The Big Shot – 1942

The Big Shot Poster

My Review

—A Hidden Noir Gem—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

3.5 Bogie

 

 

Director: Lewis Seiler

The Lowdown

A recently paroled convict (Bogart) tries to go straight but ends up in trouble again after agreeing to lead a group of thieves in an armored car heist.

What I Thought

This film caught me off guard in the best possible ways. The fifth film from Director Lewis Seiler that I’ve done for this blog (following Crime School, King of the Underworld, You Can’t Get Away with Murder, and It all Came True), this one showed such a devotion to detail for the 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, and 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.

The Bogart Factor

Playing the recently released convict Joseph ‘Duke ’Berne, Bogart is presented as a man who’s trying to reform but just can’t keep himself out of trouble. Director Seiler doesn’t hesitate to show us how truly dark and vicious Bogart can be as the film plays out, yet at the same time, he’s also not afraid to ask us for our sympathy towards Bogart’s plight for a new life. Case in point – late in the film, Bogart laments that another character is taking a rap for him in regards to a jail break. At no point however, does Bogart lament the prison guard that died as a result of the break. Shouldn’t we feel a little more disgust for Bogart’s callous display of priorities? We should, but we don’t. Director Seiler, the script, and Bogart do a great job of painting a likable criminal who spends so much time in the “gray” area of life that he’s essentially made up his own rules about right and wrong.

It’s a fun role for Bogart, and I’d say it’s a must see for anyone who’s a fan of the actor or the Noir genre. Considering it was released while he was filming Casablanca, it would be fun to do this one as a double feature with that great classic for an interesting taste of how diverse one year in the life of Bogart’s film career could be.

The Cast

Irene Manning plays Lorna Fleming, the former flame to Bogart’s ex-convict who leaves her husband to aid Bogart after his release from prison. A professional singer who got to dabble a bit in acting, Manning is cast well as the femme fatale that seems anxious to dump her attorney husband to run off with the bad boy. She has a look and an attitude that suits the character.

Richard Travis plays the car salesman, George Anderson, who attempts to give Bogart an alibi for a robbery and fails – only to go on to take the rap for a later prison escape by Bogart and another inmate. It’s not a particularly well developed role as he’s seemingly only needed to arouse pathos for Bogart. That being said, I think a lot of Noir films from the era would have used Travis’ character as the main protagonist, so I’ll give the writers some credit for not giving in too easily to expectations. (Does anyone else wonder though, about why Travis’ future parents-in-law, who initially hated him, would become so supportive after he takes part in a crime for money?!?)

Stanley Ridges plays Attorney Martin T. Fleming, the man who pulls Bogart back in for one more caper, tries to defend him in court, and then sabotages any chance he has to avoid life in prison. Ridges is fun in the role and has some good scenes with Manning that lead us to believe it might not be your conventional marriage.

Chick Chandler plays convict Frank ‘Dancer’ Smith, the man who co-escapes with Bogart. Chandler is pretty entertaining as the wannabe dancer (despite the blackface), and shows up again in an uncredited role in Action in the North Atlantic.

Susan Peters plays Travis’ girlfriend, Ruth. Other than a wonderfully shaken performance in the big trial scene, Peters isn’t given a lot to work with here.

John Ridgely has a small role as Tim, a wisecracking cop. What’s interesting to note here is that Ridgely appeared in FIFTEEN different films with Bogart – all of which were small parts and cameos like this one until his big part as Eddie Mars in The Big Sleep!

Classic Bogie Moment

Our classic moment comes from Bogart’s ability to create a laugh in what should be a tense scene. Appearing briefly alongside of fifteen-time costar John Ridgely, Bogart goes to turn himself in to the police and we get this exchange:

Ridgely: (TO ANOTHER POLICE OFFICER WHILE PLAYING CARDS) Only the other day Irene says to me, “Tim!” she says, “How soon do you ‘spose we can afford to have a baby?” How do you like that? Afford to have a baby! Like it was a battleship or somethin’. “Hold on,” I says to her, “Take it easy!” I says. “Not till we can afford to buy a teethin’ ring,” I says to her. I’d hate to tell ya the chances I’d take to get my hands on Duke Berne and get some of that reward money!

Bogart: (COOLLY WATCHING AS HE LEANS AGAINST THE FRONT DESK) Ya got it now, Tim. Tell your wife to go right ahead and have that baby, with my compliments.

Officer 2: Duke Berne!

Ridgely: (LEAPING UP AND GRABBING BOGART BY THE SHOULDERS) Lieutenant! Lieutenant! Come on out here and see what I got!

Bogart: (AS THE LIEUTENANT APPROACHES) Tim’s havin’ a baby.

The Bottom Line

Keep your eyes on TCM’s guide and wait for this one to pop up! (Unless they finally get wise and put it out on DVD first!)

 

Dark Passage – 1947

Dark Passage Poster

My Review

—Campy Noir Goodness—

Your Bogie Film Fix (Out of 5 Bogies):

3.5 Bogie

 

 

Director: Delmer Daves

The Lowdown

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 –

Dark Passage Awesome

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.

The Cast

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:

Dark Passage Classic

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.

 

Sirocco – 1951

Sirocco

My Review

—Not as Casablanca-ish as You’ve Been Told—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

3.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Curtis Bernhardt

The Lowdown

A black market gun dealer (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 the French Colonel (Lee J. Cobb) in charge of French Intelligence.

What I Thought

The bar on this one had been set pretty low by everything that I’d read and everyone that I’d talked to before I watched it. I was told over and over again – this was a weak attempt at recreating the magic of Casablanca.

