‘A Reasonable Amount of Trouble…’ The Films of John Huston & Humphrey Bogart by Denny Ledger

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I had feared for awhile that I’d burned myself out a little bit on writing about Humphrey Bogart.  I’d finished my goal of watching all the available films of course, but I still have a back log of books, radio shows, and Bogie boozes to discuss.  The blog has suffered.

This is how I know that Denny Ledger’s book is a good one.  Halfway through his chapter on The Maltese Falcon, I tossed the book aside because of my overwhelming urge to re-watch the film with new eyes.

Great film criticism doesn’t just describe the overall artistic and entertainment aspects of a movie – it compels you to watch and continually revisit the film it expounds upon.  Great film criticism can enlighten you as to why specific portions of a film feel so right.  It can alter your perspective on how and why you watch a film.  It can both endear you to a film in new ways and bring your attention to its flaws all in the same paragraph or essay.

Here’s my advice for anyone who loves Bogart, Huston, or any of the nine films they collaborated on – get Denny Ledger’s book, skip straight to the chapter on The Maltese Falcon, and reacquaint yourself with one of cinema’s greatest films.

Ledger’s bibliography alone lets you know he’s done the research.  It’s the way he compiles it together though, along with wonderfully astute observations of his own, that make the book engaging to a guy like me who often feels like he’s read everything and then some about Bogart.

Who’s lit with natural light and when.

Who almost always lies and who almost always tells the truth.

Where do Spade’s loyalties lie – and it’s not with partners, women, truth, or justice.

These things have all been covered before, but Ledger arranges his book in such a way that the relationship between Bogart and Huston is constantly inter-played between historical information, Ledger’s personal insight, and some of the most in-depth research spanning pretty much any Bogart or Huston book worth reading.

Is the rest of the book worth reading?  Heck ya.  But why read about a book  when you could read the real thing.  Go get Denny Ledger’s book here and just try to tell me you didn’t stop multiple times through to watch a film he discusses.  Just try it.

I dare you.

Thank you, Denny, for giving me a Bogart-boost I needed to get writing again.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I got a bottle of gin to drink and review.

*Denny Ledger’s new book ‘A Reasonable Amount of Trouble…’ The Films of John Huston and Humphrey Bogart is available now on Amazon here – and it’s cheap so you ain’t got no excuse in buying it!*

 

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – Denny Ledger’s Take!

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*Denny Ledger is a film historian and critic and his new book “A Reasonable Amount of Trouble…” The Films of John Huston and Humphrey Bogart can be purchased here.

You have to wonder how this film ever got made. Then again, with John Huston involved, I’d believe anything.

It broke every rule that existed for a film. It was bleak, there was no genre, no love story, no women, no happy ending, but a downbeat one by all accounts. There were many Mexican actors, who spoke Spanish and not English; one of the main characters also speaks a fair deal of Spanish and there were to be no subtitles. The main star would look like an unshaven hobo.

Oh yes, and Huston wanted to shoot the film almost entirely on location in Mexico. But not a picture postcard Mexico, but a grim, unforgiving, desolate, dry, dusty landscape.

At the time, location shooting was highly irregular, and certainly not for the virtual entirety of a film. In the end, he got his way, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre became one of the first American films to be shot almost entirely on location outside the U.S.

Jack Warner eventually agreed to all Huston’s demands, with the advertising department simply adding a woman to the adverts and playing up the ‘treasure’ aspect of the plot.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was published in Germany in 1927, with publication in America coming in 1935. It was the third novel by the mysterious B. Traven, a man as elusive as the treasure itself, whose books sold 25 million copies in more than thirty languages.

It was a story of three prospectors who search for gold in 1920s Mexico. It was not a story about gold, but the pursuit of it, the exploitation and cupidity that comes with it, and ultimately, the dissatisfaction it brings.

Like High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon before it, Huston’s script was extremely faithful to the book, and would follow the common Huston themes. Here was again a group of people on a quest. Here, they achieve it, yet they are changed and it is their weaknesses and obsessions that destroy them, with Huston examining the disintegration and change within the characters as they come under increasing pressure, with many harsh lessons being learnt along the way; that man is greedy, and this greed leads to dissatisfaction and unhappiness, deception, murder, cynicism and eventually death.

For the lead role, Fred C. Dobbs, Huston again called his friend Bogie. Dobbs is the character who allows greed and paranoia to get the better of him and is eventually killed by it.

Dobbs was a classic Huston / Bogie character. He was a born loser who would never change, despite the chances for change presenting themselves, he would ignore them, growing increasingly mean- spirited, greed-obsessed, and would only spiral further into suspicion and madness.

He does not start out this way however, as he is initially generous with money and water, two themes that parallel his downfall, as his reactions to and treatment of, grows more hostile and savage.

It is with the Mexican bandit Gold Hat, wonderfully played by Alfonso Bedoya, that Dobbs’ character is thematically linked with, in both his demise and his fate, as the greed for gold and riches is the death of both men.

