The Gangsters

It doesn’t matter how you remember Bogart. It doesn’t matter which role is your favorite. Rick Blaine? Charlie Allnut? Captain Queeg? Philip Marlowe?

In the grand scope of film history, his persona was cemented during his early career as the tough guy gangster.

How do I know? Just look at any one of the numerous film cameos, radio appearances, or personal appearances for the troops throughout his life – when Bogart showed up, the public wanted to see him play the gangster regardless of what was going on in his career.

Bogart seemed to enjoy it as well, dishing out the tough talk and never afraid to give his all to cameo as a threatening menace to comedians, radio hosts, or cheering soldiers in Europe. Even now, when someone impersonates Bogart for film or television, the visual is often Rick Blaine from Casablanca, but the talk is all New York gangster.

It wasn’t until I started this post that I realized just how many times Bogart played a gangster, racketeer, mobster, or hood. Depending on which films you count (I left off The Bad Sister because he’s more of a con artist than a gangster, and numerous prison films like Up the River, San Quentin, and We’re No Angels because they’re more “convict” roles than “gangster” roles, per se… I also left out The Oklahoma Kid since I consider that more of a “cowboy” role in a Western film), Bogart made more than a dozen and less than 20 films where he played a big city tough with and without a gun in hand.

The most famous films of the genre, The Petrified Forest and High Sierra, are surely the foundation for Bogart’s legacy as an actor who could add that crucial third dimension to what could have been a typical cliched tough guy. In other slightly less acclaimed films, Dead End and The Roaring Twenties, Bogart’s portrayals as a gangster added great depth and authenticity to movies that would have been sorely lacking without his presence.

Add to all of the that the numerous B-movie gangster films that Bogart starred in, often the only bright spot in several forgettable duds, and it’s no wonder that the world still celebrates Bogart as Hollywood’s greatest dark-suited, wise cracking, gun wielding tough guy.

The Gangsters

Three on a Match – 1932

The movie is barely over an hour and Bogart’s Harve doesn’t appear until about forty-seven minutes into the film, so there’s not a lot of time spent with his character. When he does show up however, it’s magic, and his role largely dominates the story line until the end of the film.

Playing the number one thug to a mobster named Ace (Edward Arnold), Bogart shows up with a gang of toughs to shake down the mother of a young boy that they’ve kidnapped in an attempt to extort her wealthy ex-husband.

It’s a scene-stealing role for Bogart, as his cool and detached onscreen persona overpowers every other actor in the frame. While not a large part, it’s definitely worth seeking out, especially when you add in Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak, and Bette Davis in costarring roles!

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

Midnight/Call It Murder – 1934

Bogart does a great job here, making the most of what little time he has on screen playing Gar Boni, a small time hood that falls for Sidney Fox’s Stella Weldon. There are certainly seeds of his later gangster roles – a cool and collected gunman that’s smooth with the ladies and talks a good game. The film opens at a court trial where we meet the young lovebirds as they watch Stella’s father chair the jury for a murder case. The moment that they share together, as Gar Boni insults the jury before realizing who he’s sitting next to, is sweet and funny. While they could have used some more scenes between the two young actors, the film is worth a watch.

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

The Petrified Forest – 1936

Bogart physically inhabits the violent, desperate, and dangerous gangster, Duke Mantee, in what many consider to be one of his greatest roles – and certainly the first role that really put him on the map. From the moment that he appears on screen (about 35 minutes into the film), he is a rubber band wound tight, and the viewer is just waiting for his inevitable snap.

He walks hunched with his hands held slightly out at the waist, giving you the impression that he’s either going to draw his gun, or strangle someone at any moment – a mannerism that he would continue to use for countless films during tense moments.

I cannot imagine any other actor playing the role of Duke Mantee as well as Bogart does. It’s clear that he worked hard to embody the gangster from top to bottom. I almost began to wonder if he was even able to sweat on command as the movie ramps up to its violent, dramatic conclusion.

