The Big Sleep – 1946

big sleep

My Review

—The Very Definition of “Classic Film Noir”— 

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Howard Hawks

The Lowdown

Private detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) is hired by a reclusive millionaire (Charles Waldron) after his family is blackmailed with damning information about his young daughter, Carmen (Martha Vickers).

What I Thought

There are two things worth dying for in The Big Sleepmoney and the truth.  Almost every character is after one or the other exclusively, and the stronger they pursue their desired commodity, the closer they get to danger.  In fact, the only character who appears truly safe is General Sternwood who’s confined to his mansion due to health problems.  He wants neither money nor the truth as he’s willing to spend as much of his fortune as possible in order to keep the truth about his daughter from coming to light.

As cash and facts are exchanged back and forth, the plot begins to double back on itself as Marlowe follows a case that starts over gambling debts, but then diverges off into blackmail, pornography, and murder.  It seems that every character has some small piece of the overall story, and Marlowe spends his time chasing those pieces down as everyone tries to use their bit of knowledge to barter a payoff.

While I’ve never thought that the plot was as confusing as its reputation alleges (does it really matter who killed the chauffeur, Owen Taylor?), you definitely need to pay attention or you’re going to get left behind.  This was at least my fifth time watching the film, and I’ll admit that every time I view it, I come to understand how the whole puzzle fits together a little better.

What sets up The Big Sleep as a film noir classic is the fact that the cast, director, and style of the film more than make up for the complicated plot.  You don’t need to grasp every little detail to enjoy the chemistry between Bogart and Bacall – or Bogart and every single other female in the film for that matter.  There are no wasted characters here, as Howard Hawks has assembled an amazing cast and knows exactly how to make them interact so that we get the most bang for our buck.

This is a film where the sum of the whole is greater than the parts, and the parts are pretty doggone fantastic.  So the plot isn’t ironed out because they dropped some key scenes to make way for more Bacall and Bogie magic?  It doesn’t matter in the end.  Hawks visually and audibly gives us exactly what we yearn for and so we can forgive him the rest.

The Bogart Factor

All right, I’m ready to declare this the coolest Bogart role in his filmography.  I know that I’ll change my mind when Casablanca rolls around, and then again when I pop in To Have and Have Not, but for tonight – Philip Marlowe is king.

In Philip Marlowe we get an über playful Bogart as he smiles, quips, flirts, and drinks his way out of every situation.  The sunglassed bookstore nerd . . .  The prank phone call to the police where he and Bacall switch roles so fast that they end up playing their own parents . . .  The way he uses his charm more powerfully than his gun against the bad guys . . .  This was a role that Bogart was born to play.  He carries this film and makes it look easy.  How can you keep from rooting for a guy who wants the truth above everything else, including his own life?

There are stories in all of his biographies and on the web about his personal problems offset while filming The Big Sleep.  His affair with Bacall was blazing away while his marriage to Mayo Methot was collapsing.  His drinking was beginning to bleed over into his work life for the first time and the studio was very worried about news of the affair leaking through the press.

But guess what?  None of that personal stuff matters.  The film, and especially Bogart’s performance, is remarkable.

The Cast

Lauren Bacall, as the older sister Vivian Rutledge, is amazing.  I’m sure it helped that additional scenes were added to try and capitalize on her momentum from To Have and Have Not.  She smolders when she needs to and pulls off a very good performance as the untrustworthy foil that Bogart’s willing to get a little intimate with.

Martha Vickers as the troubled younger daughter, Carmen Sternwood, is very good as well.  I really want to track down the alternate version of the film where she’s apparently given more time to shine.  What’s here though, is plenty.  Her first scene where she tries to sit on Marlowe’s lap while he’s standing up is such a mischievously potent introduction to Carmen that it’s one of the most memorable moments in the film.

Charles Waldron is so convincing as General Sternwood that we can practically see his mouth watering as he watches Bogart drink his liquor.  One of my favorite parts of watching his scenes in the film is feeling cold as I look at him all bundled up in the greenhouse, and then instantly feeling the stifling heat of the room as the camera switches to Bogart’s sweat-soaked torso.

John Ridgely is a multi-time costar of Bogart’s and appears here as gambling racketeer Eddie Mars.  He’s tough and intimidating, and I need to do a write-up in “The Usual Suspects” portion of this blog on him as he’s appeared in quite a few Bogart films.

Louis Jean Heydt has a small but solid role as one of the film’s many blackmailers, Joe Brody.

There are so many good actors in supporting roles here that I could just keep typing names followed by “was very, very good here!”  So just to name a few – Regis Toomey as Bogart’s police liaison, Chief Inspector Bernie Ohls, is wonderful, as is Elisha Cook Jr. as the small statured flunky Harry Jones, and Charles D. Brown as the butler, Norris.

Don’t Forget to Notice

Look!  It’s Bogie Film Blog favorite Ben Welden as Pete, one of Eddie Mars’ two henchmen!  Weldon plays his thugs either very straight and tough, or smarmy with a wide and devilish grin.  I prefer the devilish Welden, and that’s what we get here!  He gets to mug “He kills me!” as his partner in crime, Sidney (Tom Fadden), deadpans to Bogart multiple times.  Pete and his partner Sidney got their monikers in honor of two other Bogart regulars – Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet.

bs 3Ben Welden with Tom Fadden and Bogart

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Classic Bogie Moment

I’ve written about it before, but Bogart had a reputation for paring down his lines to make the most out of a little.  Perhaps my favorite character moment for Philip Marlowe in the film comes when gangster Eddie Mars has him dead to rights and threatens to use force:

Mars:  We could make you talk. 

Marlowe:  It’s been tried.

Mars:  And? 

Marlowe:  (CASUALLY SHAKES HIS HEAD)

That little head shake?  So powerfully clear.  You can try to rough me up, but you’re going to regret it.  It’s not going to work, and you’ll probably end up suffering as much as I do.  Such a wonderful choice to make instead of inserting a trite line of bravado.

The Bottom Line

If you’re here and still reading this, it means that you love the movie enough to read everything there is to read.  If, by some chance, you haven’t read Roger Ebert’s take, you should!

The Oklahoma Kid – 1939

Kid Poster

My Review

—Better Than You’ve Been Led to Believe—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Lloyd Bacon

The Lowdown

Jim ‘The Oklahoma Kid’ Kincaid (James Cagney) is an amiable outlaw who really only steals from people who deserve it.  When his father and brother are put in harm’s way by a ruthless land thief (Humphrey Bogart), Kincaid looks to set things right.

What I Thought

I had heard so many bad things about this film that I’d prepared myself for the worst.

I’d heard that it was “the film with the two shortest cowboys of all time.”  True enough, but I did think that nicknaming Cagney ‘The Oklahoma Kid’ helped a lot.  And who cares if the bad guy’s short?  Lots of famous bad guys are short!

