They don’t make them like Bogart anymore. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Humphrey Bogart the greatest American male movie star. A cultural icon who has been immortalized in movies (Breathless, Play it Again, Sam, The Man with Bogart’s Face and the TV movie Bogie), in at least two cartoons, music (Don’t Bogart That Joint, Key Largo), in comic books and even on a U.S. postal stamp . Starting in the 1960’s Bogart became a symbol of rebellion for the emerging counter-culture who embraced the contradictory characteristics of his anti-hero roles in films like Casablanca, In a Lonely Place, High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon. Bogart film festivals on college campus’ and at repertory theaters were common well into the 1970’s.
The Bogart cult began in New York and Boston soon spreading to the rest of the country. The New Yorker Theater in New York City ran a double feature of To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep that broke the house attendance records. That same year, in Cambridge the first Bogart Film Festival was held to large crowds of students.
Bogart’s acting career began in the theater. This was after serving a hitch in the Navy. He did not have any formal training as an actor, but was a hard worker and appeared in at least seventeen Broadway plays, mostly juvenile and romantic second leads wearing white pants and carrying a tennis racquet. Many credited Bogart with being the first actor to say “Tennis, anyone” on stage. According to IMDB and the Humphrey Bogart web site, Bogart made his screen debut with a bit part in a 1920 film called Life of which little seems to be known. He apparently made two more short subjects in the late 1920’s before making his feature film debut in Up the River. Not only was this Bogart’s feature film debut, it was also Spencer Tracy’s who had the lead role in this early John Ford film. For the next few years, Bogart alternated between Broadway and some minor screen roles, the most notable of which is Three on a Match. In 1935, Bogart’s last stage performance became his gateway to stardom, though it would still take a while to reach the top. He was signed to play the tired cold-blooded killer Duke Mantee in Robert E. Sherwood’s The Petrified Forest. The play’s star was Englishman Leslie Howard. Howard owned the production rights and when Warner Brothers purchased the screen rights, Howard insisted, Bogart recreates his role as Duke Mantee. Warner’s wanted the more popular and established Edward G. Robinson. Howard told Warner’s, no Bogart, no movie. Bogart was in. He received rave reviews from the critics for his performance. However, for the next six or seven years Bogart would remain a supporting player. With his next film, Bullets or Ballots, Bogart continued playing the second “banana” to many of Warner’s top stars. Mostly gangsters or shady characters in films like San Quentin, Kid Galahad, Dead End, Racket Busters, Angels With Dirty Faces, The Roaring Twenties, and You Can’t Get Away With Murder. In many of these films, Bogart was shot and killed by either Edward G. Robinson or James Cagney. There were some early roles where he was on the right side of the law. Bogart was impressive as the District Attorney in Marked Woman, and in Black Legion, where he played a good character who gets mixed up with a racist organization. There was also a nice role in an offbeat film called Stand In. There were two westerns during this period also, The Oklahoma Kid, with Cagney and Virginia City with Errol Flynn. The Oklahoma Kid is the better of the two films. Virginia City is an odd duck containing one the strangest Bogart roles, that of a Mexican-American outlaw!
In the 1940’s, full fledge stardom and the films that would be responsible for the Bogart cult were coming up. 1941 saw two classic Bogie’s, High Sierra directed by Raoul Walsh from a screenplay by John Huston based on a novel by W.R. Burnett started things off. This was also the first collaboration between Bogart and John Huston who would be responsible for many of Bogart’s classic films. Bogart and Huston were friends having a lot in common, drinking buddies, rebels, and adventurers. George Raft, who co-starred with Bogart in the 1940 film, They Drive by Night, declined the role of “Mad Dog” Roy Earle, as did Paul Muni, opening up the door for Bogart to get the lead in this “A” production. The film co-starred Ida Lupino, Arthur Kennedy and Joan Leslie. Bogart gives a major performance as the Dillinger like “Mad Dog.”
