Roger Ebert’s Casablanca Commentary

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Honorary Bogart Fix:

5 Bogie

The Lowdown

Acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert overlays Hollywood’s most famous film with his own comprehensive commentary.

What I Thought

Any regular readers will know that I drank the Roger Ebert Kool-Aid a long time ago.

As a kid growing up in the Midwest without cable TV, the two greatest things that happened to me on network television (5 channels at the time) were when newbie network Fox began airing old action flicks on Saturday afternoons, and when At the Movies with Siskel and Ebert began airing around the country in syndication.

We had one rental store in town and these two cantankerous film lovers were my only pre-internet guide to making my way through the racks and racks of films that all looked good to me. It was only after I dropped my $1.25 that I’d find out you can’t always judge a film by the VHS cover art, and I needed help making the most of my money.

I continued watching and reading Roger Ebert after Gene Siskel’s unfortunate passing. I didn’t always agree with him, but when I disagreed, I could almost always understand his point. (One of the few complete disagreements I ever had came when Ebert decried that video games were not art.)

I began to love and appreciate the man even more after following his battle with cancer on his blog. It turned out that his observations on life were even more compelling than his observations on films. I devoured his book Life Itself and the loved the subsequent documentary of the same name. Then I fell especially hard for the art of film criticism after finding this little nugget in the used book store:

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To this day, the moment I finish any new film, my first instinct is always to see if Ebert agreed with my assessment, only to realize that I’ll have to make due with the massive body of work that he left behind.

Have I spent enough time building up my admiration for Roger Ebert yet? So is it any surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed his commentary over Casablanca?

Any notable film critic’s thoughts on the film would probably be fun to hear. (I’m a big fan of David Edelstein and occasionally like to read Richard Roeper. Then there’s this podcast that never fails to deliver – http://filmspotting.net/ – always a great listen.) What sets Ebert apart though, is his PhD level knowledge of Casablancas cast, director, legacy, and place within the history of American cinema.

The man led shot-by-shot breakdown’s of the film for live audiences for goodness sake. I would argue that he probably knew the film as well or better than any man or woman alive before he passed.

So what do we get with his commentary?

For starters, I’ve seen the film more times than I can remember but now I have a new appreciation for Ingrid Bergman’s acting style. Ebert gives us a masterclass on her use of “looking down” to project inner turmoil, as well as a quick lesson on the use of shadow to disguise anything on an actor that CGI would go on to take care of decades later.

He works through many of the myths and legends that have surround the film for years. Yes, Warner Brothers wanted George Raft to play Rick at one point. No, they were never really interested in Ronald Reagan. Sure, Hal Wallis influenced the film in subtle, yet significant ways – he wanted a big band, real parrots, and less hats!

Perhaps Ebert’s most stirring observations come when discussing Casablanca’s historical context, Warner Brother’s severe distaste for the Nazi’s, and the incredible amount of foreign actors that populate the film. There’s a reason this movie seems so authentic. The emotions of fear, betrayal, and anger are more than likely all too real for nearly every supporting actor and extra as they watch Hollywood Nazi’s recreate the authoritarian march of Germany’s boots through Europe that they all lived through.

Then we come to the debate of whether or not Ingrid Bergman knew which man she’d end up with at the end of the film before she filmed the final scene. I won’t give you any spoilers, but I think Ebert makes a pretty solid case that settles the question for me.

Do I disagree occasionally with his thoughts? A little. No, I don’t think Paul Henreid was nearly as wooden as Ebert makes him out to be. And on a minor quibble, revolvers have the rotating cylinder – otherwise they’re just pistols Roger!

All of this only touches the surface of what Ebert’s lifelong passion for films adds to the enjoyment of Casablanca. If you’ve seen the film so much that you can’t imagine finding anything new within it, I would highly recommend tracking down a copy with this commentary.

Roger, we miss you dearly.

Here’s Ebert’s thoughts on the film from his site in 1992 – As Time Goes By…

Bogart: In Search of My Father

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Honorary Bogie Book Fix:

bogie-book

The Lowdown

Stephen Bogart, the son of Hollywood’s greatest icon, parallels his father’s life with his own – giving readers insight into Classic Hollywood, overcoming addiction, and dealing with love and loss within a family while the world watches.

What I Thought

I’ve said it before – if you want a detailed, expansive, beautifully documented history of Humphrey Bogart’s life and career, you need to check out the Sperber/Lax bio Bogart. If you want the casual fan’s take on Bogie without all the geeked-out minutiae that hardcore fans love, read Stefan Kanfer’s Tough Without a Gun.

But if you want an honest and passionate account of Humphrey Bogart’s personality and personal relationships with friends, family, and Hollywood royalty chiming in, you really need to read Bogart: In Search of My Father.

Fair warning – Lauren Bacall’s By Myself and Then Some is next on my reading list, but for now, Stephen Bogart’s memoir is the most in depth account of his father’s personal life that I’ve read so far.

What could have been a light and touching look into Humphrey Bogart is much deeper as Stephen uses his father’s legacy – both the peaks and the valleys – to work through his own personal highs and lows as he comes to grips with what it means to be his own man and “Bogie’s son” at the same time.

Stephen’s years of avoiding his father’s looming presence is made understandable. Who could live in that shadow? Who could live up to that legacy? Who could every come to grips with losing a father at such a young age and then having to deal with it in the blinding spotlight of the media? How could someone ever carve out their own niche in the world with so much family baggage attached?

Father and son both came from broken families. Humphrey because of his distant and troubled parents. Stephen because of the loss of a father he barely knew. Humphrey bucked and burdened most of the authority figures in his early years as he tried to figure out who he was in the world. Stephen lashed out and struggled with his peers and his mother as he tried to come to grips with who he was despite what the world told him.