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

Bullets or Ballots – 1936

You have to give Bogart’s “Bugs” Fenner credit in this film. Out of a couple dozen gangsters in a room, he was the only one that really seemed to know that Edward G. Robinson was double crossing his boss, Barton McLane. I found myself wanting to yell at his fellow heavies multiple times to just shut up and listen to him for a minute.

Bogart is able to take a pretty cliched gangster role and elevate it here. His portrayal of Fenner is intimidating, ruthless, and downright chilling. Even though I was pretty sure that Robinson was going to come out on top (doesn’t he always when Bogie’s the bad guy?), I was surprised by how much tension was built between the two men as Fenner relentlessly chased down Robinson’s Blake in an attempt to exact revenge.

It’s roles like this that make me understand why the studio thought they should keep Bogart typecast as the bad guy. The tough thug parts may not have utilized his full potential as an actor, but he was dang good in them.

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

Kid Galahad – 1937

Despite Bogart’s menacing role as Turkey Morgan, two great stars in Edward G. Robinson and Bette Davis, and a handsome young lead in Wayne Morris, this uneven dramedy never really hits its stride. Bogart doesn’t get a lot of screen time, and when he does, he’s relegated to being the stock mob-guy character that exists only to further the plot. The most interesting thing of note might be that Bogart makes Morgan more of a sniveling whiner than a cutthroat gangster as he’s constantly embarrassed and thwarted by Robinson.

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

Dead End – 1937

Playing ‘Baby Face’ Martin, this is one of Bogart’s most fleshed-out gangster roles. While on paper it might not look like much – a criminal running from the cops who stops by to see his old flame and his mother one more time – a lot of expectations get turned on their heads when both interactions don’t follow the typical Hollywood formula.

It’s a role where we get to see Bogart thinking out loud, saying just as much with his facial expressions and mannerisms as he does with his dialogue. Perhaps one of his best portrayals of internal turmoil, I’m a little surprised that this part isn’t more talked about when people list his greatest performances. ‘Baby Face’ Martin seems like a younger, ever-so-slightly more hopeful, version of Duke Mantee just as he turns the corner from confidence to fatalism.

For the scenes between Bogart and his mother played by Marjorie Main, as well as Bogart and Claire Trevor, this film’s an acting clinic for how to handle disappointment with a character on film. Both scenes are incredibly strong moments that give us a great glimpse of Bogart’s skill at listening and reacting to his costars on screen.

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

Racket Busters – 1938

Playing gangster John ‘Czar’ Martin, this isn’t a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it part for Bogart, but it isn’t much more. He makes a brief appearance every once in a while in order to boss his goons around, but I’d be shocked if any of his scenes here last more than forty-five seconds.

Considering that this wasn’t his first go-round as a tough-as-nails gangsters, you would think that it’d be a slam dunk to let Bogart do some of the heavy lifting with the beat downs and the gun play. Instead, I think the most dramatic scene that he’s involved in before the final shootout involves a massage table and some snarky dialogue.

This one’s not a must see for anybody. You can read my original write up on the film here.

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse – 1938

It’s not a huge part for Bogart, but he nails it. Playing ‘Rocks’ Valentine, we see the two-dimensional gangster that Bogart was often assigned for his minor antagonist characters, and yet he still elevates the material like only he can.

It seems to be a trend in Bogart’s bad guys that, once again, he’s the only one in the gang who’s aware that something’s not right. He doesn’t trust Edward G. Robinson’s intentions, but no one will believe his doubts. We’ll just have to wait until Key Largo for Bogart to give Robinson his “just due.”

While the script doesn’t give Bogart a lot to work with, he makes sure to add his own flourishes so that ‘Rocks’ makes a big impact. I’ll rest my case on the picture above!

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

Angels with Dirty Faces – 1938

Bogart plays James Frazier, a lawyer who goes into business for himself as a racketeer after he swipes a hundred thousand dollars off of James Cagney after Cagney is sentenced to a long prison stint. Most of the role is spent sniveling into a phone, or sniveling to his partner in crime (George Bancroft), or just plain sniveling for his life from Cagney.

