Black Legion (1937)

83 mins | Drama | 30 January 1937

Director:

Archie Mayo

Producer:

Robert Lord

Cinematographer:

George Barnes

Editor:

Owen Marks

Production Designer:

Robert Haas

Production Company:

Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Full page view
HISTORY

       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 ... More Less

       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, Ku Klux KlanKlan 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). More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
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.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Addl scenes dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
2d cam
Asst cam
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
MUSIC
SOUND
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr
Research
DETAILS
Release Date:
30 January 1937
Production Date:
began late August--5 October 1936
added scenes 2-3 December 1936
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. & The Vitaphone Corp.
Copyright Date:
29 January 1936
Copyright Number:
LP6843
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
83
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
2507
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

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 ... +


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. +

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

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

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.