Humphrey self-medicated with booze and cigarettes right up until his death.

Stephen openly discusses his personal substance abuse struggles and the strong desire not to follow in his father’s footsteps when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

What makes Stephen’s look into his father’s life so compelling is the fact that he doesn’t hold back from the dark corners in order to keep from tarnishing the legacy. Humphrey Bogart’s life is laid bare, warts and all, within the stories, myths, and recollections of his closest friends and coworkers from his personal and professional lives.

Along the way, we get plenty of great drinking stories. (Bogie and John Huston playing football with a grapefruit.) We get a deep and personal history of the origins of The Rat Pack. (Bacall coined the name for the group.) We get some really fun insight into Bogie’s behind-the-scenes hijinks. (Bogie and Raymond Massey daring one another to take over for their respective stuntmen to expectedly dangerous results.) And overall, we get an incredible oral history of Humphrey Bogart from his most intimate inner circle. (Again, Katherine Hepburn’s touching words in regards to Bogie’s passing coupled with Stephen’s own memories of the pain are moving to the point of tears.)

But most importantly, we watch Stephen Bogart rekindle a father/son relationship that he’d for so long assumed was unattainable. It’s a lesson told to us through an unguarded baring of the soul that made me a little more brave to reexamine both the sunny spots and the shadowy recesses of my own life and family.

A must read for anyone who wants to go beyond what they see of Bogie on the silver screen!

Great Performances – Bacall on Bogart – 1988

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Honorary Bogie Fix:

5 Bogie

Director: David Heely

The Lowdown

Clips, interviews, stills, and personal memories are given by the woman who knew Bogart the best – Lauren Bacall.

What I Thought

With interviews from John Huston, Richard Brooks, Ingrid Bergman, Katherine Hepburn, Julius Epstein, and Lauren Bacall herself, this is surely the definitive Bogie TV bio that any casual-to-hardcore fan would love.

I think what I enjoyed the most was the time spent on some of Bogart’s lesser known films. While many books and TV bios gloss over a lot of his early duds, Bacall takes a moment to comment on, and even show clips from, films most people aren’t acquainted with. She even spends a little extra time on my personal favorite cult classic, The Return of Doctor X.

For sure, the biggest treat here is Lauren Bacall’s on and off screen narration. The woman is as beautiful and captivating as ever, and that smoky voice is more-than-easy to listen to as she segues between her own personal reflections, interviews with Hollywood legends, and clips of Bogart’s work.

I covered A&E’s Biography on Bogart a few days ago, and this one’s as much of a heavyweight history lesson as that one was an entertaining afternoon diversion. Clocking in at just over an hour, what makes this one so much deeper and informative is obviously the involvement, guidance, and knowledge of Bacall.

Insider perspective on Bogart’s family, early frustrations, behind-the-scenes hi jinks, behind-the-scenes fights, behind-the-scenes love affairs, personal war on McCarthyism, and painful death is powerful and pointed along every step of the way. Perhaps the most telling moments come at the end as Katherine Hepburn recalls her final moments with Bogart after a visit with Spencer Tracy. It was the last time that they saw their good friend alive, and if it doesn’t make your eyes water, you have no business being a Classic Film fan.

The Cast of Interviewees

This one is all about Lauren Bacall as she very proudly leads us through the life of the man she loved. There is a great deal of admiration and loyalty on display, and the word “classy” just does not do Bacall justice on her work here. It’s a great piece of Bogart’s legacy to leave behind for the world.

I’ve mentioned Katherine Hepburn above as she really steals the show, but this is also a WONDERFUL treasure trove of personal insight from some of the collaborators that shaped Bogart into the man we love – Director John Huston, Actress Ingrid BergmanCasablanca scribe Julius Epstein, and Actor Van Johnson.

The Bottom Line

Bacall’s involvement makes this one a must see for anyone who likes the real stories behind Hollywood icons. If only every star had someone to take such great care of their legacy after they passed.

 

The Jack Benny Show – 1947

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Honorary Bogie Radio Fix:

5 radio

The Lowdown

Jack Benny and his crew flash back 24 hours to show how Benny blew his chance to work with Lauren Bacall on his radio show.

What I Thought

I remember listening to this one several years ago, but apparently I never put up a post for it! It’s a real treat, and there are some great actual laughs to be had.

Benny spends the first half of the show with his regulars, Mary Livingstone, Phil Harris, Dennis Day, and Don Wilson. It’s exactly what you’d expect from Benny, with an extra dose of jokes about the recent Rose Bowl from just a few days before the broadcast. They make fun of Don about his weight. They make fun of Dennis about his crush on Mary. They make fun of Benny for being cheap. Nothing too surprising here, but there is a wonderful moment where Mary breaks character during the early moments of the show when talking about Day’s crush, and it’s a wonderfully cute moment for the always entertaining Livingstone. Day also gets a chance to sing I Love You for Sentimental Reasons.

The real meat of the show comes in the second half when Mary forces Jack to explain why Lauren Bacall isn’t going to be on the show. Cue a flashback to the day before, and we have one of the funniest Bogart radio cameos I’ve heard in a long time. Rochester finally makes his appearance in the broadcast as he banters with Benny for a bit before ushering in Bacall.

Benny wants to seduce Bacall so he asks to reenact the “You know how to whistle, don’t ya?” scene from To Have and Have Not. But guess who walks in just before he gets to the kiss? Again, it’s just a large cameo here for Bogart, but it’s a stellar use of his public persona. Bogart reenacts the scene himself, complete with kiss, until Benny finally stops him. The real treat though, comes when Mary enters and Bogart then rehearses the scene with her as well – complete with a kiss so long that it sends Benny into full meltdown mode.

