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Alexis Smith

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Birth Name: Gladys Smith

Date of Birth: June 8, 1921

Date of Death: June 9, 1993

Number of Films that Alexis Smith Made with Humphrey Bogart: 3

The Lowdown

Full disclosure – my first memory of Smith is her work on Cheers when she had an affair with Sam Malone, playing Rebecca’s old college prof. Good grief, Alexis Smith was gorgeous at every age.

Born in Canada, raised in L.A., and discovered by Warner Brothers during a college play, Smith would go on to star along some of Hollywood’s biggest names – Gable, Flynn, Grant, Crosby, and yes, Humphrey Bogart.

To be clear, I had a hard time discovering whether her birth name was really Gladys or Margret. One site says one thing. Another says something else. It does look like her mother’s name was Gladys, so . . . if anyone out there can help me out, it’d be great!

Tall, lithe, and gorgeous, Alexis Smith  was nicknamed “Dynamite Girl” by Warner Brothers despite the fact that she my not have enjoyed the name. She went from dancing at a young age, to theater as a teen, to films with some of Hollywood’s elite, to a long and successful marriage and a return to the stage with husband Craig Stevens.

I really like all three films that Smith starred in with Bogart (although in one they never met on screen) and I’m happy to add her to The Usual Suspects. From everything I’ve read, she was an easygoing, relaxed, and giving actress to work with, and many Hollywood legends had nothing but good things to say about her.

The Filmography

Thank Your Lucky Stars – 1943

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The good news – Smith gets to show off the dance skills that she honed at an early age. The bad news – this wonderfully goofy film is a star-studded war effort supporter with many, many celebrities making cameos one after another. So no, Bogart and Smith don’t meet here as they merely lend their glitz and glamour to the overall production led by a hilarious Eddie Cantor in a dual role as himself and a tour bus driver. But the film is a ton of fun and Smith looks amazing!

You can read my original post on the film here.

Conflict – 1945

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Smith plays Evelyn Turner, the younger sister of the wife that Bogart murders in this highly underrated gem. While I didn’t feel quite enough chemistry between Smith and Bogart to believe the infatuation he supposedly has for her, she is very good in the role and I couldn’t help but anxiously chew my nails as I waited for her and Sydney Greenstreet to figure out what was going on. Perhaps if she’d been characterized as a little bit more of a friendly flirt who lots of guys fall for? I don’t know. Other than the chemistry factor, I thought she was solid.

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Two Mrs. Carrolls – 1947

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In another underrated gem, Smith plays family friend and rich young socialite, Cecily Latham. It’s an incredible treat to see here play a role so opposite of the young and naïve gal she portrayed in Conflict, and seeing her put on the charm to win over Bogart makes for a lot of fun as well. Just look at that pic above. . . you can read the bad girl intentions all over her face, can’t you?

Smoldering persona. Great outfits. Strong acting. This is perhaps my favorite Alexis Smith role as it’s hard to look at anything else when she’s on the screen.

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.*

 

Lewis Seiler

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Birth Name: Lewis Seiler

Date of Birth: September 30th, 1890

Date of Death: January 8th, 1964

Number of Films that Lewis Seiler Made with Humphrey Bogart: 5

The Lowdown

Well, it was a bit tough to find much information on Lewis Seiler, which surprises me just a little considering that he directed at least 88 films over his career and was a contract worker for Warner Brothers.

A few things did come to light, though. Seiler seemed to treat his job as a director as just that – a job. He worked slow. He rarely read scripts before showing up for the day. He had to be reminded that he should precede the cast to the set each day.

So John Huston he was not.

What he was was a “house director” for many Warner Brothers films when Bogart was beginning his career. They had a script. They had a cast. Call the next name on the director’s list and he’d show up. Starting in comedy shorts, then moving on to Tom Mix Westerns, Seiler would eventually direct the much-acclaimed war film, The Guadalcanal Diaries for Fox.

All that being said, I think there are a lot of underrated gems in his filmography, especially a few in his Bogart collaborations. Seiler was known as the man who could get a gritty gangster film done efficiently, but as I’ll point out in just a bit, his experience in comedies led to one of my favorite Bogart guilty pleasures.

So, without further ado, let’s welcome Lewis Seiler into The Usual Suspects!

The Filmography

Crime School – 1938

Crime School Poster

A remake of 1933’s The Mayor of Hell, Bogart is now in the role of the prison reformer that James Cagney played in the original. Crime School is also incredibly similar to another film by stars Bogart, Billy Halop, Gale Page, and Director Seiler that would come out a year later – You Can’t Get Away With Murder, as once again Halop would play a good kid who’s made some bad choices and just needs the right mentoring. Page would even go on to play the exact same character of an exasperated older sister in the later film.

So as you’ve probably already guessed, there’s nothing new or groundbreaking going on in Crime School. That’s not to say that it’s terrible – it’s not. The performances are all decent, the direction is straight forward, and the plot is the “kid friendly” version of what we saw between Bogart and Pat O’Brien in San Quentin. All that being said, it’s probably not a must-see unless you’re a big Bogart fan, or you really like the “Dead End Kids”

Tepid Bogart at best, but not the worst in his filmography. You can check out my original post on the film here.