I got Sirocco as one of the five films from the TCM box set ‘Humphrey Bogart: The Columbia Pictures Collection.’ 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.

First and foremost, Harry Smith is a much darker criminal than Rick Blaine. Whereas Blaine ran an under-the-radar casino that was actually favored by the local law, Smith is supplying the weapons that are aiding the Syrians to actually kill the French in charge. If discovered, Smith knows he would almost certainly be shot.

Blaine lives low profile, rarely leaving the nightclub and never sticking his neck out when there’s trouble. Smith, on the other hand, is required to live in a constant state of danger as he dodges bullets, stalks darkened alleys and underground catacombs, and risks his neck every time he goes after a paycheck.

But above all, one character describes Smith as a man with, “no morals and no political convictions.” While the same accusation was essentially made against Blaine, I think much of it was an act that he was ready to drop in a heartbeat when finally faced with a life and death decision that could impact the entire war. With Smith, it’s dead on.

Beyond that, I think it could be pretty easily argued that Sirocco isn’t even a Bogart vehicle nearly as much as it is a showcase for Lee J. Cobb as he plays the French military man in charge of smoking out Bogart’s gun ring. I think we’re supposed to be rooting against the French as we cheer on Bogart. But Bogart’s portrayal is just seedy enough, and Cobb’s is just righteous enough, that it’s not hard to sympathize with the French occupier who defies his own commanding officer to bring a truce to the bloody battle.

We watch Cobb slowly melt down under the pressure of finding the gunrunners while at the same time trying to salvage his relationship with Märta Torén, who is clearly ready to end the relationship and move on to a darker and more mysterious Bogart.

After you watch the film and see what both Cobb and Bogart go through during the last act of the film, try and imagine the role of Harry Smith played by someone less legendary than Bogart. I’m pretty sure that if an unknown had been cast in the role, Sirocco would be considered Cobb’s film to make or break.

This is the second film I’ve written up by Director Curtis Bernhardt, the first being Conflict, and what I’ve really come to appreciate is the way that he often lets scenes play out not for plot advancement, but for character color. Especially check out the scenes where Bogart’s lounging in the barbershop or the nightclub when we get to watch him just exist for a few moments in the environments with his costars, as if nothing more important was happening in the rest of the world.

The Bogart Factor

He’s very good here. The script doesn’t give him quite as much nuance as Rick Blaine, but I enjoyed seeing him play a real anti-hero. If Bogart had made the decision to leave the girl behind, or shoot his way out of being arrested, it would have been believable. Director Bernhardt does of great job of setting up Harry Smith as a man who is just in it all for the money. Once he’s got enough, he’ll probably disappear, moving on to the next conflict where he can make a quick buck at the expense of a lot of dead soldiers.

I like dark Bogie a lot. This character is probably more on par with someone like Roy Earle – a likable criminal who you almost want to root for, even though he’s a part of some pretty awful behavior. Check out the scene where he takes the cigarette back from Torén and smokes it despite the fresh blood that’s on the end of it.

The Cast

Lee J. Cobb plays French Intelligence officer Colonel Feroud. Cobb does a really nice job here of painting a man that’s incredibly noble, and yet incredibly flawed at the same time. He’s the only man in Damascus who seems to want the fighting to end without any more bloodshed, but at the same time, he loses his temper and attacks the woman he loves. I want to watch it again just to spend a little more time focusing on his performance rather than Bogart’s.

Everett Sloane does wonderfully as the over-taxed, and sometimes iron willed, French officer Gen LaSalle, and it’s his pressure on Cobb’s subordinate officer that gives the final act its true stakes.

Märta Torén plays Cobb’s girlfriend, Violette. Again, like so many of the other characters in this film, Violette is not an easy person to love, and we never fully know if she’s actually interested in Bogart, or if she just wants to use him for an exit from the country. It’s a completely contrary role to Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa, and Torén holds her own very well against Bogart and Cobb.

Nick Dennis nearly steals the film as Bogart’s sidekick and gunrunning partner, Nasir. I really enjoyed Dennis here, and I want to see a lot more of him. I defy you to pick any scene that he’s in and not smile at least once.

Zero Mostel plays one of the other black marketeers that’s in league with Bogart and Dennis. It’s not a huge role, but I was surprised to see him again in another Bogart film after The Enforcer. I’ve always enjoyed Mostel a great deal, and he’s a perfect fit for this nervous nelly role.

Classic Bogie Moment

So . . . your favorite nightclub just got blown up with you inside? The room is filled with smoke, blood, and the screams of women? Might as well have a smoke and a drink, right? Check out Bogart and Nick Dennis keeping it cool here:

Bogie Classic Sirocco The Bottom Line

This one’s well worth a watch. Some of the posters even use the tagline, “Beyond Casablanca,” and I think it could make a great double feature with the cinema classic.

The Two Mrs. Carrolls – 1947

The Two Mrs. Carrolls Poster

My Review

—A Fun Thriller That Deserves a Look—

Bogie Film Fix:

3.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Peter Godfrey

The Lowdown

After losing his invalid wife, a depressed and troubled painter (Humphrey Bogart) marries another woman (Barbara Stanwyk), but the honeymoon phase of their relationship doesn’t last long.

What I Thought

My expectations were low after having seen a few poor reviews for this film, but I absolutely loved it. Bogart is creepy and menacing, Barbara Stanwyck is strong even while playing the damsel in distress, and the beautiful Alexis Smith gets time to shine as the bad girl – a far cry from the role that she played in Conflict.

What’s not to enjoy about this film? It may not be Hitchcock, but it’s still really good. There are some great tense moments between Bogart and Stanwyk, and Director Godfrey plays the plot twists with just the right touch as to not take away from the overall film. This is a very good thriller with a lot to love.