Bogart and Huston reunited that same year for The Maltese Falcon, a film some consider one of the earliest noir flavored films. Huston wrote the screenplay, based on Dashiell Hammett’s classic pulp novel. With this film, Huston made his film directing debut. If anyone actor, beside Leslie Howard, was responsible for Bogart’s becoming a star, it was George Raft, who was offered the role of Sam Spade and like he did with High Sierra turned it down! Bogart again was the recipient of Raft’s poor judgment. This 1941 film was the third version of The Maltese Falcon. Originally filmed in 1931, aka Dangerous Female, starring Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade and Bebe Daniels as Ruth Wonderly, Una Merkel as Effie, Spade’s secretary and comedian Thelma Todd as Miles Archer’s wife. Being a pre-code film, this original version contains scenes that would not be permitted in the latter two versions. The film does not hide the homosexual overtones of the Joel Cairo character as well as being more blatant about Spade’s sexual habits with various women. Like the 1941, version it sticks close to the book even using much of the novel’s dialogue. The 1936 version, Satan Meets a Lady was tame by comparison and different in tone. A comedy mystery with all the characters names changed. The film starred Bette Davis and Warren Williams. The Bogart/Huston version turned out to be a classic, giving Bogart the opportunity to a play a complex character, greedy, cynical yet with a personal code of honor. The film was not all Bogart and Huston, cinematographer Arthur Edeson work was an important part of the mood and atmosphere. Low-key lighting, and off beat camera angles contribute immensely. Memorable is the final scene with Mary Astor as the bars of the cage like elevator close on her signifying the prison bars she will soon be behind. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor.
In 1942, Bogart played his next to last gangster role in a little known film called The Big Shot. He would not play another hood until his next to last film The Desperate Hours in 1955. That same year, came Across the Pacific, another collaboration with friend John Huston, which also reunited him with Sydney Greenstreet and Mary Astor. During that same year, he made the film that remains his most beloved, and is generally considered one of the best films of all time (ranked # 2 on the AFI Best American Films list) and certainly one of the most romantic. If anyone character and film, symbolize the Bogart mystique, it is Rick Blaine in Casablanca. At the time, no one thought they were making a “classic.” The story was based on a failed Broadway play called Everybody Comes to Rick’s. The budget was small and they needed to film it fast. True, they had some big stars in the film, Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henried as well as Peter Lorre, Claude Rains and Dooley Wilson, but no one was expecting too much.. The greatness of the film was in the stars. Everything was in alignment, art and commerce. It is this role more than any other than personifies the Bogart mystique. The wounded sensitive individual, the loner, the anti-hero with a code that says’ “I stick my neck out for nobody.” The film is loaded with classic lines, “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine” , “Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects”, “Here’s looking at you kid.” The list or rather the dialogue goes on.
Action in the North Atlantic is a rather routine World War II action film, followed by Sahara and Passage to Marseille, which reunited Bogart with director Michael Curtiz from Casablanca, as well as Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet Peter Lorre and the beautiful French actress Michelle Morgan.
In 1944, Howard Hawks gave a screen test to a young 19 year old model that he ended up casting opposite Bogart in To Have and Have Not. The young model was of course, Lauren Bacall and at nineteen, she was an equal match for the forty-four year Bogart. The back story of their love affair is just as interesting as the on screen romance. Hawks discovery of Bacall was due to his wife pointing her out in a magazine photo. Bogart and Bacall were attracted to each other almost immediately, to the discontent of Howard Hawks, a ladies man, who had eyes for Bacall himself. The film is loaded with great writing and Bacall’s dialogue includes her career making lines “you know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and……blow.” Pure sexual heat!!!