King of the Underworld – 1939

King of the Underworld Poster

The key word to this film is potential. There’s a lot of potential to be had here, but unfortunately, King of the Underworld falls short of living up to it. It seems as if Director Seiler can’t decide whether he’s making a crime drama, a gangster comedy, or a love story. King of the Underworld feels like a mashup between the taut dramatics of Bogart’s gangster-on-the-run film, The Petrified Forest, and the goofy shenanigans of Seiler’s own gangster-in-hiding film, It All Came True.

Despite all of my issues with the tone and script of this film, it’s not unwatchable. The acting is well done, Seiler knows how to frame a shot and keep a story moving, and the plot has a few interesting turns.

I think that the fault for any shortcomings might lie both with Director Seiler’s inability to pick a mood, and the fact that the screenplay was written in part by another multi-time Bogart collaborator, Vincent Sherman. Sherman, as many regular Bogie Film Blog readers know, directed two of Bogart’s more offbeat films – The Return of Doctor X and All Through the Night – both films that I contend were meant as spoofs of the horror and gangster genres respectively.

So was King of the Underworld meant more as a parody? I don’t think so. So much real angst was built into the story between Bogart and his Kay Francis that I think the comedic moments were just a bit too overplayed. There’s just enough humor thrown in that it undercuts Bogart’s threat as an antagonist. My guess is that Sherman and Seiler were both still in the infancy of their experimentation with turning the gangster genre on its head, and they put in a little too much silliness to make any of the gravitas truly effective.

Regardless, this one might be a fun double feature with Seiler’s own It All Came True, or Vincent Sherman’s underrated gem, All Through the Night.

You can read my original post on the film here.

You Can’t Get Away with Murder – 1939

You Cant Get Away With Murder

Problems with this one aside (see the aforementioned Crime School), there are numerous good scenes of comedy, action, and drama which all help elevate the film above a sub par script. The second joint effort between Bogart, Seiler, and Billy Halop, Warner Bros certainly seemed to be trying to mold “Dead End Kid” Halop into a new leading man.

The melodrama can skew a little heavy as Halop wrestles with his secrets while in prison.  There are multiple crying-into-the-elbow moments, and a few “You ain’t the bossa me!” teenage rebellion outbursts. While Halop occasionally appears a little green, and his sibling tension with Gale Page often seems unmotivated, there are some flashes of good work in his performance.

The biggest problem, I felt, was that Director Seiler was a scene or two short in setting up the seemingly unbreakable bond between stars Humphrey Bogart and Billy Halop. Money and power lured them together, but after ending up in the jail, what kept Halop loyal?

Again, not the worst film in Bogart’s filmography, but you could do better. You can read my original post on the film here.

It All Came True – 1940

it all came true poster

Now we come to my favorite film between Bogart and Seiler! This is exactly the kind of movie that I was looking for when I started this blog – a thoroughly entertaining Bogart film that I’d never seen or read anything about.

On top of that, I had one of those Ah-ha! moments with an actor.  My whole life I’ve heard people rant and rave about Ann Sheridan, but for some reason she’s never clicked with me. I always figured that I’d just never seen the right movie, and now I have. What a spitfire. From her first machine gun conversation with the B&B folks, to her final song, she was amazing.

While It All Came True isn’t rated well on IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes, it’s got a great cast, capable directing, and wonderful timing. There were lots of moments that reminded me of the all-time great screwball comedies like Arsenic and Old Lace and Bringing up Baby – movies that were able to balance wonderful gags with just enough pathos to keep me hooked on the characters. Seiler’s early comedy chops get to shine here at their brightest.

So what am I missing with all the bad reviews?!?  Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong!

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Big Shot – 1942

The Big Shot Poster

The fifth, and last film from Director Seiler and Bogart’s collaborations, this one showed such a devotion to detail for the Film Noir genre (in most parts) that it’s hard to imagine this is the same director who helmed the four previous Bogart collaborations.

Other than a brief chair tipping scene, gone is almost any element of silly gangster antics à la King of the Underworld and It All Came True. And other than a few minutes in a cabin hideaway between Bogart and Irene Manning, gone are any of the melodramatic trappings of teenage rebellion or love-angst as we saw in Crime School and You Can’t Get Away with Murder.

With its dark atmosphere, low camera angles, nightmarish voice montages, anti-hero protagonists, ultra-violent shootouts, and car chases, this film is almost a straight-up Film Noir thriller. The only time Seiler seemingly errs away from Noir is the aforementioned scene where Bogart goes on the lam to a mountain hideout with his dame. Then, for a few minutes, we get some lighthearted romantic comedy, but only just the smallest of doses. Does it detract from the overall film? Maybe a bit, but I could also see someone arguing that the moment of levity helps round out Bogart and Manning’s characters while giving us a chance to catch our breath before the big finale.