The character of Gold Hat appeared only once in the book and it was Huston who expanded the role and made the connections between Dobbs and the character. Early on in the film the train Dobbs, Curtin and Howard are travelling on is attacked by bandits. Dobbs shoots at Gold Hat and the two make eye contact, syncing the two men and bonding their eventual fate and destiny. In the end, Gold Hat retrieves his sombrero before standing before the firing squad, which blows away after his death, just like Dobbs’ gold.

Joining Dobbs in the quest for gold is Curtin, a young, impressionable, likeable chap who, unlike Dobbs, keeps his sanity, and following a brush with death at the end, at the hands of Dobbs no less, eventually finds life more important than the riches they seek.

The role went to B-western star Tim Holt, on loan from RKO, whose father, Jack Holt, was a star of silent and early sound westerns. He would play a small role as one of the many down-and-outers at the El Oso Negro flop house.

He was not the only father to be at El Oso Negro, but Huston’s father, Walter, who would also play the third of the trio, as the grizzled, wise old prospector Howard. The soul of the picture, Traven had wanted Howard to look over 70, so Huston made his father, 63 at the time, play the role minus his false teeth.

Howard is a fast-talking, hard-bitten, worldly old prospector who knows nothing lasts. Having spent long periods of his life in solitude, he has seen what the promises of riches ‘does to people’s souls’ as he says.

There was also a small role for Huston, his first role in one of his own films, as ‘the man in the white suit’, an American who Dobbs keeps asking for handouts, and obliges with pesos.

In the end, Howard and Curtin survive, and find purpose and direction through self-preservation. There is no gold for anyone at the end of the film, whereas in the book Howard and Curtain are left with two small bags. Howard ends as a medicine man and Curtin goes to find Cody’s widow (Cody being another potential prospector who tries to join them, but is killed in an attack by Gold Hat’s banditos) and son in Dallas in time for the fruit harvest.

Huston had wanted to work with Traven on the film, and arranged to meet him at a hotel in Mexico City before shooting. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he did not show. No one had ever met the man himself, and letters were addressed to him at a post office in Acapulco.

Then one morning Huston woke to find a shadowy figure by his bed. He handed him his card: ‘Hal Croves, Interpreter, Acapulco, San Antonio’, and a letter from Traven saying he was unable to attend but this man knew as much about his work than himself and would represent him in every way.

The idea occurred to Huston that this was in fact Traven. He also considered the possibility that Croves became Traven after Traven died or that Traven was in fact two men. During the shooting Huston decided it wasn’t Traven at all.

The truth, or variations of it, would continue until long after Traven’s death, over 20 years later.

Upon release the film received good reviews and did well at the box office. James Agee would say of the film, ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is one of the best things Hollywood has done since it learned to talk.’

He wasn’t the only one to praise the film, with praise of the highest order coming from none other than Jack Warner himself, who said, ‘This is definitely the greatest motion picture we have ever made…’

It is a universal story that has not dated since its release. Walter deservedly won a Best Actor in a Supporting Role Academy Award for Howard, and Huston walked away with two awards, for Best Director and Best Screenplay.

For Bogie, it was another classic role and performance, perhaps unlucky not to be nominated himself, and albeit in a very different type of character he has played before, but with all the usual traits and mannerisms we come to expect and love from him.

Reports from Mexico City later found evidence that Hal Croves was in fact B. Traven.

*Take 2 is a recurring section of the Bogie Blog where guest writer’s get their chance to wax philosophic about about Hollywood’s greatest actor.  Denny Ledger is a film historian and critic and his new book “A Reasonable Amount of Trouble…” The Films of John Huston and Humphrey Bogart can be purchased here.

The Maltese Falcon – Denny Ledger’s Take

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John Huston, who had worked his way up through the writing ranks of more than one studio, was finally given a shot at directing in 1941. The picture he wanted to make was The Maltese Falcon, and that was perfect as far as Warner Bros. was concerned.

The novel, written by Dashiell Hammett, and itself coming from a serialization in Black Mask ‘pulp’ magazine, had been purchased a decade before, and had already been made twice before.

The novel was published on February 14th, 1930, and initially Paramount had considered purchasing the film rights, however, it was Warner Bros. who completed the deal, and for $8,500 they purchased the rights from Alfred A. Knopt on June 23rd, 1930.

Less than a year later, a film adaptation would be released. Originally titled Woman of the World, but changing back to The Maltese Falcon, the film would star Richard Cortez as Sam Spade, with Roy Del Ruth directing.

Here, Spade was an annoying, smug, smart aleck playboy rather than a cynical, world weary private eye of the novel.

Hammett had no hand in the film and did not like the finished picture.

Five years later, in July 1936, a second film adaptation was made. Originally titled Money Man, it was later re titled Satan Met A Lady.

