The Boss (1956)

The Boss (1956) is a loveless marriage mean-ass mob boss epic biopic historical tale of cynical criminal cruelty, manipulation and lavish corrupt money making and spending, spanning the early to mid years of the twentieth century.

We’re talkin’ about a loveless marriage, a union colder than a corpse in a meat locker. Picture this: a dame and a fella, shackled together by vows they’d rather break than a stool pigeon under pressure. Ain’t no sweet nothings whispered here, just the hollow echo of empty promises.

The Boss stands out as a character-driven film within its frame of historical epic-ish film noir, focusing on Brady's (John Payne) descent into corruption and subsequent downfall. 

The film opens with the following written prologue: 

"The boss is a creature of no political party. He appears in the wake of public apathy fostering crime and corruption. Years ago an outraged citizenry arose against him. Only you, a vigilant people, can combat the menace of a boss." 

Through Brady's journey, the film explores how corruption easily spreads and infects those around the corrupted individual. Characters like Bob (William Bishop), Brady's army buddy turned accomplice, and Elsie (Doe Avedon), his former sweetheart, further illuminate Brady's character. 

However, it's Lorry Reed (Gloria McGehee) who shines, portraying a self-aware woman caught in Brady's web of deceit. 

Despite her awareness, she tries to make the best of her situation, adding depth to the narrative. While Bishop's portrayal may lack depth, Avedon's character is somewhat underutilized, and McGehee's performance stands out as a highlight. As Brady's prospects dim and he becomes a pawn for the mob, his inevitable downfall is sealed. 

The film's crime drama genre, complemented by strong performances and decent cinematography, offers entertainment even for those not typically drawn to noir. Despite moments of melodrama and a somewhat convenient marriage subplot, Dalton Trumbo's script keeps the narrative fresh and engaging, allowing the mismatched couple to defy conventional screen expectations. In the end, "The Boss" delivers a compelling exploration of corruption and its consequences.

Now, let’s shift gears to the mean-ass mob boss. This ain’t your run-of-the-mill hoodlum; we’re talkin’ a stone-cold operator, a puppet master pullin’ strings in the shadows. His eyes? Ice chips. His heart? A black hole suckin’ in souls like loose change. This ain’t no bedtime story; it’s a blood-soaked epic biopic, a saga etched in bullet holes and betrayal.

And the backdrop? The twentieth century, kid. A time when dames wore feathers and gents strutted like peacocks. But forget the glitz and glamour; this tale ain’t about sequined dresses and jazz bands. Nah, it’s about cynical criminal cruelty, a symphony of broken bones and shattered dreams. Our mob boss? He ain’t playin’ patty-cake; he’s playin’ Russian roulette with lives.

Starring noir supremo and noir star fermenting greatness in the halls of fame it is John Payne and with a twist on the returning veteran theme of film noir — the twist being that he is a vet of World War One. Guess that makes Hollywoodrian good sense with the Korean War in full failing figurement as the film even rolls.

You bet your last dollar. Our boss weaves webs like a spider on steroids. He’ll charm ya, then gut ya quicker than a switchblade in a dark alley. And the dough? It flows like bootleg whiskey at a speakeasy. Lavish corrupt money making and spending—that’s the name of the game. Silk suits, diamond-studded cufflinks, and stacks of greenbacks thicker than a phone book. But remember, every dollar’s got a stain, and this boss? He’s wearin’ 'em like badges of honor.

From the smoky backrooms to the neon-lit streets, this tale spans the early to mid years of a century that chewed folks up and spat 'em out. It’s a dance with danger, a waltz on the edge of a switchblade. So grab your fedora, light that Lucky Strike, and step into the shadows. This ain’t no fairy tale; it’s a slice of history carved with a switchblade and dipped in blood. And when the curtain falls, you’ll know one thing for sure: love ain’t got a damn thing to do with it. 

Bluff, crass and bullying, John Payne's Boss is a character study to behold, and the movie not the poor fare its critics reckon. 