I’d also heard it was “the film with the cowboys that have gangster accents.”  This complaint is a bit more understandable considering that everyone in the film besides Cagney and Bogart seemed to have more Midwestern accents, if not full out drawls.  Our two stars though, sound just as if they’d plopped right down outta The Roaring Twenties.

I’d also read from multiple sources that it was “the cowboy film with goofy outfits,” as even Bogart himself thought that Cagney’s costume made him look like a big mushroom:

oklkidcag

Although when you consider Bogart’s chapeau:

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It makes me wonder, were they out of medium sized hats that day???

I had a lot of similar feelings watching this film as I did when I watched The Return of Doctor X.  It may not be the best use of Bogart’s talents, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable film.  Cagney especially seems full of endless joy as he grins and charms his way through this movie.

This is my fifth Lloyd Bacon film for the blog after Brother Orchid, Action in the North Atlantic, Marked Woman, and San Quentin, and out of the five, I actually think it’s the film where Bacon has taken the biggest risks.  With about twenty minutes left of the movie, I anticipated that it was about to wrap up in the standard, Hollywood cliché, cowboy film way – with Cagney blasting the pistols out of evil doers’ hands and roping everyone up into prison.  Much to my surprise, I ended up watching a film that could be labeled as an early precursor to Eastwood’s Unforgiven.  (In the tone of the final act only, mind you!)

Director Bacon doesn’t hold back as multiple main characters start to meet violently disturbing ends.  Cagney’s Oklahoma Kid responds in kind, finally living up to the reputation that we’ve heard about for the entire movie but hadn’t yet seen, as he systematically begins to take apart Whip McCord’s (Humphrey Bogart) gang one by one.

It made me wish that we could have seen a darker side to Cagney throughout the first three quarters of the film when Director Bacon really seemed to be leaning harder on the comedy while the end of the film probably needed a bit more of a dramatic setup.  Quite a few times you’ll wonder, Why exactly are they working so hard to track down The Oklahoma Kid when there are much worse gangsters already destroying everything?  

Is it a perfect film?  No, definitely not.  Is it a great western?  No, not really.  But it is a decent movie with lots of fun moments, and it has two Hollywood legends playing outside of their normal wheelhouse of roles.  With only a finite amount of Cagney and Bogart films to enjoy, I’ll lend The Oklahoma Kid a lot of grace for its lack of credibility.

The Bogart Factor

Whip McCord is a pretty two-dimensional bad guy for Bogart, and there are several times during the film when the character disappears for extended periods.  Any shortcomings, though, stem more from the script than from Bogart’s performance.  He does his best with a limited role, and he even looks comfortable on horseback.  His lack of screen time might have partially been due to the fact that he was concurrently filming Dark Victory with Bette Davis while he was making this film.

We do get to see, what I would consider, the greatest fistfight that I’ve seen in a Bogart movie to date when Bogart and Cagney finally have it out at the end of the film.  Starting on the second landing of the saloon, both men (and their stunt doubles) get to the main floor the hard way.  Check out the way that Bogart high-kicks Cagney right in the face and then goes after him with a broken bottle!  It’s a gritty, violent, and incredibly enjoyable Western fistfight if there ever was one.

If nothing else, we get to see Bogart dressed in black and riding a horse – that’s worth the price of admission alone, isn’t it?

The Cast

James Cagney is pretty good as Jim Kincaid.  Did this guy ever do a bad role?  Cagney is endlessly watchable onscreen and seemed to be enjoying himself as he flirts, cons, shoots, and rides his way through the film.

Rosemary Lane is Jane Hardwick, Cagney’s love interest.  Much like The Return of Doctor X, I found her capable, but incredibly underwritten.  How is it that the same gal gets shortchanged in both of Bogart’s wildest genre films?

Harvey Stephens and Hugh Sothern play Ned and John Kincaid, Cagney’s brother and father, respectively.  Both men are solid, holding up a majority of the film when Cagney’s not present.  Stephens plays especially earnest and honorable as he rallies a group of men against Bogart’s outlaw with this great line:

Ned Kincaid:  “Shootings, killings, robberies, and a mighty orgy of drunkenness!  Gambling and vice!  All directly traceable to McCord’s influence!”

Hugh Sothern’s exit from the film shocked me, and added the first real emotional weight to the film as it switches gears from lighthearted western to dark revenge tale.

Don’t Forget to Notice 

Ray Mayer, who made a career out of showing up in films as a piano player/musician, has one of the funniest moments in the film as Cagney makes a request for a song in the saloon, despite the fact that there’s a man nearby who happens to be trying to kill him.

Classic Bogie Moment

I think that what makes Bogart so great and believable as a bad guy is that even when he’s given a two-dimensional role, he’s able to add some realistic vulnerability.  When a typical film villain hears bad news from a henchman, what does he do?  He might grimace and grit his teeth.  He might furrow his brow and clench his fists.  He might snarl and bark with spittle flying in all directions.  Not Bogart.  While getting bad news in two scenes in particular, he does exactly what an actor is supposed to do.  He listens.  And while he listens, we can see him actually thinking about what’s being said:

oklkidbogclassicoklclassic2

Bogart slowly turns away from the other actor, looking upset, confused, stressed, and even a little scared as he’s forced to adjust his plans in dealing with Cagney and his family.  It’s a little trait that I recognize from a lot of his other films, and it’s used well here.

The Bottom Line

If you like Cagney, you need to see this film.  If you’re more than a casual fan of Bogart, you’ll find a lot to love about The Oklahoma Kid despite its flaws.

Ben Welden

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Humphrey Bogart with character actor Ben Welden in Kid Galahad
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(The Usual Suspects is an ongoing series of posts about some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators.  You can check out other entries in the series here.)

The Man

Born in Toledo, Ohio on June 12, 1901, Ben Weinblatt discovered acting while studying engineering at college, leading to a career that took him from the London theater scene (where he changed his name to “Weldon” and then later “Welden”) all the way to Hollywood where he played parts in well over two hundred films and television shows.

Working with Bogart five times, Welden solidified his long and storied career by portraying tough guys and gangsters on screen.  Against his naturally kind and generous personality, Welden became a staple character actor in Hollywood anytime the studios needed someone who could look mean, talk tough, and hold their own against some of Tinseltown’s greatest actors.  Just to name a few besides Bogart, Welden shared the screen with James Cagney, Bette Davis, Susan Hayward, Buster Keaton, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, and countless other greats in many of Hollywood’s most celebrated films.

I was deeply honored to be able to have a chat with Ben’s nephew, Charles Weinblatt.  Charles, author of the novel Jacob’s Courage, blogs about writing on his own site here.  Charles knew his famous uncle very well, as he got to visit with him many times during the years between 1957 and 1965.  Charles wrote to me, “As Ben had no children, I was as close to that as is possible for him. We spoke at least once a week for many decades; he visited here often and Ben came to love my wife and children as his own.”

I asked Charles to answer some of the questions that I would have loved to ask Ben if I’d gotten the chance:

Bogie Film Blog:  Can you give us a little background on Ben’s life?

