King of the Underworld (1939): Lewis Seiler’s Crime Drama, Starring Bogart as a Gangster and Kay Francis as a Doctor (Crime-Gangster, Medical Melodrama)

Lewis Seiler directed King of the Underworld, a crime drama starring Humphrey Bogart as a gangster and Kay Francis as a doctor forced to treat him.

Grade: B- (**1/2* out of *****)

King of the Underworld
King of the Underworld (1939 film) poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

It is a remake of the 1935 film Dr. Socrates, which was based on a short story by W. R. Burnett.

The film was made two years before Bogart became a major movie star, in 1941, with appearances in High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon.

This film belongs to the subgenre of gangsters (often killed at the end) that Bogart “specialized” in at that time.

Married doctors Niles (John Eldredge) and Carole Nelson (Kay Francis) save the life of a shot gangster.

Joe Gurney (Humphrey Bogart), the patient’s boss, gives Niles $500 as a reward, and suggests he goes uptown, where he can treat the rich. Niles takes his suggestion, but soon neglects his practice for his addiction: betting on horses.

The doctor then starts treating Joe’s gang without telling his wife. But Carole gets suspicious and follows him. When the police raid the gang, Niles is killed while Joe and his gang manage to escape.

Though the district attorney (Pierre Watkin) has no solid case, he charges Carole with being involved in order to put on a show for the mass public. The trial ends in a hung jury, but her medical license remains at stake. As a result, she is given three months to prove it–or the license will be revoked.

Carole relocates with her Aunt Josephine (Jessie Busley) to Wayne Center, where two of Joe’s men have been jailed, hoping to get in touch with the gangster.

In the end, Joe tries to track Carole through the house, but he is eventually gunned down by the police.

Humphrey Bogart as Joe Gurney
Kay Francis as Dr. Carole Nelson
James Stephenson as Bill Stevens
John Eldredge as Dr. Niles Nelson
Jessie Busley as Aunt Josephine
Arthur Aylesworth as Dr. Sanders
Raymond Brown as Sheriff
Harland Tucker as Mr. Ames
Ralph Remley as Mr. Robert
Charley Foy as Slick


Directed by Lewis Seiler
Produced by Bryan Foy
Written by George Bricker, Vincent Sherman; Screenplay by George Bricker and Vincent Sherman, story by W. R. Burnett

Music by Heinz Roemheld
Cinematography Sidney Hickox
Edited by Frank DeWar

Production and distribution: Warner Bros.

Release date: January 14, 1939

Running time: 67 minutes


TCM showed this movie on June 22, 2021.