Bogart’s trying, but there’s literally nothing here to work with. Why have two crooks in Bogart and Bancroft? Why not just consolidate them into one role and give it a little more meat? It’s probably the biggest shortcoming of the script that we don’t get a better antagonist to work against Cagney’s attempt at creating a new criminal empire.

All that said, Cagney is great in the film, and it has one of the most haunting endings of any film I’ve seen.

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

King of the Underworld – 1939

Bogart could be comedic, dramatic, romantic, threatening, subdued, and whimsical – and while several of those are attempted at various points here with his gunman Joe Gurney, the performance comes off as inconsistent. In some scenes he’s wonderfully despicable. In others, his comedic timing is flawless. While that kind of varied personality works well in some films (see All Through the Night, High Sierra, The Roaring Twenties), it comes off as fragmented and uneven here.

Still, Gurney is incredibly interesting and has so much potential. The story of a gangster obsessed with Napoleon, yet too shortsighted to see that they share the same tragic flaws, should lead to a much more satisfying character arc than it does here. Especially when you add in the relationship with the historical author who’s on hand to chronicle it all. But wait, there’s a convoluted love story to contend with. And a side story about unapproving townsfolk. Then there’s the out for justice/revenge plot that keeps disappearing and reappearing, grabbing for our attention. It’s just too many under-developed story fragments in too short of a film.

All of that said, I’d still say this one is probably a must see for die hard Bogart fans as so many of the elements that made him a great ‘bad guy’ are here on display in various moments.

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

Invisible Stripes – 1939

Playing ex-con Chuck Martin, this might be one of the most likable gangsters that Bogart ever got to play. Right up until his final scene, we have to appreciate and respect Martin’s attempts to help George Raft’s Cliff pull himself up by his bootstraps – even if it’s not by legal means.

The part is small, so there are long droughts throughout the film where Bogart’s presence isn’t felt, but when he’s onscreen, he pops. Could they have used him more? Probably, but it wouldn’t have fit with the story. The film needed to spend its time building up the relationship between Raft and his on screen brother William Holden. So I guess that if I’m going to watch someone play a likable bad guy, it’s a treat that it gets to be Bogart, even if the role is smaller than I’d like.

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Roaring Twenties – 1939

Bogart’s got a strong first ten minutes in the film and then disappears until about halfway through as he plays James Cagney’s war buddy turned crime partner, George Hally. It’s not as well rounded a character as Cagney has to play with, as Bogart plays a slightly more typical bad guy, but it does have its moments.

Director Raoul Walsh does a great job playing Bogart and Cagney off of each other as friends and eventual enemies, using Bogart’s brief scenes to show his menace, while at the same time giving us motivation for his eventual turn on Cagney. In particular, Walsh crafts a great little side story where Hally comes across his old, belligerent army Sergeant (Joe Sawyer) as he and Cagney are committing a robbery. The scene is a crucial piece of the puzzle that is Bogart’s tragic flaw in the film. He doesn’t like playing second fiddle to anybody, see!

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

It All Came True – 1940

This was truly the first time that Bogart spoofed his iconic gangster image, playing gunman-on-the-lam, Chips Maguire. Watching him stumble around his bedroom, gasping and gaping at all the stuffed birds and monkeys, is almost enough to make you forget that he’s blackmailing poor old Tommy (Jeffrey Lynn).

Add in his relationship with the motherly boarding house proprietors, Una O’ Connor and Jessie Busley, and Maguire becomes downright lovable as he begrudgingly accepts their tender loving care while he “recuperates” in bed.

Bogart was very, very good at comedy, and I think this film is a perfect showcase for it.  Surrounded by a wonderful cast, you get a great taste of Bogart’s dry wit as he enthusiastically dances, sings, and mugs his way through this film. (That’s right, you get to see him do a little jig, sing a chorus of “Strolling Through the Park One Day,” and take target practice at a stuffed monkey.)

