Joan Leslie

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Birth Name: Joan Agnes Theresa Sadie Brodel

Date of Birth: January 26, 1925

Date of Death: October 12, 2015

Number of Films that Joan Leslie Made with Humphrey Bogart: 5

The Lowdown

Born in Michigan, Joan Leslie jumped into show business early, joining her two older sisters in a family singing trio known as The Three Brodels. Leslie was two-and-a-half years old at the time, and would go on to perform around the country with her sisters on the vaudeville circuit to help her folks earn money during The Great Depression.

Discovered by MGM while performing with the trio in New York, Leslie made her way through more than a dozen films in bit parts and uncredited roles before landing a contract with Warner Brothers where she appeared with a high profile role in High Sierra next to an about-to-explode Humphrey Bogart.

Leslie would go on to receive great reviews in several more high profile films (Yankee Doodle Dandy and Sergeant York, notably) before finally being blacklisted by Warner Brothers after breaking her contract on religious and moral grounds. Leslie would eventually end up back with MGM, the studio that started it all for her, and finished out her career on the big screen and television before retiring in 1991.

I’ve always considered Joan Leslie to be a real joy to watch on screen. Mostly cast alongside of Bogart in the young and naive ingenue role, Leslie’s real life moral convictions played well on the big screen. And while she may have quit Warner Brothers to keep her convictions intact, Leslie was not afraid during her career to show a darker side to her characters if the script called for it in a sensible way.

I’m very happy to add Joan Leslie to the pantheon of The Usual Suspects!

The Filmography

High Sierra – 1941

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Leslie plays Velma, the young and disabled love interest to Bogart. Director Raoul Walsh uses her in small but powerful doses, and he doesn’t shy away from showing us that Leslie has a bit of a darker side towards the end. Leslie does great in the role and holds herself up against Bogart very well. Perhaps the best and most nuanced of her roles with Bogart, the audience is left feeling both sad for Bogart at the loss of potential redemption through love, but also a bit relieved at the thought that this young child won’t end up with a much older gangster. You can read my original post on the film here.

The Wagons Roll at Night – 1941

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Leslie plays Bogart’s baby sister, and the main love interest to Eddie Albert, Mary Coster. While she’s an even more innocent country kid than she was in High Sierra, Leslie doesn’t really have a whole lot to work with. Director Ray Enright’s instructions may well have been, “Look cute and fall in love with Eddie Albert. That’s all you need to know.” The role is almost identical to the one that Jane Bryan played in Kid Galahad as the younger sister who gets caught up in danger after falling for simpleton who’s making his way through showbiz. You can read my original post on the film here.

Thank Your Lucky Stars – 1943

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Leslie plays Pat Dixon, an aspiring young song writer who’s willing to do anything to get her music heard by the world. Leslie is a lot of fun in the role, although it’s a bit underwritten. She adds a nice little physical mannerism to Pat in that every time she starts to get a great idea, she tucks her head down and pounds on her temples. It’s also a lot of fun to see her impersonate James Cagney’s “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you. . .” speech from Yankee Doodle Dandy, considering that she’s the one who costarred with him in that film! Unfortunately, Leslie doesn’t appear in Bogart’s brief cameo, but it’s a fun film that you need to see regardless! You can read my original post on the film here.

I Am an American – 1944

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Leslie plays herself in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo with several other Hollywood celebs (including Bogart) during a rally to support the war effort. None of her lines are heard, and Leslie is shown for just seconds speaking to a crowd before it cuts to a speech by Dennis Morgan. You can read my original post on the film here.

Two Guys from Milwaukee – 1946

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Leslie plays the manicurist love interest to both Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson, Connie Read, and she’s very good in the role. Yes, she does seem a little shallow to leave Buzz behind for a prince just because he’s a prince. And yes, I’m still not quite sure what the whole psychotherapy dream at the end had to do with making her choice between the two men – but again – plot coherency shouldn’t be at the top of your priorities for enjoying this film. Again, no face time with Bogart during his small cameo, but the film is lots of fun and worth a watch. You can read my original post on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing section of the blog where I highlight some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators. You can read the rest of the write ups here.*

High Sierra – 1941

High Sierra

My Review

–Great Film, Excellent Bogart—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Raoul Walsh

The Lowdown

Immediately after being released from prison, ex-con Roy Earle (Bogart) signs on for one more heist at a high class resort. As he and his partners prepare for the robbery, Earle is sidetracked by the thought of love with a displaced Midwestern girl (Joan Leslie) and her family who have just moved to California.

What I Thought

This film gets better for me every time that I see it. This was my third or fourth viewing, and I’m continually struck by how many new things pop out every time I watch. (Did you see how much jam Bogart puts on his breakfast toast? Good grief!)

By far his most nuanced gangster role, Bogart’s portrayal of ‘Mad Dog’ Roy Earle is that of a hardened and ruthless criminal who’s been tempered by time and experience. He’s finally reached that often clichéd moment in film where he’s ready for one more job before he settles down. But cliché is avoided here as the story wisely pairs Earle with partners who are considerably younger than him, and who more than likely reflect his own recklessly impetuous past.