So why is The Big Shot not more widely known? I’m not sure. It’s not a perfect picture by any means, but it certainly seems like a more important film for Bogart’s Noir filmography than it’s given credit for. There is a character that appears in blackface for a short section of the second act, but he’s already been established as a not-so-nice guy, and Classic Film fans can be pretty forgiving when it comes to racial tension from a different era, so I would imagine that’s not the reason – although it probably doesn’t help.

Regardless, if you get a chance to catch this one on TCM, take it. Guaranteed to stir up some good conversation on what it means to be an “innocent” criminal, Seiler is able to explore some deeper territory here than what I’m used to seeing in his previous films. While it might have a few stumbling blocks that keep it from being a true classic, it’s more than watchable, and it’s a fun Noir film that’s not afraid to get its hands a little bloody.

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.*

The Journalists

Bogart Classic The Harder They Fall

*Welcome back to the second installment of Character Reference, a new segment on the blog where we discuss 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 soldier? A cowboy? Those and many more will hopefully be covered in the posts to come!*

The Character – Journalist

When you think about it, Bogart playing a reporter, editor, or journalist of any sort makes perfect sense. In a way, journalists are like private detectives without the guns. They have a story, but not all the details. They need to find witnesses. They need to follow clues to track down the real facts behind some sort of mystery. And if they’re not careful, they end becoming part of the story they’re trying to crack.

While journalist isn’t the first character type that some people think of when it comes to Bogart, he’s had some great roles in the category.

The Journalists

Two Against the World / The Case of Mrs. Pembroke / One Fatal Hour – 1936

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When a radio station decides to dramatize a twenty year old murder in a grab for ratings, a debate breaks out between the station manager, Bertram Reynolds (Robert Middlemass), and his news director, Sherry Schott (Humphrey Bogart), about the irresponsibility of sensationalizing a real life tragedy.

While Bogart is given the lead billing, it doesn’t mean that he dominates the screen time.  Bogart’s presence is heavy towards the beginning of the film and especially again at the end, but most of the middle is taken up with the drama surrounding the family involved in the murder. That being said, when Bogart is on screen, he dominates.

Sherry Schott could be seen as an early prototype for Bogart’s Deadline U.S.A. editor, Ed Hutcheson – an ethical businessman who tries to keep his company on the moral high ground amidst less disciplined men. I always think it’s a real credit to Bogart’s talent that he could play killers and business professionals with equal believability and apparent ease.

His final rant against his station managers shows a passion and fervor that make it easy to see how this was a standout role for a young Bogart. Sherry Schott is a news man of deep, ethical convictions – the type of character that Bogart would go on to play in his more iconic roles over the next two decades.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Passage to Marseille – 1944

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Journalism plays a back seat here to being an escaped con and a resistance fighter, but Bogart plays a French reporter named Jean Matrac. We find out through a series of flashbacks that Matrac ended up a prisoner on Devil’s Island after being framed for murder. Matrac saw the corruption of the French government growing long before the rest of the world did during the war, and is shipped off to the prison after printing a series of tell-all articles in his paper. His goal after the escape? Make it home to his wife, played by Michèle Morgan, who worked side by side with him in the newspaper office until it was shut down. Matrac also has a son he’s never met, who we meet before the flashback, anxiously waiting for a letter from his father to be dropped from a bomber after a raid.

Again, the reporter side of Bogart’s character only appears mid-film for his back story, but it’s enough to make you want to see an entire film about Jean Matrac. Bogart’s the-truth-at-any-cost newspaper man scenes add a heartbreaking backstory to a husband and a father that just wants to get home and see his family.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Report from the Front – 1944

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This one’s a real-life journalism role for Bogie. At 3 minutes and 18 seconds, Report from the Front is more of a brief time capsule of Hollywood’s WWII support than it is a Bogart film. Shot to support the Red Cross for The Office of War Information, Bogart is only visible for a few moments at the beginning, and then again at the end, as he makes a plea for movie-goers to donate to the Red Cross. The rest of the video is footage of U.S. servicemen fighting, relaxing, and being cared for by the Red Cross while Bogart narrates.

According to the Sperber/Lax bio Bogart, Bogart arrived on the Warner set with his four page monologue memorized and insisted on his then wife, Mayo Methot, being included in a shot where they disembark from a fake plane as he is approached by reporters. Bogart had even made a few rewrites to the script to make the final plea for donations a little stronger.

The short film is powerful, as just before the footage of soldiers and aid workers begins, Bogart looks straight into the camera and talks about what he’s witnessed overseas. His voice is steady and authoritative, and I’m sure his request was effective as movie theater ushers passed donation plates through the aisles. Who wouldn’t listen to a fedora and trench-coat clad Bogart as he looks you in the eye and tells you to help ailing servicemen?

You read my original post on the short here.

Deadline U.S.A. – 1952

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In what I would consider his best journalistic role, Bogart plays Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper editor Ed Hutcheson as he fights for one last big story before his paper is sold out from underneath him and scheduled to be shut down.

If you’re going to have a tough-as-nails crusader that decides to make a last stand for the public good, it might as well be Humphrey Bogart, because no one else is going to do it better. This is a film that’s filled with one grandiose speech after another, all about the importance of honest journalism, freedom of the press, and the public good – almost all delivered by Bogart, and almost all hitting the exact right chords to drum up the maximum enthusiasm from the supporting cast (and movie goer).

