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Get two gangster-movie icons for the price of one as tough police detective Edward G. Robinson faces off for the first time against Humphrey Bogart, the ambitious enforcer for a big-time racketeer. Bogart's effectively the co-star--virtually a one-man crime wave--though he rates only fourth billing behind Eddie G., Joan Blondell, and Barton MacLane. Still, no question it's Robinson's movie; the former "Little Caesar" walks the line beautifully as an honest cop who, unjustly jettisoned from the force, agrees to go to work for the mobster (MacLane) he's long pursued. A fascinating air of fatalism attaches to Robinson's character, whether shrugging off his betrayal by the new police commissioner (and his oldest friend), trading polite threats with his new criminal colleagues, or dismissing the possibility of happiness with the nightclub operator (Blondell) who clearly cares for him.
The title is a bit of a misnomer: Despite a rhetorical reference to "ballots" as the public's means of expressing outrage over the costs of crime, it's bullets that get the job done. Bullets and fists: the movie makes clear that Robinson has beaten confessions out of people on many occasions, and in best hardnosed Warner Bros. tradition, it has no illusions about the empty symbolism of crime commissions and grand juries. There's a nice subplot involving Blondell creating the numbers racket as off-hours distraction from her main occupation; her territory is Harlem, and Louise Beavers, usually relegated to maid roles, has spirited fun with the chance to strut as Blondell's partner. William Keighley directed. --Richard T. Jameson