The actors are what makes this film work, and more than likely they help cover a few of the more bumpy spots in the script. Bogart’s final line makes this movie worth a viewing on its own!

Fair warning – multiple reviews that I’ve read online spoil some of the surprises, so if you don’t want to know too much, avoid them!

The Bogart Factor

Critics at the time said that Bogart was miscast as the dark and brooding artist, Geoffrey Carroll. The only thing “miscast” about this film was the art that was used to illustrate his talent. It was horrible and looked like something that I could have done with a couple of hours and a basic art set. Other than that, Bogart does very well here.

He’s creepy, conniving, prone to violent outbursts, and yet still able to come off as likable at times. He gets the chance to show a real range here, and it’s certainly a must see for any Bogart fans. If you paired this one with Conflict for a double-Bogart, double-thriller, double-feature, you’d have pretty good night of entertainment.

The Cast

Barbara Stanwyk plays Sally Morton Carroll, the woman that Bogart has a brief affair with and then eventually marries after his first wife dies. Stanwyk does a nice job of balancing strength and terror in the role, and watching Bogart’s secrets slowly dawn on her makes for some of the film’s best moments. It’s nice to see her play a more sympathetic character after just watching her scheme and murder her way through Double Indemnity.

Alexis 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. I really like Alexis Smith and I need to explore her filmography further.

Ann Carter steals many of her scenes as she plays Bogart’s cold and distant daughter, Beatrice Carroll. If sociopathic genes are passed on from one generation to the next, then this film could be a prime example of what that looks like. Carter is one of the better child actors that I’ve seen Bogart work with, and her aloofness is chilling. She seems to want nothing more in life than a good private school where she can ignore all the trouble that waits for her at home.

Barry Bernard plays Horace Blagdon, the sniveling little pharmacist that blackmails Bogart. While it’s not a huge role, it deserves a mention here. The character isn’t that fleshed out and is used mainly to add tension to the plot when needed, but Bernard plays it well and it’s a prime example of using a solid character actor to add color to a film.

Patrick O’Moore plays Barbara Stanwyk’s ex, Charles Pennington. To be honest, I kind of forgot that he was in the film until I looked up the cast list to do this post. Not that he was bad, just not all that memorable.

Classic Bogie Moment

One of the best expressive moments of Bogart’s career! He realizes the jig is up, and almost looks directly into the camera, as he rolls his eyes in a wonderful “Oh, s**t!” moment!

Bogart Two Mrs

The Bottom Line

I’m already anxious to rewatch this one, and highly recommend it!

The Jack Benny Show – 1953

Benny Title CardMy Review

—Hilarious Show / Depressing Sponsor— 

Your Bogie Film Fix:

3.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Ralph Levy

The Lowdown

In a sketch on The Jack Benny Show, notorious gangster ‘Babyface’ Bogart (Humphrey Bogart) is arrested and interrogated by Det. Lt. Benny (Jack Benny).

Bogie interrogate

What I Thought

If you can get past the fact that a number of the performers on this show died from cancer – it’s one of the funniest roles that Bogart ever played and a great episode of Jack Benny’s long running TV show.

Like much of the television from this era, this episode of The Jack Benny Show is really a half hour pitch for Lucky Strike Cigarettes.  The show is bookended by endorsements for the tobacco product, and the biggest joke in the entire broadcast comes from Bogart’s bouncing and singing the Lucky Strike jingle.

What can we really say looking back?  The world was naïve about the effects of smoking.  The tobacco companies fought a long and hard campaign to convince humanity that their product was safe – a battle that’s still, amazingly enough, being waged today.  And it’s sad to watch so many people joyfully celebrate a product that within just a few years would rob us of Hollywood’s greatest star . . .

All that being said, I think we should be removed enough from the era, and from Bogart’s death, to truly celebrate how hysterical this episode is.  While a lot of the jokes, especially in the monologue, are a little forced and hammy, the same could be said for most of the jokes on late night TV today.  The real magic comes with the interplay between the performers during the ‘Babyface’ Bogart sketch.

Bob Crosby’s running gag about his song being cut was great.  Sara Berner’s portrayal of ‘Slim Finger’ Sara was perfect, giving the sketch numerous chances to make callback’s to her horrible singing voice.  The switcheroo with the old man and the cop was laugh out loud funny even though I knew it was coming.  And perhaps my favorite part of the show was the fake slap fight between Benny and Bogart during the interrogation scene.

Since it’s pretty widely available through various DVD subscription services and online, I’m gonna go ahead and say this is a must see for any Bogart fan, and even if you’re not a Bogart fan, you’ll still find some good laughs.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart knew how to cameo, always playing up his gangster image to the max.  Here we have a trench coat, a grizzled gangster character, an interrogation scene, and gunplay.  And, like always, Bogart gives 110% to the role even though it’s just a silly little sketch for TV.

It was fun at the end to hear that he was making the appearance in order to promote his upcoming film, Beat the Devil.  How much fun would it have been if he’d brought along a costar?  We’ll never know, but the cross-promotional moment was surely a big one for the crew at The Jack Benny Show and the folks at Lucky Strike.  A real Hollywood legend playing for gags and willing to sing a goofy jingle probably pleased a lot of corporate types.  The fact that it’s one of the most famous episodes of Benny’s show is a testament to Bogart’s legacy.

The Cast

Jack Benny plays himself and Detective Lieutenant Benny in the episode.  To be fair, Dt. Lt. Benny is no different at all from the real Jack Benny, so adding a title in front of his name is a joke unto itself.  Benny is great here and, as I’ve always been a big fan (I read numerous Benny bios in high school and college), I loved seeing two of my idols coming together for some fun. 