The film starred Warren Williams as Ted Shane in the Spade character, and Bette Davis as Valerie Purvis in the Miss Wonderly role. Davis would consider it, “one of the worst turkeys I ever made.”

It was a screwball comedy with the falcon now a ram’s horn. It was a commercial and critical failure. Again, Hammett did not like the picture.

A third adaptation was attempted in 1939 under the title The Clock Struck Three, however, Charlie Chan screenwriter Charles Belden had issues over writing the second half of the story. The project was abandoned.

A third adaptation was made five years later in 1941, again titled The Maltese Falcon, it was a film that at last met Hammett’s approval.

Huston’s success was in remaining as faithful as possible to the source material, as he had done with W.R. Burnett’s High Sierra, also in 1941. Huston, like Hammett, had not been impressed with the two previous film versions, and armed with a $381,000 budget, 36 days allocated for shooting, and what he would later call “the best cast I ever had,” set out to make his debut picture.

George Raft topped the proposed cast list written up by the studio for Spade, but, as fortune would have it, he would turn down the picture, not wanting to work with an unknown, inexperienced director.

Raft did not think too much of Huston, who in turn did not think much of him either.

The role went to Bogie, Huston’s preferred choice, and in their hands, Spade become the cynical, hard-boiled private eye that Hammett had written, living in an un-glamorous, amoral world, living client to client, and putting himself on the line for $25 a day plus expenses.

For the role of femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Geraldine Fitzgerald was first choice. The role, however, would go to second choice Mary Astor, who relished playing the role, calling her “a congenital liar and slightly psychopathic.”

For the role of perfumed and prissy Joel Cairo, Peter Lorre was cast.

The rest of the cast would include Bogie regulars Jerome Cowan as Spade’s partner Miles Archer and Gladys George as Iva Archer, Miles’ wife.

Barton MacLane was cast as Lt. Dundy, Ward Bond as Dundy’s partner, detective Tom Polhaus. Elisha Cook Jr. was cast as the gunsel Wilmer and Lee Patrick as Spade’s trusty secretary Effie Perine.

There was also a screen debut for 61-year-old, 285-pound British stage actor and veteran of Broadway, Sydney Greenstreet, as Kasper Gutman, marking the first of several films with both Bogie and Lorre. There was even room for Huston’s father, Walter Huston, as Captain Jacobi of the ill-fated ship ‘La Paloma’, who delivers the falcon to Spade’s office, only to drop dead from gunshot wounds.

The film opens with an explanation of the backstory to the black bird:

In 1539, the Knights Templar of Malta, paid tribute to Charles V of Spain, by sending him a Golden Falcon encrusted from beak to claw with rarest jewels- – – – – but pirates seized the galley carrying this priceless token and the fate of the Maltese Falcon remains a mystery to this day.

Spade and Archer are a private detective service in San Francisco. A new client, Miss Wonderly (aka Brigid O’Shaughnessy), asks Spade to track down the seducer (called Floyd Thursby) of her, as we later find out, non-existent sister, Corinne. In actuality, she wants him to trail and kill a rival hunter of a rare artifact she is tracking. Miles enters and agrees to take the case personally, and is promptly killed, and Spade is thrown into the hunt for the infamous Maltese Falcon, introduced in turn to Cairo, Gutman and co. along the way.

The film is a commentary on the greed of man, a probing character study, and the cast are equal to it, headed by the cynical Spade, whose strong code of ethics are the only thing keeping him on the level.

In part, the attention to detail from the book came from the performances of the actors. From Bogie, rolling his own cigarettes and facial tics, Lorre fiddling with his cane. Greenstreet on the other hand, does very little, but sit motionless, watching and listening. The camera spends a good deal of time focused on the person who isn’t talking, watching reactions of the listening actor.

Spade is rightly cautious, and distrusts words, both verbal and written; he is also wary of the detectives Dundy and Polhaus, keeping them at arm’s length with a mixture of respect and distrust.

Ultimately though, Spade’s greatest nemesis is himself.

He set out to avenge his partner’s death, and he achieves just that, but only just, as his own greed for the black bird spills over, and when he finally gets the bird, brought in by captain Jacobi, he squeezes Effie’s arm, not noticing even when she tells him ‘you’re hurting me’, and again at the climax where he along with Brigid, Cairo, and Gutman lustily unwrap the prized item in his apartment.

His weakness for Bridgit almost convinces him to sink to her level, but he finds a higher duty, as he explains to her, “when a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it.”

He’s supposed to; it does not mean he necessarily wants to.

He sees through Brigid’s various masks of innocence and vulnerability and sees in her what she really is: a compulsive liar, yet he still allows himself to fall for her, with it only being his code that saves him. In Brigid, as in the Falcon, she is a false prize.

While there is no ‘good guy’ in the film, far from it, Spade is the one who has our loyalties. Spade looks out only for himself, a strong character trait throughout Bogie’s work. Gutman is also self-interested, perhaps why there is a mutual liking between the two, going as far as Gutman asking him if he would join the quest for the black bird as they embark for Istanbul.