The love relationship in The Boss's marriage is painful to watch, executed to perfection, the story shows how morals and pride can lead to the worst of life-wasting unhappiness.

Gloria McGhee (Wikipedia) in The Boss (1956)

John Payne in The Boss (1956)

Staircase mis en scene in The Boss (1956)

The Boss (1956), crafted from the clandestine quill of the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, unfurls its gritty narrative canvas against the backdrop of post-World War I America, traversing through the tumultuous era of the Great Depression. 

Anchored by the disillusioned demobilized soldier, John Payne, the film delves into the treacherous corridors of municipal corruption, where power is the currency and morality a fleeting shadow.

As Payne inherits his brother's political clout, his descent into the murky depths of political intrigue is set in motion. A chance encounter on a drunken night binds him to a stranger, Gloria McGhee, whose enigmatic presence lingers hauntingly. Yet, Payne's unwavering loyalty remains tethered to his wartime comrade, William Bishop, who now shares a life with the woman Payne once loved.

In his quest for dominance, Payne forges alliances with the clandestine forces of the underworld, navigating the labyrinthine corridors of power with ruthless precision. 

The pulse-pounding tension culminates in a meticulously staged shootout at the train depot, a spectacle that echoes the grandeur of cinematic masterpieces like The Battleship Potemkin and foreshadows the visceral intensity of Brian De Palma's The Untouchables.

At its core, The Boss is a poignant exploration of the rise and fall of a lone wolf, a Kane-ish figure grappling with the seductive allure of power and the inevitable descent into darkness. Payne's portrayal, imbued with equal measures of toughness and vulnerability, infuses the narrative with a hauntingly tragic dimension, drawing viewers into a mesmerizing tale that lingers on the fringes of film noir, capturing the essence of an era defined by moral ambiguity and shattered dreams.

In its quest for resurgence, this film plunges headfirst into a realm of heavy-handedness, embarking on a daring yet questionable dramatic gambit. 

However, as the narrative unfolds, it gradually gathers momentum, evolving into a monumental mini-epic propelled by John Payne's metamorphosis, each change in hair color a visceral testament to his inexorable descent into the abyss.

Payne's performance, a tour de force of unparalleled intensity, is rivalled only by Gloria McGehee's portrayal of Lorry, the unwanted wife whose resilience resonates with a raw authenticity seldom witnessed on screen. As she navigates the tumultuous currents of her fate, McGehee's presence commands the screen with a haunting poignancy, leaving an indelible mark on the cinematic landscape.

Equally commendable is Robin Morse's portrayal of Johnny, the epitome of the Organization Man, whose understated yet compelling performance adds depth and nuance to the unfolding drama. With each subtle gesture and nuanced expression, Morse breathes life into his character, imbuing Johnny with a complexity that transcends the confines of the narrative.

The Boss (1956)

Where has this film been all our lives? It emerges as a tour de force of cinematic storytelling, a potent blend of power, brutality, and unflinching realism that captivates and challenges in equal measure. Though at times difficult to watch, its unwavering commitment to authenticity and its fearless exploration of the human condition make it a journey worth undertaking, a cinematic odyssey that leaves an indelible impression long after the credits roll.

John Payne, renowned for his dashing leading man persona, embarked on a deliberate shift towards character-driven roles in the gritty landscape of 1950s cinema. Yet, even with his dedication, success hinged upon the guiding hand of a skilled director.

The 1950s included a token female as exampled in semi-noir drama The Boss (1956)

Oh yes we are still talking about this tidal wave of narrative, an epic and a biopic no less, albeit a fictional biopic of a damned crime boos, most sympathetically played by noir's amazing Payne, The Boss of 1956, penned by the illustrious but blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, masquerading under the guise of Ben Perry. Drawing inspiration from the notorious political boss Tom Pendergast of Kansas City, the narrative unfurls the saga of Matt Brady, a formidable figure whose reign spans the tumultuous era between the World Wars.

