Thursday, June 30, 2011

Humphrey Bogart

Bogart's career, like Davis, Colbert, and Grant, began in the 1930s with early talkies. Unfortunately, it ended in the late 50s due to his relatively early death from cancer; if he had lived, he would undoubtedly have continued making films, like his colleagues. Maybe we would have seen Bogart on 60s game shows and sit-coms: imagine.

Bogart's status as a star usually rests on his work in The Petrified Forest (1936), when he was still playing criminals and cons, and closes with The Caine Mutiny and Sabrina, both in 1954, as his last "big" pictures. These three give a clue to Bogart's usually ignored range as an actor: comedy, drama, suspense.

Type-cast early as a crazy guy with a gun in B-movies, he was able to transcend such successful but limiting casting and move into what we now think of as his regular gig: romantic leading man in major pictures. Unlike Grant, Bogart was completely contemporary -- no period pieces for him. Like Colbert, he started in plays, but turned to films in the late 20s, breaking into regular work in the 1930s. In 1934 he was cast in the play of Petrified Forest, which was a huge success on Broadway; Leslie Howard bought the film rights, and both he and Bette Davis were cast. Howard insisted Bogart reprise his B'way role, and Bogart's film career took off.

Like all three of the other actors in this group, there are a few well-known Bogart films, but lots of great unknowns, which are worth renting or watching on Netflix. Again, a great way to spend your holiday weekend, checking them out from the library or local rental place, or looking online for free streaming versions.

My recommendations of famous Bogart films include:
The Petrified Forest (1936) -- bonus, you get Davis and Howard, too. This is Bogart's signature "tough guy" role, the killer without remorse but still complex.
The Roaring Twenties (1939), with James Cagney, where Bogart is a bootlegger. Again, b-movie bad guy with style.
The Maltese Falcon (1941). Brilliant Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet and Elisha Cook Jr. as supporting cast. Read the Hammett novel after, but watch this for the fun of the John Huston screenplay/directing. Huston and Bogart were life-long friends--you can see why!

Casablanca (1942), this time with the fantastic Howard Koch screenplay. The role cemented Bogart's status as a star, and he never had to do a B-picture or struggle for casting again. Bergman and Henried are fantastic, but don't miss Greenstreet, Conrad Veidt, and Lorre, as well as the bar staff. Best moment: "La Marseillaise."
To Have and Have Not (1944), the film where Bogart met Bacall. Based on a Hemingway story, this is one sext action picture. Bacall was 19 and Bogart was 45: that didn't seem to be a problem. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? And the music of Hogey Carmichael.

The Big Sleep (1946), Bogart's first Chandler picture, playing Phillip Marlowe--again, with Bacall. Read the book after (it's better!) but see the picture.
The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948), another John Huston picture, and one of my favorite Bogart films. he's not a good guy, here. The brilliant Walter Huston, John's dad, co-stars. Both Hustons won Oscars: acting and directing/writing. Bogart? Bupkis.
Key Largo (1948), again Bacall and the return to the complex loner hero. Claire Trevor deservedly won an Oscar for Supporting Actress (she's really, really good!) and Edward G. Robinson is just fun.
The African Queen (1951) with Kate Hepburn. Fun and funny to watch.
The Caine Mutiny (1954), where he plays the nutty Commander Queeg. Again, worth watching for the raft of great performances, anchored by Bogart's complex character.
Sabrina (1954), the original, with Audrey Hepburn and William Holden. Ooh la la! Ok, it is Hepburn's transformation from awkward teen to stylin' Paris girl that I love, but Bogart and Holden are a great pair of suitors. And Bogart, despite being, yes 55, to Hepburn's 25, is still sexy. I prefer this to the later version with Harrison Ford because it is simply funnier, wittier, and better done all 'round.

But rent these, too:
Dead End (1937), based on the stage play. Fantastic Bogey as escaped criminal come back to old neighborhood. Depression-era grittiness.
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), with Cagney and Pat O'Brien. Bogart is third-billed behind these two but gives a solid performance in this story of a thug trying to corrupt a gang of local kids, while their tough priest tries to save them. Surprisingly good script.
The Oklahoma Kid (1939) a Western (yes!) with Bogart and Cagney playing basically ganster versions of battling cowboys in the old West. You know you want to see it.
The Two Mrs. Carrols (1947), with Barbara Stanwyck. Meller-dramma with Bogart as insane, wife-killing  artist.
We're No Angels (1955), another odd Christmas film with Bogart, Peter Ustinov, and Aldo Rey as criminals escaped from the notorious Devil's Island who save an impoverished family. Witty, funny, and bright. It almost seems a parody of Bogart's bad guy role... delightfully.

Comic publicity shot
These are the best, but there are obviously more. I love that Bogart wasn't the typical gorgeous actor, but in either bad guy roles or romantic hero roles always added some twist.

Don't they look happy?

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