Ed Hutcheson:  (LAMENTING THE SURGE OF TABLOID JOURNALISM) It’s not enough anymore to give’em just the news – they want comics, contests, puzzles!  They want to know how to bake a cake, win friends, and influence the future. Ergo, horoscopes, tips on the horses, interpretation of dreams – so they can win on the numbers lottery, and, if they accidentally stumble on the first page – news! 

That doesn’t sound like modern journalism at all, does it?

Hutcheson is a no-nonsense, old-school journalist who wants nothing more or less in his paper than the plain facts. When a young reporter asks permission to chase down mob boss Tomas Rienzi, Hutcheson is quick to crack down on him:

Reporter:  I’d like to stay with the Rienzi story. 

Bogart:  You’re wasting your time, baby. 

Reporter:  Not if we can prove he’s guilty! 

Bogart:  It’s not our job to prove he’s guilty!  We’re not detectives and we’re not in the crusading business! 

But guess who’s quick to join the “crusading business” when his back’s to the wall and the paper’s about to be broken up? We get a front row seat as Hutcheson breaks some of his own journalistic code and personally joins the fray as his paper goes after Rienzi, despite threats and strong armed retaliations.

This is a fantastic film that should be a must see for any Bogie fan! You can read my original post on the film here.

The Harder They Fall – 1956

The Harder They Fall Poster

Bogart plays an out of work sportswriter who grows desperate enough for a paycheck that he takes a job from an underhanded boxing promoter (Rod Steiger) at the expense of his own integrity. Bogart is the cynical, older, almost-defeated writer that’s just as close to giving up as he is to trying again when Steiger puts him on the payroll to help promote his new fighter, even if the fighter and the fans might get swindled in the process.

Bogart let’s himself revel a little bit in the gray areas of life, almost as if it’s not completely un-enjoyable to take advantage of the big naive boxer in order to make a little extra dough. Does he come around at the end? Of course, but it’s worth the ride.

Being Bogart’s last film before his death, there are numerous reports that he had a hard time filming this one with lots of breaks for coughing fits. None of that is evident here, and Bogart is able to end his career on the best possible note.

I’d be remiss not to mention that this one’s a great example of old school “say the lines, kid” acting (Bogart) squaring off with the new school “method” style (Steiger) that was about to break loose in Hollywood.

You can read my original post on the film here.

*Character Reference is an ongoing segment where we look at the different genres and character types that Bogart played over his career. You can find the rest of the entries here.*

 

 

The African Queen – Ashley’s Take!

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(From the Bogie Film Blog – I’m dropping you mid-post into Ashley’s blog today for just a taste of what her film knowledge can bring you! As I’ve never seen It Happened One Night, here is yet another reason why I needed a new voice around! Add it to the Netflix queue!)

Well, hello Bogie, in glorious technicolor!

I had forgotten since my last viewing that The African Queen was shot in technicolor, so seeing that was a nice surprise, although black-and-white Bogie is just as fun, if not more so. There seemed to be a nice homage to the famous Frank Capra film of 1934, It Happened One Night. The great scene in which they take a bath in separate sections of the water leading to the two returning to the boat with Rose insisting that Charlie looks away while she enters the boat. When she is dressing and preparing for bed, Rose puts up a sheet reminiscent of Claudette Colbert creating the divide in the bedroom between she and Clark Gable shared in It Happened One Night. Whether or not this was intentional, it appears as a fun homage. Hepburn and Bogart shared amazing chemistry. As their relationship deepened, it was fun to see the effects they had on each other as their personalities changed. During the scene in which they discover that Charlie’s body is covered in leeches, it is clear that the two have developed profound feelings towards each other and they do not merely tolerate each other like they once did, but that they feel deeply towards each other.

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You can read Ashley’s post in its entirety at Ashley’s film blog here. And don’t forget to check her out on twitter here, and her Letterboxd site here!

*To check out more guest blogs, head on over to The Bogie Film Blog section, Take 2 here!*

TCM Vault: Humphrey Bogart – The Columbia Pictures Collection

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Honorary Bogie Box Set Fix:

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The Lowdown

There are a bunch of Humphrey Bogart box sets out there. Gangster collections. Warner Brothers collections. A Bacall and Bogart pack. Etc…

Most consumers will probably look first to the colossal, 24-film 12-disc set Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection as it contains not only his most popular films, but also such a treasure trove of extras that I haven’t even made it through them all yet. (There are even tons of postcard-sized posters, stills, lobby cards, and personal letters from and about Bogart.) That review will come, but this one focuses more on the slightly lesser known gem,  TCM’s 5-disc Columbia Pictures Collection.

While the extras are few and far between compared to The Essential Collection, what makes The Columbia Pictures Collection a great addition to any Classic Film fan’s library is the fact that TCM has bundled together four of Bogart’s later films (Knock on Any Door, Tokyo Joe, Sirocco, and The Harder They Fall) as well as an early, pre-Warner Brothers, 1932 Love Affair.