Conflict, Bogart’s next role is a decent enough crime drama of a man who killed his wife in a “perfect crime” only to see it unravel as the film progresses. Alexis Smith co-stars as the wife’s younger sister, who Bogart is in love with and Sydney Greenstreet is also on board. His next film, The Big Sleep reteamed Bogart and Bacall with Howard Hawks directing this classic private eye story based on Raymond Chandler’s novel. As Philip Marlowe, Bogart is hired by a rich family in a convoluted case that even the screenwriters and Chandler himself was unsure who the murderer was, at least that is the legend that is told. There are two versions of The Big Sleep. The so-called pre release version and the official 1946 release. Both versions are available on DVD. In the pre-release version, Bacall’s part is much smaller however, it was decided that everyone wanted to cash in on the Bogart-Bacall relationship and they enlarged her role, which included the now famous sexually charged race horse dialogue. Getting the shaft was Martha Vickers whose role as the younger sister Carmen was decreased. The film is loaded with great dialogue and even though the plot is convoluted and hard to follow it is just great. Bogart’s next two films, Dead Reckoning and The Two Mrs. Carroll’s I have not seen in a long time. From what I remember, both films are decent though not in the stratosphere of greatness. For me the inclusion of Barbara Stanwyck in “The Two Mrs. Carroll’s makes this something I want to see again. Dark Passage followed. This is the third film pairing Bogart and Bacall and while good, it is the least effective of the four films they made together. Based on a pulp novel by David Goodis. Bogart is Vincent Barry, an escaped prisoner from San Quentin who gets plastic surgery so the police won’t recognize him and he can hunt for the real killer of the crime he was convicted of. He is sheltered by Irene (Bacall) an artist who has followed the case and tries to help prove his innocence. The most unique aspect of the film the us subjective use of the camera. We do not see Bogart for almost an hour into the film. Surprisingly, this was the second film in the same year (1947) to use this technique. Robert Montgomery in Lady in the Lake, which he both directed and starred in, used the same subjective camera style. Continuing the Bogart connection here of course in that Montgomery played Phillip Marlowe in this screen adaptation of a Raymond Chandler novel.
Bogart and John Huston reunited in 1948 to make another great classic, The Treasure of Sierra Madre. Based on a novel by the mysterious B. Traven, Bogart is Fred C. Dobbs, one of two down on their luck Americans, Tim Holt, as Bob Curtin is the other, who team up with old time prospector only known as Howard, played by the director’s father, Walter Huston to search for gold in Mexico. Bogart gives a terrific performance as the greed stricken Dobbs who after they strike gold starts to lose his mind along with his trust of his fellow prospectors. The film is noted for the famous if often misquoted line of dialogue “Badges, we don’t need no stinking badges.” The correct dialogue is “Badges? We ain’t got no badges! We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinking badges!”
The same year (1948), Bogart and Huston made“Key Largo which would also be the fourth and final film Bogie and Bacall would make together. Also starring Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor. Bogart is very effective as Frank McCloud, a former officer who comes to Key Largo to visit the family of a G.I. killed in the war. The hotel had been commandeered by Johnny Rocco (Robinson) and his gang who eventually plan to escape to Cuba. At first, McCloud is reluctant to get involved (shades of Rick from Casablanca), but after Rocco and his men murder some locals and force McCloud to command the yacht that will take them to Cuba he manages to kill them all including Rocco. Bogart is laid back and stoic as McCloud waiting for the right chance to get the slimy Rocco. In earlier days, Bogart always portrayed the hood, the bad guy, here the roles are reversed with Robinson as the gangster and Bogie the hero.
In 1948, Bogart started his own production company, Santana Productions, and the first film under the new company was Nick Ray’s Knock on Any Door released in 1949. This film received mixed reviews when originally released. Bogart play’s Andrew Morton a lawyer who is defending a young murderer, Nick Romano (John Derek). Morton, like Romano grew up in the slums and his defense in the courtroom is that Romano is more a victim of society’s failings forcing people in slums, like Nick, to lead a life of crime. Part of Morton’s own guilt in taking the case was that years earlier he defended Nick’s innocent father and lost the case. Though Morton loses the case with the young Romano, he gives a powerful argument as he pleads to the jury to spare Nick’s life and to prevent future Nick’s from following the same path. The film’s most famous piece of dialogue is when Nick says “Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse.”
Bogart’s next films were Tokyo Joe, Chain Lightening, and the best of the Santana productions In a Lonely Place again directed by Nick Ray. An excellent film noir, In a Lonely Place tells the story of screenwriter Dixon Steele (Bogart) who has a history of violence and becomes a suspected in a murder. During this time, Dix becomes involved with neighbor and luckless actress Laurel Gary (Gloria Grahame). Laurel provides Dix with the alibi he needs and for the short time, their relationship goes well. However, Dix’s demons and heavy drinking soon come out and Laurel who has fallen in love with Dix begins to wonder if he really is a murderer and fears for her life. Though less known than Bogart classics such as The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of Sierra Madre, In a Lonely Place is a brilliant film. Superbly acted by Bogart in one of his best performances. Gloria Grahame is also just perfect! Not only a good murder mystery but a harsh dark look at the underside of Hollywood.