Charles Weinblatt:  As a child, Ben played the violin and longed to pursue a career building things.  Ben went to Carnegie Tech, where he majored in Engineering.  While there, a friend pushed him to take a theater course.  The rest is history.  Long before Ben went to Hollywood, he was on stage in London, England.  There, he made a name for himself and he was forced to change his name.  In the 1920s and early 1930s, it was not appropriate for an actor to use an obviously Jewish name, like Weinblatt.  Ben thought that he might change it into something that would brand him as a good actor.  This changed “Weinblatt” into “Well-don”, which became “Weldon,” which later became “Welden.”  In fact, I’ve seen some credits with the spelling “Weldon.”

BFB:  Was Ben a contract player for Warner Brothers at the time that he worked with Bogart?  Did he have contracts with other studios? 

CW:  As far as I’m aware, Ben was under contract with Warner Brothers for decades, [and] that’s when he worked with Bogie.  He also worked as needed for Universal and MGM.

BFB:  Did he ever get to choose his roles, or were they usually assigned to him due to the studio contract system?

CW:  Ben was the penultimate typecast actor.  While I would say that he didn’t pick and choose his roles, especially when he was very busy (1940’s through the early 60’s), I believe that the studios understood his value and they came after him when they needed a gangster.

BFB:  What role out of his more than 200, would you say that Ben was most proud of?

CW:  I never asked him this question, but I suspect in a formal sense Marked Woman was his greatest achievement.  He found it interesting to work with big name stars like Bogart and Bette Davis.  When the film arrived in Toledo, the theater was packed to standing room only.  I think every Jewish person in town was there.  In the middle of the film, Ben was supposed to take Bette Davis into a hallway and beat her up.  Of course, in those days violence in films was not graphic, as it is today.  But Ben grabbed her by the arm and shoved her into a hallway where you could hear him punching her, her crying out, and then the thumps as she was pushed down a flight of stairs.  At that very moment, my grandmother (Ben’s mom) stood up the in theater and screamed, “That’s not my Benny. He wouldn’t do a thing like that!”  As you can imagine, the audience loved it, with laughter trailing off for a minute or two.

BFB:  Do you have any specific memories of being on a set and seeing Ben interact with the cast and crew?  Perhaps even filming a memorable scene?

CW:  I never saw Ben acting on a set.  That being said, I recall being introduced to Tony Curtis and Suzanne Pleschette (40 pounds of Trouble), Ronald Reagan (Death Valley Days), Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird), Steve McQueen, Julie Andrews, Lee Marvin, and a host of directors and producers.  I recall a memorable scene watching Gregory Peck interact with the children in To Kill a Mockingbird.  The kids were inside of an old abandoned car in front of a large painting of a forest.  I recall thinking that no one will watch that movie and believe that the painting was a real forest.  Yet, when I watched the movie, I would swear that the forest was real.  That’s when I began to realize that Hollywood had some sort of magic.  I once tried to recall my Hollywood-related experiences with Ben’s career and my essay is here.

BFB:  I’ll make sure to link it to the blog!  Ben was known so well for playing heavies and tough guys.  Did he enjoy those roles?  How did they compare to his real personality?

CW:  Ben’s personality off-stage was the complete opposite of his film persona.  Instead of the cold, heartless thug that we saw in movies, Ben was a very charming, warm-hearted character in real life.  Although he never had any of his own, Ben loved children.  On one of his visits to Toledo, he went with my wife to her classroom, where he spent an entire afternoon charming the elementary students.  On film, Ben was a nasty, gruesome gangster.  In real life, he was a big softie; he could charm anyone.  As a child, this gave me an excellent perspective upon how character actors can become a completely different persona on film.

BFB:  Since this is a Humphrey Bogart blog, I have to ask – did Ben have any stories specifically about Bogart that you could share?

CW:  Ben worked with Bogie; however, he was not the best fan of Bogart.  From Ben’s frame of reference, he took direction very well.  But many of the most famous Hollywood actors did not.  There were arguments on sets in which actors told directors how they felt the scene should play out and famous directors who felt it should be played differently.  There seemed to be an increasingly arduous correlation between fame and arrogance.  The one feature that likely made Ben’s career successful for decades was that he took direction well.  He asked the director how his lines should be read and then followed through with it.  But some of the big Hollywood stars looked down upon the director and argued over how the lines should be read.  This was a director’s nightmare.  Of course, the director could then speak with Ben and hear the character actor say, “How shall I play these lines?”  It was music to director’s ears.  Instead of an argument, the director was offered an open question… “How do you think this character should be seen and heard?”

BFB:  Do you have a favorite role that Ben played while working with Bogart?

CW:  Once more, with Bogart, it’s Marked Woman.  He only spoke of working with Bogart in Marked Woman.  In a sense, their careers were fairly diverse.  Ben was making movies in Hollywood long before Humphrey Bogart became a household name.  And, Ben remained in studio and TV credits long after Bogart’s career was cut short by illness.  Bogart’s career was a shooting star, higher and brighter than Ben Welden.  But, Ben had many more credits to his Hollywood career and he appeared in more films and TV shows, even if the appearance was in Mr. Ed, The Three Stooges, Ma & Pa Kettle and The Lucy Show.    

BFB:  Do you have a personal favorite overall role that Ben played?

CW:  I loved many of Ben’s roles.  Even though he was typically a gangster or hood, each role was slightly different and required him to be someone with a different personality.  As a child, I watched virtually every TV episode of Superman, until George Reeves killed himself and his TV show simultaneously.  Similarly, I was proud to see Ben acting in episodes of the TV series Batman.  Some roles were just slapstick, including Ma & Pa Kettle, The Three Stooges and I Love Lucy.

BFB:  I very much agree that Ben was able to make each “thug” he played just a little different.  He seemed to have a great grasp on nuancing his characters.  Did he ever get the chance to play a non-gangster role?

CW:  Ben had one Hollywood role when he was not a gangster.  In fact, he was Friar Tuck in a B-movie version of Robin Hood.  It was released in the year I was born (1952), and was directed by James Yingling.  The studio required an actor who was fat, bald, and could take direction well.  As far as I am aware, that was the only time that Ben played a nice guy.  This was NOT the version starring Errol Flynn or the version starring Richard Green as Robin.  It was called Tales of Robin Hood.  I have a crappy old VHS copy of this “film” buried somewhere in my house.  You can apparently own, for seven dollars, another crappy, old VHS copy from Amazon here.  Few people have seen it, or recall that they saw it.  It’s obviously an old, low budget, shortened version of the story.  Ben was the perfect Friar Tuck.  Bald, fat, loved to drink, and jovial, Ben played the part with distinction.

BFB: Did Ben have any interests outside of acting?