While you could track all five down separately, here they are gathered together, restored and remastered, at a price that’s more-than-likely cheaper than what you would pay for them individually. Plus, being a TCM release, you get a really nice Ben Mankiewicz intro to each film just as if you were watching it broadcast on the channel itself.

Beyond the Mankiewicz intros, the other extras on the DVDs aren’t stellar. Unlike The Essential Collection’s DVD extras and hands-on goodies, here you only get DVD stills of lobby cards, publicity shots, and movie posters – none of which mean much unless you need some new computer backgrounds. The reward from this box set is the collection of films itself.

Would this be the first set you should buy? Well, if you’ve got another 20 bucks, go with The Essential Collection. But when you’re ready to move on from the Warner Brothers fare, this set is nice addition. The films look great, come at a great price, and save you the hassle of trolling through Amazon and Ebay to put them together yourself.

What’s Included?

DISC 1 – Love Affair – 1932

Love Affair Poster

Plot

Carol Owen (Dorothy Mackaill) is a wealthy young socialite who falls for a local flight instructor (Humphrey Bogart), while at the same time keeping a rich older suitor (Hale Hamilton) on the side. Unbeknownst to Owen and the flight instructor, the rich older suitor is also having a private affair with the flight instructor’s sister (Astrid Allwyn) who’s trying to swindle him out of enough money to stage a play.

What I Thought

I was more than pleasantly surprised by this film. Being Bogart’s first real leading role, and having heard very little about it, I expected that Love Affair might be a little bit of a mess. It’s more than worth a watch, though. The print is great for a 1932 film, Ben Mankiewicz gives it a nice introduction, and the overall quality of the film should offer plenty of entertainment to even the casual Bogart fan despite the plot which is a bit over complicated.

The DVD Extras

*Ben Mankiewicz Intro

*Scene Stills

*Humphrey Bogart Biography

*Lobby Card Stills

*Movie Poster Still

You can read my original post on the film here.

DISC 2 – Knock on Any Door – 1949

Knock On Any Door Poster

The Plot

An attorney (Humphrey Bogart) who escaped a history of crime and poverty must defend a young hoodlum (John Derek) accused of murdering a policeman.

What I Thought

First of all, before you watch this film, don’t read any of the reviews or synopses on the web. A few of them actually give away the ending in the first paragraph, and it always bugs me a little bit that people think they can get away with that because it’s a “classic” film.

Knock on Any Door was the first film produced by Bogart’s film production company, Santana, and I would have to say that it was a great film for Bogart’s crew to start with. Based on the bestselling book by Willard Motley, Bogart handpicked Director Nicholas Ray after being impressed by his directorial debut in They Live by Night. It’s a partnership that would go on to produce one of my favorite Bogart films, In a Lonely Place.

There have been reviews written that accuse this film of doing some over-the-top grandstanding, preaching on the dangers of social injustice. I couldn’t disagree more. How our country treats the lower class is most definitely not a black-and-white issue, and I think Director Ray makes sure to leave us on an authentic moment of uncertainty at the end of the film. People that we might consider “bad guys” aren’t always bad guys. Heroes we look up to sometimes make life and death mistakes. Knock on Any Door is less a movie about our country’s war on poverty, and more a film about our societal struggle with the flawed criminal justice system.

The DVD Extras

*Ben Mankiewicz Intro

*Publicity Stills

*Movie Poster Stills

*Behind the Scenes Photo Stills

*Scene Stills

You can read my original post on the film here.

DISC 3 – Tokyo Joe – 1949

Tokyo Joe Poster

The Plot

An American (Humphrey Bogart) returns to Tokyo after World War II to pick up the pieces of his broken marriage and his former nightclub, the ‘Tokyo Joe.’

What I Thought

The critics who initially treated this one roughly were pretty much on the nose. This film is held back greatly by a script and a director that don’t seem to know what tone they want to set for their main protagonist. I think we’re supposed to root for Bogart’s returning war vet just as much as we did for Rick Blaine in Casablanca. At least, that’s the feeling I’m left with as we watch him fight for the love of his life and rekindle his friendship with his former nightclub partner and best friend. The problem is, early on in the film we’re introduced to Bogart as a man who dumped his wife, ditched her to die in a hostile country, and then returns to reclaim her, only to resort to blackmail before turning over a new leaf. It’s kind of like if Casablanca had been made from Ilsa’s perspective. Does it make sense? Sure. Is it a little tough to feel sympathy for someone that doesn’t always make the most sympathetic choices. Yup.

The DVD Extras

*Ben Mankiewicz Intro

*Lobby Card Stills

*Scene Stills

*Behind the Scenes Photo Stills

*Publicity Stills

*Movie Poster Stills

You can read my original post on the film here.

DISC 4 – Sirocco – 1951

Sirocco

The Plot

A black market gun dealer (Humphrey Bogart) sells weapons and ammo to the Syrians as they revolt against their French occupiers in 1925, only to fall in love with the girlfriend (Märta Torén) of a French Colonel (Lee J. Cobb) in charge of tracking him down.