Huston filled the film with in-jokes at every available opportunity. As Spade looks down on the spot where Miles is killed, in the background on a wall we can see a poster for Bogie’s 1938 hillbilly, wrestling, musical comedy, Swing Your Lady, a film Bogie would call, “the worst picture I ever made.”

Later on in the film, as Spade walks down the streets of San Francisco, we see The Bailey Theatre in the background, and the film they are showing is The Great Lie, a film that starred Astor. Spade then walks past another theater showing The Girl from Albany, not a real picture, but an in-joke at the expense of Hal Wallis, who, for reasons undetermined, wanted to change the title to The Gent from Frisco. However, Jack Warner did not approve, and kept it as it was.

The film opened on October 4th, 1941 and was a commercial and critical success. James Agee would call the film, ‘the best private-eye melodrama ever made,’ and the film was recognized by the Academy who nominated it for three awards.

The film was up for Best Picture, Best Screenplay for Huston and Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Greenstreet.

Astor for The Great Lie would be nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance as Sandra. In her autobiography, A Life on Film, she would say she would have rather got her award for Brigid than Sandra.

Spade is both a classic Huston and Bogie hero. He is flawed, an anti-hero living in an amoral universe, he is his own worst enemy, but who ultimately overcomes these flaws. Not all Huston protagonists would be so lucky as to get out alive, and Spade only does by the finest of margins.

As for Bogie, his Spade was wounded, cynical and romantic, if not in a traditional sense. It would be a character Bogie would play again and again over the coming years as he rose to the top Hollywood’s acting talent.

*Take 2 is a regular feature on The Bogie Film Blog where other film writers and enthusiasts wax philosophic on their favorite Bogie Films!  Denny Ledger is the author of the new book A Reasonable Amount of Trouble: The Films of John Huston and Humphrey Bogart, which you can find on Amazon here.  For other Take 2 posts, click here.*

The African Queen – Denny Ledger’s Take

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It was a problematic story, even when author C.S. Forrester was writing it, with its publication coming in 1935. He was not satisfied with the ending, either of them, as the American ending had one outcome, and the English edition having another.

The film rights had been optioned twice before, with Columbia wanting it as a vehicle for husband and wife Charles Laughton and Elsa Lancaster and Warner Bros. considering it for David Niven and Bette Davis. No film was made on either occasion.

Producer Alexandra Korda said of it, ‘a story of two old people going up and down an African river?’ he scoffed, ‘who’s going to be interested in that?’

As it happened, producer Sam Spiegel and director John Huston were very interested. Spiegel convinced Katherine Hepburn to sign on and Huston called his old friend Bogie and it was third time lucky.

The issues that had plagued the story from the beginning, however, would only get worse through the production. Yet, if anyone was crazy enough to undertake the film, it was Spiegel, and in particular, Huston.

Huston worked with writer and film critic James Agee on the original screenplay, yet shortly after it was completed, Agee would suffer a heart attack. A few years later he would die from another.

Writer Peter Viertel was brought in for the second draft to be completed in Africa, although he would ultimately leave the project, telling Spiegel he ‘didn’t give a damn whether he received a screen credit or not’ and promptly left.

His concerns were not so much with the screenplay, but with Huston himself, who he had noted was ‘more eccentric than ever.’

Shooting a motion picture was not the only shooting Huston was interested in while in Africa, but also big game hunting, with his eye on one elephant in particular.

Five years later Huston would make Moby Dick, and his obsession with the elephant would bear more than a passing resemblance to Captain Ahab’s quest for the white whale.

Problems were rife in the screenplay and on location, where shooting would start in December 1950 on the Ruiki River in the Belgian Congo, a slow-moving tributary choked with decaying vegetation. It was a Tsetse fly area, there were crocodiles, hippopotamuses, a hornets’ nest, snakes, scorpions, spiders, mosquitoes, flies, army ants and a plethora of other deadly animals and insects.

There was a range of tropical diseases, including malaria, dysentery, amoebic dysentery, sunstroke and some which went un-diagnosed. During the shoot, nine members of the crew had to be sent home with dysentery, malaria, or both. The local help were lepers who spoke Swahili.

They then moved to the Lualaba River, a black river, coloured due to the tannic acid from the surrounding vegetation.

The colour of the water wasn’t the only peculiar fact about the location. It was also a branch on the Congo River so remote that it wasn’t marked on most atlases. There were temperatures of up to 85- degrees and high humidity, which caused clothing to droop and need re-starching, as well as mold.

The film itself is set in German East Africa, September 1914, starting out at the 1st Methodist Church, Kungdu, where Hepburn’s Rosie Sayer and her brother Reverend Samuel Sayer, played by Robert Morley, run the Methodist missionary. It isn’t long before Bogie’s Charlie Allnut, the Gordon’s Gin swilling skipper of the African Queen, brings the news of war, to be followed shortly after by the arrival of German Imperial soldiers who burn down the missionary and beat the Reverend, where he later dies of fever.

