Brother Orchid (1940)
What happens when a gangster (Edward G. Robinson) tries to quit the game, class himself up in Europe, then fails miserably after five years of gambling and overspending? Why, he runs afoul of his former lieutenant (Humphrey Bogart) and winds up in a monastery, pulling the wool over the eyes of a bunch of nice mugs who don't know no better.
Brother Orchid is the name Brother Superior Donald Crisp gives Little John (Johnny) Sarto (Robinson), the gangster in question, who has decided to become a novice at the monastery while recuperating from a gunshot wound or two received at the hands of new gang boss, Buck (Bogart)'s henchmen. The brothers run a flower-selling operation, see, and Johnny figures to get in good with them while hiding out.
He's in this mess because his girlfriend, Flo (Ann Sothern), tried to help mend the criminal fences between Johnny and Buck after Johnny tried to resume his seat as boss after his long absence. Buck, understandably, wanted nothing of this, so while agreeing to go along with Flo's idea of a one-on-one, kiss-and-make-up meeting between the two gangsters out in the boonies someplace, he decided instead to bump Johnny off for good. A sensible plan that leads a wounded Johnny to the zinnia patch.
As Brother Orchid, Johnny has gained a reputation among the brothers as a hard worker who gains extraordinary results. Some of this is true, but Johnny has been getting a local boy to supplement his efforts on the promise of pay. That promise goes unfulfilled and the boy's father complains to Donald Crisp, who calls Johnny out in front of all the guys. This, in turn, makes Johnny feel like a real heel for the first time in his life and promises -- genuinely -- to be a better brother.
While Johnny was away those five years, by the way, Flo had started keeping company with Clarence Something-or-Other (does it matter? It's Ralph Bellamy doing what Ralph Bellamy does so well), a big chivalrous rube with lots of money. Flo still loved Johnny and was pretty up front about it in front of her ostensible beau, who, being Ralph Bellamy, kind of took in stride. But since Johnny disappeared that fateful night, everyone believes him to be dead, including Flo and Clarence, who eventually plan to get married now that it's six months later.
At the flower market in town, Brother Orchid sees the wedding announcement in the paper and rushes off to confront Flo, who he thinks double-crossed him. Flo explains that Clarence is really a good guy and not to be sore, she thought he was dead after all and it was really Buck's fault and by the way, Buck is on the lam, because he bumped off a guy, ran some insurance schemes, and has a tax problem.
Johnny and Flo make up.
But Johnny/Brother Orchid learns that some of Buck's gangsters are shaking down the monastery flower market for protection and he is thoroughly appalled. He explains to Brother Superior Donald Crisp that the monk's life is not for him, but he learned an awful lot, see, and he's really grateful there are mugs like them in the world. He'll take care of the shakedown, see, just you wait.
Back in street clothes, Johnny helps Flo tell Clarence the wedding's off, and while initially ruffled, Clarence is appeased by being allowed an evening of vigilante justice alongside his semi-drunk rancher buddies who are in town for the wedding and who now, at Johnny's request, get to set up on the jerks trying to intimidate the monks instead. The gang of good guys set upon the gang of bad guys and a fist fight ensues. Who should be hiding with the gangsters, but Buck! Johnny and Buck fight, Johnny wins, the cops come and sew everything up.
But Johnny is a new guy. He tells Clarence to go marry Flo, because he's better for her and besides Johnny would have just treated her bad anyway. Which is kind of believable, since he 1) didn't take her to Europe to begin with FIVE YEARS AGO and 2) has basically ignored her since coming back. So he goes back to the monastery.
While not without its charm, Brother Orchid, is a bit uneven. I don't think anyone told Bogart it was a comedy, but then again, maybe it wasn't. Perhaps I'm just miffed because it promised more Allen Jenkins (Officer Dibble; Torchy Blane's beau) than it delivered, but maybe it just wasn't all that great. Or not a comedy. Or whatever.
I'll do just about anything a movie tells me to do. Unless it tells me wrong...
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