Claire Trevor

Birth Name: Claire Wemlinger

Birth: March 8, 1910

Death: April 8, 2000

Number of Films Claire Trevor Made with Humphrey Bogart: 3

The Lowdown

Collaborations with Humphrey Bogart seemed to work out very well for Claire Trevor. She was nominated for an Oscar for her very brief but powerful role as Bogie’s ex-girlfriend in 1937’s Dead End. She went on to win the Oscar for her role as Edward G. Robinson’s alcoholic lounge singer girlfriend in 1948’s Key Largo. Add in her tremendous part in The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, and you get to see Trevor’s great range as an actress in just three of her more than sixty films.

Born in Brooklyn to an Irish mother and French father, Trevor had aspirations to be an actor since childhood and would go on to be a star on stage, radio, television, and film. Often playing the tough dame from the wrong side of the tracks, Trevor also did well early in her career in Westerns, even starring alongside a new young cowboy named John Wayne in Stagecoach.

What personally draws me to Trevor’s performances is her ability to play beauty, strength, and brokenness – often in the same character. Add in to that her lifelong passion for supporting the arts – Trevor became such a large supporter to the University of California, Irvine’s drama department that they named the acting school after her. She also donated both her Oscar and her Emmy to the school where they sit on permanent display.

I think Trevor is one of those great Classic Hollywood actresses who tends to be left out of conversations about the greats for some reason, but her film legacy, drama school namesake, and award recognitions are more than enough to earn her a bright spot in Hollywood history, and a spot in The Usual Suspects!

The Films

Dead End – 1937

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

You can read my original write up on the film here.

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse – 1938

Trevor plays Jo Keller, the jewel fence that doctor/gangster Edward G. Robinson turns to when he needs to move some diamonds. Trevor is a lot of fun here, and we get to see her playing the tough gal who’s actually got some power over the fellas. Trevor’s unrequited pining for Robinson is great as we truly believe she’s fallen in love with the mind behind the man.

You can read my original write up on the film here.

Key Largo – 1948

Trevor plays Robinson’s alcoholic girlfriend and former lounge singer, Gaye Dawn. She’s great in the role, and not surprisingly, won an Oscar for her performance as the gun moll that’s living out her last years in the bottom of a bottle while clinging to a madman who gave up on her a long time ago. One of the best behind-the-scenes stories from this film is that Director John Huston sprung Trevor’s A Cappella performance of “Moanin’ Low” on her the day of shooting. If true, it certainly helped give Trevor a shaky and painful performance that’ll make you cringe in the best possible way. Perhaps the greatest testament to her performance here is the fact that she seems so vulnerable and pathetic at the beginning of the film, only to come around and help and good guys at the end, giving us just a glimpse of the beauty and power she was able to play so well in a film like Clitterhouse.

You can read my original write up on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing feature here at The Bogie Film Blog where we highlight some of Bogart’s greatest recurring costars! You can read the other entries in the series here.*

Dead End – 1937

Dead End Poster

My Review

—A Strong Cast Makes This a Classic—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

4 Bogie

.

out of 5 Bogies!

Director: William Wyler

The Lowdown

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

What I Thought

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

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

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

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

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

The Bogart Factor

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

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

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

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

The Cast

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classic Bogie Moment

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

Bogart Jenkins

The Bottom Line

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

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse – 1938

Amazing Dr C Poster

My Review

—Worth a Watch—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

2.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Anatole Litvak

The Lowdown

A wealthy physician (Edward G. Robinson) moonlights as a gangster to do research on the criminal mind.

What I Thought

Go ahead and get all the giggles out over the name of the film. Yes, even Bogart referred to this movie with a less than flattering parody of the title. (For those of you who are Seinfeld fans, it rhymes with ‘Delores.’)

What we have here is a pretty entertaining dark comedy that tends to err more on the side of dark and less on the side of comedy, but other than that, I really have no complaints about the film. I think casting Robinson and Bogart as two of the leads lends a little more gravitas to the script than was originally intended. Even though both men could play comedy very well, it’s easy to forget that there are laughs to be had during this film until some over-the-top slapstick or hijinks ensue.

Director Anatole Litvak spent most of his career doing heavy drama, and perhaps that touch was hard to leave behind for a more ‘comedic’ film, but Litvak’s still a very capable director and he gives us a lot of great shots of some of Hollywood’s most interesting faces. Was it his choice to have Robinson and Bogart play their roles straighter than the original play? I don’t know. Regardless, it doesn’t completely spoil the fun, and it’s still a must see for Robinson fans.

The Bogart Factor

It’s not a huge part for Bogart, but he nails it. Playing ‘Rocks’ Valentine, we see the two-dimensional gangster that Bogart was often assigned for his minor antagonist characters, and yet he still elevates the material like only he can.

It seems to be a trend in Bogart’s bad guys that, once again, he’s the only one in the gang who’s aware that something’s not right. He doesn’t trust Robinson’s intentions, but no one will believe his doubts. And so for about the fourth or fifth movie, everyone who might have survived in the end is dead because they didn’t listen to Bogie!

While the script doesn’t give Bogart a lot to work with, he makes sure to add his own flourishes so that ‘Rocks’ makes a big impact. I’ll rest my case on the Classic Bogie Moment below . . .

The Cast

Edward G. Robinson is great here as Dr. Clitterhouse. Yes, I wish that he’d been a little less thoughtful and subdued so that more comedy could have seeped into the role, but the guy is just so doggone watchable onscreen that it’s hard to criticize anything he does. He gets to have some great scenes with both Claire Trevor and Bogart – especially their final confrontation together in his office. If you’re a Robinson fan and you haven’t heard about it yet, you should check out this Spanish blog by Gonzalo. He’s posting on Robinson in a similar vein to The Bogie Film Blog. (I use Google translate since I don’t speak Spanish.)

Claire Trevor plays Jo Keller, the jewel fence that Robinson turns to when he needs to move some diamonds. Trevor is a lot of fun here, and a great double bill would be to watch The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse back to back with Key Largo in order to enjoy Trevor, Robinson, and Bogart taking on wonderfully varied roles. Trevor’s unrequited pining for Robinson is great as we truly believe she’s fallen in love with the mind behind the man.

Donald Crisp plays Inspector Lane, the investigating officer into Robinson’s heists. I thought the chemistry between Crisp and Robinson was great, and their scenes as good friends were especially well done. It leads to a great climactic finish when the arrest is finally made. Crisp and Robinson also share some really good scenes in Brother Orchid as well, and I need to do a cross reference and see if they did any more films together.

Max ‘Slapsie Maxie’ Rosenbloom plays Claire Trevor’s right-hand man, Butch, and he’s very good in the role. Perhaps the most sympathetic character in the film, I was probably more worried about Butch’s outcome than any other character!

A number of other great character actors fill out Bogart’s gang, most notably is Bogie Film Blog favorite Allen Jenkins as Okay. He spends most of his screen time mugging around with Max Rosenbloom, and it’s another solid performance for Jenkins. I’m anxious to see the rest of his Bogart films so that I can add Jenkins to The Usual Suspects!

Classic Bogie Moment

If you’re going to get held up and forced to be the front for a criminal empire, wouldn’t you prefer to have it done in style by this man?

Bogart Amazing Dr Classic

The knee over the arm of the chair is the perfect choice! One of the little flourishes that Bogart adds to the role to elevate it above a typical thug.

The Bottom Line

There’s enough to enjoy from both Robinson and Bogart to make up for anything lacking in the script or tone.