After burying her brother, Rosie joins Charlie on board, only to become a guerrilla on a suicide mission, to Charlie’s initial reluctance, to destroy a German gunship to help the war effort.

If there were problems off screen, they were matched on. At one point in the film, where Charlie wades through the river, pulling the Queen behind him, he worries about the currents, which should be the least of his problems. He mixes his gin with river water before drinking it, which, if not bad enough, then goes into the river and declares, ‘I swallowed half the river that time’, would that not of killed him in all seriousness!?

Charlie and Rosie then decide to bathe in the river, with no second thought of the crocodiles, hippopotamuses and diseases.

The locale and river were mirrored by the verbal sparring of Bogie and Hepburn, serving as the redeeming feature of the picture.

These were two of American cinema’s most prestigious and respected actors, and both here are at their best, clearly relishing their roles. Off screen, Hepburn’s cheeriness irked Bogie something chronic, she in return deemed him, as well as Huston, as nothing but reprobates. Bogie and Huston were more than happy to play the roles they had been assigned and not let her assumptions down.

Charlie and Rosie are polar opposites, coming from very different backgrounds, with Charlie in particular aware of a class divide. However, it is the gradual acceptance and respect that grows between them that earns our fondness for them and the picture.

They are two halves that make an eventual whole, each bringing to the table what the other lacks. Each give as good as they get, but this is by no means a simple man-meets-woman love story, but as rocky a ride as they are experiencing on the dilapidated steamer itself.

Huston would later say of the shoot, ‘the things that happened would make a book in itself.’

In fact, there were to be two books written about the shoot. The first was by Viertel, who wrote White Hunter, Black Heart, published in 1953, and was a very thinly disguised account of, not just the making of the picture, but of other stories from Huston’s past, including a hilarious anecdote about a fist fight with Errol Flynn at a party hosted by David O. Selznick.

In 1987 Katherine Hepburn’s The Making of The African Queen, or How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and almost lost my mind, was published.

With four Academy Award nominations, for Best Director and Best Screenplay (with James Agee) for Huston, Best Actress in a Leading Role for Hepburn, and Bogie for Best Actor in a Leading Role, not to mention success at the box office, it seemed the ordeal of the production had paid off.

On the night of the Academy Awards, A Streetcar Named Desire was already the big winner, collecting three of the four acting honours, with just the Best Actor in a Leading Role award left, with Brando up against Bogie amongst others.

Bogie would walk away with the award, his second nomination, after Casablanca, twelve years before. He would be nominated once again for The Caine Mutiny in 1954. He would lose out to Brando for On the Waterfront.

No elephants were harmed during the making of the picture.

Casablanca – Denny Ledger’s Take

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I’ve seen it a hundred times, you’ve seen it a hundred times. I’ll see it a hundred times more. You will too, let’s be honest.

But why?

Nearly eighty years on and it’s lost none of its magic. A simple three-way love triangle set in an exotic locale with a wartime backdrop, it certainly doesn’t sound like a classic on the surface.

It started as an un-produced three-act play, Everybody Comes to Rick’s, when Warner Bros. snapped up the film rights, changing the name to Casablanca, following the success of Algiers in 1938.

It would be another film that would slip through the fingers of George Raft, as Jack Warner mentioned his name in consideration for the lead, Rick Blane, an American expatriate running a saloon in Casablanca, but executive producer Hal Wallis and director Michael Curtiz had already made up their minds on the lead, and once again Raft’s loss would be Bogie’s gain.

With a white tuxedo and still with a heavy hangover from some dame back in Paris, it doesn’t quite seem to be familiar territory for Bogie, whose screen persona after High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon was by now clearly defined. However, this is classic Bogie, the classic Bogie role perhaps.

It would be his sixth of eight collaborations with Curtiz, and his first opposite Ingrid Bergman, who got the role after it was decided that the female lead should not be American, but European, where previously Bogie regulars Mary Astor and Ann Sheridan were briefly considered.

She was cast as Ilsa Lund, and the woman who broke Bogie’s heart, and who is still stamping on it, despite his better efforts of trying to forget her with a little help from a gin bottle and a ‘strictly forbidden’ policy on one particular tune.

Never a romantic leading man, and only recently joining the ranks of leading men, there is a natural chemistry between Bogie and Bergman, and also Rick and Ilsa.

The same could not be said of Ilsa and her husband, Victor Laszlo, nor of Bergman and the Viennese Paul Henreid, as the underground resistance leader.

He’s as stiff as Bogie’s gin, – po-faced, emotionless, humorless, too proud, too heroic; it’s little wonder Ilsa has kept the flame burning for Rick all this time.

The crux of the film is the question: who will Ilsa leave Casablanca with?