Not even a year later, we get to see him play a very similar character, “Gloves” Donahue, in the comedy gangster thriller All Through the Night, but this was his first step towards turning some of his more notable personas on their ear.

It seems like he’s really enjoying himself in the role. You can read my original write up on the film here.

Brother Orchid – 1940

Bogart doesn’t get a ton of time to shine here in his role as gangster, Jack Buck, but a couple things popped out to me.

In Robinson’s opening speech to his gang, Bogart sits back in his chair, taking it all in, as he slowly taps and rotates a sharpened pencil on his leg – eraser, point, eraser, point.  A wonderfully menacing touch to a scene where he could have just sat passively by and listened.

And one of the subtlest, most satisfying bits of comedy comes when Ann Sothern is asking if Bogart could possibly make up with Robinson. Bogart replies, “Johnny don’t like me no more . . . makes me feel bad too . . .”  It could come off as pathetic, or creepy, or evil and conniving, but Bogart uses his great comedy chops to pull it off playfully like a wounded puppy, adding a nice touch of humorous vulnerability.

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

High Sierra – 1941

Bogart layers the role of Roy Earle so deeply that you’re instantly sucked into not only empathizing with the character, but actually forgiving him when he commits his crime and is forced to shoot a security guard. I’m amazed and impressed with how much character development was given to Bogart’s role as he’s allowed to build deep and authentic relationships with Henry Travers’ Pa, Ida Lupino’s Marie, Joan Leslie’s Velma, and Donald McBride’s Big Mac. So often in crime films of this era, much more time is given over to the action and adventure, and little effort is spent on building a solid three-dimensional character. Director Raoul Walsh gives Bogart plenty of scenes to build a great foundation here though, and it makes for a riveting performance.

Bogart appears to be enjoying himself, and it’s a lot of fun to see him acting against his real life dog, Zero, in the film’s lighter moments. If you’re looking for a solid Bogart fix, this one’s a must see as it’s undoubtedly some of his best work. You won’t be able to take your eyes off of him.

High Sierra was the last film that Bogart made where he wasn’t given top billing, and it’s easy to see why this role made him an undeniably top-tiered star.

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

All through the night – 1942

Playing racketeer “Gloves” Donahue, you get to hear Bogart say the lines, “Hiya” and “Hello, Joe, whatta ya know?”  Seriously, what more can you ask from a Bogie movie?

In this, Bogart’s second gangster film spoof, we get New York’s toughest thugs battling the Nazi’s in an attempt to save the USA from certain doom. An all star cast that includes Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre, Frank McHugh, William Demarest, Jackie Gleason, Phil Silvers, Barton MacClane, and Ben Welden make this one a must see for it’s incredible characters and flawless comedic timing.

The most classic of classic Bogie moments happens early in the film when Bogart is called to a nightclub by his mother to investigate a woman who might know something about a murdered cheesecake baker. Kaaren Verne plays Leda Hamilton, Bogart’s questionable ally and love interest – who also happens to be a nightclub singer because . . . well . . . of course she is.  Aren’t they all?

Has there ever been an actor who can make listening to live music look more captivating and cool than Bogart? Seeing him casually walk to a table while never taking his eyes off of Verne is a scene replayed many times throughout his filmography with different actresses, and only Bogart could pull it off with such a sparkly-eyed charisma that it never grows old.

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

Producer’s Showcase – The Petrified Forest – 1955

Bogart comes back one more time to remake the gangster film that put him on the map as gunman-on-the-run, Duke Mantee! This time though, it’s for the small screen and Lauren Bacall steps in for Bette Davis and Henry Fonda takes over for Leslie Howard.

Mantee’s role is trimmed here. In fact, the entire movie runs about ten minutes shorter.  (While it’s listed as 90 minutes on IMDB, it’s much more like 72.) It also seems like some of Bogart’s lines might have been filmed separately and then spliced into the film.  (Several sources refer to this as a “live” airing, but then, how did they get the exterior shots of Fonda walking along a country road?)