CW:  When Ben neared retirement age, he and a partner opened a store in Los Angeles called Nutcorn.  This product was a scrumptious combination of popcorn, caramel, nuts and “special ingredients.”  Nutcorn became the rage of Hollywood.  Everyone who was someone was sending Nutcorn as a gift to friends and family.  Before long, Ben was sending huge boxes of Nutcorn around the world.  It was so delicious that it disappeared swiftly.  Ben was at least as successful as an entrepreneur as he was an actor.

BFB:  You mentioned that you have too many Ben Weldon stories to tell – but can you give me just one that really shows his personality?

CW:  Ben loved children.  As I mentioned earlier, he charmed children in the school where my wife taught – and they had likely never seen him on film.  As tough as his appearance was as a gangster in movies, he was that much an opposite in real life.  Ben went to Hawaii to film Ma & Pa Kettle at Waikiki Beach.  He was so profoundly in love with the islands that he spent a huge percentage of the rest of his life in Hawaii.  He took my parents and I there in 1965 and we too fell in love with the islands and the Hawaiian people.  I’ve since been there three more times, including my honeymoon and our 15th wedding anniversary.  In Hawaii, Ben was the most pleasant, polite, and gentle guy that you can imagine – a far cry from his on camera gangster persona.

BFB:  What would you want the world to know about Ben that they might not already know?

CW:  As a child, Ben played the violin.  It’s my understanding that his parents wanted him to become a concert violinist.  That doesn’t jive well with his selection of engineering as a major, or his university (Carnegie Tech).  I would want the world to know that Ben was a gentle person who loved people and children.  I would also like the world to know that Ben married a real duchess when he was on stage in England.   (If you want to read more about Ben’s marriage to the duchess, you can check out Charles’ writeup on the Jim Nolt’s Adventures of Superman tribute website here – BFB)

BFB:  Thank you so much, Charles!  I really appreciate the chance to get to talk to you about your uncle!

The Filmography

Marked Woman – 1937

marked woman 3Eduardo Cianelli with Ben Welden
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Welden plays Charlie, the enforcer who does the dirty work for nightclub owner and gangster Johnny Vanning (Eduardo Ciannelli).  Welden does a wonderful job here as he menaces in the background, a constant, looming threat to Mary (Bette Davis) and her call-girl roommates as they come into conflict with their boss.  Perhaps his most memorable scene is left mostly to our imagination as we see him enter a room with Davis to punish her on Vanning’s behalf, and the movie-goer only gets to hear the gruesome beating.

Kid Galahad – 1937

Kid GalahadBogart with Welden
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Welden plays Buzz Barett, the smiling enforcer for gangster and boxing promoter Turkey Morgan (Humphrey Bogart).  What I love so much about Welden in this film is that he plays essentially the same character as he does in Marked Woman, but with the addition of a large and toothy grin.  The change makes him comes off as a much more likable, albeit sometimes goofy, thug as he stands behind Bogart, backing up his boss’ every threat.

The Roaring Twenties – 1939

The Roaring TwentiesJames Cagney with Welden and Gladys George
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Welden has a brief cameo as a Tavern Proprietor who has to deal with a drunken and down-on-his-luck James Cagney just before the climax of the film.  Cagney is chatting up Welden’s nightclub singer, Gladys George, and Welden would rather that she be doing her job.  It might be a small part, but how many actors can say that they got to give Cagney a tough time in a film?

All Through the Night – 1942

All through the nightWelden with Frank McHugh and Bogart
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It’s another brief appearance for Welden as Smitty, the taxicab dispatcher that helps Bogart and his crew track down Kaaren Verne’s sultry nightclub singer.

The Big Sleep – 1946

bs 3Welden with Tom Fadden and Bogart
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Welden plays Pete, one of the two henchmen helping gangster Eddie Mars (John Ridgely) as he blackmails the Sternwood family.  Teamed up with Tom Fadden, who plays the other henchman, Sidney, Welden gets a great little role as the thug who’s endlessly amused by his partner.  Fadden deadpans to Bogart left and right while Welden gets to laugh and comment, “He kills me!”  I truly enjoy Welden’s roles where he gets to smile – despite the fact that he’s a hired thug!  In a fun side note, the character names Pete and Sidney are both a nod to two other regular Bogart costars – Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet!

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For a more in depth write up on Ben Welden’s personal life and career, make sure you check out the page that Charles wrote for him over at Jim Nolt’s tribute page for The Adventures of Superman!  Thanks Jim for allowing me to use your site as a reference and helping me get in touch with Charles!

* All research for this post was done with Jim Nolt’s Adventures of Superman tribute page, the above interview with Charles Weinblatt, A. M. Sperber’s Humphrey Bogart biography, Bogart, Stefan Kanfer’s Humphrey Bogart biography, Tough Without a Gun, Ben Welden’s Wikipedia page, Ben Welden’s IMDB page, the official website of The Humphrey Bogart Estate, and various movie entries on IMDB.  All screen caps were done by the author and are intended for review/criticism of the films mentioned. – BFB

Dead Reckoning – 1947

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My Review

—Decent Noir— 

Your Bogie Fix:

3.5 Bogie  out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  John Cromwell

The Lowdown

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

What I Thought

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

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

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

The Bogart Factor

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

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

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

dead reck2

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

The Cast

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

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

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

dead reck ridic

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

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

Classic Bogie Moment

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

Deadline U.S.A. – 1952

deadline usa

My Review

—A Very Solid Drama— 

Your Bogie Fix:

4 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Richard Brooks

The Lowdown

Pulitzer prize winning newspaper editor Ed Hutcheson (Humphrey Bogart) fights for one last big story as his paper is sold out from under him and scheduled to be shut down.

What I Thought

There’s no rush here as director Richard Brooks takes us inside The Day, a fictional big city newspaper run by the last honest editor in town.  The story is laid out for us piece by piece, leaving no doubt as to where it will end up, and for a crime drama done skillfully, that’s a good thing.

The Day is being shut down . . .

The staff is staying on despite the fact that they only have two weeks of pay left . . .

Murderous gangster Tomas Rienzi (Martin Gabel) is about to escape prosecution if no one steps up to stop him . . .

Editor Ed Hutcheson decides that the story is still going to be written whether it makes a difference for the paper or not . . .

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

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

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

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

Bogart:  You’re wasting your time, baby. 

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

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

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

Are we ever truly afraid for Bogart’s safety?  Maybe for a few minutes towards the end, but that’s not the point.  Brooks is more concerned about presenting a story with a firm grip on journalistic realism than he is about making a tight and gripping melodrama.  Fortunately for us, his style works, and we get the best of both worlds.

The Bogart Factor

He’s great here.  I thought there were an enormous amount of similarities between this film and Bogart’s The Enforcer which came out the year before.  Both portray strong and aloof heroes who are pressed for time to complete a grueling job.

Again, no one plays stoic and world weary nearly as well as Bogart does.  This was a great role for him, as the character of Ed Hutcheson doesn’t seem that far removed from the aging Hollywood star that was portrayed in the A. Sperber biography Bogart.  Both the character and the actor had reached an age where they felt as if they were being forced out of their profession, despite the great work they had done, in lieu of a crop of younger, more flashy talent.

