|Released by Fox Film | Directed By Irving Cummings
Proof That It’s Pre-Code
- A man is killed and the only other person there says it was accidental suicide, so, hey, party!
- One other notable thing. And I’ll get to that in a minute.
A Holy Terror: An Unholy Bore
Let me be completely upfront about A Holy Terror: your interest in this film will be directly proportional with just how much you have ever wanted to see Humphrey Bogart in a cowboy hat.
Mind you, you’ll get a few glimpses here on the site of him donning just such attire, but to get the full experience, the Bogey drawl and gravelly threats, you pretty much are stuck with watching A Holy Terror. Or possibly some other movie where Bogart plays a ranch hand. I’m sure it’s out there.
But back to today’s picture, a fairly uninteresting little action-adventure film that suffers from good actors and not enough plot to go around. Pretty boy George O’Brien (and just look at how many times a picture of him in a tight t-shirt accenting his perfectly crafted pecs are displayed within in the film!) comes home one day from a polo match to discover that his father has died from a shot to the chest. There are only a few clues to who the mysterious man lurking around the mansion was earlier that day, so George follows a hunch and heads to Wyoming to confront the rancher who may be at the heart of things.
Being a playboy bon vivant, O’Brien’s character takes his own plane to Wyoming. But being a playboy bon vivant, that doesn’t make him the best airplane pilot in the world. His plane flames out upon attempted landing, so he instead manages to plow it into the side of the boarding house. He’s a bit dazed, but still pretty appreciative when he discovers he broadsided the bathroom and Sally Eilers was in there taking a shower.
It’s a cute– and hilariously contrived– way for the boy to meet the girl, but the movie plays it for laughs early and often. A Holy Terror knows that that moment is the best thing it’s got going for it.
That’s probably because the rest of the movie is much more contrived and much less cute. Upon emerging from the bathroom, George is introduced to the villains in short order, including Bogart, the ranch hand for the man O’Brien is seeking out. He’s also got a thing for Eilers, too, and most of the rest of the plot involves George foolishly trusting him and Bogart glowering.
There are some nice moments in A Holy Terror. Sidney Fields, playing Nash’s lead thug, has a cute scene where he begs the barber to make him look good– but there’s nothing the barber can do about it. That’s also during a weird moment where O’Brien and Eilers are out on a date on a local bar / dance hall / bowling alley. You got me on that combo.
George O’Brien was a Navy boxing champ who became a minor star in Westerns starting with John Ford’s The Iron Horse in 1924. He worked steadily through the 30s, reenlisted in the Navy for the second World War, and finished his career in Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy. He’s got a good smile and an easy charisma. Eilers is excellent, too, and Bogart is in full on scenery chewing mode.
But A Holy Terror suffers from a complete lack of forward momentum. The setup takes up a fifth of the movie, O’Brien wanders around the Wyoming town just goofing around for a while, and the film’s villain has to keep acting obtuse to maintain the complete lack of suspense. The action is passable, but the only reason to seek this movie out, save for Eilers’s smile and O’Brien’s good looks, is Bogie in a cowboy hat. Look at that! Should have held onto that thing for Casablanca.
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Trivia & Links
- As crazy as this may sound to you, this movie has some pedigree– from the acting side, at least. Leading man George O’Brien is probably best remembered today for his role as ‘The Man’ in 1927’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. Sally Eilers, meanwhile, had her biggest success in the wings– she’d be costarring in 1932’s Bad Girl which was nominated for Best Picture and won Frank Borzage an Oscar for Best Director. Co-star Stanley Fields was just coming off roles in Little Caesar and Best Picture winner Cimarron. And Humphrey Bogart… well, he went on to better things, too. Hollywood can be a small, small world.
- An uncredited writer for The New York Times really, really lays into this one. Besides evoking fonder memories by claiming they wish the movie had involved more women being tied to the railroad track and less racy jokes, they seem to outright resent that this sound picture involves a modern cowboy rather than those of myth. It’s a fascinating review (almost moreso than the movie itself) because it is so bitterly against what the movie is trying to do rather than the movie itself. An excerpt:
But no melancholy light should glow on Monday morning, regardless of the state of melodrama, wherein all seems to be vanity. “A Holy Terror” is here to take its meager bow, and with George O’Brien to solve its twin mysteries of murder and love. On the framework that was once the endless flickering serial he and his associates have added the Gothic structure that is 1931—in sound. And so, while death still rides the Western plains on horse, youth plays polo in the East and then leaves for Wyoming in an airship.
- Also, the copy of this I found was extremely rough. How rough? At different points in the movie, ‘Fade In’ and ‘Fade Out’ popped on between scenes. There was also a sequence missing where O’Brien trains his horse, “Little Lord Fauntleroy”, but I can’t imagine I missed too much there.
Awards, Accolades & Availability
- This film is an obscure one. I wish you luck in finding it!
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