Don Wilson plays himself and Detective Wilson – again, one and the same character.  Don Wilson is another guy who’s really easy to love and laugh with (at).  Ever wanted to be able to do at least one good impression?  Just say, “Oh, Dooooooon!” and it’s a guarantee that anyone familiar with Jack Benny will know exactly who you’re doing.  Who else is so well known just because someone famous used to repeat their name week after week?

Bob Crosby plays himself and Detective Sergeant Crosby in another dual role that’s really the same role.  Out of all of Benny’s cohorts, I really know the least about Crosby, but he’s very funny in this episode.  The moment that he realizes that ‘Slim Finger’ Sara gets to do a song after his was cut might arguably be one of the funniest bits in the show.

Sara Berner plays ‘Slim Finger’ Sara, a pickpocket that’s arrested just before Bogart.  The moment Berner started talking, I thought it was going to be another shrill voiced mob doll that I’ve really grown quite weary of seeing.  Much to my delight, Benny uses, but doesn’t overuse, Berner’s character to the point that she has some of the best callbacks in the show.

Classic Bogie Moment

I cannot get enough of Bogart playing for laughs.  Much of the time, he was playing off the “tough guy” persona that he’d elevated to legendary heights.  He was so good at keeping a straight face in his comedic roles – although here, I think he was burying his face in his hand to stifle some laughs.

cracking

The Bottom Line

It’s thirty minutes of great fun as long as you don’t dwell on where the funding came from. . .

Conflict – 1945

Conflict Poster

My Review

—Great Hitchcock-like Thriller—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

3.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Curtis Bernhardt

The Lowdown

A wealthy engineer (Humphrey Bogart) murders his wife (Rose Hobart) hoping that he can then move on to her younger sister (Alexis Smith). The only problem? The supposedly dead wife continues to be a presence in his life. Did she survive? Is it a ghost?

What I Thought

Here’s another film that at the time of its release received some mixed reviews, but I thought was really good.

Conflict could be put with The Caine Mutiny and In a Lonely Place for a night of films themed “The Paranoia Trilogy.” This is another great performance by Bogart where we get to watch him slowly fall apart within his own mind as he begins to question his sanity.

The performances are all strong, and while I don’t want to blaspheme the great Alfred Hitchcock, I thought Conflict’s script and noir-ish feel was much akin to Hitchcock’s Suspicion, or even the earlier Rebecca. If you like suspenseful thrillers, this film will be right up your alley. The murder scene on the mountain pass is especially chilling, and it’s the first time that I’ve ever been watching a Bogart film and felt that his character was truly evil.

There are a few small hitches I found with the script. While I thought the twist was done well, it does open up a lot more questions than it answers. Without revealing too much, when you watch it, just consider how much work the final protagonist had to put in to do the things that had to be done. Cryptic enough? In particular, think about the scene where Bogart thinks he’s following his wife into the apartment building and then confronts the landlord.

On the flip side, after the film is said and done, rewind back to the initial scene where Bogart is sitting in his house with the police and Sydney Greenstreet. Rewatching that scene after knowing the crucial twist from the ending gave me an all new appreciation of Greenstreet’s ability to play subtlety.

All in all, it was great to see a film where Bogart and Greenstreet were good friends, and the direction of the film makes me excited to watch Director Curtis Bernhardt and Bogart’s other collaboration, Sirocco.

The Bogart Factor

With Bogart’s portrayal of Richard Mason, we get an even more paranoid and dangerous version of The Caine Mutiny’s Captain Queeg and In a Lonely Place’s Dixon Steele. Both Queeg and Steele were characters, who by the very nature of their true intentions, were able to garner sympathy from the audience. Mason on the other hand, is just a true sociopath. No matter how charming he might seem, once the murder takes place, we can’t forget what’s really boiling beneath the surface.

Bogart’s played characters that were unlikable before, but they were often the stock-gangster bad guys who really posed no real threat to the protagonist. Or, even if the bad guy was a more powerful central figure (Duke Mantee, Roy Earle, etc.), we find ourselves in quiet awe as we respect him in the same way that we might so many other outlaw antiheroes of cinema history. This isn’t simply a man who’s fighting his darker urges, this is a man who’s fully given over to his most evil intentions in order to redesign his entire life. The moment that Mason pushes his wife’s car over the cliff, our sympathies lie fully with Alexis Smith and Sydney Greenstreet as we hope and pray that they figure out what’s going on before it’s too late.

Overall, I thought Bogart hit all the right notes. It’s a much more subdued paranoia than he played with Queeg or Steele.

The Cast

Sydney Greenstreet plays psychologist Dr. Mark Hamilton, family friend to Bogart’s Dick Mason. How great is it to not only see Greenstreet play a good guy in a Bogart film, but to see them actually chum around a bit before things get tense? Greenstreet is so good as the warm and gregarious Dr. Hamilton that you just want to give the big guy a hug. He seems truly happy in the role.

Rose Hobart plays Kathryn Mason, the wife that Bogart murders. I thought that Hobart did a great job of playing Kathryn as the disgruntled spouse who just wants a little more love from her husband. Director Bernhardt did a fine job of portraying a realistic married couple who struggles privately while putting on a good face for the public.

Alexis Smith plays Hobart’s younger sister, Evelyn Turner – the woman that Bogart kills for. She does pretty well here, although I didn’t feel quite enough chemistry between Smith and Bogart to believe the infatuation he has for her. 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.

