The Great O’Malley

GreatOMalleySuggested by Brad Nelson • Hard-nosed cop Pat O’Brien sends devoted family man Humphrey Bogart to the slammer, then learns compassion from the convicted man’s crippled little daughter.
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2 Responses to The Great O’Malley

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    There is everything wrong with this movie. So why does it work?

    Pat O’Brien (Officer O’Malley) plays a somewhat mild-tempered Les-Miserables-like Javert. He holds everyone on his beat to the letter of the law. If your awning sticks out over the crosswalk by just a few inches over regulation, he’ll write you a ticket. There are no exceptions.

    This shouldn’t work because we’re given no build-up for why he is this way. It just is. And he’s not particularly mean or dour about it as is Inspector Javert. He’s insistent but not altogether abrasively unpleasant. He’s just doing it by the book which he thinks is his job.

    Despite his boss telling him to look more toward the spirit of the law, Officer O’Malley keeps pushing his way of law enforcement. He eventually ensnares an out-of-work father (Bogart) in his pedanticism. For a minor infraction, he causes Bogart to be late to his first day on the job, thus he loses this job and is “forced” (this is somewhat a “society made me do it” shtick) into a rash act which gets him into even bigger trouble with the law.

    Well, his boss has had enough. He asks O’Malley to resign, which he won’t do. So he puts O’Malley in charge of demeaning work, especially including being little more than a glorified crossing guard at the nearby school. But O’Malley is a stubborn thing and won’t quit. Eventually his heart is softened by a little crippled girl. The plot thickens from there and I won’t give too much away.

    This is a simplistic morality play, any way you cut it. It’s not a comedy. Bogart, for instance, is playing his role as the 100% straight aggrieved father and husband who has been wronged by the coppers. A love interest for O’Malley appears (one of the teachers at the school), but nothing about this movie is taken past super-rated-G level (except for the appearance of guns which might cause today’s bed-wedding liberal adults to faint).

    Although we have no idea why O’Malley is the way he is, the plot proceeds on and will capture your attention. It’s charming through and through even though by today’s standards this is a simple-minded movie. Perhaps that is much of the appeal.

    The little girl who plays the cripple (Sybil Jason) is charming but not outlandishly precocious. You warm to her and thus it’s completely believable that so would Officer O’Malley. Although this is a rather short film at 71 minutes and you don’t get a lot of detail, this movie does provide the rough outline of the classic change-of-heart theme. And Officer O’Malley does indeed undergo this change of heart.

    Perhaps this works because of the presence of Bogart who goes from carefree family man to a bitter and frustrated criminal. He ads the gravitas to a movie that otherwise might have slipped into a sewer of sentiment.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    Sounds like the same basic concept as The Count of Monte Cristo, though in his case he sought revenge on those who unjustifiably sicced the law on him rather than the legal officials themselves.

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