What I Thought

If this was the best film on the 5-disc set, it’d be worth it.

During the film’s introduction, Ben Mankiewicz acknowledges the criticism that the film has received for aping Casablanca, but he also points out that watching the film removed from the era helps the enjoyment of it quite a bit. I would agree 100%.

Yes, we have expatriate Bogart involved in some criminal operations in a foreign occupied country. And yeah, there is a woman involved, who also happens to be involved with a man who’s doing his best to become a martyr for his cause. But I think Sirocco does a good job of finding its own legs as it diverts away from many of the more iconic qualities that we think about when we consider Casablanca.

Bogart’s gun dealer is darker and less trustworthy than Rick Blaine. The whole setting is less fun. There is a more urgent feeling of death around every corner, and so the swagger and aloofness of a Rick Blaine does not play off to same effect here as it did in the previous blockbuster.

Cobb and Torén are great. Everett Sloane does a great job as a French General. And there’s tons of local Sirocco flavor added in that it makes for a very compelling film.

The DVD Extras

*Ben Mankiewicz Intro

*Publicity Stills

*Movie Poster Stills

*Lobby Card Stills

*Scene Stills

You can read my original post on the film here.

DISC 5 – The Harder They Fall – 1956

The Harder They Fall Poster

The Plot

An out-of-work sportswriter (Humphrey Bogart) grows desperate enough for a paycheck that he takes a job from an underhanded boxing promoter (Rod Steiger) at the expense of his own integrity.

What I Thought

Before the film begins, Ben Mankiewicz mentions that Bogart wasn’t particularly fond of Rod Steiger’s acting style. Bogart apparently thought Steiger was “overacting,” so he downplayed his own performance to counter balance their scenes together. While Steiger chewed the scenery, Bogart calmly leaned back and watched him go.

Knowing this as the film begins gives you an interesting perspective on the film as a whole. Was Steiger overacting? I don’t think so, but I can see how Bogart might have thought that he was. Steiger had come out of The Actor’s Studio, and no doubt had trained heavily in the new and controversial “method acting” style that was about to take Hollywood by storm. Bogart, on the other hand, came out of the old studio system where you kept your cards close to your vest and only rolled out the bigger emotions when you really needed to make a point.

It’s not hard to see how these two styles might have clashed just a bit.

The great news is that it worked wonderfully well. Bogart is supposed to be the cynical, older, weary writer that’s just as close to giving up as he is to trying again. Steiger is the conman wound tight and ready to break, wheeling and dealing at every moment in order to wring every cent that he can out of the world. Bogart comes off as a man unimpressed. Steiger comes off as a frustrated bully who can’t control his affairs or his emotions. It’s exactly what the script calls for.

By far the best film in the box set, this was Bogart’s last time on screen before his death, and it was a really great way for him to end his career. It’s a must see for Classic Film or Bogart fans.

The DVD Extras

*Ben Mankiewicz Intro

*Lobby Card Set Stills

*Scene Stills

*Behind the Scenes Photo Stills

*Publicity Stills

*Movie Poster Stills

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Bottom Line

Yes, get it! If you like Bogart or Classic Films, you won’t regret this set!

Everett Sloane

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Birth Name: Everett H. Sloane

Date of Birth: October 1, 1909

Date of Death: August 6, 1965

Number of Films Everett Sloane Made with Humphrey Bogart: 2

The Lowdown

It was a recent rewatching of The Enforcer and Sirocco that really brought Sloane to my attention for The Usual Suspects. They were the only two films that he shared with Bogart, and the roles are so diametrically opposite from one another that it gave me a whole new respect for the actor who first appeared in a little known film called Citizen Kane.

Sloane started his career at age 7 on the stage before receiving some tough reviews as a young adult and retiring early to become a Wall Street runner. Yet, as fate would have it, Sloane headed back into performing after the stock market crashed and he eventually hooked up with another radio personality named Orson Welles.

Welles hired Sloane for his radio company and then went on to cast him in what were probably Sloane’s two most well known films – Citizen Kane and The Lady from Shanghai.

Sloane’s personal filmography is certainly nothing to sneeze at, and combined with his stage work, radio broadcasts, and later television appearances, it all makes for a pretty incredible resume despite the fact that his life was cut short when he committed suicide at 55 after struggling with the fact that he was going blind.

It leaves all of us to wonder what great work might have been left in his life if he’d sought help, but there is still so much to love about the work he left behind! So let me happily induct Everett Sloane into The Usual Suspects!

The Filmography

The Enforcer – 1951

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Sloane plays Albert Mendoza, the criminal mastermind behind a ring of hit men-for-hire. It makes me greatly ashamed that I saw this one before I saw Sirocco and didn’t even mention Sloane in my original write up as I hadn’t yet seen his full range. In a Third Man-esque twist, we don’t even get to see the much talked about gangster until the last act of the film, leaving us to wonder just what this dastardly n’er-do-well looks like. We hear about him. We see the effect that he has on his sniveling subordinates. But it’s not until the end that we get to see just how cruel and Machiavellian he can be.