As he’s in nearly every scene, this is Bogart’s film to carry, and it’s obvious that he put the effort in to do the role justice.  I can’t imagine another actor being able to handle the repeated grandstanding that was necessary for the character as time and again Bogart stops to lecture, chide, or instruct a room of people on the moralistic duty of the press.

A definite must see for casual and hardcore fans alike.

The Cast

Ethel Barrymore is excellent as Margaret Garrison, the widow who’s selling the paper.  She and Bogart have possibly the best scene in the film towards the end as they talk about the changing landscape of journalism over drinks.  It ends with Bogart proposing.  We know it’s a joke, but both actors have enough chemistry that we want it to be real.

Kim Hunter plays Bogart’s estranged wife, Nora Hutcheson.  Of all the places this film could have fallen into cliché, it was with the wife of the tireless reporter.  That’s not what we get, though, as the script plays the role believably, and we don’t have to spend time wondering if there will be a reconciliation while Bogart burns the midnight oil at the paper.

Ed Begley plays Frank Allen, Hutcheson’s right hand man and confidant at The Day.  Based on my own experience in a newsroom, Begley is perhaps the most believable journalist out of the bunch and is solid in the role.

Martin Gabel is mobster Tomas Rienzi.  He doesn’t get a lot of time to shine in this film, as his main role is to play the villain for Bogart to rail against, but the two men do have a great scene towards the end in Rienzi’s car.  It’s the first moment in the film where I realized that there was a good chance Bogart might not make it out alive.  I appreciate the fact that Richard Brooks had enough self-control to hold off on this nail biting moment until it would be most effective for the story.

Don’t Forget to Notice

Regular Bogie Film Blog favorite, Joe Sawyer, as one of the henchmen that roughs up troublemakers for Rienzi!

Classic Bogie Moment

No one plays a better drunk than Bogie.  We’ve seen him dance, sing, slur, fight, stumble, and speechify, but here, we see him play the piano!

In another little nod to the film’s overall campaign towards life, liberty, and the pursuit of the free press, we get a scene where Bogart is tickling the ivories after a night of mourning over the soon-to-be-defunct newspaper.  He’s not particularly good, as he takes his time to hunt and peck his way across the keys, but it’s a great character moment, and an important transition in the film.  What does he play?  The Battle Hymn of the Republic.  The song would go on to punctuate almost every momentous scene for the rest of the movie.

Now stop for just a moment and think to yourself, how often has a piano played a key role in a Bogart film?  How many of his movies would be completely changed if the instrument was removed?  Was it a planned use of a Bogart-film trademark, or just a happenstance of scriptwriting at the time?  I’m not sure, but it’s a wonderful scene in this film, and one of the best quiet moments we get with Bogart’s character.

The Bottom Line

This is a very solid movie and a great role for Bogart.

Big City Blues – 1932

Big City Blues

My Review

—A Good Comedy Turns Ugly— 

Your Bogie Fix:

1 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Mervyn Leroy

The Lowdown

Small town boy Buddy Reeves (Eric Linden) takes a train bound for New York in order to follow his dreams, but it’s not long before his swindling cousin Gibby (Walter Catlett) lands him in hot water after they throw a party with tragic consequences.

What I Thought

This one was a must see for me since it was Bogart’s first film with Warner Brothers, the studio that would eventually turn him into a worldwide star.  With a running time of just over an hour, it’s a quick watch, which works in the movie’s favor as any more time spent with these two-dimensional characters would probably start to become a little taxing on the viewer.  While I did find a few good things to like about Big City Blues, it seemed like a film that was confused with its own genre.

Is Big City Blues a warm-hearted fish out of water story?  It certainly begins that way.  As we watch Buddy Reeves leave his dog behind and wander around the big city in search of the American dream, we can’t help but get a little caught up in his wide-eyed naiveté.  Two grandfatherly train station agents give Buddy a ribbing about his high hopes for New York and send him on his way with a pat on the back.  Then, when we meet his fast talking, money leeching cousin, Gibby, we’re ready to watch Buddy learn a few hard lessons about trust, before finally mastering the fine art of big city survival through a little earned cynicism.

Is Big City Blues a comedy?  Yes!  There are all sorts of great comedic moments, many stemming from the wonderfully funny character work done by Walter Catlett as Cousin Gibby.  This was a role that Catlett was born to play.  He’s a tornado of energy and bravado as he whirls through each scene, keeping the other characters spinning like plates in the air as he spews out one flattering lie after another in an attempt to garner as much cash and freebies as possible.  Throw in the two European waiters that sound exactly like an Andy Kaufman routine, the floozy party girl who bats at her own image in the mirror like a cat, and the drunken hotel detective, and you’ve got the makings of a great comedic ensemble.  The opening New York montage even feels like a much broader vaudeville-like series of sketches as we see construction workers and businessmen caught up in the Big Apple’s zany rat race.

Is Big City Blues also a graphically shocking tragedy where a horrific murder happens out of the nowhere and throws the rest of the movie into a depressing tailspin?  Uh . . . yep.  For about twenty minutes towards the end it is, and that’s where I found the biggest problem with the film.

The murder that occurs is so dreadful and out of sync with the rest of the movie that when Buddy valiantly predicts a return to New York in the end, it seems a little calloused and borderline sociopathic.  Really?  The murder of an innocent woman and Buddy’s near execution for someone else’s crime didn’t permanently scare him away?  He was able to shrug it off that quickly?

Okey-dokey . . .

Oh!  And I almost forgot to mention that the day is triumphantly saved when a man gruesomely takes his own life in a closet!  That’s how the case is finally closed so that Buddy and his friends can go free.  Thank goodness for suicide, right?  (And no, don’t stop to question the lackadaisical detective work done with the murder evidence!  No finger prints needed!  If the broken bottle fits, you must acquit!)

The Bogart Factor

Playing Shep Adkins, one of the party goers involved in the murder, Bogart gets a role that falls somewhere between cameo and bit part.  With perhaps ten lines of dialogue in the whole picture, he doesn’t get much time to shine.

That being said, what few lines he has are pretty good:

Bogart:  (READING THE PAPER) Nope, the old town ain’t what it used to be.  Look’it here now – cops grab a fella for a stick up.  He’s got two guns and a butcher knife in one pocket, and a powder puff and a lipstick in the other! 

And then when the party’s about to move to a nightclub, one of the women jokes that she should call home for permission:

Party Girl:  I should call my mother!

Bogart:  Quit your braggin’!  We all got mothers! 

At thirty-three years old, and at the very beginning of a long and storied career, Bogart looks young, vibrant, and ready to take on the world.  Just don’t go to the bathroom or you might miss his smiling face in this film!

The Cast

Eric Linden as Buddy Reeves is about as stereotyped a character as you can get for a small-town-boy-heads-to-the-big-city story.  That being said, he’s very likable, and most of the character’s flaws can be chalked up to weak writing.  The Aw, gee shucks routine does start to get a little old . . .