Blending fact with fiction, the tale weaves a web of intrigue around Brady's personal escapades. His ill-fated union with Lorry, portrayed as a downtrodden figure, stands as a testament to his tumultuous journey, fraught with missteps and regrets. 

Yet, the casting choice falls short of capturing Lorry's essence, presenting her as homely when she's anything but—a glaring oversight that mars the film's authenticity. While at the same time The Boss shipped into noir theaters with the following poster-tags in the lobby and on the sidewalk:

"I'M THE BOSS" "I've Got My Finger In Every Vice Racket. The Police, Senate Investigators, Nobody Can Lay A Hand On Me. They Call Me A Public Enemy, But Someday I'm Going To Name My Own President." I'M THE BOSS

Uncensored and uncut version of a scandalous true story!

Brady's ascent to power is a treacherous path paved with deceit and duplicity, as he manoeuvres through the corridors of corruption with ruthless determination. His alliances, including his steadfast friend Bob Herrick, form the backbone of his empire, yet they too are subject to the whims of fate.

Despite its ambitious premise, The Boss succumbs to the pitfalls of melodrama, with Payne's portrayal teetering on the brink of caricature, punctuated by moments of explosive rage and inebriated recklessness. The narrative, though brimming with potential, falters under the weight of its own bombast, failing to sustain engagement beyond the superficial.

Fifties violence in semi-noir styled semi-epic drama The Boss (1956)

In the end, The Boss falls short of its promise, a casualty of exaggerated theatrics and missed opportunities. Doe Avedon's presence, though fleeting, offers a glimpse of intrigue, her character serving as the enigmatic muse behind the iconic Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. Yet, even her allure cannot salvage a film veering dangerously off course.

The Boss (1956)

According to copyright records, quoted here at AFI,  noted Washington political columnist Drew Pearson narrated part of the film's theatrical trailer, stating: 

"This is Drew Pearson speaking: The Boss is celluloid dynamite. Powerful interests, whose names would amaze you, have tried to prevent you from seeing it. I helped expose the story upon which it is based--I know this corruption did take place. I predict this picture will create the year's biggest screen sensation."

The character Ernie Jackson, portrayed by Joe Flynn, served as a fictionalized depiction of President Harry S. Truman, who received backing from Pendergast for Congress in 1934. Despite a 2 Aug 1956 HR news item reporting that United Artists had requested the removal of all scenes featuring Jackson, these scenes were retained in the final print and were noted by most reviewers. 

Flynn's portrayal, complete with glasses and a bowtie, bore a striking resemblance to Truman. Dialogue highlighting Jackson's integrity and resistance to Brady's influence may have been intended to deflect criticism of the film's portrayal of the former president's association with the big-city boss.

Filming took place on a closed set at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios, as noted in HR news items. In mid to late Aug 1956, Mayor Rowe Bartle of Kansas City declined to approve a benefit premiere of The Boss in his city, citing the film's depiction of a less flattering aspect of the city. 

Hang-dog noir - John Payne in The Boss (1956)

The Seltzers, however, argued that exposing "bossism" allowed the public to make informed viewing choices. Similarly, the mayor of Omaha, NE initially attempted to halt the screening of The Boss, but subsequent news items reported the film's success at the box office in both Omaha and Des Moines.

Gloria McGehee made her motion picture debut in The Boss, having previously only worked in television. Tragically, the film marked the final performance of actor John Mansfield, who portrayed Lazetti and passed away from a heart attack on 17 Sep 1956. 

THE BOSS (1956)

Release Date: October 1956

Premiere Information: Omaha, NE opening: 22 Aug 1956; Des Moines, IA opening: 23 Aug 1956; Los Angeles opening: 10 Oct 1956

Production Date :late Apr--mid May 1956 at Samuel Goldwyn Studios

Claim;ant Date Copyright Number Boss Productions22 August 1956LP7340

Sound Western Electric Recording

Black and White

Widescreen/ratio 1.85:1

Duration(in mins): 87-89

PCA No:18066

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