The Love Lottery – 1954

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Bogie Film Fix:

Sliver of a Bogie (Barely There)

Director: Charles Crichton (Perhaps best known for the wonderful A Fish Called Wanda?)

The Lowdown

Hollywood’s biggest heartthrob (David Niven…yes, I know…) tries to escape the public eye and ends up being blackmailed into raffling himself off for marriage.

What I Thought

While trying to track this film down, I’d been warned by another Classic Film fan, “No spoilers, but don’t expect too much from Bogart’s cameo.” That was certainly the understatement of the year as he’s barely in the film for more than a few seconds.

That being said, I actually enjoyed the film quite a bit. Sure, David Niven is a bit long in the tooth and not quite as good looking as he needs to be to play Hollywood’s biggest heartthrob – certainly not enough to warrant hundreds of girls trying to rip him to shreds at every appearance – but it’s a goofy musical comedy and he’s David Niven, so we can forgive a lot.

Director Crichton excels here with the musical dream sequences that plague Niven’s sleep as he slowly begins to crack under the pressure of his own stardom. It’s not hard to imagine that this could have been Leonardo DiCaprio if not for Martin Scorsese, or even George Clooney if not for his eventual hunger for stronger scripts and the director’s chair. Strange, just a touch gruesome, and very well choreographed, Niven’s dreams are the standout scenes from this film.

It’s the conventional script that holds this one back. So a movie star wants to raffle themselves off for marriage? Most casual film fans could probably fill in the blanks and come up with a similar script. A young and infatuated fan wins, but then isn’t sure it’s what she truly wants. A woman within the Lottery organization eventually begins to fall for the actor despite her logistical mathematician’s view of the world.

A + B = C…

Still, it’s worth a watch and might make a good double feature with Director Crichton’s cult classic, A Fish Called Wanda.

The Bogart Factor

Bogie has no lines at all here and is only on screen for mere moments at the very end of the film, but without spoiling the joke, his appearance is worth a laugh! If you’re only here for Bogart recommendations that are worth watching, I’ll save you the time of tracking this one down:

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The Cast

David Niven plays Rex Allerton, the Hollywood dreamboat that every girl on earth wants to maul. Niven is Niven, so he’s very good in the role and very funny. If you can get past the fact that he’s miscast as Hollywood’s most sought-after hunk, you can enjoy his performance.

Anne Vernon plays June, the mathematician brainiac who crunches the numbers for “The International Syndicate of Computation.” You see, the Syndicate is this Illuminati-like organization that makes millions of dollars by arranging for…uh, never mind. It never makes a ton of sense and simply acts as the McGuffin that puts Vernon’s character in the same room as Niven’s. Vernon is a bit underwritten, but in her early scenes of seduction over Niven, she does very well.

Herbert Lom plays Amico, perhaps the most interesting character in the entire film. Amico runs the syndicate of numbers that employs Vernon, and he’s the one who arranges to blackmail Niven into the “love lottery.” Lom comes off as low-level Bond villain, and even after watching the film twice, I’m not sure I grasp his (or his company’s) true motivations for putting Niven into such a tailspin. That being said, he’s got a great screen presence and is a good foil for Niven.

Peggy Cummins plays Sally, the young fan who wins the raffle and gets Niven. She’s fine, but her subplot is introduced late into the film and given very little time to develop. All in all she holds her own, but it could have been a much deeper role.

The Bottom Line

If you’re a Niven fan, or a fan of musicals and haven’t seen this one yet, it might be worth a watch. If you’re looking for any sort of Bogie fix – forget about it…

Joan Leslie

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Birth Name: Joan Agnes Theresa Sadie Brodel

Date of Birth: January 26, 1925

Date of Death: October 12, 2015

Number of Films that Joan Leslie Made with Humphrey Bogart: 5

The Lowdown

Born in Michigan, Joan Leslie jumped into show business early, joining her two older sisters in a family singing trio known as The Three Brodels. Leslie was two-and-a-half years old at the time, and would go on to perform around the country with her sisters on the vaudeville circuit to help her folks earn money during The Great Depression.

Discovered by MGM while performing with the trio in New York, Leslie made her way through more than a dozen films in bit parts and uncredited roles before landing a contract with Warner Brothers where she appeared with a high profile role in High Sierra next to an about-to-explode Humphrey Bogart.

Leslie would go on to receive great reviews in several more high profile films (Yankee Doodle Dandy and Sergeant York, notably) before finally being blacklisted by Warner Brothers after breaking her contract on religious and moral grounds. Leslie would eventually end up back with MGM, the studio that started it all for her, and finished out her career on the big screen and television before retiring in 1991.