Great stuff by a great cast. We get less gangster and more romantic playboy from Bogart this time around.

The Bottom Line

Check this one out. Other than the Rose Bowl jokes, it holds up well, and it’s one of the funniest Bogart radio appearances out there.

Lady Esther Presents – Casablanca – 1943

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My Review

—Another ½ Hour Surprise—

Honorary Bogie Fix:

5 radio

The Lowdown

It’s a classic radio adaption of Hollywood’s most classic film! You can read my original synopsis of the film here. Despite the drastically shortened run time, the film still retains almost all of its most important plot points, although Sydney Greenstreet’s role of Signor Ferrari has been completely excised and Peter Lorre’s Ugarte appears in name only.

What I Thought

With three of its top stars (Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid) back to reprise their roles from the film, a lot can be forgiven for what’s left out in this greatly shortened version of Hollywood’s greatest film. Would it have been nice to hear Dooley Wilson and Claude Rains reprise their roles? Sure, but the actors that they have filling in do close enough impressions that their essence is still there. Would it have been fun to hear Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre back as well? Of course, but when you really consider how their roles were in the original film, it’s not surprising that they cut them for this brief adaption.

What makes this version work so well is that they followed the same formula used for the adaption of High Sierra – keep the love story, dump a lot of the atmosphere. We still get “As Time Goes By” and Paul Henreid once again lead’s the Café in a stirring rendition of “La Marseillaise” to shut those pesky Germans up, so I felt that this adaption has a slight edge over Lady Esther’s version of High Sierra since Sierra didn’t really have such iconic scenes to recreate.

What stuck out to me the most about this version though, was the fact that Rick Blaine really seems to be toying with Ilsa and Victor when it comes to the letters of transit. He says it’s purely business, but he refuses to give them to Victor despite the offer of a large monetary sum. He says he doesn’t want to give Captain Renault any reason to close down the nightclub, yet he doesn’t turn the papers over when given the chance. He tells Victor he’ll save Ilsa. He tells Ilsa that he’ll help her ditch Victor. He takes Renault to the airport with them instead of keeping him in the dark until Victor has escaped as if he wants the good Captain to know exactly how bad he’s been fooled. (Would anyone have questioned a forged signature on the papers?)

With just the audio to tell the story, is seemed much clearer to me that Rick was enjoying himself as he played games with all of the people involved – moving them around his own personal chess board – not sure of which way he wanted the game to play out. He had his own personal grudges and amusements to satisfy before even considering what might be the right thing to do. I would even say that there was a sense in this broadcast that he might not make the “right” choice in the end despite the fact that I knew what was going to happen.

Bogart and Bergman

How come these two didn’t make more films together?!? I hate to say it, but Bergman really steals the show here – recapturing her performance straight from the film. Their scene together as they remember their time in France is especially well done.

Again, Bogart delivers on his lines just as if you’re hearing audio from the movie. It wasn’t until hearing this version though, that I realized how much of his performance from the film is visual. The white tux. The smoking. The drunken sorrow at the table after hours. The contemplative chess. The thousand-yard stare as he holds a gun at the end. Much of his humor has been removed as well, so the character’s not nearly as mischievous as he was on the big screen. Still, I have a feeling that no one will be disappointed with his performance here.

The Rest of the Cast

No names for the supporting actors were given, but the actors playing Sam and Captain Renault do a great job of making us think Dooley Wilson and Claude Rains are back!

The Bottom Line

This one will make you want to watch the film again ASAP.

Lux Radio Theater – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – 1949

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My Review

—Huston and Bogart are Awesome—

Producer: William Keighley

Honorary Bogie Radio Fix:

5 radio out of 5 Bogies!

The Lowdown

Two down-on-their-luck men pool their resources with an old prospector to search for gold in Mexico. You can read my original write up on the film here.

What I Thought

Lux Radio Theater pulled off a really well done adaption of the film this time around, as Walter Huston and Bogart both reprise their original roles. Of all the radio versions of films that I’ve covered for the blog so far, this one’s got to come close to most listens on my iPod, perhaps only rivaled by Bogart and Greer Garson’s adaption of The African Queen.

Essential to this greatly shortened adaption (coming in at less than an hour) is the choice to have Walter Huston’s character, Howard, narrate the story rather than some stock radio announcer. It gives the listener a much stronger character insight into Huston while serving as more than just plot advancement for the portions of the film that had to be removed.

There are a handful of actors portraying Mexican children, bandits, and natives that probably over-stereotype the accents a bit, but I suppose it’s forgivable considering the era in which it was produced. I only wish that we could have a resource for the complete cast lists of these adaptions as I would love to give credit to some of the other actors besides Bogart and Huston. The actor who took over the role for Tim Holt does a great job here, but I wasn’t able to find his name anywhere.

The Bogart Factor

With a much shorter running time, I thought it was a lot of fun to discover a slightly tweaked character for Bogart’s Fredd C. Dobbs here. With a shortened script comes more compact lines, and this leads us to see Dobbs as a much more unstable character far earlier into the story than what we saw in the film. It completely changes the character dynamics between Dobbs and Huston’s old prospector (which I’ll dive into a bit deeper below) and it makes a wonderful complimentary piece to the original film.

I’ve said it for every Bogart radio performance so far and I’ll say it again, he knew how to bring 100% to these audio versions of his films and it’s a joy to hear him recreate the roles!

