At 50 minutes I was in no rush to get to Bullets for O’Hara. It sat on my DVR for a few weeks after Turner Classic Movies had aired it, until just a few nights ago when I was dead-tired come bedtime yet still wanted to squeeze in a movie before nodding off.
It was junk, but it was fun junk. O’Hara stretched far enough to make little sense in a few spots, but like many a B movie it crammed so much action into its super-short running time that I couldn’t fail to be entertained.
Bullets for O’Hara had the feel of a series entry, and recognizing stars Roger Pryor and Joan Perry from two separate Lone Wolf entries it seemed a plausible notion. But no, there are no additional O’Hara movies from Warner Brothers. Bullets for O’Hara did, however, turn out to be a remake of a movie from just a few years earlier, Public Enemy’s Wife (1936).
I had a copy of that one in the stack of homemade DVDs gathering dust beside my DVD player.
I watched Public Enemy’s Wife Friday night and before I had gotten through the opening credits I realized that my planned post for Bullets for O’Hara now linked directly to my previous article about G Men (1935). Public Enemy’s Wife was not only part of the brief cycle of G-man movies that G Men had begun the previous year, but it paired two of Cagney’s G Men co-stars, Robert Armstrong and Margaret Lindsay, with his real life pal and Public Enemy’s Wife star Pat O’Brien.
“Gee, man!” is the impressed reply of Lindsay’s maid (Bernice Pilot) to O’Brien and Armstrong when they flash their badges to her at the door.
“Yeah, two of them,” Armstrong shoots back.
I was surprised to find Armstrong much more effective in Public Enemy’s Wife than he had been in the otherwise superior G Men.
Armstrong's character ranked over Cagney's in G Men, but he came across as almost childish at times while sparring with Cagney and was as hard for me to like as he was for Cagney’s character to tolerate. In Public Enemy’s Wife, as O’Brien’s sidekick, Armstrong doesn’t have as much to do but manages to come across as a likable guy when he does. He even gets off a few genuinely funny lines, including that crack to Lindsay’s maid, and manages to be a strong, somewhat silent presence at O’Brien’s side.
Lindsay is Lindsay. Effectively icy. Joan Perry brings more of a flair to the part in Bullets for O’Hara, but Lindsay plays it with her typical petulance until a crying jag finally reveals some vulnerability and warms her to O’Brien and audience alike. She’s allowed to be much harder than Perry in her earlier scenes, but unlike Perry in the remake, our detective quickly drops his suspicion of Margaret Lindsay’s character.
Suspicion for what? For involvement in the criminal doings of her husband, portrayed by Cesar Romero opposite Lindsay in the 1936 film and Anthony Quinn with Perry in ‘41. Each movie begins very differently only to wind up in spots so identical that several minutes of footage originally seen in Public Enemy’s Wife can be seen again in Bullets for O’Hara.
In Public Enemy’s Wife we meet Lindsay’s Judith Maroc working the prison switchboards as she serves a sentence as Romero’s criminal accomplice. She’s called away from her work to meet with the warden, O’Brien and Armstrong alongside him, and is granted her freedom. The warden (Addison Richards) informs her that her husband would like a few words with her before she goes.
Judith is as bitter towards her husband as she had been with the G-men back in the warden's office. Romero’s Gene Maroc, serving a life sentence, warns Judith that she remains forever his and promises that if she ever gets mixed up with another man he will get to them and kill him. He even had her jailed alongside him to keep her free from other men. She tells him that she plans on a divorce as soon as possible.
The formerly blonde Judith Maroc resurfaces at the Palm Royal Hotel as a brunette soon engaged to wealthy playboy Tommy McKay (Dick Foran), of the Marrying McKays. O’Brien and Armstrong are, coincidentally, on the scene and spot her immediately. O’Brien’s G-man, Lee Laird, had his suspicions of Judith, but gets over them early after deciding to use Judith and Tommy’s wedding as bait to lure the now escaped Maroc out of hiding.
Roger Pryor’s Detective Mike O’Hara is much more suspicious of Joan Perry’s Pat Van Dyne in the later movie despite the fact that Perry is much more amiable in the role than Lindsay, whose character almost certainly had a more sinister past.
Bullets for O’Hara opens with a crime to set Quinn’s Tony on the run. It’s a doozie that stretches the imagination, but is just wild enough to get you involved with what is to follow.
Quinn and Perry seem like any ordinary honeymooning couple for the first few moments of Bullets for O’Hara. They are visiting a friendly couple they had recently met, and everybody, Quinn and Perry included, seem like good people. And Perry is good, completely innocent, but Quinn is soon carrying out his plans to rob their hosts.
Dick Purcell plays Quinn’s right hand man in O’Hara, a nice wink since he actually played the same part to Romero in Public Enemy’s Wife!
