The Boss (1956)

87-89 mins | Drama | October 1956

Director:

Byron Haskin

Producer:

Frank N. Seltzer

Cinematographer:

Hal Mohr

Editor:

Ralph Dawson

Production Designer:

F. Paul Sylos
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HISTORY

The film opens with the following written prologue: "The boss is a creature of no political party. He appears in the wake of public apathy fostering crime and corruption. Years ago an outraged citizenry arose against him. Only you, a vigilant people, can combat the menace of a boss." Although Ben L. Perry was credited onscreen and in reviews with the original story and screenplay, according to an Aug 2000 HR news item, Perry was a front for blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo's writing credit was officially restored by the WGA in Aug 2000.
       According to copyright records, noted Washington political columnist Drew Pearson narrated part of the film's theatrical trailer, stating: "This is Drew Pearson speaking: The Boss is celluloid dynamite. Powerful interests, whose names would amaze you, have tried to prevent you from seeing it. I helped expose the story upon which it is based--I know this corruption did take place. I predict this picture will create the year's biggest screen sensation."
       As noted in the Var review, the character portrayed by John Payne, "Matt Brady," was a "thinly veiled" version of Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast (1872--1945). Pendergast was one of the most powerful political bosses in the United States. Just as dramatized in the film, Pendergast assumed leadership of the local political scene when his older brother died. A high stakes gambler, Pendergast was sent to prison for fifteen months after not paying taxes on a bribe received to cancel his gambling debts. After his time in prison, Pendergast retired and lived ... More Less

The film opens with the following written prologue: "The boss is a creature of no political party. He appears in the wake of public apathy fostering crime and corruption. Years ago an outraged citizenry arose against him. Only you, a vigilant people, can combat the menace of a boss." Although Ben L. Perry was credited onscreen and in reviews with the original story and screenplay, according to an Aug 2000 HR news item, Perry was a front for blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo's writing credit was officially restored by the WGA in Aug 2000.
       According to copyright records, noted Washington political columnist Drew Pearson narrated part of the film's theatrical trailer, stating: "This is Drew Pearson speaking: The Boss is celluloid dynamite. Powerful interests, whose names would amaze you, have tried to prevent you from seeing it. I helped expose the story upon which it is based--I know this corruption did take place. I predict this picture will create the year's biggest screen sensation."
       As noted in the Var review, the character portrayed by John Payne, "Matt Brady," was a "thinly veiled" version of Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast (1872--1945). Pendergast was one of the most powerful political bosses in the United States. Just as dramatized in the film, Pendergast assumed leadership of the local political scene when his older brother died. A high stakes gambler, Pendergast was sent to prison for fifteen months after not paying taxes on a bribe received to cancel his gambling debts. After his time in prison, Pendergast retired and lived in obscurity until his death a few years later.
       "Ernie Jackson," the character portrayed by Joe Flynn, was a fictionalized representation of President Harry S. Truman, who was backed by Pendergast for Congress in 1934. Although a 2 Aug 1956 HR news item reported that, at the request of United Artists, producers Frank and Walter Seltzer were eliminating all scenes featuring the character, those scenes were included in the print viewed and were mentioned by most reviewers. Flynn wore glasses and a bowtie, which enhanced his resemblance to Truman. It is possible that some of the film's dialogue, which mentioned Jackson's honesty and refusal to bend to pressure from Brady, were intended to deflect criticism that the film showed the former president in a bad light through his association with the big-city boss.
       HR news items noted that the film was shot on a closed set at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios. Other news items in mid to late Aug 1956 noted that Mayor Rowe Bartle of Kansas City refused to approve a benefit premiere of The Boss in his city. The mayor was quoted as saying that the film "depicts a not too proud area of the city." The article noted the Seltzers' contention that "bossism" should be exposed and that the general public should be able to decide what they want to see. Other news items noted that the mayor of Omaha, NE, where the film first opened, tried unsuccessfully to make the manager of the local theater cancel the screening of The Boss . Subsequent news items noted that the film did very well at the box office at its Omaha and Des Moines openings.
       The Boss marked the motion picture debut of Gloria McGhee, who had previously acted only on television. The film also marked the final performance of actor John Mansfield, who portrayed "Lazetti." Mansfield, who was thirty-seven, died of a heart attack on 17 Sep 1956. According to a DV news item, The Boss was the first production manager credit for Carrol Sax, who had been studio manager at Warner Bros. for twenty years, since moving to Selzter Films. Modern sources include the following cast members: Stuart Holmes, Frank McGrath, Fred Aldrich, Gertrude Astor, James Back, Jack Chefe, Sol Gorss, Tom Greenway, Maurice Manson, Harold Miller, Dorothy Neumann, James Nolan, Stafford Repp, John Rogers, Jack Stoney, Brick Sullivan and Charles Sullivan.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
25 Aug 1956.
---
Daily Variety
6 Mar 1956.
---
Daily Variety
20 Aug 1956
p. 3.
Film Daily
24 Aug 1956
p. 6.
Harrison's Reports
25 Aug 1956
p. 135.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Apr 1956
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
11 May 1956
p. 21.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Aug 1956
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Aug 1956
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Aug 1956
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Aug 1956
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Aug 1956
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Aug 1956
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Sep 1956
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Aug 2000.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
3 Jun 1956.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
11 Oct 1956.
---
Los Angeles Times
10 Oct 1956.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
8 Sep 1956
p. 58.
Saturday Review
6 Oct 1956.
---
Variety
22 Aug 1956
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Orig story and scr
Orig story and scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Chief set elec
Head grip
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
COSTUMES
Men's cost
Women's cost
MUSIC
Mus score
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hair styles
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting supv
Scr supv
Prod supv
DETAILS
Release Date:
October 1956
Premiere Information:
Omaha, NE opening: 22 August 1956
Des Moines, IA opening: 23 August 1956
Los Angeles opening: 10 October 1956
Production Date:
late April--mid May 1956 at Samuel Goldwyn Studios
Copyright Claimant:
Boss Productions
Copyright Date:
22 August 1956
Copyright Number:
LP7340
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Widescreen/ratio
1.85:1
Duration(in mins):
87-89
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
18066
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

