Humphrey Bogart plays Frank Taylor, a senior machinist and family man who loses an expected promotion to a younger co-worker from an immigrant family. Feeling angry and cheated, Frank falls in with the titular Legion, a black-robed hate group.
The Legion run Frank’s co-worker out of town in a fiery set piece and Frank ascends to foreman. He buys a new car for himself, a vacuum cleaner for his wife, and a Louisville Slugger for his boy. Life is good until Frank’s Legion-mandated recruiting distracts him at work and he’s demoted in favor of his neighbor. Again, the Legion intervenes.
The secrecy and violence wear on Frank. He drinks to excess. His family leaves him. He takes up with a local floozy.
One night, drunk and despondent, Frank confesses everything to his longtime friend Ed. After sobering up, Frank panics and informs the Legion. The Legion kidnaps Ed, but things don’t go as planned, leaving Frank with blood on his hands and nowhere to turn.
This proved Bogart’s first chance to showcase his dramatic chops. Prior to this role, he’d played tough loners. Here, Bogart plays a fallible man with a wife and young child.
Rather than a one-dimensional racist, Bogart portrays Frank as a weak-willed man driven by a sense of entitlement. Bogart’s fearless performance often plays too broad but his final silent look to his wife communicates volumes. Bogart treads a fine line. He engenders pity without generating sympathy.
The script’s biting look at the Legion’s recruiting scheme helps. We’re shown how radio demagogues cultivate resentment and fear, driving Legion membership. New members buy mandatory uniforms and revolvers, fattening the wallets of a small group of profiteers who fund the demagogues. This exposé gives the film a docudrama feel.
But I couldn’t swallow Frank’s abrupt transformation from honest family man to drunken womanizer. It feels disingenuous. Racism and hate don’t hit you like a freight train, they eat you like a cancer. That’s what makes them so insidious. The reductive presentation undermines the still-relevant social context.