Bogart only made one film with Katherine Hepburn. “The African Queen” is a kind of “Odd Couple.” Instead of Felix and Oscar, we get coarse uncouth Charlie Allnut and prim teetotaler, missionary Rose Sayer, set against a background of tensions between rival British and German colonial interests. “The African Queen” is also a mature love story of two adults from two different worlds who under strained circumstances find courage, humanity and love. Both Bogart and Hepburn give tour-due force performances. Bogart won the Best Actor Award beating out Marlon Brando for “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Hepburn wan nominated, as was John Huston for Director and for Screenplay (along with James Agee).
The sixth and final collaboration between Bogart and Huston was the offbeat 1953 film Beat the Devil. Arguably, one of the first cult films Beat the Devil died at the box office when it first premiered, probably because few may have known what to make of it. The film is an oddity, satirical, a heist film, adventure film and so on. Co-starring Gina Lollobrigida, Jennifer Jones and Robert Morley. Co-written by John Huston and Truman Capote
By 1954, Bogart was probably beginning to show the signs of the cancer that would kill him in a few years however, 1954 was a great year for him, cinematically speaking. The Caine Mutiny, Sabrina and The Barefoot Contessa, provided Bogie with three diverse roles as his career was coming toward the end. “The Caine Mutinybased on Herman Wolk’s massive bestselling Pulitzer prize winning novel had a cast that included Fred Mac Murray, Van Johnson, Jose Ferrer and E.G. Marshall. In small roles were Lee Marvin, Steve Brodie and Claude Akins. But it is Bogart who steals the show as the crazed Captain Queeg, a character that has become imbedded in our cultural heritage. The film received seven Academy Award nominations including Bogart for Best Actor and Best Picture. Sabrina is unique among Bogie’s films, a romantic comedy, directed by the great Billy Wilder. It was the only time they worked together and apparently, it was not a happy set. Bogart got along with no one, not Wilder, nor his younger co-stars William Holden and Audrey Hepburn. Daniel Kimmel, in his new book, I’ll Have What She’s Having, provides a great back-story on what went on before and during the time the cameras rolled. Nevertheless, the end product is a great romantic comedy, one of Billy Wilder’s more gentile films with Bogart proving himself again as a love interest.
In 1955, Bogart made what would turn out to be the last of the few comedies he made, We’re No Angels is a fun film about three prisoners who escaped from Devil’s Island and end up helping a storeowner they originally planned to rob. It’s a pleasant film with a cast that includes Aldo Ray, Peter Ustinov, Joan Bennett, Basil Rathbone and Leo G. Carroll. The film reunited Bogie with long time Warner Brothers director Michael Curtiz.
The best of the films Bogart made in 1955 was William Wyler’s The Desperate Hours co-starring Fredric March and Arthur Kennedy. Bogie is Glen Griffin, the leader of a gang of three who hold March’s family hostage in their own house. Based on a hit Broadway play and novel by Joseph Hayes, this was Bogie’s final role as a criminal and he does not disappoint. Arguably, he is too old for the role (a young Paul Newman portrayed Griffin in the Broadway production), though that is a small price to pay to see Bogart back as a hood (Bogart was not the only one too old for his role. Gig Young was forty-two at the time playing the boyfriend of March’s 19 year old daughter. One final comment on this film or rather the 1990 remake directed by Michael Cimino, with Mickey Rourke in the Griffin role. Stay away from it.
Budd Shulberg’s novel The Harder They Fall was Humphrey Bogart’s final film, a hard-hitting story about corruption in the boxing world. Bogart plays a down on his luck sportswriter who get involved with a crooked fight promoter (Rod Steiger) who uses a naïve glassed jawed boxer to fix fights. Both Bogart and Steiger are terrific in their roles and while the ending is a bit of a cop out this is a really good film and a tough look at the boxing industry. The Harder They Fall was released in May of 1956. Humphrey Bogart died eight months later in January of 1957. He was only fifty-eight years old.