At the end of World War I, Tim Brady greets his brother Matt, who has returned home a captain. Tim, who is the political boss of the city’s fourth ward, has reared the much younger Matt, but the two are constantly at odds. That night, when a quarrel turns into a barroom brawl between Matt and his friend Robert Herrick, Tim has them thrown out. While Bob, who is entering law school, suggests to Matt that a lot of money could be made in town, Matt suddenly realizes that he is very late for a date with his sweetheart, Elsie Reynolds, and asks Bob, who also likes Elsie, to come with him to explain what happened. When Elsie refuses to open her door, Matt becomes enraged and threatens to break it down. After she opens the door, Matt continues his tirade, saying he was going to propose but now wants nothing to do with her. Later, Matt is sitting at a diner when he sees a man drop some unpaid punch card tickets onto a table occupied by plain-looking Lorry Reed. When Lorry pays for her meal, the waiter thinks she has tried to discard the tickets to avoid paying for them. He threatens to call the police, but Matt intervenes and knocks him out. Lorry lets Matt escort her out, but protests that she is not pretty enough when he assumes that she is a streetwalker. Matt drunkenly says she is pretty, insisting he would not marry anyone who was not. Realizing Matt is suggesting they get married, the bewildered Lorry tries to dissuade him, but acquiesces ... +


