Katharine Hepburn – The Making of the African Queen

Honorary Allnut Fix:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And did I mention the pictures?

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

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

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

I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Lux Radio Theater Presents – Moontide – 1945

untitled

Honorary Radio Bogie Fix:

Radio Fixes

The Lowdown

An alcoholic boatman (Bogart) rescues a suicidal woman (Virginia Bruce) and they try to use their relationship to escape the boatman’s checkered past.

What I Thought

This one’s a real hidden gem that I’d never heard of until it popped up as a recommendation on my Spotify account.

While most radio adaptions of famous films get the short shrift of 30 minutes or less, Lux gives this one plenty of room to breath with it’s 55 minute running time. Hosted by Mark Hellinger, the producer of the original 1942 film starring Jean Gabin and Ida Lupino, Hellinger was responsible for producing quite a few of Bogart’s film’s over his career.

Perhaps the most surprising moments come during the show’s intro when Hellinger describes his first encounters with a young stage comedian name Humphrey Bogart. Towards the end of the show, we get Bogart and Hellinger together again talking about Bogart’s comedic days on stage, and it’s interesting to consider that Bogart may have lived a good chunk of his life working towards roles that were the antithesis of his gun toting tough guys or ex-pat drinkers.

The broadcast also benefits from an elevation in cast as we get Humphrey Bogart over the film’s original Jean Rabin. I’m not knocking Rabin, but Bogart rarely gave anything less than his best to his radio performances, and his work here is as good as any other radio he’s done.

Bogart plays Bobo, a bait fisherman who occasionally gets blackout drunk and forgets whether or not he might have murdered someone. He plays the part with plenty of wary pause and reluctance – much like a man at the end of his his rope might behave, and the tension raised by the did he do it or not dramatics within his relationship to Virginia Bruce make the love story crackle.

Would I rather have heard Ida Lupino recreate her role? Of course. I have a big crush on Ms. Lupino, and it would have been nice to hear her voice. But then again, I can always go back to the original film, right?

There is a portrayal of an Asian bait fisherman that is insensitive by today’s standards, but other than that, this one’s worth checking out if you can find it!

The Screen Guild Theater Presents: The Valiant – 1945

valiant

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.

 

Lady Esther Presents – High Sierra – 1946

High Sierra Lady Esther

My Review

—Surprisingly Well Done— 

Honorary Radio Bogie Fix:

Radio Fixes

The Lowdown

You can read my original synopsis of the film here, but this adaption has been edited down so drastically that many of the supporting characters have been axed in order to focus almost solely on the relationship between ex-con Roy Earle (Humphrey Bogart) and his moll-in-the-making, Marie (Ida Lupino).

What I Thought

The best radio film adaptions are able to pare down a 90+ minute film into just under an hour, giving us a heavy dose of the most dramatic moments and letting the main stars take over almost all of the focus. Here though, High Sierra is wheedled down to under 30 minutes and some of the film’s major supporting characters have been completely removed from the story altogether.

Gone are Henry Travers as the traveling farmer looking for a break in California and his young daughter who catches Bogart’s eye and provides much of the motivation for Roy Earle at the end of the film. Forget the long romantic conversations under the stars and the father/son relationship bonding. That whole subplot has been sliced out. Roy Earle’s sidekicks Red and Babe have been trimmed down quite a bit as well, as has Earle’s mentor and boss, Big Mac.

What’s left?  Well, there’s still a robbery. The thieves still meet in cabins in the woods. The mountain top standoff is still the climatic ending. But what the adaption spends 99% of its time on is the relationship between Bogart’s Roy Earle and Ida Lupino’s Marie. This entire radio program hinges on the ability of the two main actors’ to convince us that their relationship is more important than anything else in the script.

The verdict? It works wonderfully well.

When I saw that the show only lasted 28 minutes, I was ready for a real stinker, but the Lady Esther crew wisely keeps what we love most about Bogart and Lupino’s characters and shifts the script a bit to make their motivation to fall in love happen much more quickly and naturally than it does in the film. With no other woman for Bogart to fall in love with, Lupino’s encouragement and bravery impress him. He’s not looking for jewels, he’s looking for a life beyond crime – something that he sees potential for in Lupino. Lupino is on the run from her painful past and knows that the men she’s traveling with aren’t it. She meets Bogart. She likes Bogart. Bogart is her way out. With the other characters relegated to tiny bit parts, the heist becomes inconsequential and the story becomes more about whether or not these two multi-time losers can get away with their crime and actually enjoy a quality life together.