Sloane’s first big scene with Ted de Corsia sets the stage for his true madness as he happily takes an incredible beating from de Corsia just to see if the thug is worth hiring for a new criminal enterprise. Only minutes later, when we get to see Sloane’s big comeuppance with Bogart, you’ll be surprised that his devious mug wasn’t lurking in the background of the film the entire time.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Sirocco – 1951

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Again, I feel terribly remiss to have left Sloane out of the original post on Sirocco as I think I must have let Lee J. Cobb and Bogart overshadow his performance. But Sloane plays French General LaSalle, commanding officer to Lee J. Cobb, who is tasked with tracking down the local black market businessmen who are helping Syrian insurgents thwart the French occupation of Sirocco.

Having just rewatched the film again, I can say that Sloane does wonderfully as the over-taxed, and sometimes iron willed, French officer, and it’s his pressure on Cobb’s subordinate officer that gives the final act its true stakes.

I am off to correct the first two posts now, but you can read my original post on this film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing feature at the Bogie Film Blog where we dive a tad bit deeper into some of Bogart’s most recurring collaborators. You can find the rest of the posts here.*

The Screen Guild Theater Presents: The Valiant – 1945

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Honorary Bogie Radio Fix:

Radio Fixes

The Lowdown

Bogart was out promoting Conflict when he made this appearance for The Screen Guild Theater, and it’s a real gem.

Adapted from the play of the same name by Robert Middlemess (who also appears here as the warden), this is a tight little radio piece that actually gives Bogart his second chance to do some Shakespeare! (You can check out my other post on his first radio foray into Shakespeare as Hotspur in Henry IV here.)

The Valiant is the story of a prison chaplain (Pedro de Cordoba) and his Warden (author, Robert Middlemiss) who are deeply concerned about the curious case of a death row inmate (Bogart) who only has hours to live. They both know that something seems wrong about him. They don’t think he is who he says he is, but the inmate will not admit anything.

Enter a strange woman (Dorothy McGuire) who claims to be the inmate’s sister. She thinks she can get him to admit his true identity with a little prodding about family memories and a shared love for Shakespeare.

What I Thought

Adapted radio plays tend to be much too abridged from their original stories for my liking, but this one holds up rather well. Yes, they cut out a good chunk of the play in order to fit the time limit, but it doesn’t take away much.

Bogart’s interplay with De Cordoba, Middlemiss, and McGuire is strong, and although it’s easy to see where the story is heading, Bogart’s final lines make for a very powerful payoff to this play.

Was the relationship between McGuire and Bogart a little too romantic considering she thought that they might be brother and sister? Yeah. . . yeah, just a bit. Especially at the end where they share a kiss. Whew. It gets weird.

But this one is certainly a must listen for anyone who likes Old Time Radio or Bogart.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart plays death row inmate James Dyke, and let’s cut to the chase – Bogart has an opportunity at the end of the show to do a little bit from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and it’s really moving stuff considering how little he has to play with. Just like in Henry IV, Bogart’s delivery is strong, clear, and vivid enough that we don’t get lost in the language for a second. Plus, the lines tie in so well with the end of the play that it’ll likely haunt you the rest of the day.

The Cast

Pedro de Cordoba and Robert Middlemiss play The Chaplain and The Warden respectively, and both do a fine job. The real standout though, is Dorothy McGuire as Bogart’s possible sister, Josie. McGuire has the challenging task of playing Josie with an equal amount of love, longing, and deviousness as she tries to subtly pull Bogart’s true identity out from him. And, other than the creepy brother/sister romance that plays out, it’s really compelling stuff.

Bottom Line

Check it out.

 

S. Z. Sakall

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Birth Name: Gerő Jenő

Date of Birth: February 2, 1883

Date of Death: February 12, 1955

Number of Films S. Z. Sakall Made with Humphrey Bogart: 4

The Lowdown

Born in Hungary, Sakall began using the pseudonym Szőke Szakáll during the beginning of his career in Budapest. Over his lifetime, he went from being credited asS. K. Sakall to S. Z. Sakall before occasionally being billed as S. Z. “Cuddles” Sakall in some of his final films. (Jack Warner reportedly dubbed Sakall “Cuddles” for his rotund cuteness, although the actor apparently never cared for the nickname.) Making over 40 films in Europe and appearing in countless theatrical productions before heading to America to become a renowned character actor, it is probably his role as “Carl the waiter” in Casablanca that Sakall is most famous for.

To be clear, Sakall really only shared three films with Bogart face-to-face. In one of those three, they don’t even make eye contact, let alone speak. In the fourth film, Bogart was merely a voice cameo during a scene that Sakall was not even in. The fact that Sakall was such a proficient contract player makes it a little more surprising that they didn’t work together more often. But their filmographies share four films, and that’s more than enough to induct Sakall into The Ususal Suspects! He talent deserves every accolade offered!