There is also a sub-question that comes with it: who does Ilsa truly love?

We assume, incorrectly I might add, that the two questions are mutually exclusive, that Ilsa will leave with the man she loves. Right? Right?

Well, let’s look at the evidence.

If we consider what would have happened if she had left with Rick and not Victor at the end of the film, would it still have the same effect and reputation nearly 80 years on? Would film critics, historians and fans still be discussing the implications and reasons for the decision?

No. Bogie or Henreid? Come on. Rick or Victor? Come off it. We wouldn’t give it a second thought, as we want her to leave with Rick, not her husband.

One question, perhaps the ultimate question that remains with us long after the film has ended, is who did Ilsa want to leave on the plane with? After all, her fate was decided by Rick, and although she accepts the reasons for going with Victor (at least she says she does), would she rather have gone with Rick, the man who, deep down, she knows is the love of her life?

Which leads us on to fact two. Censorship.

Ilsa was married, which meant she could never leave with Rick at the end as the censors would not allow it.

Bergman had asked Curtiz which man Ilsa really loved so she could know how to play the role. However, the script was written and rewritten as shooting went on, and as the shoot began, there was no ending, and no decision was made who she would be leaving with or who she really loved.

In answer to her question, Curtiz told her, ‘We don’t know yet – just play it, … in between’.

If Bergman, or anyone else, was in any doubt about who she would leave with at the end of the film, or indeed who she truly loved, she would only have to consider what the Breen Office would dictate.

As the censorship board, there is no way they would have allowed Ilsa to be in love with Rick or leave on the plane with him instead of Victor while Victor, her husband, was still alive. To achieve such a thing would be immoral, and would not have passed the censors.

Another facet to the theory that Bergman did not know who she loved or would be leaving with, was the fact that the film was not shot in sequence. Several key scenes were shot after the end sequence so she would have known during the filming of the remaining scenes who she would be leaving with.

In the end of course, she leaves with her dullard, Cointreau-drinking husband. No wonder she looks upset. It is Bogie, complete with the more familiar uniform of trench coat, fedora and gun, who does the honorable thing.

Now, let’s consider this.

The end scene at the airport is perhaps as famous as any scene in cinema history. In reality, the scene was shot on a small sound stage at the studio. A smoke machine filled the set so you could not get a sense of the size of the airport. The plane itself was a cut out model and the engineers were midgets, as a full-size man would have been taller than the plane itself.

The letters of transit, and coincidentally, there being no such thing in reality, are a MacGuffin. That is, a false prize. The question remains that even with the letters, would Lazlo still be allowed to leave Casablanca?

A bigger question can be asked, as the revelation of who is getting on the plane with Ilsa is revealed:  who was there to prevent Ilsa, Victor, Rick, Louis, and hey, why not Sam while we’re at it, from getting on the plane? Who checked the letters of transit? The airport was deserted, save for the midgets and the pilot, who drives the plane away so he was otherwise engaged.

But let’s back it up a bit and move away from the conspiracy theories.

The film is concerned with two letters of transit which have been stolen and subsequently gone missing. These were documents which would allow the exit from Casablanca. The letters were stolen by one Ugarte, played by Bogie regular Peter Lorre.

There was also a role for another Bogie regular, Sydney Greenstreet, however, any excitement we may have had in another pairing of Lorre and Greenstreet (who would star in seven films together) was slightly diminished as they share no screen time together. In fact, Lorre is out of the picture within the first reel. However, both men bring the usual qualities to the film, and are part of the rich world that makes Casablanca so special to millions of people all over the world. Added to the cast are Claude Rains and Conrad Veidt as well as a host of European actors and, of course, Dooley Wilson as Sam.

Many a film has tried to play on the themes of Casablanca. Passage to Marseilles which reunited Curtiz and Lorre, Greenstreet, Rains and, of course, Bogie. To Have and Have Not, loosely based on the Ernest Hemingway novel, the first pairing Bogie and Bacall, and The Conspirators starring Henreid, Lorre, and Greenstreet.

There was also room for the Marx Brothers parody / homage, A Night in Casablanca, complete with Groucho’s Kornblow, dressed in white tuxedo as well as the usual huge cigar, painted on eyebrows and mustache.

The film would also get the Looney Tunes treatment in an eight-minute version of Carrotblanca, with Bugs Bunny as Rick, Tweety as an unsettlingly accurate Lorre impersonation as Ugarte, Daffy as Sam, Pepé Le Pew as Renault and Yosemite Sam as Strasser, as well as countless other references, quotes, rip offs and homages.

It was both a film of its time and timeless. It spoke of the plight of refugees, a topic that is still rife in the world today, and having beliefs in a higher cause, ultimately, freedom, and the belief and pursuit of it.

It is almost certainly the most loved film of all time, and it is not remembered as a Bergman film, Henreid film nor Curtiz film, but a Bogie film.

‘Here’s looking at you, kid.’