It’s better than it has any right to be, and at just under ½ an hour, it’s a great listen for your daily commute.

Bogart and Lupino

I would dare say that these two have more spark as a couple in the radio adaption than they do in the film. The script is trim and tight, both actors are performing so well that you’ll think you’re listening to audio from the film, and the short running time will leave you longing for more – in a good way.

Bogart comes off a bit softer here with his ‘crew’ than he does in the film. Instead of having an outside love interest, his story is contained neatly within his relationship with Lupino. It gives the character of Roy Earle a greater sense of maturity and loneliness that leads us to really pulling for him to fall in love with Lupino. To be honest, I really missed, “The Gun went…” *tap, tap, tap* scene, but I can let that go.

Lupino also comes off as much more sympathetic than she did in the film. This version of Marie is a woman that we can root for. Life has dealt her a bad hand, but perhaps this one job with this one guy can turn it around.

The Rest of the Cast

As per usual, we’re not given the names of any of the other cast members. But whoever they had filling in for Willie Best as Algeron was so spot on with his impersonation that they could have just as easily given Best credit. Likewise, the voice actor filling in for Barton MacLane as the ex-cop turned bad guy, Jake Kranmer, was another spot-on substitute.

So what if the sound man playing the part of Pard the dog sounds more like a man than a dog when he barks? That’s part of the charm of Old Time Radio, right?

The Bottom Line

Short, sweet, and surprisingly good.

The Harder They Fall – 1956

The Harder They Fall Poster

My Review

—A Wonderful Clash of Acting Styles—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

4 Bogie

 

 

 

Director: Mark Robson

The Lowdown

An out of work sportswriter (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

This one was part of my TCM Columbia Pictures box set, and 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, almost-defeated 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.

Director Mark Robson has a deft hand at both the dramatic conversations and the brutal fights within the ring. Bogart and Steiger trade blows with words – jabbing and hooking at one another with insults and disgust. The boxers at the center of the film (Mike Lane, Max Baer, et al.) actually look incredibly authentic as they trade blows and beat one another to a pulp. (And whoever did the makeup job for Mike Lane’s final fight scene deserved an Oscar for the most realistic swelling, bruising, and bleeding that I’ve ever seen in a boxing film.)

Perhaps the best part? This is an underdog boxing story where we have a good feeling that the finale is not going to leave us with a happy ending. As we head into the final fight knowing that it’s going to get ugly, this is one of only a few boxing films where the life or death stakes seem earned and rooted in reality.

The cast for this one is superb. Bogart and Steiger both give top notch performances. You don’t have to be a boxing enthusiast to appreciate that this one’s a must see for any Bogart fan.

The Bogart Factor

Playing down-on-his-luck sportswriter Eddie Willis, this was Bogart’s last film role before his death, and he certainly ended his legendary career on a high note. If the story from Mankiewicz’s introduction to the film is true, then we have Rod Steiger to thank for one final low-key and world weary performance from Bogart. You can actually see him seemingly lean backwards in every frame that he shares with the emotionally unstable Steiger, as if he’s teasing a chained lion to come out to the very edge of his tether.

And, oh man. That final scene with Mike Lane in the cab as they head to the airport . . . Good stuff. Bogart’s father-like relationship with the big Argentinian lummox is far more touching than it probably has any right to be. Not unlike his character in The Barefoot Contessa, this is another role for Bogart where he gets to help pluck someone from obscurity and thrust them into the world’s limelight. Yet here, 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.

Whether it’s because it’s his final role, or because it’s just a great performance in a very good film, you need to check this one out. From what I’ve read and heard in interviews, Bogart was pretty sick on set and a lot of breaks were taken because of his coughing fits. NONE of that is evident here, and I was frankly surprised by how healthy he seems.

The Cast

Rod Steiger plays the shady boxing promoter, Nick Benko. As I said before, Steiger seems to be working the method style from The Actor’s Studio, and it’s a very solid performance. It’s a lot of fun to watch him behaving just like Bogart did in a lot of his early B-movie gangster roles!