I’ve always considered Joan Leslie to be a real joy to watch on screen. Mostly cast alongside of Bogart in the young and naive ingenue role, Leslie’s real life moral convictions played well on the big screen. And while she may have quit Warner Brothers to keep her convictions intact, Leslie was not afraid during her career to show a darker side to her characters if the script called for it in a sensible way.

I’m very happy to add Joan Leslie to the pantheon of The Usual Suspects!

The Filmography

High Sierra – 1941

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Leslie plays Velma, the young and disabled love interest to Bogart. Director Raoul Walsh uses her in small but powerful doses, and he doesn’t shy away from showing us that Leslie has a bit of a darker side towards the end. Leslie does great in the role and holds herself up against Bogart very well. Perhaps the best and most nuanced of her roles with Bogart, the audience is left feeling both sad for Bogart at the loss of potential redemption through love, but also a bit relieved at the thought that this young child won’t end up with a much older gangster. You can read my original post on the film here.

The Wagons Roll at Night – 1941

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Leslie plays Bogart’s baby sister, and the main love interest to Eddie Albert, Mary Coster. While she’s an even more innocent country kid than she was in High Sierra, Leslie doesn’t really have a whole lot to work with. Director Ray Enright’s instructions may well have been, “Look cute and fall in love with Eddie Albert. That’s all you need to know.” The role is almost identical to the one that Jane Bryan played in Kid Galahad as the younger sister who gets caught up in danger after falling for simpleton who’s making his way through showbiz. You can read my original post on the film here.

Thank Your Lucky Stars – 1943

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Leslie plays Pat Dixon, an aspiring young song writer who’s willing to do anything to get her music heard by the world. Leslie is a lot of fun in the role, although it’s a bit underwritten. She adds a nice little physical mannerism to Pat in that every time she starts to get a great idea, she tucks her head down and pounds on her temples. It’s also a lot of fun to see her impersonate James Cagney’s “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you. . .” speech from Yankee Doodle Dandy, considering that she’s the one who costarred with him in that film! Unfortunately, Leslie doesn’t appear in Bogart’s brief cameo, but it’s a fun film that you need to see regardless! You can read my original post on the film here.

I Am an American – 1944

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Leslie plays herself in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo with several other Hollywood celebs (including Bogart) during a rally to support the war effort. None of her lines are heard, and Leslie is shown for just seconds speaking to a crowd before it cuts to a speech by Dennis Morgan. You can read my original post on the film here.

Two Guys from Milwaukee – 1946

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Leslie plays the manicurist love interest to both Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson, Connie Read, and she’s very good in the role. Yes, she does seem a little shallow to leave Buzz behind for a prince just because he’s a prince. And yes, I’m still not quite sure what the whole psychotherapy dream at the end had to do with making her choice between the two men – but again – plot coherency shouldn’t be at the top of your priorities for enjoying this film. Again, no face time with Bogart during his small cameo, but the film is lots of fun and worth a watch. You can read my original post on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing section of the blog where I highlight some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators. You can read the rest of the write ups here.*

Roger Ebert’s Casablanca Commentary

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Honorary Bogart Fix:

5 Bogie

The Lowdown

Acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert overlays Hollywood’s most famous film with his own comprehensive commentary.

What I Thought

Any regular readers will know that I drank the Roger Ebert Kool-Aid a long time ago.

As a kid growing up in the Midwest without cable TV, the two greatest things that happened to me on network television (5 channels at the time) were when newbie network Fox began airing old action flicks on Saturday afternoons, and when At the Movies with Siskel and Ebert began airing around the country in syndication.

We had one rental store in town and these two cantankerous film lovers were my only pre-internet guide to making my way through the racks and racks of films that all looked good to me. It was only after I dropped my $1.25 that I’d find out you can’t always judge a film by the VHS cover art, and I needed help making the most of my money.

I continued watching and reading Roger Ebert after Gene Siskel’s unfortunate passing. I didn’t always agree with him, but when I disagreed, I could almost always understand his point. (One of the few complete disagreements I ever had came when Ebert decried that video games were not art.)

I began to love and appreciate the man even more after following his battle with cancer on his blog. It turned out that his observations on life were even more compelling than his observations on films. I devoured his book Life Itself and the loved the subsequent documentary of the same name. Then I fell especially hard for the art of film criticism after finding this little nugget in the used book store:

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To this day, the moment I finish any new film, my first instinct is always to see if Ebert agreed with my assessment, only to realize that I’ll have to make due with the massive body of work that he left behind.

Have I spent enough time building up my admiration for Roger Ebert yet? So is it any surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed his commentary over Casablanca?