Charles Drake plays the young professor Norman Holsworth who is pursuing Alexis Smith, potentially foiling Bogart’s plans. He was all right here, but it’s an underwritten role, and Drake is mainly used for plot advancement.

Classic Bogie Moment

How often did we get to see Bogart and Greenstreet sharing a scene as friends? Well, here they are! I’ll give this weekly spot on the blog over to a moment where we get to enjoy the two men as allies:

Bogart and Sydney in Conflict

Make Sure to Notice

Wait! What’s that just over Bogart’s head?!? Could that be the Maltese Falcon? Looks like it! Although it resembles the falcon on the novel’s cover more than the one from the John Huston film, it’s still a wonderful inside joke for this Bogart-Greenstreet collaboration:

Maltese Falcon in Conflict

The Bottom Line

Conflict is a must see and a little underrated in my opinion!

Dead Reckoning – 1947

dead reck

My Review

—Decent Noir— 

Your Bogie Fix:

3.5 Bogie  out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  John Cromwell

The Lowdown

Captain ‘Rip’ Murdock (Humphrey Bogart) goes looking for his best friend, Sergeant Johnny Drake (William Prince), after Drake disappears on his way to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

What I Thought

This is a pretty standard Film Noir that succeeds on every level except the script.  The three leads, Bogart, Lizabeth Scott, and Morris Carnovsky, all do their fair share of the heavy lifting to elevate this movie beyond what it probably deserves.

There were several moments in the film where I got goose bumps as I anticipated where the plot might be about go.  Was one of the major “good guys” really in on the murder?  Was Drake actually a psycho killer in sheep’s clothing?  Were we about to get a shocking surprise twist á la The Third Man?  Unfortunately, the plot was a little more pedantic than all of that, and the film’s last act slowly peters out rather than ending with a bang.  Dead Reckoning has been accused of too closely trying to recreate the magic of The Maltese Falcon, and I can the see logic behind that accusation.

Perhaps I’m too far removed from the time and the culture that Bogart inhabited, but even with all of that said, I still didn’t see a poor film here.  Dead Reckoning is a movie that continues to grow on me because frankly, no one can play the disaffected investigator as well as Bogart did, and Bogart’s never going to make another film.  So I’ll take classic Bogart in a mediocre film any day!

The Bogart Factor

The reviews don’t lie – Bogart is great here.  He narrates the viewer through the story, walking us along as Capt. Murdock pieces together his friend’s disappearance.  Murdock is a paratrooper, but this film is all noir as Bogart falls away from the military man persona and quickly takes on the air of a hardened detective.  He seems particularly subdued and thoughtful throughout the performance.

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

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

dead reck2

Set this film up as the opening to a Bogart double feature with The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon and I think it would be a great night of classic Humphrey Bogart Film Noir.

The Cast

Lizabeth Scott plays ‘Dusty’ Chandler, the love interest to Capt. Murdock and the missing Johnny Drake.  Reviews at the time were pretty hard on Scott, but I thought she did okay.  She certainly reminded me of Lauren Bacall, both physically and vocally, so perhaps that’s why I went a little easier on her.  She pulls off the role well enough that I wasn’t sure which side of the fence she was playing until the end of the film.

Morris Carnovsky plays the nightclub owner and gangster, Martinelli.  Again, reviews at the time make him sound cartoonish and over the top, but I actually enjoyed his performance quite a bit.  He errs on the side of the cutthroat businessman rather than the trigger happy gangster, and it’s a good choice in my opinion.

Marvin Miller is Martinelli’s lackey and strong arm, Krause.  He’s big and creepy, and it’s explained towards the end of the film that he has suffered a head injury in his past, making him an impassive killing machine.  I liked him a lot – until we got to his big exit from the picture.  In one of the scripts worst moments, Director Cromwell apparently decided that he needed to get rid of Krause to continue the story.  I’m fine with that, but did he have to do it in such a silly way?  Murdock has a handful of flash grenades and he’s setting them off in Martinelli’s office.  The place is on fire, and everyone needs to escape.  Bearing in mind that there are two available doors and neither of them is blocked by fire, consider that Krause gives us this face:

dead reck ridic

– choosing to make his escape in this way (that’s him in the lower right throwing himself out a window. . .) :

ridic2

Really?  Couldn’t he have turned around and walked out the door?  Couldn’t Cromwell have had Bogart wrestle for a gun and just shoot Krause?  Is Krause so brain dead that he’s become a Frankenstein-esque monster that’s so afraid of fire that he loses what little mind he has left?  It was certainly a laugh-out-loud moment for me as I watched the film, and this scene alone probably didn’t help the critical response at the time.

Classic Bogie Moment

I wonder if current directors don’t look back at filmmakers like Cromwell with deep envy for getting to work with actors who were as incredibly photogenic as Bogart.  How good does Bogart look in every shot?  For a man who was slight in build with thinning hair, a scarred lip, and crooked teeth, Bogart was a cinematic titan once you put him on the big screen.  I can imagine that it was a lot of fun to put him in a dark suit, slip a gun in his hand, and then take your time coming up with amazing ways to frame that marvelous face:

dead reck classic2

There’s so much great stuff going on it that picture alone that it’s worth the price of admission.

The Bottom Line

Not a must see, but certainly a great showing by Bogart in a weak film.  If the plot drags too much, just turn off the sound and revel at the way that Bogart commands every frame that he’s in!

Beat the Devil – 1953

beat

My Review

—A Cult Classic— 

Bogie Film Fix:

3.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  John Huston

The Lowdown

Four crooks (Humphrey Bogart, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, and Marco Tulli) meet up with a British couple (Edward Underdown and Jennifer Jones) as they all make their way from Italy to East Africa in order to obtain, and exploit, uranium rich land.  Billy Dannreuther (Bogart) finds himself pinballing between the three crooks he’s travelling with, his wife (Gina Lollobrigida), and the con woman (Jennifer Jones) who continually feeds him lies while simultaneously professing her love for him.