Jan Sterling plays Bogart’s wife and conscience in the film, Beth Willis. She’s not in a lot of the script, but when she is, she does fine. I appreciated that Director Robson was able to use more than just words to punctuate how unhappy she was at the choices Bogart was making.

Mike Lane plays Argentinian boxer, Toro Moreno, the man in the middle of all the fixed fight controversy. He’s big, awkward, and thickly accented. It’s just what the script seems to be calling for and Lane comes off believably.

Harold J. Stone steals many of his scenes alongside of Bogart and Steiger as Art Leavitt, a sports broadcaster who’s friends with Bogart and uncomfortable with the way he’s promoting Steiger’s boxer. I really enjoyed Stone here and would like to track down a few more of his films.

Max Baer plays world heavyweight champion, Buddy Brannen, the man who’s waiting at the end of the line for Mike Lane in the film’s final fight. Baer is imposing and fun, although he does seem to be a bit long in the tooth physically to be a believable champion. What’s interesting about his appearance here is that the film was based on real life fighter Primo Carnera, whose career was marred with supposedly fixed fights. Baer was the one who would eventually give Carnera a brutal final beat down in real life, and thus essentially plays himself in this film.

Classic Bogie Moment

Good directors know how to establish their characters with little or no dialogue. To introduce us to Bogart, Director Robson has him exit a hotel, light a cigarette, and hail a cab. Look at this single frame from the film and tell me that it doesn’t adequately display about 75% of what we need to know when it comes to Bogart’s cynical sportswriter:

Bogart Classic The Harder They Fall

The Bottom Line

It’s the final moments of Hollywood’s greatest star on film. What else do you need to know?

 

Key Largo – 1948

Key Largo Pic

My Review

—Fantastic—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

4 Bogie

 

 

out of 5 Bogies!

Director: John Huston

The Lowdown

A war vet (Humphrey Bogart) visits the Florida Keys to pay his respects to the wife (Lauren Bacall) and father (Lionel Barrymore) of a friend who died in combat, only to stumble upon a gangster (Edward G. Robinson) on the run just as a hurricane strikes.

What I Thought

There’s not a wrong note in this whole film. The cast is superb, and while Claire Trevor is the only actor from the film to win an Oscar, it surely wouldn’t have been a surprise if Barrymore and Robinson had at least been nominated as their performances are stand-out wonderful as well. (Fortunately or unfortunately – depending on who from this film you consider – the main competition for the Oscar race that year was another little Huston film called Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet. Huston snagged Best Director and Best Screenplay for Madre, so I imagine that Trevor’s win for Best Supporting Actress here and Walter Huston’s win for Best Supporting Actor in Madre were just the icing on the cake for him.)

The real story of this film is the interplay between Bogart and Robinson. Much of Bogart’s early career was spent playing second fiddle to Robinson when Robinson was still at the peak of his stardom. Here though, the roles are reversed. Or are they? Yes, Bogart is top billed playing his oft-stoic protagonist war hero that happens along just in time to save the day and get the woman, but it’s clear that Key Largo is Robinson’s film to steal.

From the moment that he appears onscreen taking a bath, Robinson controls almost every scene throughout the rest of the picture. My wife, who is often reading or working on her computer in the background while I watch Bogart films, glanced up the moment Robinson was introduced and didn’t take her eyes off of him for the rest of the film. Afterwards, I asked her, “Like that guy? You didn’t take your eyes off of him?”

“No,” she said, “His face is weird.”

But she watched. Regardless of the fact that he possessed a face that no caricature could ever exaggerate enough, Robinson exuded charisma and raw energy out of every pore. You can’t not watch the guy when he’s on screen. Huston and Bogart give him plenty of room to work with too, letting him take center stage at almost every moment to wring out a performance that I would rank as one of his best.

It’s fun to note that the final confrontation on the boat was apparently the original ending to Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not. When Huston couldn’t think of an ending to Key Largo, Hawks offered this one and Huston took it! It gives Robinson an incredible finale to a stellar performance!

The Bogart Factor

Bogart’s war vet, Frank McCloud, is essentially a rehash of a whole list of previous characters that he’s already played. A loner ex-soldier, McCloud is there to stop the bad guy and get the girl – period. It’s not colorfully written, but it’s not supposed to be. He’s there to glue together the rest of the cast that is both literally and metaphorically caught up in the middle of a storm.