At the end of World War I, Tim Brady greets his brother Matt, who has returned home a captain. Tim, who is the political boss of the city’s fourth ward, has reared the much younger Matt, but the two are constantly at odds. That night, when a quarrel turns into a barroom brawl between Matt and his friend Robert Herrick, Tim has them thrown out. While Bob, who is entering law school, suggests to Matt that a lot of money could be made in town, Matt suddenly realizes that he is very late for a date with his sweetheart, Elsie Reynolds, and asks Bob, who also likes Elsie, to come with him to explain what happened. When Elsie refuses to open her door, Matt becomes enraged and threatens to break it down. After she opens the door, Matt continues his tirade, saying he was going to propose but now wants nothing to do with her. Later, Matt is sitting at a diner when he sees a man drop some unpaid punch card tickets onto a table occupied by plain-looking Lorry Reed. When Lorry pays for her meal, the waiter thinks she has tried to discard the tickets to avoid paying for them. He threatens to call the police, but Matt intervenes and knocks him out. Lorry lets Matt escort her out, but protests that she is not pretty enough when he assumes that she is a streetwalker. Matt drunkenly says she is pretty, insisting he would not marry anyone who was not. Realizing Matt is suggesting they get married, the bewildered Lorry tries to dissuade him, but acquiesces when Matt cruelly asks what she would have to lose. Awakening the next morning, Matt sees Lorry sleeping and regrets his impulsiveness. He goes to Bob to tell him what happened and asks him to apologize for him to Elsie. Back in his room, just after Lorry awakens and apologizes to Matt for not stopping their marriage, Tim arrives and angrily says he will handle things because they will be divorced within two weeks. Matt screams that there will never be a divorce and grabs his brother, threatening to kill him. Sadly admitting that he has not been a good surrogate father for Matt, Tim leaves. A few minutes later, the desk clerk comes to the door and tells Matt that his brother Tim has just dropped dead in the lobby. Within a few years, Matt, who is now the boss of the entire city, stands alongside Governor Beck when the city’s new Union Station is dedicated to Tim. Meanwhile, Lorry, who has come to love the unresponsive Matt, is home alone. That afternoon, Matt warns petty criminal Johnny Mazia, the son of an old family friend, to stay out of trouble. When Matt arranges to have pending charges against Johnny dropped, a grateful Johnny gives Matt a tip on a horse that enables Matt to win thousands of dollars. That same day, Bob returns to town after completing law school. Although Bob has married Elsie, Matt does not hold a grudge and easily convinces his friend to become his lawyer. While Bob is in Matt’s office, Matt coerces cement factory owner Roy Millard into selling Matt half of the interest in the business in exchange for making sure that the company gets lucrative city contracts. That night, Matt gives an expensive diamond necklace to Lorry, who is surprised and happy until she learns that he has invited Bob and Elsie to dinner and wants to impress Elsie. After an uncomfortable evening, Lorry tells Matt that she will give him a divorce so he can marry Elsie. He snaps that he will never divorce her, and when she says that she will divorce him because she cannot live without love, he threatens to have her committed to an insane asylum if she mentions it again. As the years pass, Matt and Bob’s wealth increases, and Bob is made state insurance commissioner. When he tells Matt about a multi-million-dollar bond that the insurance companies want returned to them, Matt tells him to return it all, as he does not want the government after them. Roy then calls Matt to come to the cement works. There Matt is greeted by Roy’s brother Stanley, a crusading newspaper editor who wants to break up the city’s political machine. He demands that Matt buy Roy’s half interest in the business and is surprised when Matt tells him to name his price. Later, Matt laughs about the incident with Bob, telling him that Stanley named a price far less than the business was actually worth. Before Matt can come up with the money, though, the stock market crashes, leaving him broke, with huge gambling debts. Lorry tries to comfort Matt, but he again rejects her. Desperate for money, Matt makes a deal with Johnny, who is now a powerful gangster wanting to expand his operations. Some time later, Johnny tells Matt that his underling Lazetti has been arrested in Arkansas and is likely to talk to the authorities in Washington. Johnny suggests taking Lazetti when he and federal agents are changing trains at Union Station. Matt agrees, but orders Johnny not to involve sadistic henchman Stitch, and not hurt anyone. When the ambush takes place, however, Stitch and Johnny’s other henchman draw machine guns and kill many people, including innocent bystanders. Learning of the slaughter, Matt is furious and gives Johnny forty-eight hours to give Stitch up to the police. Later, Matt gets a call from Elsie, who is worried because Bob has not come home. When Stitch calls to inform Matt that they have taken Bob hostage and demands that Matt meet them at the cement works, Matt goes to the police station. There Chief Hillary is surrounded by Stanley and several other civic leaders, who tell Matt he is through. Hillary offers Matt protection, knowing he is in danger for coming to the police, but Matt refuses. He then goes to the cement works to meet Johnny, and agrees to all of Johnny’s terms, giving him seventy-five percent of the business in exchange for Bob's safe return. As Johnny leaves, he sees the police and runs up the factory’s staircases, shooting at Matt, who is in pursuit. When Johnny’s gun is empty, he and Matt scuffle until Johnny falls to his death. Soon Stanley, now a special prosecutor, indicts Matt. During his trial, Bob shocks Matt by taking the stand for the prosecution and testifying that Matt took over a million dollars of the insurance bond money. Matt protests Bob's lies, but is convicted of fraud. Out on a bond paid by Lorry, Matt returns home. Lorry tells him that Bob was never his friend, but Matt defends him, saying that the truth would have been as bad as the lies. When Lorry says she is leaving him because he has never loved her, Matt kisses her, but it is too late. As Matt enters prison, he is a broken man. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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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.