Brother Orchid (1940): Lloyd Bacon’s Crime Film, Starring Edward G. Robinson, Ann Sothern, Humphrey Bogart

From Our Vaults:

Lloyd Bacon directed Brother Orchid, a crime film directed by Lloyd Bacon and starring Edward G. Robinson, Ann Sothern and Humphrey Bogart.

The film’s supporting cast includes Donald Crisp, Ralph Bellamy and Allen Jenkins.

Cagney was originally intended to play the lead role. Producer Hal Wallis wanted Lee Patrick to play the role of Flo, but producer Mark Hellinger appealed to  Jack L. Warner and asked that Ann Sothern be cast.

Meanwhile, Edward G. Robinson, attempting to expand his range (he got bored with playing gangsters), agreed to play the lead in Brother Orchid in return for a role in the historical drama A Dispatch from Reuter’s.

Brother Orchid is one of five films Robinson and Bogart made together. The others were Bullets or Ballots (1936), Kid Galahad (1937), The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938), and Key Largo (1948). Robinson killed or subdued Bogart in every one of their films except for Key Largo–Bogart by that time eclipsed Robinson as a star.

The screenplay was written by Earl Baldwin, with uncredited contributions from Jerry Wald and Richard Macauley, based on Richard Connell’s story, originally published in “Collier’s Magazine” on May 21, 1938.

Prior to the movie version of Connell’s story, a stage adaptation was written by playwright-novelist Leo Brady.

The tale begins with the sudden retirement of crime boss Little John Sarto (Robinson), giving the gang’s leadership to Jack Buck (Bogart), while leaving for a tour of Europe to acquire “class.”

However, Sarto is repeatedly swindled and finally loses all his money.

He decides to return home and take back his gang, as if nothing has changed, but he gets thrown out. The only ones who remain loyal to Sarto are his girlfriend Flo Addams and Willie “the Knife” Corson.

Soon Sarto raises a new gang and starts encroaching on Buck’s territory.

When Flo tries to get Buck to reconcile with Sarto, Buck sees his chance. He agrees, getting Flo to lure Sarto to a tavern without telling him why. Flo is not totally fooled; she brings along a strong, good-natured admirer, mid-western rancher Clarence P. Fletcher, just in case, but he is knocked out by Buck’s men. Sarto is taken for a ride, believing Flo has double crossed him.

Sarto escapes, but is shot several times. He makes his way to the Floracian monastery, run by Brother Superior.  At this good place to hide out, Sarto signs up as a novice, naming himself “Brother Orchid.”

At first, he treats it as a joke, calling the monks the “biggest chumps in the world,” but the brothers’ kindness and simple life begin to change his opinion.

Sarto sees a newspaper announcing that Flo is going to marry Clarence. He rides into the city with Brother Superior when he goes to sell the flowers that provide the monastery’s meager income. After Flo gets over the shock of seeing Sarto alive, she proves she agrees to break up with Clarence.

Sarto breaks tells the Brother Superior that he is leaving, but then learns that the flowers have not been sold. The “protective association” run by Buck bans flower growers that do not pay for its services.

Reinforced by Clarence and some friends from Montana, Sarto pays a visit to the association and brawl breaks out.

When the police arrive, Sarto gives up Flo to Clarence and returns to the monastery, where he has finally found “real class.”

Edward G. Robinson as “Little” John T. Sarto
Ann Sothern as Florence Addams
Humphrey Bogart as Jack Buck
Donald Crisp as Brother Superior
Ralph Bellamy as Clarence P. Fletcher
Allen Jenkins as Willie “the Knife” Corson
Charles D. Brown as Brother Wren
Cecil Kellaway as Brother Goodwin
Morgan Conway as Philadelphia Powell
Richard Lane as Mugsy O’Day
Paul Guilfoyle as Red Martin
John Ridgely as Texas Pearson
Joseph Crehan as Brother MacEwen
Wilfred Lucas as Brother MacDonald
Tom Tyler as Curley Matthews
Dick Wessell as Buffalo Burns
Granville Bates as Pattonsville Superintendent
Paul Phillips as French Frank
Dan Rowan as Al Muller