Again though, if you’re going to cast a leading man that needs to be tough, brooding, and still sympathetic – can you do better than Bogart? Especially when he’s in the hands of a director like John Huston who’s going to use Bogart’s skill set to its fullest potential while making every frame that he’s in feel like an iconic image of Hollywood’s greatest star.

Is this Bogart’s best role? No. But it’s a textbook example of what a great actor can do with a stock “hero” character.

The Cast

Edward G. Robinson is a force to be reckoned with as the mobster on the run, Johnny Rocco. Playing a gangster who’s on the verge of losing his most valuable weapon – his confidence – we get to watch Robinson strut, punch, slap, yell, threaten, sweat, quiver, and cower all in just an hour and forty minutes. On the receding side of his career, this was supposedly a “thank you” role for Robinson after giving Bogart so much time to shine in their earlier collaborations together. Robinson nails it. No matter what’s going right or wrong for Rocco in any given scene, there is an underlying sense of fear present that pervades every word and action on display.

Claire Trevor plays Robinson’s girlfriend and former lounge singer, Gaye Dawn. She’s great in the role, and not surprisingly, won an Oscar for her performance as the gun moll that’s living out her last years in the bottom of a bottle while clinging to a madman who gave up on her a long time ago. One of the best behind-the-scenes stories from this film is that Director Huston sprung Trevor’s a cappella performance of “Moanin’ Low” on her the day of shooting. If true, it certainly helped give Trevor a shaky and painful performance that’ll make you cringe in the best possible way.

Lauren Bacall plays Nora Temple, the widow of Bogart’s army buddy who died in the war. Like Bogart, the role isn’t anything special, but Bacall plays it as well as anyone could. She’s strong, defiant, and just soft enough to care for the stranger who has stumbled across her doorstep. The real life chemistry between these two carries over well into the film, and the close ups they share together are worth the price of admission alone.

Lionel Barrymore plays James Temple, the wheelchair bound father of Bogart’s dead friend. Barrymore is really good here and gets plenty of opportunity to wrestle scenes away from Robinson – especially the moment he leaves his very real and necessary wheelchair in order to take a swing at the gangster. His affection for Bacall feels real as well, and it’s not hard to lose yourself over to this grieving father who’s trying to pull the right strings to get Bogart to stay on at his hotel and take care of his daughter-in-law.

Thomas Gomez, Harry Lewis, and Dan Seymour play Robinson’s gang, and they’re each wonderful in their own way. Gomez is a ton of fun as Curly, the gum chomping, wise crack spewing, henchman. Lewis plays a great “little villain” as Toots, the weaselly goon with a hair trigger. And perhaps my favorite is Seymour as Angel. After To Have and Have Not and Casablanca, I need to add him to the list of Usual Suspects. His parts are never huge, but he’s got a great face and a wonderful presence for a character actor.

Classic Bogie Moment

Look at how Huston introduces Bogart into the film even though his back is initially set to the camera!!! Great shot. Great use of a mirror. A simple scene that was probably much more complicated to block than it looks!

Bogart Classic Key Largo

The Bottom Line

Come for the Bogie and Bacall. Stay for the Robinson and Barrymore. You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

Dead End – 1937

Dead End Poster

My Review

—A Strong Cast Makes This a Classic—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

4 Bogie

.

out of 5 Bogies!

Director: William Wyler

The Lowdown

A down on his luck architect (Joel McCrea) is pulled between two women (Sylvia Sidney and Wendy Barrie), a gangster on the run (Bogart) visits his old stomping grounds, and a group of street kids (The ‘Dead End’ Kids) make the best out of their lives in the slums of New York.

What I Thought

Based on the hit Broadway play of the same name, Dead End is theater brought to the big screen in the best possible ways. An ensemble piece that takes it’s time letting characters interact in more private, high-stake conversations, Director William Wyler keeps the most important essence of any great stage drama alive; the audience gets to watch people struggle through life-altering decisions in real time right before their eyes. Dialogue is king here, giving the top billed stars plenty to chew on as they pinball between one another, sorting out their lives while altering the lives of everyone around them at the same time.