Any notable film critic’s thoughts on the film would probably be fun to hear. (I’m a big fan of David Edelstein and occasionally like to read Richard Roeper. Then there’s this podcast that never fails to deliver – http://filmspotting.net/ – always a great listen.) What sets Ebert apart though, is his PhD level knowledge of Casablancas cast, director, legacy, and place within the history of American cinema.

The man led shot-by-shot breakdown’s of the film for live audiences for goodness sake. I would argue that he probably knew the film as well or better than any man or woman alive before he passed.

So what do we get with his commentary?

For starters, I’ve seen the film more times than I can remember but now I have a new appreciation for Ingrid Bergman’s acting style. Ebert gives us a masterclass on her use of “looking down” to project inner turmoil, as well as a quick lesson on the use of shadow to disguise anything on an actor that CGI would go on to take care of decades later.

He works through many of the myths and legends that have surround the film for years. Yes, Warner Brothers wanted George Raft to play Rick at one point. No, they were never really interested in Ronald Reagan. Sure, Hal Wallis influenced the film in subtle, yet significant ways – he wanted a big band, real parrots, and less hats!

Perhaps Ebert’s most stirring observations come when discussing Casablanca’s historical context, Warner Brother’s severe distaste for the Nazi’s, and the incredible amount of foreign actors that populate the film. There’s a reason this movie seems so authentic. The emotions of fear, betrayal, and anger are more than likely all too real for nearly every supporting actor and extra as they watch Hollywood Nazi’s recreate the authoritarian march of Germany’s boots through Europe that they all lived through.

Then we come to the debate of whether or not Ingrid Bergman knew which man she’d end up with at the end of the film before she filmed the final scene. I won’t give you any spoilers, but I think Ebert makes a pretty solid case that settles the question for me.

Do I disagree occasionally with his thoughts? A little. No, I don’t think Paul Henreid was nearly as wooden as Ebert makes him out to be. And on a minor quibble, revolvers have the rotating cylinder – otherwise they’re just pistols Roger!

All of this only touches the surface of what Ebert’s lifelong passion for films adds to the enjoyment of Casablanca. If you’ve seen the film so much that you can’t imagine finding anything new within it, I would highly recommend tracking down a copy with this commentary.

Roger, we miss you dearly.

Here’s Ebert’s thoughts on the film from his site in 1992 – As Time Goes By…

Bogart: In Search of My Father

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Honorary Bogie Book Fix:

bogie-book

The Lowdown

Stephen Bogart, the son of Hollywood’s greatest icon, parallels his father’s life with his own – giving readers insight into Classic Hollywood, overcoming addiction, and dealing with love and loss within a family while the world watches.

What I Thought

I’ve said it before – if you want a detailed, expansive, beautifully documented history of Humphrey Bogart’s life and career, you need to check out the Sperber/Lax bio Bogart. If you want the casual fan’s take on Bogie without all the geeked-out minutiae that hardcore fans love, read Stefan Kanfer’s Tough Without a Gun.

But if you want an honest and passionate account of Humphrey Bogart’s personality and personal relationships with friends, family, and Hollywood royalty chiming in, you really need to read Bogart: In Search of My Father.

Fair warning – Lauren Bacall’s By Myself and Then Some is next on my reading list, but for now, Stephen Bogart’s memoir is the most in depth account of his father’s personal life that I’ve read so far.

What could have been a light and touching look into Humphrey Bogart is much deeper as Stephen uses his father’s legacy – both the peaks and the valleys – to work through his own personal highs and lows as he comes to grips with what it means to be his own man and “Bogie’s son” at the same time.

Stephen’s years of avoiding his father’s looming presence is made understandable. Who could live in that shadow? Who could live up to that legacy? Who could every come to grips with losing a father at such a young age and then having to deal with it in the blinding spotlight of the media? How could someone ever carve out their own niche in the world with so much family baggage attached?

Father and son both came from broken families. Humphrey because of his distant and troubled parents. Stephen because of the loss of a father he barely knew. Humphrey bucked and burdened most of the authority figures in his early years as he tried to figure out who he was in the world. Stephen lashed out and struggled with his peers and his mother as he tried to come to grips with who he was despite what the world told him.

Humphrey self-medicated with booze and cigarettes right up until his death.

Stephen openly discusses his personal substance abuse struggles and the strong desire not to follow in his father’s footsteps when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

What makes Stephen’s look into his father’s life so compelling is the fact that he doesn’t hold back from the dark corners in order to keep from tarnishing the legacy. Humphrey Bogart’s life is laid bare, warts and all, within the stories, myths, and recollections of his closest friends and coworkers from his personal and professional lives.