Again though, I have to say that I found it captivating to watch an actor of Bogart’s caliber get the chance to reprise the role – playing Mantee twenty years older, showing a wearier, dead-eyed mobster this time around.  I think it’s a must see for die hard Bogart fans.

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

The Desperate Hours – 1955

How fantastic is it that Bogart’s first big break was as ‘Duke’ Mantee in The Petrified Forest, and then in his second to last film he returns with an almost identical character and plotline with the role of Glenn Griffin here? What an incredible double feature this would be for any classic film fans who need a great lineup on a Friday night!

So let’s talk about the elephant in the room. When the play won its Tony on Broadway, a young and much lesser known Paul Newman was the star. Half Bogart’s age, Newman’s casting makes a bit more sense when you factor in the younger brother storyline that weighs pretty heavily into plot. I can only imagine what kind of tour-de-force Newman must have been on stage, but being a celebrated Broadway actor who’d really only had bit parts on television, Newman wasn’t used for the role when it came up for grabs in Hollywood. Would it have been a better movie? Who’s to say? It would have been different for sure. It might have been an earlier launching pad for another one of Hollywood’s most celebrated actors as it would still be another three years before Newman would really break out with Somebody Up There Likes Me and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

But back to Bogart! This is his second to last film and there’s no trace of the illness that would eventually take his life on display here. He looks rough and ragged, but that’s what the role calls for. He smokes, snarls, leers, and blows his top in the most masterful of ways and it’s a captivating watch. This one’s certainly going into my top one or two ‘Older Bogie’ performances. It’s a must see for an Classic Film fan or Bogart die hard!

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

*Character Reference is an ongoing feature on The Bogie Film Blog where we break down some of Bogart’s most famous genres and characters. You can read the rest of the entries here.*

 

Screen Guild Theater – If You Could Only Cook – 1941

My Review

-A Little Too Light on the Comedy-

Honorary Radio Bogie Fix:

The Lowdown

A frustrated car executive (Adolph Menjou) meets up with a unemployed secretary (Priscilla Lane) in the park and they pretend to be married so that they can get hired on as a cook and a butler for a big time gangster (Bogart).

What I Thought

This one’s an easy listen, but there’s not much meat on the bone, even for Classic Radio fans. While I’ve never seen the original film starring Jean Arthur, its positive reviews would lead me to believe that something was lost in the translation to radio. At a mere 30 minutes, the plot is pretty bare and any thought of character development seems to have been tossed out the window.

Is it worth a listen? Maybe if you’ve got a long drive or flight and you’re a big fan of Priscilla Lane.

The Bogart Factor

Playing a foodie gangster, Bogart’s portrayal of Dan Nolin is not much more than a stock racketeer role that he could play in his sleep. While he gives it his all, the script doesn’t give him enough to make the role more than an amusing extended cameo. It’s mentioned at the end that he was out promoting The Maltese Falcon.

The Rest of the Cast

Priscilla Lane plays Joan, the unemployed secretary that pretends to be married so that she can get a job as Bogart’s cook. As I said before, there’s very little here for the cast to work with. While Lane probably has the meatiest role in the whole production, her motivations for wanting to work for a gangster and for falling in love don’t really get time to add up. That said, Lane is talented enough to make the most out of this small part and it’s not hard to see why the men in the production would find her so cute.

Adolph Menjou plays the frustrated car executive James. Perhaps the film version spends a little more time explaining Jim’s motivations for disappearing from his job (nobody seems to notice) and leaving his fiancee for days leading up to their nuptials (again, apparently unnoticed) when it merely seems like he’s having a bad day. He falls in love. Why? His fiancee is supposed to come off as a real shrew, you know, because she called him at work once.