The Filmography

Casablanca – 1942

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Sakall, in what many consider his most famous role, plays Carl, the host/waiter in Rick’s café. Sakall is so wonderfully charming here that there probably aren’t enough adjectives to cover it – lovable, solid, hilarious, and incredibly talented are just a few that I’d start with. The scene where he watches Rick help the young couple win at roulette is enough to make you want to hug him. I honestly can’t imagine another actor filling the role here as well. This part destined for Sakall. Add to the fact that he was one of the many, many foreign actors within a film that makes a strong stand against the German occupation of, well . . . everywhere that’s not Germany, and you have an added oomph to the film that’s hard to qualify.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Thank Your Lucky Stars – 1943

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Sakall plays Dr. Schlenna, a high strung Hollywood producer that’s helping to put on a star studded variety show to support the war effort. Again, Sakall is cast perfectly – and in one of the funniest scene in the film, Sakall’s frustrated producer has to put a cameo-making Humphrey Bogart in his place. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Bogart knew how to cameo. Just look at the pic above. Five o’clock shadow, fedora, and pinstriped suit – because he was a gangster in real life too, right? But in a rare moment of role reversal, the joke here is that Sakall gets to take a moment to put a demanding and coddled Bogart in his place because he just doesn’t have time for prima donna actors!

Plus, Sakall gets to mug with an elephant. That’s worth it alone, right?

You can read my original post on the film here.

Two Guys from Milwaukee – 1946

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Sakall plays right hand man Count Oswald to Dennis Morgan’s love struck Balkan prince. As always, Sakall’s presence is another testament to how well Classic Hollywood’s studio system worked when it came to producing strong supporting character actors. Sakall’s scene with little Peggy as she demands the true dirt behind fairy tale princesses is especially fun. Unfortunately, Bogart’s role here is a jokey cameo after the Balkan prince gets to meet his lifelong crush, Lauren Bacall, on a train. But, hey! There’s Sakall right behind Bogart as he sits down!

You can read my original post on the film here.

Never Say Goodbye – 1946

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Sakall plays restaurant owner Luigi alongside of the philandering artist played by Errol Flynn. Sakall, as usual, does a wonderful job with his ‘flustered foreigner’ role here, and his interrogation scene with the police is one of the funniest scenes from the film. This is the one film Bogart and Sakall share with no scenes whatsoever as Bogart merely makes a voice-over cameo when Flynn dresses up as a gangster and does a tough guy accent, with Bogart’s real voice dubbed in for one line over top.

You can read my original post on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing series of posts about some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators.  You can check out other entries in the series here.*

Zero Mostel

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Birth Name: Samuel Joel Mostel

Birth: February 28, 1915

Death: September 8, 1977

Number of Films Zero Mostel Made with Humphrey Bogart: 2

The Lowdown

Nicknamed “Zero” for his poor performance in grade school, Mostel was born in Brooklyn, NY, moved to a Connecticut farm with his family, and eventually made his way back to the big city for what should have been a smooth and successful career on stage and in film.

Beginning as a popular nightclub act, a radio star, and a budding TV actor, Mostel rose to fame for his impeccable timing, biting sense of humor, and incredible physicality. But much like the namesake for this blog, Mostel’s political beliefs became a problem for his career after testifying for the House Un-American Activities Committee. Blacklisted for much of the 50’s, Mostel would once again rise to prominence on stage, one crowd at a time, until his eventual return to the big screen for such classics as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and The Producers.

Mostel’s work with Bogart was certainly a step out from his usual comedic performances. While not playing completely straight in either film, his characters’ physical, mental, and moral deficiencies sometimes come off as more sympathetic than comical.

I’ve never met a man or woman who wasn’t a fan of at least one of Mostel’s films, and I’d consider both of his Bogart collaborations personal favorites. So without further ado, let’s welcome Zero Mostel into the pantheon of The Usual Suspects!

The Filmography

The Enforcer – 1951

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Mostel plays “Big Babe” Lazick, a bumbling hitman that Bogart’s District Attorney Martin Ferguson has to question in order to find an elusive gangster.

Mostel is wonderful playing around with all the skills and talents that made him a great comedic actor, but here, those attributes are played straight, making him look pathetic and in over his head. From his first scene where he’s being carried out of a church by the cops, to his tension filled first meeting with the crew of hitmen who hire him, Mostel is perfect in the role of a criminal flunky who just doesn’t have the gusto to finish a job.

Mostel and Bogart get a great interrogation scene together, and it’s a shame they only share two films. Mostel’s wimpy loser next to Bogart’s confident tough guy makes a great pairing.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Sirocco – 1951

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Mostel plays Balukjiann, a local businessman who’s rounded up with Bogart’s black market gun runner when the French Army tries to locate Syrian sympathizers during a 1925 insurgency. Bogart plays it cool. Mostel jumps readily to the other side.

It’s not as memorable of a role as Mostel had in The Enforcer, as his character serves more of a “yes man” role next to Lee J. Cobb and Everett Sloane’s French officers, but I’m always fine with an overqualified actor playing a smaller part in a film.

No big laughs to be had from Mostel here, but he does add just a touch of comedic relief to an often dark plot – and the film is far more solid than the reviews let on. It’s worth checking out.

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.*

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

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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

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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:

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Although when you consider Bogart’s chapeau:

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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

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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

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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 🙂 )