Along the way, we get plenty of great drinking stories. (Bogie and John Huston playing football with a grapefruit.) We get a deep and personal history of the origins of The Rat Pack. (Bacall coined the name for the group.) We get some really fun insight into Bogie’s behind-the-scenes hijinks. (Bogie and Raymond Massey daring one another to take over for their respective stuntmen to expectedly dangerous results.) And overall, we get an incredible oral history of Humphrey Bogart from his most intimate inner circle. (Again, Katherine Hepburn’s touching words in regards to Bogie’s passing coupled with Stephen’s own memories of the pain are moving to the point of tears.)

But most importantly, we watch Stephen Bogart rekindle a father/son relationship that he’d for so long assumed was unattainable. It’s a lesson told to us through an unguarded baring of the soul that made me a little more brave to reexamine both the sunny spots and the shadowy recesses of my own life and family.

A must read for anyone who wants to go beyond what they see of Bogie on the silver screen!

Lux Radio Theater Presents – Moontide – 1945

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Honorary Radio Bogie Fix:

Radio Fixes

The Lowdown

An alcoholic boatman (Bogart) rescues a suicidal woman (Virginia Bruce) and they try to use their relationship to escape the boatman’s checkered past.

What I Thought

This one’s a real hidden gem that I’d never heard of until it popped up as a recommendation on my Spotify account.

While most radio adaptions of famous films get the short shrift of 30 minutes or less, Lux gives this one plenty of room to breath with it’s 55 minute running time. Hosted by Mark Hellinger, the producer of the original 1942 film starring Jean Gabin and Ida Lupino, Hellinger was responsible for producing quite a few of Bogart’s film’s over his career.

Perhaps the most surprising moments come during the show’s intro when Hellinger describes his first encounters with a young stage comedian name Humphrey Bogart. Towards the end of the show, we get Bogart and Hellinger together again talking about Bogart’s comedic days on stage, and it’s interesting to consider that Bogart may have lived a good chunk of his life working towards roles that were the antithesis of his gun toting tough guys or ex-pat drinkers.

The broadcast also benefits from an elevation in cast as we get Humphrey Bogart over the film’s original Jean Rabin. I’m not knocking Rabin, but Bogart rarely gave anything less than his best to his radio performances, and his work here is as good as any other radio he’s done.

Bogart plays Bobo, a bait fisherman who occasionally gets blackout drunk and forgets whether or not he might have murdered someone. He plays the part with plenty of wary pause and reluctance – much like a man at the end of his his rope might behave, and the tension raised by the did he do it or not dramatics within his relationship to Virginia Bruce make the love story crackle.

Would I rather have heard Ida Lupino recreate her role? Of course. I have a big crush on Ms. Lupino, and it would have been nice to hear her voice. But then again, I can always go back to the original film, right?

There is a portrayal of an Asian bait fisherman that is insensitive by today’s standards, but other than that, this one’s worth checking out if you can find it!

Barton MacLane

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Birth Name: Ernest Barton MacLane

Date of Birth: December 25, 1902

Date of Death: January 1, 1969

Number of Films Barton MacLane Made with Humphrey Bogart: 6

Barton MacLane is a memorable guy. Large, gruff, and generally projecting a face that makes you assume that his stomach has been sour for several hours, MacLane was a staple tough guy in Hollywood films and television for five decades.

While many recognize MacLane from his role as Lieutenant MacBride in the Torchy film series, or his extended run as General Peterson on I Dream of Jeannie, I would guess that most casual Classic Film fans know him from his work alongside of Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, High Sierra, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

MacLane has been an actor that I’ve long planned on placing into The Usual Suspects. While most of his characters in Bogart films – either crooks or cops – tend to have the same gruff demeanor and bleak outlook on life, MacLane is one of those actors that made a long and successful career out of playing exactly the man you’d expect him to be based on his appearance.

That’s not to say that MacLane didn’t have a few surprises up his sleeve. Yes, he played college football, but did you also know that he could play the violin? Sure he played a cowboy for film and television and lived up to that Western persona as he worked his own cattle ranch in his down time, but did you know that he also attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, wrote and performed on Broadway, and was married to the talented and beautiful actress Charlotte Wynters?

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Regardless of how you might know Barton MacLane, the one thing I know for sure is that he was never miscast in a Bogie film. Gangster or Detective. Prison Guard or Conman. MacLane elevated every film he starred in with his commanding presence and his well-honed acting skills. (Plus, he and Bogart were both Christmas babies!) So today we welcome Barton MacLane into The Usual Suspects!