Walter Catlett is amazing as Cousin Gibby.  He’s so good at being a conniving sleaze that you just want reach through the screen and slap him.  Try not to smile the second time he says, “Just an old fashioned hitch!” 

Joan Blondell plays Vida, the showgirl that Cousin Gibby uses to con a little more money out of Buddy.  I know that we’re supposed to believe that she actually falls for Buddy a little bit, but I don’t know if I ever truly bought it.  It’s not Blondell’s fault, though.  She just doesn’t have much of a character in the script to work with.

Guy Kibbee portrays the drunken Hotel Detective and he plays the line between competent and bumbling just well enough to serve his purpose.

Classic Bogie Moment

Again, there wasn’t a lot to work with here, but there was one great moment towards the end where we get a little bit of classic Bogart when Shep Adkins refuses to give the proper gravity to a dire situation. The whole party crew has been rounded up at the police station to be grilled and possibly tried for murder.  While everyone mills around fretting, Bogart’s Shep leans over to Buddy and cracks, “Meant to ask you, Mr. Reeves.  Now how do you like New York?”  Pretty calm for a guy who could easily have been convicted as an accomplice for murder!

The Bottom Line

Not a must see unless you’re a completist, or perhaps a huge Joan Blondell fan.  A few good laughs, but largely forgettable.

The Caine Mutiny – 1954

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Note – Poster pics provided by @TimelessMovieM, who runs the poster seller site Timeless Movie Magic – you should check them out!  They’ve got LOTS of great stuff!  Thanks, @TimelssMovieM!

My Review

—Fantastic— 

Your Bogie Fix:

5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Edward Dmytryk

The Lowdown

Ensign Willie Keith (Robert Francis) is assigned to work on the U.S. Naval minesweeping ship, The Caine.  When the ship’s captain, Lt. Cmdr. Philip Queeg (Humphrey Bogart), begins to mentally deteriorate, Keith and several other sailors have to decide whether or not to mutiny.

What I Thought

One of the greatest casts assembled for a Bogart film, Director Dmytryk gives each of his players plenty of time to shine as he leads us through this story about the breakdown of military command.

The craziest thing to me about the movie is that Columbia Pictures somehow got the Navy coorperate for its production.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some seriously majestic shots of the U.S. Navy’s fleet in Franz Planer’s cinematography, (some of the widescreen shots of the sailing fleet and the sailors working and running across the decks of the ships are pretty breathtaking, and I can only imagine that seeing this movie on the big screen would add to its enjoyment) but does anyone come out at the end of this film with their integrity intact?  It seems that at one point or another, every character is severely dressed down for their conduct.  The fact that the Navy signed off on the script surely shows the power of Hollywood’s charm over the world.

Still talked about, analyzed, parodied, and beloved today, The Caine Mutiny is a film that is so good in its execution and effect that it takes on an almost immortal quality in cinema history.

The Bogart Factor

Multiple sources (Sperber’s Bogart, Kanfer’s Tough Without a Gun, IMDB) claim that Bogart wanted this role so badly that he took a big salary cut to get it.  It’s not hard to see why, as this was truly a defining role for a man who built a career out of defining roles.

To casual fans, Bogart is lovingly remembered as an actor who wonderfully played murderous gangsters and expatriate loners.  To die hard cinemaphiles though, Bogart is revered for the roles in which he shook off his stereotypical trappings and disappeared fully into a character.  Fred C. Dobbs in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Charlie Allnut in The African Queen, and Lt. Cmdr. Philip Queeg here – Bogart sheds his familiar, impenetrable, tough guy persona, and shows us a man who’s cracked to the core and starting to fall apart.

What an incredibly challenging role this must have been, as Bogart needed to swing wildly back and forth between crazed and commanding.  One moment we’re meant to fear and ridicule him, the next we’re ready to fall in line and venerate him for his nobility and service.

What’s even more impressive to me after reading so much about Bogart’s life and career, is that he allows himself a vulnerability in Mutiny that I’ve never seen in any of his other roles.  Consider the final courtroom scene where Queeg is asked to take the stand and then slowly fractured, bit by bit, as he’s peppered with questions about his behavior from defense attorney Lt. Barney Greenwald (José Ferrer).  Knowing how smart and particular Bogart supposedly was about his appearance in films, this is a scene loaded with painfully unflattering close-ups.  In bright and beautiful Technicolor, every wrinkle on his face is a canyon, the skin under his eyes hangs like sandbags, and his famously scarred lip seems like the central focus of every shot.

Queeg, the once great battle hero, trembles, shakes, quivers, and eventually loses himself into paranoid ranting.  It’s a scene that Bogart must pull off, as José Ferrer’s final chiding of the Caine’s officers is dependent on his believable disgust of the way that Queeg was mistreated.

In my opinion, if it’s not Bogart’s finest moment in film, it’s in the top three for sure.

The Cast

Every time I watch this movie, I’m reminded of how amazing Fred MacMurray was as a performer.  Between The Caine Mutiny and Double Indemnity, MacMurray has left us a master class on acting.  Much of what I love about Bogart could be said about MacMurray’s Lt. Tom Keefer in the way that you feel like you can see his mind actually thinking – weighing every option – in the moments between his lines.  Perhaps my favorite piece of dialogue from the film comes when MacMurray warns the new Ensign about the ship he’s signed on to serve:

Keefer:  (WITH A PLAYFUL OMINOUS) There is no escape from The Caine, save death.  We are all doing penance, sentenced to an outcast ship, manned by outcasts, and named after the greatest outcast of them all.

Robert Francis as the young and naïve Ensign Willie Keith is impressively steady and thoughtful standing next to so many experienced legends.  What a tragedy that he died in a small plane crash after only four films.  He does a great job here, and because of his ease, its one of the few films where I don’t mind the tacked on romantic side plot.

Van Johnson plays Lt. Steve Maryk, one of the commanding officers of The Caine who eventually leads the charge to bring down Lt. Cmdr. Queeg.  His humble and reserved portrayal is certainly a highlight of the film, and it’s only a testament to Bogart and MacMurray’s performances that Johnson isn’t he first actor we think of when we consider this movie.  Johnson does wonderfully as the relatable everyman.

José Ferrer appears only in the final act of the film as Lt. Barney Greenwald, the defense attorney for the mutinying officers.  There’s not much to say about Ferrer beyond the fact that he’s brilliant here.  His drunken reproach of Johnson, MacMurray, and Francis at the end of the movie is gut wrenching, and serves as a powerful finale to what was already a stellar film.

May Wynn plays Robert Francis’ love interest, May Wynn.  Wynn does very well here in her work with Francis, as their chemistry is believable and adds some good heart behind the larger story.  Wynn loved the role so much that she took her character’s name as her stage name for the rest of her career.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a little nod to Lee Marvin and Claude Akins as the ragtag sailors, Meatball and Horrible, respectively.  Their roles are small, but add some good comic relief.

