Bullets or Ballots (1936)

Genres - Action, Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Melodrama, Police Detective Film  |   Release Date - Jun 6, 1936 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 81 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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A good little "crime does not pay" thriller, Bullets or Ballots is noteworthy for the first pairing of Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart. It's a humdinger of a flick, with one of those twisty-turny plots that's a bit outlandish but a lot of fun. Indeed, if you think too hard about the set-up, you can find plenty of holes in it. But director William Keighley has absolutely no intention of letting your thoughts wander that close to the credibility area. Keighley is no visionary, no font of inspiration; but he's a director who knows how to tell a story, how to land a dramatic moment, how to set up a laugh. If he's focused more on craft than on art, he still knows how to deliver the goods and does so here. Seton Miller and Martin E. Mooney's screenplay has punch and plenty of that tough guy banter than fans long for; they also provide a newreel opening that gets things in gear in an effective way. And, of course, there's Robinson and Bogart. "Bogey" is still a relative kid, not a star yet, and so his part is distinctly the inferior; as a matter of fact, crime boss Barton MacLane's part is larger. But Bogart, though a bit raw, already has that cold intensity that would serve him so well in later roles. Robinson clearly is having a blast in his role, latching onto every moment presented to him and giving it his all. And MacLane makes a wonderful underworld figure, making it clear that he knows he operates in a kill-or-be-killed world and accepts it for what it is.