The Cast

Walter Huston reprises his role as Howard, the crusty old prospector that’s been parodied countless times over the years since he gave his amazing performance for this film. Just like Huston steals the silver screen version, this entire adaption is his playground to rule as well. He sounds like he’s having a ton of fun as he holds nothing back narrating the story and interacting with Bogart and the other actors. The final scene in which he and the other actor realize that the gold is gone and they begin to laugh has a wonderful moment in which they stop for just a fraction of a second, we think it’s over, and then they begin to howl again. It was a great choice to make and Huston seems to be playing for a slightly crazier version of the film’s original character.

I also noted in my film write up that Bogart and Huston seem to be playing the devil and angel on Tim Holt’s respective shoulders as they show him both sides of humanity’s potential for greed and madness. Here though, Huston’s portrayal comes off as much more unstable, leading us to believe that the third young prospector, Curtain, is not only the most sane man in the mountains, but also a less important character overall.

I would love to be able to credit the men who played both Curtain and Cody, and perhaps some Old Time Radio lover out there can lead me to complete cast list!

Classic Bogie Moment

It must have been a real thrill to see Bogart live on stage recreating his most famous roles. One fun little surprise from this adaption was the actual crowd laughter that followed this line:

Bogart: Fred C. Dobbs ain’t a guy that likes being taken advantage of. We got no real choice at all. Bump him off!

They’re clearly not laughing because Bogart’s playing it for laughs. It’s just such a wonderfully shocking reading of the line that gives us a full perspective of how far Bogart’s willing to go in order to keep his full interests in the gold. No one could threaten a life as well as Bogie!

The Bottom Line

Probably the best radio adaption of a Bogart film that I’ve heard so far.

Casablanca – 1942

Casablanca Poster

My Review

—Hollywood’s Greatest Film—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie

Director: Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

An American expat (Bogart) running a nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco during World War II is surprised when his ex (Ingrid Bergman) shows up, married to the leader (Pal Henried) of Europe’s underground resistance.

What I Thought

This is it. The absolute pinnacle of Bogart films as far as I’m concerned, which is why I saved it for last. This was the cherry on the top of a year-and-a-half of Bogart film viewing.

Sure, I’ve seen Casablanca so many times that I’ve lost count, but this was the first time that I’ve sat down with a more analytical eye. Knowing that I was going to do a write-up, I asked myself, Why is this film so perfect in my mind? Why was this the film that served as my gateway into classic cinema? Why is this film remembered by many, if not most casual film fans, as Bogart’s greatest role?

I think a majority of the credit has to go to Director Michael Curtiz. From beginning to end, the city of Casablanca feels like a fully realized world. The daytime scenes are crammed from one edge of the screen to other with bustling crowds filling city streets and diversely populated nightclub scenes. The city is supposed to be overflowing with people looking to escape the war and Director Curtiz nailed it. This film is bursting at the seams with background artists, minor roles cast to perfection, supporting roles with some of Hollywood’s greatest character actors, and a handful of main characters that are handled deftly and given the time that they each need to establish their moments in the story.

Another huge chunk of credit goes to the twin Epstein brothers, Julius and Philip, who adapted the play for the big screen. There are a lot of great stories about how the Epstein’s regarded this script as just another studio assignment, how they wrote and rewrote scenes the very day that they were needed, and how they never really thought much of the finished film. (Julius was quoted as saying it not nothing more than “slick shit.” Hardly a ringing endorsement.)

The script is filled with dozens upon dozens of quotable lines. Yet at the same time, it was just incomplete and loose enough that the actors were able to fill in their own memorable moments when needed. Bogart reportedly supplied the line, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and it was producer Hal Wallis who supposedly came up with, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” and had it dubbed in after shooting was complete.

“Are my eyes really brown?”

“Well, there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade.”

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

“I came to Casablanca for the waters.”

“You know, Rick, I have many a friend in Casablanca, but somehow, just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust.”

“I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.”

“Round up the usual suspects.”

“Such watch?”

These are just a few of the lines that I try very hard to work into my daily conversations and I hope that the comments section of this post is LOADED with all the quotes that I didn’t mention.

But back to Director Curtiz. What strikes me as most interesting is that this was one of seven film collaborations that he had with Bogart. Curtiz worked on a limited number of scenes for both Black Legion and Marked Woman, and directed Kid Galahad, Angels with Dirty Faces, Virginia City, Passage to Marseille, and We’re No Angels. Some of those other collaborations are good. A few I would even consider to be great. But in my mind, none come close to Casablanca’s perfection.

The Bogart Factor

After so many viewings, this was the very first time that I’ve ever really noticed how the entire span of Bogart’s career seems to be contained within nightclub owner Rick Blaine. Since this was the last film in my Bogart journey, it probably helps that I’ve now sat through all of his other work from the beginning, no matter how small a part it might have been.

Especially during the flashbacks of France, we see an energetic, ever-so-slightly goofy and naïve character much like the ones Bogart played in Up the River, Love Affair, and Men Are Such Fools. It’s just enough “aw shucks” shoulder shrugging that I was really reminded of how wide Bogart’s range could be when we transition back to the darkened bar where he’s drinking away his memories of Ilsa and Paris.

There in the bar, we have the much more tightly wound, much angrier, much more depressed man who shows up in many of Bogart’s gangster roles, but perhaps especially films like San Quentin, Dead End, or The Petrified Forest. Films where Bogart seems to spend most of his time reflecting on how poorly his life has turned out and how desperately he wishes to move past his resentment and remorse.

And yet, at the core of Rick Blaine is the confident, loyal, trustworthy, stand-up man who will always end up doing the right thing, even if he tries to convince you that he sticks his neck out for no one! This is the type of character that we see Bogart playing later in his career – the Sam Spade’s, Rick Leland’s, and the majority of brooding expatriates that stick their necks out for everybody that filled Bogart’s filmography for the next ten plus years.

