The Westerns

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Welcome to a new segment on The Bogie Film Blog called Character Reference. In this section of the blog we’ll dissect the genres and character types that Bogart played over his career. How many times did he play a jailbird? An escaped jailbird? A detective? A cop? A journalist? A soldier? A cowboy? Those and many more will hopefully be covered in the coming years!

The GenreWesterns

Today we start with The Westerns. Perhaps not Bogart’s most auspicious genre, this class of film was certainly as troubling for the Hollywood legend as it was productive. Coming to fame during the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s in Hollywood meant that an actor would more than likely have to tangle with a Western film at some point, and Bogart was no exception.

Make no mistake, Bogart is not John Wayne, and save for one Western, he probably should have skipped the genre all together. That’s not to say that a few of the films aren’t worth seeing, but it is to say that Bogart was often miscast with a wide brimmed hat and sat upon the back of a horse.

There’s the accent for starters. Whether he sounds like a big city gangster or tries to adopt something more authentic (ugh, we’ll get into it), the man just did not sound like someone who should have been inhabiting the old west.

Then you’ve got the physicality. You could do a lot with a fancy suit, a trench coat, and a fedora. Height could become fuzzy. Build could be hidden. But put a man in a tight-fit shirt and a ten gallon hat on the back of a horse and it’s pretty hard to hide an atypical cowboy frame.

It helps a bit that he was always villainous. The villains don’t have to look nearly as good as the white hats. But come on, even with six shooters Bogart had a hard time playing the part of a threatening bad guy.

Still – there’s more than one Western in his filmography that might be worth your while!

The Westerns

A Holy Terror – 1931

Holy Terror Poster2

It’s a stereotypical bad guy role for Bogart here as he plays Steve Nash, the head cowhand for a cattle ranch. No backstory is given. He’s got a bunkhouse full of goons. He’s quick to use murder to solve all his problems. When the ending arrives, you will wonder Why in the heck would anyone have this guy on the payroll?

All that said, Bogart’s the standout performance here by far. The role is essentially the same as any of his early gangster roles, complete with the East Coast accent, and no one could play stock tough guys better than Bogie. He whines, grouses, argues, sneers, and loses his temper throughout the film and it never gets old.

As one of only four Westerns in his filmography, there is enough here to make it a must see for Bogart completists as he does get a lot of screen time with all the other leads. But the script is bad, bad, bad.

At fifty-three minutes, the review for this one was almost “Watchable.” Then I got to the twist ending which immediately calls into question everything that just happened in the previous fifty-two minutes and should potentially create an incredible legal nightmare for all the shooting, fighting, and death that the took place around the main protagonists. Instead, the twist is embraced by all the characters, laughed about, and taken as a neat and tidy wrap-up for a tragically violent story. I’m obviously tip-toeing around spoilers here, but the head rancher in the film is so negligent in his communication to the other characters that he should spend the rest of his life in prison.

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Oklahoma Kid – 1939

Kid Poster

I had heard so many bad things about this film that I’d prepared myself for the worst. I’d heard that it was “the film with the two shortest cowboys of all time.”  True enough, but I did think that nicknaming Cagney ‘The Oklahoma Kid’ helped a lot. It probably would have been better to pair him with someone a tiny bit more threatening in stature other Bogart, though.

I’d also heard it was “the film with the cowboys that have gangster accents.” This complaint is completely understandable considering that everyone in the film besides Cagney and Bogart seem to have more Midwestern accents, if not full out drawls. Our two stars though, sound just as if they’d plopped right down outta The Roaring Twenties.

I’d also read from multiple sources that it was “the cowboy film with goofy outfits,” as even Bogart himself thought that Cagney’s costume made him look like a big mushroom:

oklkidcag

Although when you consider Bogart’s chapeau:

oklkidbogiehat

It makes me wonder, were they out of medium sized hats that day???

I had a lot of similar feelings watching this film as I did the first time I watched The Return of Doctor X. It may not be the best use of Bogart’s or Cagney’s talents, but it is an enjoyable film if you can forgive all the casting drawbacks. Cagney especially seems to be full of endless joy as he grins and charms his way through this movie.

Whip McCord is a pretty two-dimensional bad guy for Bogart, and there are several times during the film when the character disappears for extended periods. Any shortcomings though, stem more from the script than from Bogart’s performance. He does his best with a limited role, and he even looks kind of comfortable on horseback. His lack of screen time might have partially been due to the fact that he was concurrently filming Dark Victory with Bette Davis while he was making this film.

It does have an AMAZING fight scene at the end!

You can read my original post on the film here.

Virginia City – 1940

Virginia City Poster

Oh, thank the good Lord that High Sierra was just around the corner. Don’t get me wrong, this is not bad film, but Bogart is terribly miscast as a Hispanic outlaw with a very bad accent. His name is John Murrell – couldn’t they have made him an ex-pat hiding in Mexico rather than a native? Especially since they were going to stand him next to REAL MEXICANS for the entire film.

It’s just the wrong, wrong, wrong movie for Bogart to be in. The part’s small. The accent was a terrible choice. And putting him next to Errol Flynn and Randolph Scott accentuated his slight stature in a way that shocked me despite having seen almost all of his films. Not his greatest showcase.

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – 1948

Treasure Poster

While many of you might argue that this one’s not a “true” Western, it’s listed as such on IMDB and has many of the Western tropes that Classic Hollywood was famous for.

While I wouldn’t consider Bogart’s portrayal of Fred C. Dobbs to be quite as evil as some reviews have made it out to be, there’s no doubt that this is one of the most darkly realistic characters that he ever played. Slowly consumed by greed, Dobbs is a man that is primed and ready for something to send him over the edge.

And yet the tightrope that Bogart and Director John Huston are able to walk here with Bogart’s likability is pretty astounding. Even after attempting to murder Tim Holt, we watch – and continue to hope – that Bogart will somehow make it through his final desert journey and evade the bandit Goldhat one more time in order to claim his fortune. Dobbs is the good friend that we all know and continue to root for despite the fact that he occasionally makes some really despicable life decisions. It’s the same likability that Bogart brought to so many of his earlier criminal roles, and to the cynical loners later in his career that refused to stick their necks out for anyone.

How drastically different would this film be if someone other than Bogart had been cast as Dobbs? Perhaps someone more typically villainous? Having all three main characters start out as protagonists on equal footing lends a powerful punch to the film’s climax and the final moments between Walter Huston and Tim Holt.

While it’s not my absolute favorite Bogart performance, I don’t argue too hard with people who do claim that it’s his best. It’s certainly got to fall within the top five for me.

You can read my original post on the film here.

*Character Reference is an ongoing segment of The Bogie Film Blog where we dissect the different recurring genres and characters from Bogart’s filmography. You can find the rest of the entries here.* (Eventually 🙂 )

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