*Denny Ledger’s new book A Reasonable Amount of Trouble: The Films of John Huston and Humphrey Bogart can be purchased from Amazon hereYou can find him online at @dennyledger on Twitter.  This post is part of the section of the blog entitled Take 2 where Classic Film fans and writers can contribute to the blog.  You can check out the rest of those posts here.*

The Private Detectives

For my money, there was one character type that Bogart was born to play. Gangster? Convict? Escaped Convict? Ex-pat loner struggling against the Axis powers? Naw. For me, no one could play a Private Detective wrapped up inside a Film Noir nearly as well as Bogie. Guns, dangerous women, back alley crooks, illicit affairs, hand rolled cigarettes – Bogart could juggle them all with laid back ease.

For a great breakdown of the history behind the “whys” and “hows” of Bogart’s historical place within Classic Hollywood as a Film Noir detective, you should definitely check out Sheri Chinen Biesen’s book Blackout. Not only is it a wonderful primer on Film Noir, but it goes into great detail about Biesen’s belief that Bogart’s age, wartime rationing, and a lack of leading men in Hollywood led to Hollywood’s greatest icon getting the chance to play characters like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.

It’s kind of crazy to consider how few private eye films Bogart made considering how much he’s associated with the genre. Only two officially – but I throw in three more “Honorary Mentions” because I think you can get a good Bogie detective fix from them if you really need to! Let me know if you disagree.

The Private Detectives

The Maltese Falcon – 1941

This is the stuff that Film Noir dreams are made of.

Warner Brother’s originally assigned George Raft to the role of Sam Spade – not because they really wanted him for the role, but because they wanted Henry Fonda for another film and Fonda worked for Twentieth Century Fox. So, follow this . . . Raft didn’t want to do The Maltese Falcon. He supposedly hated the script and didn’t want to work with first time Director John Huston. (Huston didn’t want him either. Bogart was always Huston’s first choice.) So Warner Brothers, knowing that Raft would balk at Falcon, gave him the option of going on ‘suspension’ so that he could go over to Fox and Fonda could come over to Warner Brothers. Guess who’s left to reap the benefits? Mr. Bogart.

Playing the cynical and embittered Private Detective, Sam Spade. A beautiful femme fatale hires him for a case. His partner gets killed. Shady characters and gun play abound. And it all orbits around a priceless statue that has the ability to make people lose their scruples about going down some dark paths.

Bogart’s interactions with Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, and Elisha Cook Jr. show a man who seems to be in complete control of every emotion and physicality in an actor’s toolbox, and there’s a level of confidence on display that I don’t think Bogart hit so highly in any of his previous films.

Add in Director Huston, and I cannot see how this film could have been anything less than a classic.

You can read my original write up on the film here.

The Big Sleep – 1946

I’m ready to declare this the coolest Bogart role in his filmography.  Private Eye Philip Marlowe is king.

In Philip Marlowe we get an über playful Bogart as he smiles, quips, flirts, and drinks his way out of every situation. The sunglassed bookstore nerd . . . the prank phone call to the police where he and Bacall switch roles so fast that they end up playing their own parents . . . the way Bogart uses his charm more powerfully than his gun against the bad guys . . .  This was a role that Bogart was born to play. He carries this film and makes it look easy. How can you keep from rooting for a guy who wants the truth above everything else, including his own life?

This film, and especially Bogart’s performance, is remarkable. The Big Sleep is my favorite Film Noir of all time. (And no, it doesn’t matter to me that all of the plot isn’t laid bare by the end – real life is messy and mysterious, so why can’t this film be as well?)

You can read my original write up on the film here. You can also read my write up on the pre-release edit of the film from the year before here.

Honorary Mentions

All Through the Night – 1942

Bogart plays Gloves Donahue, a New York city racketeer that has to track down the man/men who murdered his favorite cheesecake baker. Yes, he’s a gangster. Yes, the bad guys are Nazis. But there’s quite a bit of private eye-like atmosphere in this comedic gangster spoof. Clues are followed. Bogie goes undercover. Peter Lorre is skulking around. Bogart has to work with, and around, the police. The femme fatale is beautiful and potentially dangerous. It’s in my top three favorite Bogart films, so check it out!

You can read my original write up on the film here.

Dead Reckoning – 1947

Bogart might be playing paratrooper Captain ‘Rip’ Murdock, but this film is all noir as Bogart falls away from the military man persona and quickly takes on the air of a hardened detective. Bogart narrates the viewer through the story, walking us along as Murdock pieces together a military buddy’s disappearance.

Of note is one particular scene that plays opposite of our typical expectations for Bogart as he sits and listens to a nightclub singer. This might be the first film I’ve ever seen where we get the Bogie drinks while the femme fatale sings’ scene, and Bogart shows no interest whatsoever in the woman. In fact, he spends most of the song looking down at his drink, ignoring Lizabeth Scott’s suggestive glances. Out of the many movies where Bogart’s played through this scenario, has there ever been another one where he shows such little interest?