A white tuxedo. A trench coat and fedora. Cigarettes. Booze. A shady past. A mysterious woman. A broken heart. A pistol. These are the very things that Bogart helped define as icons of Classic Hollywood cinema and they’re all on display here in Casablanca. Of all his films, this is the one that I come back to again and again when I need a full and complete Bogart fix. I’ve found many other films where his performances might be more nuanced – more well-rounded – but this is definitively and understandably the role that establishes him as Hollywood’s greatest leading man.

The Cast

Ingrid Bergman plays Ilsa Lund, Bogart’s ex and the current wife of the underground resistance leader Victor Laszlo. I can’t say enough good things about Bergman here, as this is her essential performance as far as I’m concerned. I know it doesn’t have as much depth as a few of her other high profile roles, but doggone it if I still don’t know whether or not she was really ready to leave Laszlo for Blaine at the end of the film. That nighttime scene in the bar just after Rick’s first flashback . . . drunk Bogart . . . forlorned Bergman . . . so good.

Dooley Wilson plays the piano playing singer at Rick’s Café Américain, Sam. What an incredible job Wilson does here playing the greatest wingman any guy could ever hope for. It was only after viewing the film for the umpteenth time that I realized Wilson’s fingers are in no-way-shape-or-form playing that piano believably, yet it took me forever to notice because I can’t take my eyes off of his face and my ears away from his voice. The guy was a natural, and in my dream of dreams I would go through Wilson’s entire filmography just to see if he did anything else that was as close to great as his performance in Casablanca. (Did I JUST read on imdb that he’s an uncredited piano player in Knock on Any Door?!? I will see if this is true TONIGHT!) *It is 100% true! Just after the 47 minute mark, there he is playing piano and accepting a beer!!! – 8/14/14 BFB*

Paul Henreid plays the battle weary and aged-beyond-his-years resistance leader, Victor Laszlo. According to Hollywood lore, Henreid almost didn’t take the role because he wasn’t the lead and he was afraid that it would set him back in his career. Thank goodness he accepted the part, because so much of the film’s gravitas depends heavily on us not hating Laszlo even though he’s standing in Rick Blaine’s way to Ilsa. To be fair to his initial instincts, Henreid isn’t remembered as one of Hollywood’s greatest leading men, but I don’t think that’s any fault of his supporting role in this film. He’s a great actor and very handsome, but just didn’t have that uber-unique look or acting style that let him break into the upper echelon of Hollywood’s greatest legends.

Claude Rains wonderfully plays Bogart’s friend and sometime foil, Captain Louis Renault. What a testament to Rains’ talent that he can commit completely despicable deeds one moment, and have us laughing with joy the next. Rains was an insanely talented supporting actor, and I can never get enough of his work. I can’t be the only one who wants to see just a few minutes of Renault and Blaine’s post-Casablanca adventure together! Can you imagine these two guys fighting, drinking, joking, cajoling, and swindling their way through German troops as they work for the French resistance?

Conrad Veidt plays Major Heinrich Strasser, the head Nazi in charge of catching Victor Laszlo and making sure that he spends the rest of his life in a concentration camp, or dead. It’s not a huge role for Veidt, as he’s mainly used as an imposing villain to move the plot along, but as with the rest of the roles in the film, this one’s cast very well.

Sidney Greenstreet plays Signor Ferrari, Rick Blaine’s main nightclub competitor in Casablanca. Until this viewing, I never stopped to consider how cordial Ferrari and Blaine are when they’re together. I think these guys might actually be pretty decent friends – maybe even playing a few games of after-hours chess over drinks when curfew kicks in. Just consider for a moment that Blaine entrusts his entire staff, including Sam, into Ferrari’s hands at the end of the film. That’s got to be a great show of faith in a man who’s supposedly trying to beat you at your own game.

Peter Lorre plays the black market dealer Ugarte. How fantastic is this guy that he could make such a memorable contribution to this film with such a small part? I’m seriously shocked again and again as I watch this film and realize that he’s only in a hand full of scenes, yet his role looms very large over the legend and mythos of Casablanca.

S. Z. Sakall plays Carl, the host/waiter in Rick’s café. A wonderful, lovable, solid, hilarious, and incredibly talented supporting actor. The scene where he watches Rick help the young couple win at roulette is enough to make you want to hug him.

There’s Bogie Film Blog favorite Dan Seymour playing Abdul the doorman! He very few lines here in this tiny role, but he is namechecked by Rick!

And there are TONS of other supporting actors who deserve a mention, but I gotta stop somewhere!

Classic Bogie Moment

How? HOW do I pick here?!? There is too, too, too much to choose from. Trench coat and fedora? White tux? A pic with Lorre? One with Greenstreet? I gotta go with this one, because Dooley Wilson just doesn’t get enough love on this blog:

Casablanca classic

The Bottom Line

I came home from high school one afternoon and my mom was just at the beginning of this film. I’d never sat through an entire classic film before, but decided to give it a try. I’ve never looked back. After 465 days and 115 posts of my own personal nonstop Bogart movie marathon, I’ve grown to appreciate not only Bogart in a much greater capacity, but Classic Hollywood, and film as a whole.

Long live the legacy of Humphrey Bogart.

The Desperate Hours – 1955

The-Desperate-Hours-Poster

My Review

—A Gangster Icon Returns One Last Time—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie

Director: William Wyler

The Lowdown

Three men (Bogart, Dewey Martin, and Robert Middleton) escape prison and take an Indianapolis family hostage as they hijack their home.

What I Thought

This was the last available Bogart film out there that I hadn’t seen and I saved it for my penultimate viewing because I’d heard so many good things about it. It had been built up so much in my mind in fact, that I was afraid there was no way it could live up to its own word of mouth. Thankfully, I loved every minute of it.