What I Thought

(This post was written in response to @NitrateDiva’s 2013 Italian Film Culture Blogathon, and you should check out the rest of her great entries here.)

While Beat the Devil can be one of those polarizing cult classics (I happen to love it), I think everyone across the board can admit that it’s one of the most eclectic and eccentric casts and crews that Bogart ever worked with.  You’ve got the wild and hard-drinking director, John Huston, the flamboyant and witty writer, Truman Capote, the Italian sex bomb, Gina Lollobrigida, the thick-accented Hungarian-American, Peter Lorre, and academy award winning actress, Jennifer Jones.  Whether you’re an avid supporter of Devil’s cult status, or you simply find it a convoluted mess, there’s no denying that the film fascinates movie buffs and casual fans on multiple levels.

Filmed on location in Ravello, Italy, the first half of the film is almost stolen by the backdrop of the Mediterranean cliffs and seacoasts.  Italy’s not just the setting for this film as much as it is a supporting character.  The viewer is treated to a constant tour of Ravello’s plazas, piazzas, cafés, villas, and tunnel filled, mountainous roads.

Huston uses the Ravello location to its fullest, tying several key plot developments directly into his locations:

-Bogart’s car flies off a cliff and into the Mediterranean Sea, causing a busload of locals to claim that they witnessed his death.

-Several big scenes are shot in an Italian villa and a restaurant owned by Bogart’s character as he earns the trust of the young British couple, claiming to be a wealthy U.S. expatriate.

-Almost every significant conversation is shot outdoors in a café over drinks, on a cliff overlooking the sea, or inside of Bogart’s car as it tours around the Italian countryside.

In fact, one could argue that it’s the Ravello setting itself that seems to be desperately trying to keep the film’s main players from leaving.  Their ship breaks down while in port.  They lose their car into the sea on their way to the airport.  The lure of the romantic countryside keeps a swooning Jennifer Jones in love with Bogart, tempting him to leave his scheme behind and run away with her.

It’s not until the group finally sails away from Italy that things turn dangerously sour in a hurry.  Forced into a life raft after their ship breaks down, they are adrift overnight, finally washing up somewhere on the African shore.  Once beached, they’re immediately arrested, interrogated, and roughed up by the local authorities, until it’s finally discovered that the land they were trying to swindle has been swindled away from them by the least conniving man among them.

If they’d only stayed in Ravello, right?  Yet, the whole time they’re in the picturesque Italian town, all they can do is verbally degrade it as they desperately try to escape it.  Their greed for the uranium land blinds them to the surrounding paradise.

Perhaps my favorite bit of movie lore about this film comes from the fact that a young Peter Sellers was hired to dub some of Bogart’s lines.  After missing a hairpin turn on one of Ravello’s winding roads, Bogart’s driver crashed into a stone wall, sending Bogart face first into the front seat.  After several broken teeth and a new false dental bridge, Bogart’s lisp was stronger and more distracting than usual.  Huston hired Seller’s to help out during postproduction by re-recording several lines of Bogart’s dialogue.  Seller’s impression was so spot-on that Huston and Bogart were reportedly the only ones who could really tell the difference.  After watching the film a half a dozen times, I honestly can’t discern which lines aren’t spoken by Bogart.

The Bogart Factor

I’m a big Capote fan, so for me, hearing his droll and playful dialogue come out of Bogart’s mouth is an incredible treat.

“I was an orphan until I was twenty.  Then a rich and beautiful lady adopted me.”

“The only thing standing between you and a watery grave is your wits, and that’s not my idea of adequate protection.”

“They’re English, going out to the British East.  They have a coffee plantation. . . there’s a certain type of Englishman that goes off to coffee plantations without caring if there’s any money in it or not.  Relatives leave them coffee plantations and they go out to them.”

There’s no doubt that Bogart’s the star of this movie, and his character, Billy Dannreuther, is in complete control of every situation – even when all control seems lost.  It’s a wonderful exhibit of the confidence that Bogart was able to display onscreen.  He plays a man who can always keep his cool – talking his way in, and out, of practically any situation that arises.

It’s tough to learn that Bogart considered this film “a complete mess” after it was finished.  I would have loved for him to see the future and know how many people revere it now.  If nothing else, he could at least read Roger Ebert’s take and have a little satisfaction that Beat the Devil wasn’t a waste of his time!

The Cast

Robert Morley plays Mr. Peterson, the apparent ring leader of Bogart’s crew of criminal rascals.  It’s a complete about-face from his role as the missionary brother to Katherine Hepburn in The African Queen, and it’s great to see him get to show a more devious side.  There’s an especially fun scene where Jennifer Jones tells him that she and her husband are headed to East Africa on a spiritual journey in an attempt to exorcise their lifetime of sins.  Whether it was in the original story, or thrown in as a nod to Morley’s character from The African Queen, it plays out very funny as we watch his face go aghast at the thought that Jones is using religion to con him.

Jennifer Jones is very convincing as the sweet, young con girl who really seems infatuated with Bogart.  She hits all the right notes as Gwendolen Chelm, the unhappy English wife who’s actively trying to escape one relationship by starting another.

Gina Lollobrigida plays Maria Dannreuther, Bogart’s bored and gorgeous wife who begins to fall in love with another man (Edward Underdown) while her husband is falling for Jennifer Jones.  Lollobrigida agreed to the role after being promised top billing in Europe, and I thought she did fine here despite her tepid reception by critics at the time.