There are so many great long shots of Bogart sitting, thinking, lying in bed, and drinking, that if nothing else, I feel like Director John Cromwell should be thanked for his work towards recording Bogart’s great visage for posterity!  If the entire movie had been the above shot for two hours, I would probably have still enjoyed it!

You can read my original write up of the film here.

The Enforcer – 1951

Bogart plays Assistant District Attorney Martin Ferguson. Running on little sleep and next to no time,Ferguson and his right hand man, Captain Frank Nelson (Roy Roberts), are suddenly faced with a ticking clock. Ferguson has to be in court within eight hours, and his main piece of evidence against the ringleader of a hit man crew is no longer breathing. But wasn’t there something he missed? Some small piece of evidence that’s lurking in the dark recesses of his mind? Something that he didn’t think he’d need to remember?

Even though he’s on the government payroll, Bogart certainly goes on a Film Noir journey that feels every bit as lowdown and seedy as the first two films mentioned in this post. I think this one’s a real hidden gem that a lot of people haven’t seen, and it’s well worth a watch!

You can read my original write up on the film here.

*This post is another write up in the Character Reference series on The Bogie Film Blog where we break down some of Bogart’s most well known genres and character types. You can read the rest of the entries here.*

 

 

Claire Trevor

Birth Name: Claire Wemlinger

Birth: March 8, 1910

Death: April 8, 2000

Number of Films Claire Trevor Made with Humphrey Bogart: 3

The Lowdown

Collaborations with Humphrey Bogart seemed to work out very well for Claire Trevor. She was nominated for an Oscar for her very brief but powerful role as Bogie’s ex-girlfriend in 1937’s Dead End. She went on to win the Oscar for her role as Edward G. Robinson’s alcoholic lounge singer girlfriend in 1948’s Key Largo. Add in her tremendous part in The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, and you get to see Trevor’s great range as an actress in just three of her more than sixty films.

Born in Brooklyn to an Irish mother and French father, Trevor had aspirations to be an actor since childhood and would go on to be a star on stage, radio, television, and film. Often playing the tough dame from the wrong side of the tracks, Trevor also did well early in her career in Westerns, even starring alongside a new young cowboy named John Wayne in Stagecoach.

What personally draws me to Trevor’s performances is her ability to play beauty, strength, and brokenness – often in the same character. Add in to that her lifelong passion for supporting the arts – Trevor became such a large supporter to the University of California, Irvine’s drama department that they named the acting school after her. She also donated both her Oscar and her Emmy to the school where they sit on permanent display.

I think Trevor is one of those great Classic Hollywood actresses who tends to be left out of conversations about the greats for some reason, but her film legacy, drama school namesake, and award recognitions are more than enough to earn her a bright spot in Hollywood history, and a spot in The Usual Suspects!

The Films

Dead End – 1937

Trevor plays Francey, Bogart’s ex who’s turned to prostitution to make ends meet. The scene they share coupled with the scene of Bogart being chastised by his mother are, I believe, two of the most powerful scenes from Bogart’s entire career. Director William Wyler had to leave out the overt references to both prostitution and syphilis in the scene she shares with Bogart here, but what’s left unsaid is even more powerful. Their sexual tension is off the charts. When they stand an inch away from one another before Bogart tries to kiss her, it feels like someone’s hold back two magnets from clanging together. Yes, Trevor is only in the film for a few minutes, but it was such a strong showing that she was nominated for an Oscar. That should be all you need to know!

You can read my original write up on the film here.

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse – 1938

Trevor plays Jo Keller, the jewel fence that doctor/gangster Edward G. Robinson turns to when he needs to move some diamonds. Trevor is a lot of fun here, and we get to see her playing the tough gal who’s actually got some power over the fellas. Trevor’s unrequited pining for Robinson is great as we truly believe she’s fallen in love with the mind behind the man.

You can read my original write up on the film here.

Key Largo – 1948

Trevor plays Robinson’s alcoholic girlfriend and former lounge singer, Gaye Dawn. She’s great in the role, and not surprisingly, won an Oscar for her performance as the gun moll that’s living out her last years in the bottom of a bottle while clinging to a madman who gave up on her a long time ago. One of the best behind-the-scenes stories from this film is that Director John Huston sprung Trevor’s A Cappella performance of “Moanin’ Low” on her the day of shooting. If true, it certainly helped give Trevor a shaky and painful performance that’ll make you cringe in the best possible way. Perhaps the greatest testament to her performance here is the fact that she seems so vulnerable and pathetic at the beginning of the film, only to come around and help and good guys at the end, giving us just a glimpse of the beauty and power she was able to play so well in a film like Clitterhouse.

You can read my original write up on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing feature here at The Bogie Film Blog where we highlight some of Bogart’s greatest recurring costars! You can read the other entries in the series here.*