Classic Bogie Moment

It would be too easy to pick out any number of Bogart’s moments in this film where he plays unhinged – but I think it’s much more telling of his skill as an actor to recognize a moment where he’s able to win the audience’s favor despite his wild antics and mental breakdowns.  Just after overly scolding Ens. Keith for not following an order, Queeg becomes distracted to the point that he lets his ship run over its own tow line, cutting it loose, and losing a target that was being towed.  We’re angry with Queeg and ready to see him eat crow for abusing the young men who serve him dutifully.  Yet, it only takes seconds for Bogart to switch our opinion, as he bashfully asks Ens. Keith to, “Forget that I bawled you out.”

Bogart’s likability was the trait that elevated him beyond the stock gangster roles from his early films.  Despite abhorred behavior, there’s just something about the guy that makes you want to give him the benefit of the doubt.  It’s a delightful moment in the film.

The Bottom Line

If this is the only Bogart film you ever see, you’ll have seen him doing some of his greatest work.

China Clipper – 1936

chinaclipperposte

My Review

—Starts Strong, Ends Weak— 

Your Bogie Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Ray Enright

The Lowdown

Dave Logan (Pat O’Brien) is a veteran war pilot who becomes obsessed with the globalization of commercial air transport.  Unfortunately, his passion comes at the cost of his wife, friends, and coworkers.

What I Thought

There was a moment about fifteen minutes into this film where I thought I might have found a real hidden gem.  China Clipper isn’t widely available to watch or purchase, and I was just getting ready to write my complaint email to Warner Brothers when I suddenly understood the lack of enthusiasm behind the film.

This is the second Bogart picture from director Ray Enright that I’ve watched for the blog.  The first, Swing Your Lady, was a lot of silly fun, but certainly had its issues.  China Clipper is a complete dramatic reversal in tone from Lady, and while it starts strong, it eventually peters out, overstaying its welcome by a good thirty minutes.

We watch as Pat O’Brien’s retired war pilot, Dave Logan, passionately decides to follow his dreams after seeing Lindbergh cross the ocean.  He believes that oceanic commercial air travel is the future, and he’s willing to gamble everything to get it.  Perhaps the strongest scene in the film comes with Logan lying in bed with his wife (Beverly Roberts) just after learning that she wants to leave him.  O’Brien pulls her close, apologizes for neglecting her, and then convinces her to stick it out just a little longer.  It’s touching moment, and O’Brien plays it wonderfully.  In fact, the first half of this movie is some of the best work I’ve ever seen O’Brien do, especially when he confronts, and moves on from, his wife leaving him.

The problem comes about midway through the film.  Dave Logan seems to hit the peak of his character arc and just kind of flat lines.  He learns his lesson on why he shouldn’t abuse his friends, family, wife, and coworkers, and he makes his apologies.  Unfortunately, there’s still a good forty minutes left in the movie, and the character apparently has nowhere left to go.  Not only that, but whatever growth supposedly took place is quickly ignored as he reverts back to old habits.  Except now, no one questions him.

If you like to watch repetitive shots of an airplane flying through clouds, maybe you’ll like the ending better than I did, but once O’ Brien’s character began to lose steam, I did too.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart’s enjoyability in this film runs parallel to the movie’s.  For the first half, he’s great to watch as Hap Stuart, Logan’s old war buddy who comes looking for a job with the new airline company.  He’s wry, witty, and loyal – traits not unfamiliar to some of his best roles.  But again, once the film shifts to extended scenes of the final plane flight, we’re relegated to fairly static shots of Bogart sitting behind the controls, doing his best to look focused and alert.

There are a few good moments here, but overall, it’s not a must see performance.

The Cast

Beverly Roberts is good as Dave’s wife, Jean Logan, but there’s not a whole lot of meat in the script for her to work with.  She has a solid scene towards the end, though, when she has a great fight with Dave about working for his airline.

Ross Alexander plays Dave’s closest friend, Tom Collins, and he was the stand out performance for me in this film.  He adds a lot of humor, has a great side story with a ditzy girlfriend, and is able to hold his own on screen with both O’Brien and Bogart.  I was saddened to learn that Alexander’s career was cut short after he took his own life at a young age due to personal turmoil.  I’m going to have to see what else is in his filmography though, as he’s very good.

Henry B. Walthall as Dave Logan’s father, Dad Brunn, is another standout for the film.  He plays Dad as the loving father who’s willing to break his back for his son, and it’s a very sympathetic role.  I was also saddened to learn that he died during the making of this film, and had to be written out.  Ironically, scenes involving Dad Brunn’s weak heart were already shot, and are included in the movie.

Classic Bogie Moment

There’s a scene midway through the film where Bogart takes O’Brien out to a hallway to scold him for his calloused behavior while their coworkers look on.  Watch as Bogart builds up to the big punch after he resigns from the airline.  We get a close up on Bogart’s face, and right before he loses his temper, we see his lips part just a bit and tighten up against his teeth.  It’s a little physicality that I recognized from countless other Bogart movies.  (And a great tell if you were ever in a fistfight with the guy!  If his lips tighten, duck!)

The Bottom Line

While O’Brien has a handful of great scenes, and several actors in his supporting cast are stellar, this one won’t give you a great Bogie fix.  In fact, you’ll find yourself shaking your fist at the screen, wondering why they didn’t just put a mannequin in that danged pilot’s seat for the last twenty minutes of the film.

Sahara – 1943

Saharaposter

My Review

—A Great War Thriller— 

Your Bogie Fix:

4 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Zoltan Korda

The Lowdown

Tank commander Sgt. Joe Gunn (Humphrey Bogart) joins forces with a unit of British soldiers to defend a well in the Sahara desert from the Germans – despite fifty-to-one odds!

What I Thought

Whoever was in charge of the sand in this movie should be given an honorary Oscar.  Watching the actors drive, walk, stumble, crawl, and try to breathe in the desert  was enough to make me feel like I had sand in my shorts by the end of this film.

Perhaps the biggest Bogart film that I had never seen up until this point, I wish I hadn’t waited so long.  I’m going to wager a guess that this was a pretty influential movie to quite a few war films that followed it.  Just consider this synopsis – a ragtag group of misfit soldiers band together to complete a mission against impossible odds in a mix of comedy and drama.

The Guns of Navarone?  The Great Escape?  The Dirty Dozen?  Kelley’s Heroes? 

While some of these films were based on books or real life events, I have to imagine that the humor, action, and adventurous tone of Sahara seeped into their filmed versions just a little bit.

I’m a sucker for a good underdog story.  I’m also a sucker for the classic against impossible odds” style adventure movies.  Add in to the mix that these are characters of different regions, races, and ideologies, and you’ve got the makings of a classic movie if there’s a good script and a competent director.

Zoltan Korda doesn’t pull any punches here.  It’s certainly a good vs. evil story, but that doesn’t mean there’s going to be a neat and tidy ending.  The characters are forced into making tough choices, and nearly every decision made has positive and negative repercussions that affect the outcome of their stories.