On their way out Quinn remembers the bonds he left in his host’s safe. By the time the safe is open Tony is pointing his gun into the man's ribs. The other guests and Perry return just in time to see Tony wind up his robbery and drag his stunned wife along with him. Perry’s Pat is just as shocked as everyone else, but it takes Pryor’s Detective O’Hara forever to believe her.
With O'Hara and others catching up to him on board a train, Tony leaves Pat behind and makes his escape.
At this point both movies converge with each springing the same trick on the villain in hope of capturing him: Our leading lady winds up married to the star detective, figuring that the spurned husband can be taken into custody when he undoubtedly shows up to to spoil the ceremony before it can ever be completed. The ruse goes bad each time when the vengeful husband is scared off at the last minute by a car's backfire and wedding vows are completed by each of our antagonistic couples.
Despite the scenes playing nearly identically from here, Public Enemy’s Wife winds to a much more enjoyable conclusion because it isn’t forced to stretch the story as far as the budget conscious Bullets for O’Hara does.
While Margaret Lindsay’s background as a switchboard operator wasn’t necessary to believe Judith’s trick with the phone line, the addition of the Dick Foran character as her fiance really helps to put over the climax because it enables O’Brien to remain anonymous to Romero. They completely do away with the Foran character in Bullets for O’Hara and allow Quinn to be aware of Pryor before we reach the big scene. So Romero has no idea who the pair of singing drunks are in Public Enemy’s Wife, whereas Bullets for O’Hara leaves us to suppose Quinn just can’t recognize Pryor. Two pair of very similar flat feet wind up the giveaway.
Both movies are entertaining, but Public Enemy’s Wife obviously has a bit more behind it. It includes a stronger cast, plus better presentation of the same story; better pace despite being twenty minutes longer; better in most every way.
Bullets for O’Hara piles up the implausibilities, but offers a slightly more menacing villain in Quinn over Romero and a more dynamic, though one dimensional, leading lady in Joan Perry. While I prefer Pat O’Brien as a second lead, he is miles ahead of Roger Pryor as the star of this story. Pryor seems a tough sell as the star of anything, though I did enjoy him during spurts of O’Hara.
“Only a moderate strain on our credulity,” said Life Magazine, while Liberty said it was, “Never quite believable,” though each source admitted it was exciting. Well, if Public Enemy’s Wife was hard to believe, I can only imagine how these same reviewers would feel about Bullets for O’Hara five years later.
The New York Sun thought Public Enemy’s Wife less impressive than Warner’s previous underworld forays and called it, “a minor version of Mary Burns, Fugitive.” But the New York World-Telegram, commenting upon Warner’s “special flair” for racketeer stories praised it for being “played at precisely the right pitch for underworld melodrama.” Hollywood Spectator went further, calling Public Enemy’s Wife, “one of the best examples of sustained suspense we have had in a long time.”
While that goes too far, my own recent experience leads me to say Public Enemy’s Wife makes for a good pairing with G Men, while Bullets for O’Hara is a nice way to spend a little time, just a little, soon after enjoying Public Enemy’s Wife. If by some chance you don't enjoy Public Enemy's Wife, well, then I would advise skipping the remake.
Both movies were Warner Brothers releases based on a story by P.J. Wolfson. Public Enemy’s Wife was directed by Nick Grinde and opened in New York, July 8, 1936. William K. Howard, of the aforementioned Mary Burns, Fugitive, as well as a few other interesting early ‘30s titles, directed Bullets for O’Hara. It also had a summer premier, July 19, 1941.
Unfortunately, you’re going to have to check your own past recordings to locate a copy of either Public Enemy’s Wife or Bullets for O’Hara.
Neither has ever had a video release, nor can I locate copies through my Find Old Movies search engine or even on YouTube! Both of my copies originally came off of Turner Classic Movies, though neither is scheduled to air in the immediate future as of the time of this writing. Given that each movie was a Warner Brothers release I’d imagine that the Warner Archive will at least release Public Enemy’s Wife some time in the future.
- “Public Enemy’s Wife.” Motion Picture Review Digest (Jan-Dec 1936): 86. Internet Archive. Web. 19 Apr 2013.
Leftovers: I noticed a few interesting links inside the cast of Bullets for O’Hara: Anthony Quinn was married to Cecil B. De Mille’s adopted daughter, Katherine DeMille, at the time of Bullets for O’Hara. DeMille had appeared in Belle of the Nineties (1934) which is the most likely place for you to have seen O’Hara star Roger Pryor before.
Pryor later appeared in The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady (1940) at Columbia, while co-star Joan Perry starred opposite Warren William in the previous entry of that same series, The Lone Wolf Strikes (1940). Perry was a regular at Columbia until a few weeks after the release of Bullets for O’Hara, a Warner Brothers release, when she married Columbia head Harry Cohn. They remained married until his death in 1958.