Gang boss Little John Sarto returns from Europe where he was looking for "class" to find his old mob taken over by Jack Burns. When he puts together a rival gang he gets wounded and seeks refuge in a monastery. He is gradually transformed by the simple, sincere brothers and, after one last gangland appearance, decides his has found class at last in the monastery.
Edward G. Robinson ... Little John T. 'Johnny' Sarto
Ann Sothern ... Florence 'Flo' Addams
Humphrey Bogart ... Jack Buck
Donald Crisp ... Brother Superior
Ralph Bellamy ... Clarence P. Fletcher
Allen Jenkins ... Willie 'The Knife' Corson
Charles D. Brown ... Brother Wren
Cecil Kellaway ... Brother Goodwin
Morgan Conway ... Philadelphia Powell
Richard Lane ... Mugsy O'Day
Paul Guilfoyle ... Red Martin
John Ridgely ... Texas Pearson
Joseph Crehan ... Brother MacEwen
Wilfred Lucas ... Brother MacDonald
Tom Tyler ... Curley Matthews
Here's an odd Edward G. Robinson picture. It has the unusual combination of crime, humor, drama and romance - a real mixed bag - and Robinson pretending he's a monk!
It's billed as a crime story but it's more of a comedy. There are lots of snappy lines and expressions of the day, most provided by Robinson, a hoodlum type who winds up in a "floral" monastery (the monks grew and sold flowers).
This has a good cast with Ann Southern, Humphrey Bogart, Ralph Bellamy, Donald Crisp and Allen Jenkins all contributing. Bellamy was so young I didn't recognize him, only through his distinctive voice.
The first time I watched this I thought it was pretty good. Perhaps it was just more of a curiosity piece, because I really got bored with it on the second look. That's what it's probably worth: one look......out of curiosity.
Defying classification, "Brother Orchid" contains elements of film noir, gangster movies, and comedy, and showcases Edward G. Robinson as a mobster who quits the rackets because his tastes have outgrown them. It's a premise that walks a tightrope throughout the picture, and has Little John Sarto (Robinson) alternately swaying between his gangster life and a dreamy vision that may or may not be fulfilled.
Although an entertaining enough film, I had difficulty in accepting Sarto's all or nothing approach to each of his mid stream course corrections. At the outset, when turning over the gang to his second in command Jack Buck (Humphrey Bogart), Sarto convincingly claims it's for good. But to leave his girlfriend Flo Addams (Ann Sothern) behind as he squanders his fortune in the capitals of Europe seems a bit overboard; for Flo to keep the romance alive even as she rises from hat check girl to owning the Crescent Club is even more of a stretch. Especially when a reasonably handsome and urbane suitor like Clarence Fletcher (Ralph Bellamy) comes along. Fletcher is charming without being pushy and seems more than a romantic match for Flo, considering her treatment by the almost repulsive behavior of Johnny.
What does bring life to the film is the snappy, staccato one liners delivered by Sarto, often so glib that this viewer caught the full nuance well into the next scene. Then you have the colorful names of Sarto's cohorts - Mugsy, Philadelphia, Crack and Willie the Knife. Willie in particular is well portrayed by essential character actor Allen Jenkins, one of the few mugs who stayed loyal to Little John, even as he faked his way into a mental asylum during Johnny's hiatus.
When it appears that Flo sets up Johnny to be ambushed by Jack Buck, Johnny makes his getaway to a reclusive Floracian Monastery, where the brothers of the order make their living growing and selling flowers to help beautify the world. Brother Superior is portrayed by affable Donald Crisp in a calm and self assured manner. Entranced by the serene way of life of the brothers, Johnny makes it his own, and takes for his name a personal preference - Brother Orchid. When the brothers' way of life is threatened by their inability to pay tribute to Buck's protective association, Little John is back to his gangster ways to set things right, but this time forming a gang of Clarence Fletcher's Western buddies who have hit town to attend Fletcher's marriage to Flo!
Robinson and Bogart made a total of five films together, with Robinson getting top billing in all but 1948's "Key Largo". The others include "Bullets or Ballots" (1936), "Kid Galahad" (1937), and "The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse" (1938). "Brother Orchid" was the only film in which Ann Sothern appeared with either Bogey or Robinson. For fans of any of these stars, or of classic films of the 1930's and 40's, all of the films mentioned are recommended.
Worth renting or catching on late night TV, "Brother Orchid" is a 1940 hybrid, a film that uneasily coasts between comedy and drama. With both Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart capturing theater marquees with both violent crime and some serious drama roles this film is sort of a detour but it's a good one.
Robinson plays a gangster chief who quits the mob to undertake a long and financially ruinous Grand Tour of Europe. Returning to the U.S. he is astounded to discover that he can't pick up the reins he once held firmly and that his former underboss, Bogart, wants him out of the way - permanently. Bogart's talent is not very much on display in this movie.
Robinson winds up hiding in a friary populated by gentle souls and, of course, his condition is gentled under their patient ministration.
Ann Sothern is terrific as his "fiancee," a gang moll waiting long and patiently for the march to the altar. Ralph Bellamy is amusing as a Western rancher who exudes a patience and understanding more often associated with saints than cowboys.
For those who enjoy the pre-World War II Hollywood crime films this one is just different enough from the formula, and very violent, ones.