The soldiers on both sides of the fight are flawed and noble in their own rights:

– We have moments where we’re angry at Bogart for the calloused choices he has to make to save his men.

– We understand the logic behind “Frenchie” Leroux (Louis Mercier) when he wants to kill the prisoners of war instead of giving them what scarce water is left.

– We also have deep moments of empathy for the Italian prisoner of war, and even for the battalion of Nazi soldiers who are stranded in the desert without water for days on end.

There is a particularly haunting moment late in the film when we witness a scene of German soldiers dying of thirst in the sand as they bake in the sun, locked in a standoff with Bogart’s tank battalion over the well.  One soldier slowly fades away, dropping his head into the sand, as he calls out the German word for water, “Wasser . . . wasser. . .”

The Bogart Factor

When all of the soldiers take a break to rest and begin talking about where they’re from, the question eventually falls to Bogart’s Sgt. Gunn:

Halliday:  What part of the states are you from, Sgt?

Gunn:  No place.  Just the army. 

There’s an air of fatalism that pervades so many of Bogart’s best roles.  Sgt. Joe Gunn is a man resigned to the fact that his chances for survival are slim, and we get the feeling that death might actually be a little relief from the dire circumstances that constantly surround him.  His job is to defeat the German army, and if he can keep his men alive while doing it, so much the better.  Knowing full well that it’s a suicide mission, a definite gallows humor comes out in Gunn, so that when he’s confronted with the opportunity to face the Nazis in negotiation over the well, we get this dismissive sentiment:

Major Von Falken:  You have come a long way, Sgt, to pull British chestnuts out of the fire.

Gunn:  Oh, we don’t mind.  We like chestnuts.  Don’t want to see them burn.

Something I miss in the action movies of today is the believability behind the witty repartee from our current crop of heroes.  There is a long history of war and pain behind Sgt. Gunn in this film, and although we don’t know the details, we see it reflected in every word from Bogie’s mouth and every glance from his sand-lined eyes.

The Cast

Richard Aherne plays the British Captain, Jason Halliday, and does very well here.  From the moment that he hands over his canteen to Bogart and commands the rest of his crew to do the same, we’re ready to fall in line and recognize that this is a commanding officer with honor and dignity.

Louis Mercier’s portrayal of the French soldier, “Frenchie” Leroux, could have easily devolved into a snooty French stereotype, but Mercier keeps him grounded, giving Bogart’s crew a realistic devil’s advocate to play off of.

Rex Ingram plays the British-Sudanese soldier, Sgt. Major Tambul, and he has some of the more satisfying scenes in the film as he squeezes the last drops of water from the well and later chases down an escaped prisoner.  While Ingram’s accent might not have worked out for the best, his gravitas more than makes up for it.

J. Carrol Naish is Giuseppe, the Italian prisoner of war who gets a great scene with Bogart, defending his reasoning behind his support of the Axis forces.  What does it all boil down to?  He’s got a wife and daughter and there is no other choice if he wants them to survive.  Enough said.  Director Korda doesn’t take the easy way out and paint him as the evil Nazi sympathizer.

Kurt Kreuger is the German pilot shot down by Bogart and his crew.  Kreuger is as close to a clichéd bad guy as we get in the film, as he’s one of the few characters who seems to have no redeeming values whatsoever.  I give him a pass, though, as he’s just so dang smug and despicable.  We have to have at least one guy to hate, right?

Bruce Bennett and Dan Duryea are Bogart’s tank crew, and they do their job in supporting roles well.

And look at that!  A young Lloyd Bridges is on the tank crew as too!  At least . . . for about thirty minutes into the film anyways . . .

Classic Bogie Moment

I love it when I’m watching a film and I feel like I can see an actor literally thinking through a problem on screen.  Bogart has a lot of moments like this in his career, but one of the great examples happens early on in Sahara as Sgt. Gunn makes the decision to leave an Italian prisoner of war behind so that he can conserve water for his crew.

Watch Bogart when the tank is pulling away as the gears begin to grind within his mind.  An invisible force seems to seize his upon his head and slowly twist it around until he’s looking back towards the stumbling soldier in the sand.  He doesn’t want to look back.  He doesn’t want to see the dying man.  He knows that one glance will force him to change his mind and stop the tank.  But there’s just enough heart left in his wearied body that he finally has to do the right thing.

All of that takes place with no dialogue in just a few seconds as we watch Bogart work his magic on the screen!

The Bottom Line

This is a classic action movie.  I’m a dope for waiting this long to see it.  And come on, isn’t that the GREATEST movie poster you’ve ever seen?!?  Just looking at it makes me want to go back and rewatch the movie right now!

It All Came True – 1940

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My Review

—A Great Comedy— 

Bogie Film Fix:

3.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies! 

Director:  Lewis Seiler 

The Lowdown

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

What I Thought

This is exactly the kind of movie that I was looking for when I started this journey – a thoroughly entertaining Bogart film that I’d never seen or read anything about.  

On top of that, I had one of those Ah-ha! moments with an actor.  My whole life I’ve heard people rant and rave about Ann Sheridan, but for some reason she’s never clicked with me.  I always figured that I’d just never seen the right movie, and now I have.  What a spitfire.  From her first entrance to her final song, she was amazing.  It makes me want to round up all of her movies that I haven’t seen yet and have a marathon. 

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

There were lots of moments that reminded of the all-time great screwball comedies like Arsenic and Old Lace and Bringing up Baby – movies that were able to balance wonderful gags with just enough pathos to keep me hooked on the characters.  What am I missing here?  Why is this movie not on more great comedy lists?!?  Feel free to write me the riot act in the comments below and tell me how wrong I am, but I loved this one. 

The Bogart Factor

Was this the first time that Bogart truly spoofed his iconic gangster image?  I know he’d done some comedies before It All Came True, but Chips Maguire has got to be his first time playing a mobster with such an affable, slapstick edge.  Watching him stumble around his bedroom, gasping and gaping at all the stuffed birds and monkeys, is almost enough to make you forget that he’s blackmailing poor old Tommy (Jeffrey Lynn). 

Add in his relationship with the motherly boarding house proprietors, Una O’ Connor and Jessie Busley, and Chips Maguire becomes downright lovable as he begrudgingly accepts their tender loving care while he “recuperates” in bed.  

Bogart was very, very good at comedy, and I think this film is a perfect showcase for it.  Surrounded by a wonderful cast, you get a great taste of Bogart’s dry wit as he enthusiastically dances, sings, and mugs his way through this film.  (That’s right, you get to see him do a little jig, sing a chorus of “Strolling Through the Park One Day,” and take target practice at a stuffed monkey.)

Not even a year later, we get to see him play a very similar character, “Gloves” Donahue, in the comedy gangster thriller All Through the Night, but I’m pretty sure this movie was his first step towards turning some of his more notable personas on their ear. 

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

The Cast

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

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

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

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

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

Classic Bogie Moment

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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