—Campy Noir Goodness—
Your Bogie Film Fix (Out of 5 Bogies):
Director: Delmer Daves
An escaped convict (Bogart) undergoes plastic surgery and hides out with a mysterious woman (Lauren Bacall) while trying to prove his innocence.
What I Thought
The first time I saw this film a couple of years ago, I thought it was a fantastic amount of fun. Critics at the time of release were apparently a little upset that Bogart’s face doesn’t appear for over an hour into the film (as was studio head Jack Warner), but having any Bogart film at my disposal at any time made the wait much more tolerable. We hear the voice. We see his silhouette. We get lots and lots of dramatic close ups on Bacall, but Bogart’s face is elusive until over halfway through the movie. I can the critics’ and Warner’s annoyance though. If I laid down good money to see Hollywood’s greatest actor do his thing only to find out that he doesn’t officially appear until less than half of the film is left, I might be a little upset too. Yet, removed from the era, I think it works.
Watching it this second time though, it’s clear to me that while everything looks, sounds, and feels top notch, this film is crazy-strange at its core.
Let’s start with the script. Coincidence and happenstance are such a common occurrence from the get-go that wild moments of chance become the acceptable norm quickly and it’s easy to forget how outlandish some plot points become. Everyone seems to know one another. Bogart lucks into a ride with the shadiest and least greedy cab driver of all time. And overly suspicious cops show up at absolutely every inopportune moment.
Scenes play out in such a way that we’d be slapping out heads in dismay if they occurred in any other Bogart film, but there’s just enough of a campy flavor by Director Delmer Daves here to make it work. It’s not the first time Daves has had his hand in an offbeat Bogart film either, as he was a contributor to the screenplay for one of my favorite lesser-known Bogart gems, It All Came True. (Daves also has credit for helping to write the screenplay for The Petrified Forest.) So, be it a fist fight shot from the first-person perspective or a maniacal back alley plastic surgeon that could get night work as a Bond villain, be prepared to suspend a bit of disbelief and have some fun with this one.
San Francisco plays a huge role in this film as well, giving us some truly amazing shots of Bogart scrambling around the city as he tries to prove his innocence. Director Daves offers us one shot in particular –
that I’m dying to make a poster on my office wall.
And then there’s the ending! I need to do a bit of research, but SURELY Stephen King took a bit of inspiration for the end of The Shawshank Redemption from this one, right? I’m not crazy am I? Even some of the dialogue feels a little too familiar.
It’s a fun, strange, wonderful film that gives us an enormous amount of time to stare at Lauren Bacall’s amazing face close up, so I’d go ahead and make this one a must see for any Bogart fan, especially if you’ve enjoyed other Bogart/Bacall collaborations.
The Bogart Factor
Having grown to really enjoy many of his radio appearances, this film really stands out to me as a great example of how truly important Bogart’s voice is to his overall appeal. Playing the escaped con Vincent Parry, we get nothing but that wonderfully cynical and smoky voice for over half the film, and it’s amazing how easily we can imagine every facial expression that Bogart would be making if he were actually on screen.
The character doesn’t plumb any new depths that we’re not already used to from a Bogart role. He’s dark and brooding, desperately sarcastic, and impossibly confident when it comes to communicating with the dames. But the film doesn’t call for an Oscar caliber performance, it calls for a tough-as-nails loner who can wander the streets of San Francisco scrapping with cops and wooing the girl. No one does those things any better than Bogart, so I’m more than happy that this eccentric little picture made its way into his filmography.
Lauren Bacall plays Irene Jansen, the woman who mysteriously seems to have a personal stake in Bogart’s fight to clear his name. Make no mistake about it, this is Bacall’s movie to make or break. She’s gotten a lot of flak for not being able to stand on her own without Bogart with many of her non-Bogart films, but here she shows that with the right director, she can work wonders. Much of the first hour of this film is spent in close-ups on her remarkable face as we see from Bogart’s first-person point of view, and it’s impossible to take your eyes off the screen whether she’s talking, moving, or just sitting perfectly still. This woman is stunning, and when given a chance, she knew how to combine her looks and her acting talent to truly command the big screen. If you’re a Bacall fan at all, this one’s definitely worth a look.
Agnes Moorehead plays Bacall’s friend(?), neighbor(?), frenemy(?) Madge Rapf, and after just watching her in The Left Hand of God, I’m ready to add her to ‘The Usual Suspects’ portion of the blog. I need to check out the rest of her filmography as she’s just so doggone talented at playing women (good and bad) with a real sense of underlying deviousness.
Tom D’Andrea plays the cabby, Sam, who just happens to know the best black market plastic surgeon on the block when Bogart needs it. Yes, it’s a wildly coincidental plot point, but D’Andrea gets a number of great moments to shine here, and manages to steal a few scenes from his fellow actors!
Clifton Young plays Baker, a small time crook that gets accidentally caught up in Bogart’s prison escape and subsequent adventures. Young is a lot of fun in the role, and with a few other really small parts in Bogart films, he may end up in ‘The Usual Suspects’ as well.
Houseley Stevenson plays the creepy back alley surgeon, Dr. Walter Coley, and he does a superb job. After a few smaller parts in some of Bogart’s earlier films, it was fun to see him pop up again here. Another ‘Suspects’ candidate? Probably.
Bruce Bennett (yet another multi-time Bogart collaborator) shows up as Bob, the pseudo-boyfriend to Bacall. Again for Bennett, it’s not a huge role, but he plays it well.
Rory Mallinson plays Bogart’s old friend, George Fellsinger. From the moment he appears on screen with his wistful longing to play trumpet professionally and his eager loyalty towards Bogart, do we doubt his outcome in this film for a second? Mallinson is very good, and helps provide crucial pathos for the film’s climax.
Holy smokes! There’s Tom Fadden playing the Counterman at a diner! One of my favorite parts of The Big Sleep here in another scene-stealing role!
Classic Bogie Moment
Come on. Just look at this shot. This one needs to be a poster too:
The Bottom Line
Have fun with it. Don’t ask too many questions. Enjoy one of the most beautiful and compelling actresses ever to grace the silver screen.