plans for the society; and the scene in which "Billings' (Paul Harvey) requests that the trial judge (Samuel Hinds) release him from continuing to represent "Frank Taylor" (Humphrey Bogart).
       According to HR news items and memos in the Warner Bros. Archive, in early Feb 1937, The Ku Klux Klan sued the company for patent infringement for alleged use of the Klan's patented insignia of a white cross on a background of red with a black square but the case was dismissed in April 1938. Lord received an Academy Award nomination for his original story; the National Board of Review chose the picture as the best film of 1937 and named Bogart best actor. In 1936, Columbia made Legion of Terror , the first film to be based on the actual Black Legion killing (see entry). 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Film Daily   30 Dec 1936   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Jan 1937   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Aug 1937   p. 2.
Motion Picture Daily   11 Jan 1937   pp. 6-7.
Motion Picture Herald   10 Oct 1936   p. 42.
Motion Picture Herald   9 Jan 1937   p. 44.
New York Times   17 Jan 1937.   
New York Times   18 Jan 1937   p. 21.
Time   25 Jan 1937   p. 46.
Variety   20 Jan 1937   p. 14.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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