Bullets or Ballots

Bullets or Ballots is a 1936 gangster film starring Edward G. Robinson, Joan Blondell, Barton MacLane, and Humphrey Bogart. Robinson plays a police detective who infiltrates a crime gang. This is the first of several films featuring both Robinson and Bogart.

Bullets or Ballots
1936 Theatrical Poster
Directed byWilliam Keighley
Produced byLouis F. Edelman (uncredited)
Written bySeton I. Miller
Martin Mooney
StarringEdward G. Robinson
Joan Blondell
Barton MacLane
Humphrey Bogart
Frank McHugh
Music byBernhard Kaun
CinematographyHal Mohr
Edited byJack Killifer
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • June 6, 1936 (1936-06-06)
Running time
82 minutes
CountryUnited States

Robinson's character, "Johnny Blake", was based on Johnny Broderick, a noted New York City detective.[1]

Plot summary

Detective Johnny Blake (Edward G. Robinson) is a New York City cop who has made his reputation by cracking down on racketeers. When Blake gets kicked off the force, a powerful crime boss named Al Kruger (Barton MacLane) hires him in an attempt to gain fresh ideas about sidestepping the law and expanding his criminal empire. Masterminding the mob are three very powerful bankers, who are only known by the crime boss. Blake soon gains Kruger's trust and rises through the ranks of the criminal organization, much to the distaste of Bugs Fenner (Humphrey Bogart), who believes Blake to be a police informer.[2]

To compensate for a reduction in the mob's revenue, Blake suggests to Kruger that they go into the numbers racket, currently run on a small scale by Blake's girlfriend, Lee Morgan (Joan Blondell). Kruger follows Blake's proposal, and the mob's money flow is so great that Kruger ignores the other rackets. In reality, Blake is cooperating with Captain Dan McLaren (Joseph King) in order to find the leaders of the crime ring. With Blake's information, the police engage in a series of raids on the crime syndicate's operations. Fenner, unhappy with the focus of the rackets, kills Kruger in an attempt to take over as the head of the mob. But, Blake has already been granted the title as boss by the leaders, and he takes over control, meeting up with the three bankers.

When Fenner's produce racket gets raided by the police and Blake is seen as the fingerman by a spotter, Fenner attempts to kill Blake, while he waits to deliver money to the bankers. During a gun battle, Fenner is killed and Blake is mortally wounded. He is able to arrive at the bank, leading McLaren to the bankers, who are subsequently arrested.




  • William Pawley as Crail
  • Ralph Remley as Kelly
  • Frank Faylen as Gatley - pinball racketeer
  • Garry Owen as The Spotter


Writing for The Spectator in 1936, Graham Greene gave the film a good review, describing it as "a good gangster film of the second class", and praising actor Robinson as having given "a reliable performance".[4]

Adaptations to Other Media

Bullets or Ballots was adapted as a one-hour radio play on the April 17, 1939 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater with Edward G. Robinson, Mary Astor, and Humphrey Bogart.[5]


  1. "John Broderick is Dead at 72; Renowned as Tough Detective" (PDF). The New York Times. January 18, 1966. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  2. http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/66/Bullets-or-Ballots/articles.html
  3. McCarty, Clifford (1965). Bogey-The Films of Humphrey Bogart. Cadillac Publishing Co., Inc. p. 29.
  4. Greene, Graham (27 November 1936). "The New Gulliver/Bullets or Ballots/The White Angel". The Spectator. (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome. Oxford University Press. p. 121. ISBN 0192812866.)
  5. "Radio Classics: Bullets or Ballots rebroadcast". Radio Classics. November 18, 2015. 60 minutes in. Sirius XM. Sirius XM Channel 148. Retrieved November 18, 2015.

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