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Brother Orchid is a 1940 crime dramedy directed by Lloyd Bacon.

John Sarto (Edward G. Robinson) is the leader of a minor gang of hoodlums who run a protection racket. After his more vicious second-in-command, Jack Buck (Humphrey Bogart, still in the "third billing as a gangster" phase of his film career), kills a rival, Sarto thinks that the criminal world is getting too brutal for him. He turns over leadership of the gang to Buck, abandons his moll Florence (Ann Sothern), and goes off to Europe to live in style.

Only problem is, five years of living in style leaves Sarto broke. He goes back to American to reclaim leadership of his gang, but, unsurprisingly, Buck is not interested. Buck throws Jack out of the office with a warning that he'd better leave town if he wants to stay alive. Meanwhile, Flo has gotten a new boyfriend, a cattle rancher named Clarence Fletcher (Ralph Bellamy), but unlike Buck and the gang, she eagerly welcomes Sarto back and starts making plans to get married.

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Sarto recruits some more hoodlums and starts to wage war against Buck. Flo, who is well-intentioned but not very smart, lures Sarto into a meeting with Buck with the thought of making peace between them. Instead Buck has his goons take Sarto into the woods to be murdered. He manages to escape, however, and runs off into the forest, eventually reaching a monastery.

Sarto hides out in the monastery, recovering from his bullet wound, and marveling at the guilelessness and gentle spirit of the monks, who sustain their meager existence by selling flowers in New York City. Eventually he grows to admire them—but he still has a score to settle with Jack Buck.


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Tropes:

  • Acme Products: Sarto and Buck fight over who is going to extort money from Mr. Bailey, owner of the Acme Paving Company.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The first line of dialogue has Sarto, in a conference room with his coworkers, reading about the shooting of a gangster and saying "This is murder, just plain murder." No, he's not a concerned citizen; he's a gangster, and some of his colleagues committed the murder in the paper.
  • Barefoot Poverty: A local boy named Joseph is so poor he doesn't own shoes sneaks into the monastery to do Sarto's gardening work for him. When the Brother Superior (Donald Crisp) finds out about this, he spends the extra $2 that is the monastery's cash reserve on shoes for the boy.
  • Becoming the Mask: Sarto hides out at a monastery and pretends to join their order. Naturally, in the end he becomes a monk for real.
  • But Now I Must Go: Having defeated Jack Buck and caused his arrest, thus clearing the way for the monks to sell flowers in the city again, Sarto goes back to the monastery.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Shockingly, Ralph Bellamy gets the girl. It's actually Sarto who doesn't get the girl. He decides to return to the monastery, and steps aside so that Clarence and Flo can get married.
  • The Ditz: Flo arranges the meeting between Sarto and Buck in blissful idiocy, completely unaware that Buck plans to murder Sarto there. Earlier in the film, when Sarto is getting ready to leave for Europe, Flo is pasting his destination stickers on the inside of his steamer trunk.
    Sarto: You know Flo, sometimes you got me guessing if you're even a nitwit.
  • Fainting: Flo faints when Sarto, thought to be five years' dead, shows up in her apartment.
  • Not What I Signed Up For: Disturbed at his gang being implicated in a murder, Sarto retires from crime and goes to live a life of ease in Europe. He comes back when the money runs out.
  • Protection Racket: Sarto's business. Apparently he's managed to run a protection racket without ever having to kill a competitor or any of the business owners he leeches from, as he quits after Buck kills a collaborator.
  • Saving the Orphanage: Sarto winds up saving the monastery from the gangsters he used to lead, when Buck's protection racket threatens flower sales, the monastery's sole source of income.
  • Time Passes Montage: A montage of Sarto's travels in Europe shows him bopping around the great capitals, wasting money—buying worthless racehorses, buying fake antiques, finally blowing the last of his dough at Monte Carlo.
  • Title Drop: Sarto takes "Brother Orchid" as his monastic name because the monks grow flowers and he likes orchids.
  • Verbal Tic: John Sarto has the tic of ending sentences with "See?" that Robinson made iconic in Little Caesar.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: That's an awfully big picture and headline in the paper, announcing Flo's marriage to Clarence.
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