Just like Bogart’s first film collaboration with Director William Wyler, Dead End, The Desperate Hours is a play brought to the big screen. Like Dead End, Director Wyler is able to widen the scope on the original source material and never make us feel as if we’re watching a “filmed play.” While 90% of the action takes place within one particular house, we get just enough exterior and other-location shots to make this feel like a fully inhabited world.

In an odd coincidence, the house used in the film is also the same one that would go on to be used for exterior shots in Leave it to Beaver. When you watch the film, it’s pretty hard not to feel a very Cleaver-ish style vibe from the family during the opening ten minutes. Director Wyler does a great job of setting up a completely tension-less, neat and tidy, suburbanite family – only to then systematically proceed to tear them apart, bit by bit.

If I had to nitpick about anything, it’d be the cast. While everyone is great in their roles, certain actors do stretch the credibility of the script just a little. So Frederic March is a 58 year old father with a 19 year old daughter and a 10 year old son. Maybe not completely out of the ordinary, as lots of couples have ‘oops’ babies later on in life. But then you have Gig Young who was over 40 playing the love interest to a character who was 19 . . . a little creepy. And when you finally factor in that Bogart and Dewey Martin play brothers separated by twenty-four years in age, you might find yourself trying to come up with a little backstory for the characters since none is provided. (So maybe they’re from one of those big Catholic families, right? And maybe they had eleven kids with Bogart being the oldest and Martin being the youngest. . . That could work, couldn’t it?) Then again, maybe I’m the only one that notices such things. March and Martin both do amazing jobs, and Bogart is so good that it’s hard to imagine a much younger actor filling the role. (I’ll cover it in ‘The Bogart Factor’ below!)

The Bogart Factor

How fantastic is it that Bogart’s first big break was as ‘Duke’ Mantee in The Petrified Forest, and then in his second to last film he returns with an almost identical character and plotline with the role of Glenn Griffin here? What an incredible double feature this would be for any classic film fans who need a great lineup on a Friday night!

So let’s talk about the elephant in the room. When the play won its Tony on Broadway, a young and much lesser known Paul Newman was the star. Half Bogart’s age, Newman’s casting makes a bit more sense when you factor in the younger brother storyline that weighs pretty heavily into plot. I can only imagine what kind of tour-de-force Newman must have been on stage, but being a celebrated Broadway actor who’d really only had bit parts on television, Newman wasn’t used for the role when it came up for grabs in Hollywood. Would it have been a better movie? Who’s to say? It would have been different for sure. It might have been an earlier launching pad for another one of Hollywood’s most celebrated actors as it would still be another three years before Newman would really break out with Somebody Up There Likes Me and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

But back to Bogart! This is his second to last film and there’s no trace of the illness that would eventually take his life on display here. He looks rough and ragged, but that’s what the role calls for. He smokes, snarls, leers, and blows his top in the most masterful of ways and it’s a captivating watch. This one’s certainly going into my top one or two ‘Older Bogie’ performances, and I can’t wait to watch it again.

The Cast

Frederic March plays Dan Hilliard, the father of the household where Bogart and his cronies hold up. March, while perhaps a bit long in the tooth for the role, does an outstanding job here going toe-to-toe with Bogart. When the tables turned and the gun was finally in his hands, don’t try to tell me you didn’t let out an audible “Shoot him!” just like I did!

Martha Scott plays Ellie Hilliard, the mother of the household. Out of all the characters, Ellie is the one who comes the closest to being portrayed as a two-dimensional stereotype, but Scott is given just enough brave moments to flesh the role out a bit.

Dewey Martin plays Bogart’s younger brother and fellow escapee, Hal Griffin. Again, Martin might be a tad too old for the role as he is expected to pine after his lost teenage years despite the fact that he’s over thirty. Yet, Martin handles the role well and we get a couple of really nice scenes between him and Bogart. Their final scene together is especially well handled by Director Wyler, and it earns both men a great deal of sympathy that they really don’t deserve.

Arthur Kennedy plays Deputy Sheriff Jesse Bard, the lawman who makes it his personal mission to track down Bogart. There is a subplot about Bogart and Kennedy having some history together that’s never fully explored, which is a shame, but perhaps it was fleshed out in the play. Kennedy does very well here as he plays a cop obsessed with one of his former collars, and it was great to see him again after playing a smaller role in High Sierra.

Robert Middleton plays the third escaped con, Sam Kobish, and I’m amazed by how much he was able to grow on me by the end of the film. As if three escaped cons isn’t enough conflict for a script already, Director Wyler finds ways to amp up the film’s tension by constantly finding new opportunities to make Middleton seem more and more unstable as the film goes on.

Mary Murphy and Richard Eyer play the Hilliard children, Cindy and Ralphie respectively, and both do a solid job of holding up their ends of the script. While neither is given too much heavy lifting, they’re both a testament to how important younger actors can be to supporting an older cast.

Gig Young plays Mary Murphy’s lawyer love interest, Chuck Wright. As I mentioned before, the age difference here is perhaps too disparaging to forgive, but Young does fine regardless.

Classic Bogie Moment

I still hold fast that no other Classic Hollywood actor was able to convey so much with so little – especially in regards to their facial expressions. In this still below, we see the very second where Bogart’s escaped con starts to crack just a bit under the pressure. It’s not a huge moment. He could have chosen to really go for the grimace or even scream, but instead, we get just the hint of desperation begin to appear in his eyes.

Desperate classic The Bottom Line

If you’re like me, and you’ve waited this long in life to catch this film – don’t wait any longer!