Key to much of what works here is Art Director Richard Day as he does an amazing job creating a studio set that looks like the real New York, but at the same time retains the claustrophobic feeling of a large group of people struggling to be noticed on a theatre stage. The atmosphere brings the caged mood of the slums to life – characters can see the wonder and shine of the world beyond their neighborhood, but they know that they’ll never get there.

It’s the film that earned The ‘Dead End’ Kids their name, having been brought from New York where they originated their roles on stage. Many of the film’s strongest moments come between the boys and Bogart as he takes an interest in them after recognizing his own childhood reflected in their behavior. It would lead to a multi-film collaboration between the kids and the soon-to-be superstar, but make no mistake, this is their strongest film together.

Director Wyler does a great job of letting each character, no matter how small the role, shine in their own moments without stealing the overall focus of the film. (See Claire Trevor below.) Does Bogart outshine the film’s actual leads? Maybe, but it’s not his fault. The role is written so well that I don’t think his charisma could have been bottled up any more than it already was. I’m excited to write up Wyler’s future Bogart collaboration, The Desperate Hours.

A must see gangster role for Bogart, there’s more than enough here to please any classic film fan.

The Bogart Factor

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

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

For the scenes between Bogart and his mother (Marjorie Main reprising her role from the original play), as well as Bogart and Trevor, this film’s an acting clinic for how to handle disappointment with a character in film. Both scenes are incredibly strong moments that give us a great glimpse of Bogart’s skill at listening and reacting to his costars onscreen.

And how many roles has Bogart played where he’s a gangster who’s gotten plastic surgery to hide? I smell a future post coming up. . .

The Cast

Joel McCrea plays Dave, the unemployed architect who’s taking odd jobs to make ends meet while he courts Kay Barrie and keeps Sylvia Sidney on the line just in case. McCrea if very good here, and it’s no fault of his that the rest of the cast is so strong that we forget his storyline until he shows up now and again. His character arc is one of the best of the film, and his final confrontation with Bogart and Allen Jenkins is just about as taut and suspenseful as a film climax can get.

Sylvia Sidney plays Drina, the lower class gal that’s sweet on McCrea and can’t stand the fact that he’s after a woman of higher means. Again, Sidney is great here, but it’s not one of the roles from the film that you’ll remember as the overall cast is just too good. I’m excited to see her again in The Wagons Roll at Night where she gets a little more of the spotlight on her own.

Wendy Barrie plays Kay, the upper class woman who seems to think that McCrea is a diamond in the rough. Barrie and McCrea have good chemistry together, and you can feel the desperation in each performance as both seem to see each other as more of a ‘rescue’ than a life partner.

Claire Trevor plays Francey, Bogart’s ex who’s turned to prostitution to make ends meet. The scene they share coupled with the scene of Bogart being chastised by his mother are, I believe, two of the most powerful scenes from Bogart’s entire career. Director Wyler had to leave out the overt references to both prostitution and syphilis in the scene she shares with Bogart here, but what’s left unsaid is even more powerful. Their sexual tension is off the charts. When they stand an inch away from one another before Bogart tries to kiss her, it feels like someone’s hold back two magnets from clanging together. Yes, Trevor is only in the film for a few minutes, but it was such a strong showing that she was nominated for an Oscar. That should be all you need to know!

Allen Jenkins plays Bogart’s right hand henchman, Hunk. What can I say? I really love Jenkins, and it pains me a little bit that I can’t put him into The Usual Suspects portion of the blog yet. (I only enter folks after I’ve seen all of their Bogart collaborations, and Racket Busters is indefinitely unavailable!) I might just have to do a partial write up sometime because Jenkins is a go-to character actor for solid performances. While this role leans a little more on the melodrama than the comic relief that Jenkins was so good at, it’s a real testament to his talent that we believe he’s the heavy that he’s supposed to be.

The ‘Dead End’ Kids turn in an incredibly strong performance as they recreate the roles that they played on Broadway. Billy Halop, Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey, Gabriel Dell, and Bernard Punsly seem to have a natural chemistry, and it’s easy to see why they were able to parlay this film into a career together.

Classic Bogie Moment

Come on, it’s Allen Jenkins and Bogart as two of the best dressed gangsters in New York! How could I not go with a pic from these two?

Bogart Jenkins

The Bottom Line

If my Bogart DVD collection had to be cut in half, I’d probably want this one in the mix.