You Can’t Get Away with Murder (1939): Seiler’s Crime Drama, Starring Bogart

Lewis Seiler directed You Can’t Get Away with Murder, a B-level Warner picture, starring Humphrey Bogart two years before his breakthrough as a lead man in High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon, both in 1941.

You Can’t Get Away with Murder
Poster - You Can't Get Away With Murder 01.jpg

Theatrical poster

In New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, young Johnny Stone (Billy Halop, of the Dead End Kids) goes against the advice of his sister Madge (Gale Page) and hooks up with mobster Frank Wilson (Bogart).

Johnny and Frank steal a car, and then hold up a gas station. Johnny then takes the gun of Madge’s fiancé Fred Burke (Harvey Stephens) and lends it to Frank for a pawnshop robbery.  When the owner resists and sounds an alarm, Frank kills him and leaves the gun there.

The authorities do not believe Fred’s alibi and convict him of murder. Meanwhile, Frank and Johnny are convicted of the gas station robbery. All three men are sent to Sing Sing.

Johnny, feeling guilty, is told by Frank that he needs to continue “playing dumb,” as both face execution if either confesses. The suspicious prison authorities transfer to the prison library run by older convict, Pop (Henry Travers).

Johnny expects Fred to be cleared on appeal, not knowing that Frank also planted stolen property. When the appeal is denied, Johnny’s guilty conscience increases.

Madge, convinced that Johnny knows the true killer, begs him to talk, and Pop also appeals to Johnny’s conscience. Fred’s lawyer, Carey (John Litel) deduces that Johnny took Fred’s gun, but without evidence the attorney (Herbert Rawlinson) will not request a stay of Fred’s execution.

On the day of Fred’s execution, Frank and Johnny join in a jailbreak. Johnny, finally confesses in a letter, the shooting, leaving it for Pop to find after the breakout, but Frank takes it instead.

The jailbreak fails, ending with Frank and Johnny in a railroad boxcar with guards. Frank starts shooting at the guards, and when they return fire, Frank shoots Johnny, then gives himself up, claiming he was unarmed.

Though mortally wounded, Johnny survives to tell the truth, implicating Frank for both murders and finally clearing Fred.

Cast
Humphrey Bogart as Frank Wilson
Gale Page as Madge Stone
Billy Halop as Johnny Stone
John Litel as Attorney Carey
Henry Travers as Pop
Harvey Stephens as Fred Burke
Harold Huber as Tom Scappa
Joe Sawyer as Red
Joe Downing as Smitty
George E. Stone as Toad

Credits:

Directed by Lewis Seiler
Produced by Jack L. Warner, Hal B. Wallis, Samuel Bischoff
Written by Jonathan Finn, Lewis E. Lawes
Screenplay by Robert Buckner, Don Ryan, Kenneth Gamet, based on Chalked Out, 1937 play by Lewis E. Lawes
Music by Heinz Roemheld
Cinematography Sol Polito
Edited by James Gibbon
Distributed by Warner Bros.

Release date: May 20, 1939

Running time: 79 minutes