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – 1948

Treasure Poster

My Review

—Arguably One of Bogart’s Best—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie

 

 

 

Director: John Huston

The Lowdown

Two down-on-their-luck men (Bogart and Tim Holt) pool their resources with an old prospector (Walter Huston) to search for gold in Mexico.

What I Thought

There are so many great stories to be told in and around this film that it’s hard to know where to begin.

This had been a passion project for Director John Huston for over a decade.

Ronald Reagan was supposedly considered for the role of Cody, the broke and desperate prospector who complicates things for Bogart, Huston, and Holt.

Both father and son Huston won Oscars for their work.

The film was based upon a novel by an eccentric author, B. Travern, who was offered a high paying job as an advisor for the film but refused – only to supposedly appear onset pretending to be his own “associate” who worked for much less.

It was the most expensive film that Warner Brothers had ever produced up to that point, and despite his angry attempts to reign in the budget and schedule, Jack Warner considered it one of the best films ever made by the company.

I love the film from beginning to end. Director Huston had a wonderful way of bringing out the best in his actors, and the triangular dynamics between each of the three main actors works on so many different levels. (This has to be the highlight performance of Tim Holt’s career as he gets to share so much screen time with both Bogart and Walter Huston.) Perhaps one of Director John Huston’s greatest gifts is his ability to create an environment for his characters that allows them to believably flip between sympathetic and villainous from one moment to the next. Could anyone else have played both sides as well as Bogart did here?

The ultimate story though, is that this is Walter Huston’s film to steal. Playing the angel to Bogart’s devil upon the shoulders of Tim Holt’s everyman, Huston is pitch perfect. Anyone who can steal virtually every scene that he’s in, especially when he’s alongside of one of Bogart’s most crazed roles, deserves as much credit as they can get. Bogart wisely eases back and let’s Huston shine, giving the older actor room to anchor the entire film.

And in my second big disappointment at a fictitious cameo (the first being Bogart’s supposed appearance in In This Our Life), despite being listed for a cameo in this film, Ann Sheridan does not appear as a woman walking past a storefront as Bogart exits. It’s clearly a Hispanic actress, and no, I don’t think that the makeup effects of the time could have transformed Sheridan that much. How do these rumors get started?!?

I can’t imagine that too many Classic Film fans or Bogart devotees haven’t seen this one yet, but if you’re one of them, get on it!

The Bogart Factor

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

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

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

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

The Cast

Tim Holt plays Curtain, the generous-to-a-fault partner to Bogart as they head out in search for gold. I absolutely loved Holt here, and I’m a little surprised that this seems to be the biggest film in his career. He’s listed on IMDB for Stagecoach, and I’ve seen Stagecoach more than once, but doggone it if I don’t remember exactly who he is in that film. It’s a testament to Director Huston’s ability to find greatness in his actors that Holt is so good here. By the end, you’ll want to see a sequel made just so we can see if he fulfills the challenge that Walter Huston gives him in their last scene together.

Walter Huston plays Howard, the older and more experienced prospector that helps Bogart and Holt find a fortune in gold. The word “superb” doesn’t do enough to describe his presence here. Especially take note of the wonderfully gentle scene where he revives a drowned little boy in front of an entire village. He’s the friend, father, grandfather, and mentor that everyone wants but will probably never find. His final moments with Holt in the film are painful and hilarious at the same time. Both Hustons find a way to take a tragic circumstance and spin it into a great deal of hope.

Bruce Bennett plays Cody, a desperate and hungry prospector who stumbles upon the main trio of gold hunters. The last time I watched Bennett in a Bogart film, I thought that he was underused and underwritten in Dark Passage. Before that, he had a small but solid role in Sahara. Here he gets a great chance to shine as the man who threatens to ruin the three protagonist’s plans. Did I really find myself wishing they’d bump Bennett off so that they wouldn’t have to share their loot? Maybe . . . but I’ll just chalk it up to Director Huston’s skill at making me sympathize with characters that have bad intentions.

Bogie Film Blog favorite Barton Maclane appears here as McCormick, a less than reputable foreman who cheats Bogart and Holt out of their wages. It’s a chance for Maclane to be a bit more blowhard and a bit less tough than how we usually see him in Bogart films, and it all leads to a great great bar fight between Maclane, Bogart, and Holt.

Robert Blake makes a small appearance as a boy who sells Bogart a lucky lottery ticket!

Classic Bogie Moment

Tell me you don’t see just a bit of ‘Duke’ Mantee here:

Treasure Classic

Hands at hips, raised just enough to make us think that he’s ready to either draw a pistol or strangle someone.

The Bottom Line

Put it on a 24 hour loop and let it run. It’d be a few months before I’d get tired of it . . .

 

Across the Pacific – 1942

Across the Pacific

My Review

—As Good as an Action Thriller Can Get—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: John Huston (Vincent Sherman finished the film, uncredited, after Huston was called off to film war documentaries.)

The Lowdown

After being kicked out of the military for stealing funds, Rick Leland (Bogart) entertains the thought of selling out to the Japanese during World War II after meeting another traveler (Sydney Greenstreet) and a mysterious woman (Mary Astor) while on a ship headed for Asia.

What I Thought

When Hollywood has a hit film, the first thing they do is try to find the formula for it and do it all over again.  Most famously in Bogart’s career, he made a few movies after Casablanca that were accused of being a little too reminiscent of the blockbuster. Some of the films, like Tokyo Joe, have been quite fairly accused of falling into this category. Other films, like Chain Lightning, might bear some resemblance as well, but I feel that they’ve been unfairly compared.

But a few months before Casablanca was released, America got Across the Pacific – a film that some considered an attempt by the studio to recreate the magic from The Maltese Falcon. Three of the core cast from Falcon were back for lead roles, with Greenstreet even being referenced as “the fat man” at least once by another character.  Add into the mix the same director that helped Bogart become a household name, and yes, it certainly does seem like Warner Brothers was stacking the deck in an attempt to get lighting to strike twice.