Roger Pryor hosts the show and plays Bogart’s gangster sidekick, Flash. Normally this type of role would be comic relief, but in a light comedy where the main gangster is already playing for comic relief, Pryor doesn’t have much to do but say lines that could have been given to Bogart.

The Bottom Line

Not a complete waste of time, but probably only entertaining for die hard Priscilla Lane or Bogart fans.

Katharine Hepburn – The Making of the African Queen

Honorary Allnut Fix:

Don’t be fooled by the title – the only person responsible for Hepburn’s near-loss of sanity was John Huston. If Hepburn’s to be believed, the least important components of this film for Huston were, in order: The script, the wardrobes, and the actors.

Written as a polished version of a private journal (although how polished can it be when it regularly references vomiting and bowel movements), The Making of the African Queen is an incredibly insightful look behind the scenes of one of Hollywood’s greatest films.

Yes, if this memoir was restricted to only Hepburn’s anal retentive observations about the quality of life while living in Africa and working with John Huston, we might be left to believe that this was the most miserable period of her life. Hepburn’s charm though, comes with her ability to immediately poke holes in her own ego and readily admit when her fellow collaborators were in the right despite their own peculiar attributes and tendencies.

Filled with glorious black and white photos from Hepburn’s own collection and well known studio stills, The Making of the African Queen is an incredible chronicle of Hepburn’s fascinating working relationship with Director Huston as she learns to cope with, and appreciate, the eccentric auteur’s unique lust for life and occasionally confusing style of directing.

Hepburn badgers him endlessly about the script. (Who needs a finalized script until filming begins, right?) She fussily cares for him along the way like a three-way cross between a beleaguered sister, a frustrated wife, and a devoted assistant. (Hepburn fixes the buttons on the fly of his pants, accompanies him on an elephant hunting excursion, and dutifully joins in to help the cast and crew resurrect The African Queen after the ship sinks to the bottom of the river.) And in the book’s most telling moments, Hepburn reveals Huston’s brilliant, blunt, and simple style of direction that led to some of her most famous scenes from the film. (Yes, he cruelly made her mourn the loss of her film brother for an extended prank, but the “stiff upper lip” direction formed 95% of what makes Hepburn’s acting great here!)

What about Bogie? Well, he’s around. Bacall was on the trip, so they were often off doing their own thing while Hepburn was exploring Africa. Hepburn though, treats Bogart more like a minor character in the book. She loves his acting and professionalism. She enjoyed his endless needling off-screen and learned to respect him as a private man who had a hard time letting people into his inner circle. And in the end, she couldn’t have been happier to support him in his much deserved Oscar win for the role of Charlie Allnut.

What one will take away the most from this book is Hepburn’s dedication to her craft and her determination to make sure that she gave this film her very best. Whether she’s carefully pouring over the script to make sure it feels authentic, or lugging a full length mirror through the jungle to make sure her wardrobe and hair are the best that they can be, we see an actress that is willing to give her all for a role – even if that means acting through a severe case of the runs and losing 20 pounds in the process.

And did I mention the pictures?

The behind-the-scene moments portrayed are priceless, and the double page spreads are worth the price of this book alone. Even at her physical worst, Hepburn is so stunningly G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S.

If you’re a fan of Hepburn, Bogart, Huston, or The African Queen, this one’s definitely worth a read. To close, I’ll leave you with perhaps one of the most satisfying bits from Hepburn after the whole adventure had wrapped:

“Now, what do you suppose ever happened to Charlie and Rose? Where did they live? Did they stay in Africa? I always thought they must have. And lots of little Charlies and Rosies. And live happily ever after. Because that’s what we wanted them to do. And every summer they take a trip in the old Queen – and laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh. . .” 

I couldn’t ask for anything more.

The Love Lottery – 1954

the_love_lottery_uk_1954_poster

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:

bogie-lovelottery

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

hsleslie

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

hsleslie2

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

wranleslie

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

tylsleslie

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

iaaaleslie

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

tgfmleslie

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

untitled

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:

scor

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

isomf

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!