Edward Underdown is Henry Chelm, the prim and proper English husband to Jennifer Jones.  What’s so great about Underdown is that his stuffy and upper-class British persona is as close as we get to a moral character in the film.  It’s not that he’s a good person (which he’s not, as he continually ignores and belittles his wife, abandoning her emotionally, as well as physically, until she runs into the arms of Billy), as much as it’s the fact that he’s a person who simply believes people should behave with a constant air of dignity, despite the feelings of others.  By not asking us to root for Underdown, Huston gives us full permission to enjoy his downfall – and then sets us up to be suckered by the final con in the film, right alongside of Bogart and Jones.

Peter Lorre . . . what can I say?  This was his last collaboration with Bogart, and while it’s not a huge role, Lorre gets to do what he does best – squirm, smoke, and connive his way through the film while looking for his chance at glory.  Perhaps my favorite moment in the movie comes when Lorre is lecturing Bogart and Jones on the value of trustworthiness, all the while doing his best to sneak out the door and hurry on to the next part of his dirty dealings.

Classic Bogie Moment

One of the best aspects to many of Bogart’s expatriate loner characters is that they struggle so hard between doing the right thing and looking out for number.  And so, when Bogart and his crew are arrested and subjected to a little rough treatment, we get the following exchange that always makes me smile:

Jennifer Jones:  Are you going to allow them to bully you in this way?  Why, it’s, it’s, it’s simply-

Bogart:  Shocking?

Jones:  Harry wouldn’t have let them do it.  He had a sense of dignity.

Bogart:  (RESIGNED) Well, I have a sense of survival. . .

The Bottom Line

I admit that it took more than one viewing of this film for me to “get it,” but I’m okay with that. I think some of the best films in history often need a chance to grow on us as viewers, and as more time goes by, I respect and enjoy this film more and more.

It All Came True – 1940

itallcametrue

My Review

—A Great Comedy— 

Bogie Film Fix:

3.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies! 

Director:  Lewis Seiler 

The Lowdown

A gangster on the run (Humphrey Bogart) hides out in a boarding house run by the mother of his nightclub’s piano player (Jeffrey Lynn). 

What I Thought

This is exactly the kind of movie that I was looking for when I started this journey – 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 entrance to her final song, she was amazing.  It makes me want to round up all of her movies that I haven’t seen yet and have a marathon. 

I worry that this may be one of those entries that I get a few negative responses over – perhaps even the one the gets my film blogging license revoked.  It All Came True isn’t rated spectacularly on IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes, but I feel like I’ve found a new movie for my top twenty.  Great cast.  Great direction.  Great timing.  I can’t say enough. 

There were lots of moments that reminded 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.  What am I missing here?  Why is this movie not on more great comedy lists?!?  Feel free to write me the riot act in the comments below and tell me how wrong I am, but I loved this one. 

The Bogart Factor

Was this the first time that Bogart truly spoofed his iconic gangster image?  I know he’d done some comedies before It All Came True, but Chips Maguire has got to be his first time playing a mobster with such an affable, slapstick edge.  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 Chips 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 I’m pretty sure this movie was his first step towards turning some of his more notable personas on their ear. 

After making my way through two of Bogie’s recent bios, I’m a little shocked that this movie didn’t come up.  It seems like he’s really enjoying himself in the role.

The Cast

Ann Sheridan = perfection here.  Her portrayal of Sarah Jane Ryan goes toe to toe with Bogart’s dastardly gangster, and she does her best to steal every scene.  I’ve already added her to the list of actor filmographies that need to be explored much more deeply. 

Jeffry Lynn is great as Tommy, the nightclub piano man who comes home to his mother and old sweetheart.  He reminds me a little bit of a young Hoagy Carmichael from To Have and Have Not, and for once, I’m not unhappy that Bogart didn’t end up with the girl.  Lynn does very well in the role. 

Una O’Connor and Jessie Busley, as the curmudgeonly Mrs. Ryan and the flighty Mrs. Taylor respectively, play off each other, and their boarding house guests, with just the right amount of silliness without derailing the show. 

Felix Bressart as the failed magician, The Great Baldini, also has a number of scene stealing moments as he repeatedly tries to save his act from his “stooge” of a poodle who is constantly trying to trump his best tricks. 

And Zasu Pitts as the basket case boarder, Miss Flint, garners her fair share of laughs as she spends the movie crying wolf over all the men who supposedly stalk her, until she finally has her nightmares fulfilled in Chips Maguire. 

Classic Bogie Moment

There are quite a few great Bogart moments in this film.  

It’s hard not to see Duke Mantee when Bogart’s lying in bed, pulling the trigger on an unloaded gun as he aims towards a particularly freakish stuffed monkey that haunts him from the wall. 

We also get treated to some classic gangster dialogue as Bogart says lines like, “Don’t worry ‘bout me, baby!  I got myself covered both ways from the middle!”  and, “To think I might get in trouble for pluggin’ a rat like that!” 

But my favorite moment, by far, comes when nutty Miss Flint begins drinking to calm her nerves.  Sarah Jane, afraid that Miss Flint will squeal to the cops, tells her that gangsters like to strangle squealers, seal them in a cemented barrel, and throw them in the river.  Playing off Flint’s fears, Bogart stands just behind her as she’s guzzling champagne, saying offside to an imaginary cohort, “Ya got the barrel and the cement ready? Get plenty of wire!”  It’s enough to send the poor woman over the edge and out the door into the hands of the police where we get another hilarious drunken scene. 