While Across the Pacific is not The Maltese Falcon, it is one of the best action-adventure thrillers of its time, and if not for the Japanese stereotyping, I think this one would probably get a little more play in the greatest Bogart films ever conversations.

Huston does amazing things with his trio of stars. He gives us exactly what we want from Bogart and Greenstreet, shaping characters for both of them that play up to their specific skill sets. With Astor, we get something similar to the mystery that surrounded her in Falcon, but with a different spin. There’s a greater sense of playfulness this time around as she portrays more of a girl-next-door. The change is great, and even though nothing physically was changed, I have a whole new respect for Astor’s acting range and beauty.

Huston, as always, is an incredibly efficient director, giving us no wasted scenes and making everything from the smallest conversations to the biggest action sequences riveting and beautifully shot. Bogart’s shootout and escape from the movie theater has to be, hands down, the BEST action scene I’ve ever seen him in. The fact that there’s a knife thrower mixed into the chase makes it all the more crazy, and the choreography is done so well that it’s impossible to tell when Bogart’s work ends and the stunt double takes over – just like it should be.

My only complaint about the film is that I felt the script tipped its hat a little bit too early as to some of the twists in the story. Rather than giving us a major character reveal thirty minutes in, I would have rather been left in the dark until the climax. The scene works, and it sets up some good momentary tension later in the film, but I would have been fine with questioning everyone’s motives for just a little bit longer.

Director Huston also gives us one of the most graphic beatdown scenes I’ve seen in classic film between Bogart and Greenstreet when the big man attacks Bogart with his cane after Bogart is already unconscious. Like the very best directors, Huston shows us no real violence, but has Greenstreet deliver his blows just offscreen, making our imaginations do all of the grotesque work of creating visuals for the horrible sounds we’re hearing. It’s a brilliant and disturbing moment of violence that sticks with you long after the film is over.

Does the name of the film strike you as funny? You know, considering the fact that they never even actually make it to the Pacific Ocean? Well, it turns out, in an amazing coincidence, that the original script of this film actually predicted the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. After the actual attack, the script was quickly changed to make the plot revolve around an attack on the Panama Canal so as not to belittle the real life tragedy. Despite the plot change, the film’s title was left alone.

The Bogart Factor

While the character of Rick Leland might not carry as much gravitas of some of Bogart’s more classic roles, this was a character that he was born to play. Fedora, trench coat, cigarettes, the requisite drunk-Bogie scene, a beautiful woman, dangerous enemies, and plenty of intrigue – very few of Hollywood’s stars could lend a film like this as much credibility as Bogart does. I truly can’t imagine anyone else filling in this role and having the same effect.

I also think that the love scenes here between Bogart and Astor are a step up from Falcon. I know how blasphemous that might be to write, but I don’t think I ever truly believed that he fell for her in Falcon. Here though, it plays out beautifully. Oh man . . . that scene with the three of them on the deck of the ship .

Greenstreet Bogart Astor

The Cast

Mary Astor is top notch as Alberta Marlow, the mysterious woman who’s sailing with Bogart and Greenstreet. I really enjoyed the fact that we don’t get to find out the full story on her until the end of the film, and I wish that had been the case for at least one other character. Again, I have to say that I think this role fit her a little more comfortably than the one she played in The Maltese Falcon. I feel that she just comes off as more compelling and attractive when she gets to be a little comedic and playful.

Sydney Greenstreet plays the cagey Dr. Lorenz, another passenger on the boat who seems to have untoward intentions for Bogart and Astor. What I really loved about Greenstreet here is that his character is an incredibly wealthy world traveler, meaning Greenstreet is dressed to the nines and a tad more sophisticated in his demeanor than he was in The Maltese Falcon. One of my all-time favorite Greenstreet-Bogart scenes occurs when Greenstreet plies Bogart’s past out of him with an endless supply of booze. Any classic Bogart film has at least one drunk Bogie scene in it. Adding Greenstreet into the mix just makes it all the better!

Victor Sen Yung plays a traveler sharing passage on the boat, Joe Totsuiko. Again, there are some pretty strong stereotypes to be had here – some of which are played up to hide his character’s real identity – but it’s over the top. (Especially the glasses.) It is kind of fun seeing him judo-throw Bogart during a martial arts exhibition on the boat.

Lee Tung Foo plays Bogart’s old friend and sidekick, Sam Wing On. It’s not a huge role, and Foo is no Dooley Wilson, but he’s solid in the role. He’s also probably the only Asian actor in the film who gets a semi-non-stereotyped role.

Roland Got plays ship steward ‘Shoulda-be’ Sugi. 90% of his lines are two words . . . “Shoulda-be!” There are laughs to be had, but you never feel great about having them.

Paul Stanton and Charles Halton appear in small roles as undercover contacts for the U.S. military. They’re both fine in their roles but don’t have a whole lot to work with.

Classic Bogie Moment

How could I not go with a shot of Bogart and Greenstreet together? What’s even better is that they get another chance to play allies (somewhat), and so we get to see them enjoy each other’s company over a few drinks, and a comparison of pistols!

Bogart Greenstreet Across the Pacific

Mine’s bigger than yours . . .

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The Bottom Line

I love this film, and I can never get enough of Bogart and Greenstreet together. Supposedly, Huston snuck Peter Lorre onto the set to play a waiter on the ship during shooting one day to play a joke on Greenstreet. While no footage of the incident seems to exist, it’s a great gag, and I’m only left to imagine how much fun it would have been to add Lorre into the mix here.