Birth Name: Sydney Hughes Greenstreet
Birthdate: December 27, 1879
Date of Death: January 18, 1954
Number of Films Sydney Greenstreet made with Humphrey Bogart: 5
The son of a leather merchant, Sydney Greenstreet spent some time working in both the tea industry and a brewery before finally finding his calling on the stage in England as the villain in an adaption of a Sherlock Holmes play. Adept at comedy, musicals, and Shakespeare, Greenstreet worked in both Europe and America, holding out against the call from Hollywood until he finally accepted the role of Kaspar “The Fat Man” Gutman in 1941’s The Maltese Falcon at the age of 61.
It’s pretty astonishing to consider that Gutman was Greenstreets first film role, as he seems just as comfortable in front of the camera as he supposedly was on the stage. I’m incredibly jealous of all the audiences that got to see him live and in person for years before he finally gave in to Tinsel Town’s beckoning and headed west. From his numerous pairings with Peter Lorre to his five iconic roles with Bogart, I firmly believe that there hasn’t been a big-man actor with such a commanding presence onscreen since Greenstreet’s last film over 60 years ago.
Did they really base the character of The Kingpin from Daredevil comics on Greenstreet? Was George Lucas actually inspired to model Jabba the Hut after the 300+ pound actor? Hollywood myth and legend says so, and I’m inclined to believe it because Greenstreet was certainly worthy of every praise and accolade that came his way!
This entry into “The Usual Suspects” portion of the Bogie Film Blog is long overdue, and doggone it, I think I’m going to pop in Passage to Marseille tonight just to get another dose of my favorite cinematic big man.
The Maltese Falcon – 1941
Greenstreet plays Kaspar “The Fat Man” Gutman, the treasure seeking heavy that’s following the falcon around the globe. What an incredible film debut! Greenstreet steals nearly every scene that he’s in with his amazing laugh and exuberant confidence. His constant amusement over Bogart’s confusion is wonderful, and it’s a real shame that it took so long to get this man to the big screen, “By gad!” The scene where he turns on his henchman Wilmer is so painfully funny and well done that it might be my favorite bit from all of his films. A villain who so believably loves life while committing dastardly crimes at the same time is the best kind of bad guy a film could ever hope for. Greenstreet also reprised his role numerous times for radio adaptions of the film, which you can check out here and here. You can read my original write up on the film here.
In This Our Life – 1942
Directed by John Huston, rumor had it that Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and a few others had appeared in the film during a tavern scene as background players to add a little “in-joke” for Huston fans. Whether the scene was cut out from the film or just a hoax to begin with, none of them are visible. Is the film still worth a watch? You bet! Bette Davis is always worth spending an evening with! Just don’t get your hopes up for this superstar cameo that doesn’t deliver! You can read my original write up on the film here.
Across the Pacific – 1942
Greenstreet plays the cagey Dr. Lorenz, a passenger who seems to have untoward intentions as he shares an oceanic voyage with Bogart and Mary 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 drenched with a slightly more authentic sophistication than he was in The Maltese Falcon. One of my all-time favorite Greenstreet-Bogart scenes occurs when Greenstreet needles Bogart’s history 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! Greenstreet reprised his role for a radio adaption, and you can read my original write up on the film here.
Casablanca – 1942
Greenstreet plays Signor Ferrari, Bogart’s main nightclub competitor in Casablanca. Whenever I consider this film from memory, Bogart and Greenstreet always seem like enemies. But every time I view it, I’m reminded that 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 on nothing more than a handshake deal! That’s got to be a great show of faith in a man who’s supposedly trying to beat you at your own game. It’s an amazing testament to Greenstreet’s presence here that most casual fans seem to remember this as his signature role, even though his part isn’t that big! You can read my original write up on the film here.
Passage to Marseille – 1942
Greenstreet plays French officer Major Duval, who happens to be traveling on a boat with a number of recently escaped french convicts trying to get to England as word breaks that Germany now occupies France. The ever-so-snarky Major Duval doesn’t feel very patriotic to his homeland, and can’t get back to France quickly enough to show his support to the Nazis as he turns over the prisoners to the proper authorities. The real story in the cast here is the alliance between Bogart and Peter Lorre as they get to play outright friends as opposed to enemies or even tense allies, but Greentstreet’s presence certainly makes this one an underappreciated classic! You can read my original write up on the film here.
Conflict – 1945
Greenstreet plays psychologist Dr. Mark Hamilton, family friend to Bogart’s murderous 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, and when you view the film for the second and third times, it’s a lot of fun to see him subtly tipping his hat towards the twist ending. Definitely a must see collaboration between Bogart and Greenstreet! You can read my original write up on the film here.
-“The Usual Suspects” is an ongoing feature at the Bogie Film Blog where we dive a tad bit deeper into some of Bogart’s most recurring collaborators. You can find the rest of the posts here.-