The Filmography

Bullets or Ballots – 1936

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MacLane plays racketeer Al Kruger, the man who tries to lure Edward G. Robinson into a life of crime after a scandalous dismissal from the police force. Despite the fact that the movie might not be the best, this is perhaps MacLane’s most likable role in a Bogart film. Playing “the thinking man’s gangster,” MacLane is able to elicit sympathy from both the film’s hero (Robinson) and the tough-guy gangster (Bogart) who tries so desperately to convince him that Robinson is a no good double dealer. If he’d only listened to Bogart! Why, Al, why? Definitely my favorite MacLane role on this list.

You can read my original post on the film here.

San Quentin – 1937

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MacLane plays prison guard Lieutenant Druggin who just wants to be the captain of the yard if not for Pat O’Brien’s meddling ways. MacLane’s Druggin wants hard-nosed justice. Prisoners should be put in their places, forcefully, the moment that they step out of line. O’Brien’s dashing prison captain believes in a much more subtle approach – respecting the prisoners as men in their own rights who deserve the benefit of the doubt. It’s a role that calls for the gruffest and sourest that MacLane has to offer, and he’s perfectly cast in the film.

You can read my original post on the film here.

High Sierra – 1941

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MacLane plays Jake, the right hand man to Donald MacBride who plays the ailing ringleader of Bogart’s robbery crew. The part is a bit smaller than the previous two in his Bogie filmography, but MacLane does well as he spends his time giving Bogart the suspicious eye while trying to muscle in on MacBride’s soon-to-be open position.

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Maltese Falcon – 1941

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MacLane plays Lieutenant of Detectives Dundy in a semi-friendly role to Bogart’s private detective, Sam Spade. Most of the film’s sparse comic relief comes from MacLane’s one-step-behind pursuit of Bogart, and both men seem to be enjoying their time on screen together as they appear to be on the verge of smiling at each other’s faux tough guy antics. Probably MacLane’s most well know Classic Film, his perfectly cast supporting role only adds to the iconic status of this movie.

You can read my original post on the film here.

All Through the Night – 1941

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MacLane plays Marty Callahan, one of Bogart’s rival gangsters that ends up coming to help when it’s time to punch some Nazis. MacLane’s best moments in this small role come when he has to deal with Bogart’s frazzled mother as she storms his nightclub looking for the murderer of a local baker. Again, not a huge role, but MacLane’s involvement is just another piece of this great ensemble cast that makes the film great.

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre –1948

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MacLane plays McCormick, a less-than-reputable foreman who cheats Bogart and Tim Holt out of some very hard earned wages. It’s a chance for MacLane to be a bit more blowhard, and a bit less tough than how we usually see him in the rest of his Bogart filmography, and it all leads to a great great bar fight between MacLane, Bogart, and Holt that’s brutal, bloody, and incredibly satisfying when it comes to enacting revenge on the man who stole their paychecks!

You can read my original post on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing section of the blog where I highlight some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators. You can read the rest of the write ups here.*

Theater of Romance: One Way Passage – 1945

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Honorary Bogie Radio Fix:

Radio Fixes 3

The Lowdown

Bogart (Warner’s Dynamic Star!) and Joan Bennett (who would go on to star with Bogart in We’re No Angels) are two ships passing in the night (pun intended) in this doom-fated romance between a man headed to death row and a woman with a fatal heart defect.

What I Thought

Full disclosure, I’ve never seen the William Powell and Kay Francis film that this one is based on, although it sounds like it might be worth checking out after this.

Yes – you know exactly where the plot is going. Yes – it’s hard to feel too much sympathy for Bogart every time his murder conviction is mentioned. Yes – you do wonder why the cop guarding Bogart continues to trust him even after Bogart drugs him while trying to escape.

If you can believe me though, all of that is trivial compared to the thoroughly enjoyable chemistry between Bogart and Bennett as they fall in love and spend their last days together. Neither will tell the other one their fateful secret. (And why would Bennett ever suspect Bogart’s murderous past? I mean, it’s not like every death row inmate gets to head to his execution on a cruise, right?)

At twenty-four minutes, this one’s definitely worth a listen for any Bogart or Old Time Radio fan. Plus, we get great tips on hygiene from Colgate Tooth Powder and Halo Shampoo! Did you know that bad breath can lead to unexplainable sadness? And why isn’t Halo Shampoo still a thing? Best. Shampoo. Name. Ever.

Why struck me as most interesting was that Bogart didn’t seem to be promoting a film for this one. Broadcast in December of 1945, this show came six months after Conflict was released, and six months before Bogart made his cameo in Two Guys from Milwaukee.

Maybe he liked the original film!