The Bottom Line

This film is too good to be ignored.  I’m going to have to watch it again in a couple of months to see if I’m off my rocker.  I thought it was one of the best Bogart comedies I’ve ever seen.

We’re No Angels – 1955

angels

My Review

—Very Good—

Your Bogie Fix:

3.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  – Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

This is the best hobby I’ve ever had.

Part of the reason that I started this journey of blogging through every Bogart movie was so that I’d finally catch up on some of the classics that I’d never seen.  We’re No Angels definitely falls into that category.  Why, oh why, did I wait so long?

Joseph (Humphrey Bogart), Albert (Aldo Ray), and Jules (Peter Ustinov) are three escaped convicts from Devil’s Island who are looking for a boat to get them back to France.

(So now, within the span of just ten randomly picked Bogart movies, he’s played a District Attorney twice and an escaped prisoner from Devil’s Island twice.  I knew Bogart had his fair share of gangster and detective roles, but there were apparently other, very specific, character types that he gravitated towards.)

Joseph, Albert, and Jules need money to get the clothes and the papers that they’ll need to get on a boat.  Naturally, being thieves and murderers, they decide to steal them.

Joan Bennett and Leo G. Carroll play Amelie and Felix Ducotel, local shop managers who unwittingly hire the three men to fix their leaky roof.  It’s not long though, before the three convicts become quite useful to the couple around the shop.  Joseph, the conman, can sell merchandise that’s been on the shelves for years.  Albert can tend to the Ducotel’s eighteen year old daughter, Isabelle, who’s facing a crisis of the heart.  And Jules?  Well, Jules pops in from time to time as the group’s moral conscience – keeping Albert’s lustful urges at bay while steering Joseph towards helping the Ducotel’s rather than robbing them blind.

Just as the convicts begin to grow too fond of the store managers to rob them, an even larger problem arises.  The store’s owner, Cousin Andre (Basil Rathbone), appears on the doorstep with Isabelle’s love interest, Paul (John Baer).   The curmudgeonly and nitpicky Andre wants to do a full store audit and get rid of the Ducotels.  Paul has news for Isabelle that he’s marrying another woman and Isabelle is no longer the love of his life.

What follows is a pretty funny series of events where the three convicts do what they can to help the Ducotels – instinctively trying to solve every problem with the skills they know best – murder and thievery.

If you’re a fan of dry and subtle humor, We’re No Angels will be a bonanza of great fun for you.  Bogart, Ustinov, and Ray are all so talented at underplaying a joke that this film can often times near the line of “dark comedy,” although I don’t think it ever steps over.

The Great

Cast, cast, cast.  You know a cast is great when you begin looking up the actors on IMDB before the film is even over, just so you can find other movies they’ve been in.

I admit that I know very little about Peter Ustinov and even less about Aldo Ray.  Both actors fight Bogart tooth and nail in every moment they’re together, as they each take turns stealing scenes.  The chemistry is near perfect – and I’d especially direct you towards two scenes in particular:

1.  The three convicts washing dishes.  Bogart blindly tossing dishes to Ustinov is goofy and wonderful.  All three play the scene with a Three Stooges-like detachment which adds to the magic that’s happening right in front of them.

2.  A slow-build scene towards the end of the movie when the three men try to decide who will tell Cousin Andre that there’s a poisonous snake in his room.  The way they play down their delight as they toy with one another, carefully drawing out the conversation while pretending to be concerned, is by far the top gag of the film.  If you don’t enjoy it for the comedic genius that it is, both by the actors and script, then there’s something wrong with you.

And of course there’s Basil Rathbone.  The man can exude loathing in such a way that it fills a room like fog.  I need to go back and rewatch some of his Sherlock Holmes work.  The man commands the screen.

The Good

Based on a French play by Albert Husson, and adapted for the screen by Ranald MacDougall, most of the film takes place within, or near, the confines of the Ducotel’s shop.  Unlike a lot of movies based on plays, the limited location doesn’t ever feel confined or claustrophobic.  I never found myself saying, “Why don’t they ever leave?  How come we don’t get to see Bogart get the turkey?  How come we don’t see the prison escape?”  While all of those moments might have been fun to see, director Michael Curtiz does a wonderful job of keeping what’s happening in the shop interesting enough that the viewer doesn’t want to leave.

Classic Bogie Moment

Perhaps my favorite moment from all ten films so far – Bogart and Ustinov are in the kitchen preparing the Christmas dinner and Gloria Talbott enters, complimenting Bogart on the pink apron that he’s donned for his work.  She tells him that it really brings out his eyes.  The moment she exits, Bogart grabs an absurdly large knife and turns to Ustinov, pointing it at him:

Bogart: (WITH MENACE IN HIS EYES) Say something.  Go ahead, say anything at all . . .

Ustinov:  (PLAYFULLY HONEST)  Joseph, it’s true.  It does bring out the color in your beautiful brown eyes. . .

Bogart could have gone dramatically over the top with the threat.  Ustinov could have played melodramatically silly with the line.  Both men though, nail it.  Great. Comic. Timing.  Who could mix menace and comedy in the same scene as well as Bogart?  (Maybe Peter Lorre . . . maybe.)

The Bottom Line

This had to be a film that Bogart was proud of.  It is the best display of his comedic skills that I’ve seen so far, and the film holds up very well, nearly sixty years later.   So glad I popped this in last night!

Fun Tidbit?

Not a fact so much as a fun discovery.  Joan Bennett was Elizabeth Collins Stoddard on Dark Shadows!  Is it bad that it took me half the movie to figure out why I knew her?  Is it even worse that I recognized her from Shadows before I remembered Father of the Bride?  The answer to both questions is “yes.”