Director Raoul Walsh spends a lot of time showing us Bogart quietly listening and reacting to a lot of chaos around him – each time carefully and calmly handling situations with an equal dose of wisdom and intimidation. Perhaps Bogart’s greatest character depth comes from the time Earle spends with ‘Pa’ played by Henry Travers. Where so many of Bogart’s previous gangster roles showed him reacting to frustration and disappointment with violence, High Sierra shows a man who often reacts with quiet resignation and acceptance to his station in life.

The cast is superb. The script by legendary actor, director, and writer John Huston is tight and powerful. Director Walsh gives us a lot of fantastic close ups and quiet moments to linger on. What more could you want from Classic Hollywood or a night with Humphrey Bogart?

As the story goes, when the part of Roy Earle was offered to George Raft, Raft was at the point in his career when he was ready to step away from gangster roles. Supposedly, Bogart needled him a bit about taking on yet another bad guy part, and Raft finally refused the script. Bogart then quickly swooped in and picked it up, knowing that it was a choice role, and a major step up from the previous two-dimensional hoods that he’d played before.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart layers the role of Roy Earle so deeply that you’re instantly sucked into not only empathizing with the character, but actually forgiving him when he commits his crime and is forced to shoot a security guard. I’m amazed and impressed with how much character development was given to Bogart’s role as he’s allowed to build deep and authentic relationships with Henry Travers’ Pa, Ida Lupino’s Marie, Joan Leslie’s Velma, and Donald McBride’s Big Mac. So often in crime films of this era, much more time is given over to the action and adventure, and little effort is spent on building a solid three-dimensional character. Director Walsh gives Bogart plenty of scenes to build a great foundation here though, and it makes for a riveting performance.

Bogart appears to be enjoying himself, and it’s a lot of fun to see him acting against his real life dog, Zero, in the film’s lighter moments. If you’re looking for a solid Bogart fix, this one’s a must see as it’s undoubtedly some of his best work. You won’t be able to take your eyes off of him.

High Sierra was the last film that Bogart made where he wasn’t given top billing, and it’s easy to see why this role made him an undeniably top-tiered star.

The Cast

Ida Lupino plays Marie, the bad girl who’s pining away for Bogart while Bogart pines away for Joan Leslie. Lupino does a great job of not overdoing the role, slowly making advances towards Bogart with patience and just the right amount of manipulation. They have good chemistry together, and I would have been happy if Bogart had ridden off into the sunset with her at the end.  You can read Lupino’s entry into ‘The Usual Suspects’ portion of the blog here.

Henry Travers plays Pa, a down-on-his-luck farmer who’s come to California with his wife and niece for a second chance. It’s not a groundbreakingly new role for Travers as he plays the saintly old grandfather type, but his scenes with Bogart are really, really good, and it’s nice to see him in a big role. You can read my write up on Travers in ‘The Usual Suspects’ portion of the blog here.

Joan Leslie plays Velma, the young disabled love interest to Bogart. Director Walsh uses her in small but powerful doses, and he doesn’t shy away from making sure we don’t see her as too innocently naïve in the end. Leslie does great in the role, and holds herself up against Bogart very well. It makes me excited to watch The Wagons Roll at Night again as I haven’t seen it in several years.

Arthur Kennedy and Alan Curtis play Bogart’s partners in crime, Red and Babe respectively. Again, Director Walsh spends just enough time to give us a good look at these younger versions of Earle without overdoing it. Kennedy is especially good here in an early role, and I need to check out some more of his filmography.

Donald MacBride plays Big Mac, the brains behind the heist, and he’s given a few good scenes with Bogart that show what Earle’s future might have in store if he doesn’t get out of the crime racket.

Willie Best plays Algernon, the simple cabin boy who pops up now and again to add a little levity and plot advancement to the film. I liked Best a lot here as he seems to have a real screen presence, and I’d like to explore his filmography further.

Cornel Wilde does well with a small part as Mendoza, the inside man at the resort who opens the safe for Bogart and his pals, and shares an amazing scene with Bogart which I get to later in the Classic Bogie moment . . .

Bogie Film Blog favorite Barton MacLane has a brief role as Jake, the man who . . . well . . . I’m not exactly sure what his job title was specifically, but he seemed to be Donald MacBride’s right hand man. It’s always fun to see MacLane show up in a film!

And then there’s Henry Hull as Doc Banton. I haven’t seen Hull since my early review of Midnight/Call it Murder, and here he plays an overly-aged private physician to criminals. Hull’s a good actor, so I’m not sure why Director Walsh felt the need to go a little over-the-top with Hull’s old man routine. It’s not too distracting, but it’s odd.

Classic Bogie Moment

Maybe my favorite Bogart scene from any film, Bogart sits down with his partners and explains to them with incredibly subtle intimidation why they need to keep quiet about their work.

Mendoza: Big Mac gave me the machine gun. You know how to work it? Red doesn’t, and neither does Babe.

Red: That’s a good one, that is.

Mendoza: What’s so funny?

Red: Does he know how to work it?

Roy Earle: (WITH INCREDIBLE CALMNESS) Yeah. Say, you know that gun reminds me of one time, nine or ten years ago. We was getting ready to do a job back in Iowa when one of the guys got the shakes. Pretty soon we found out that this guy with the shakes had talked too much, and a bunch of coppers were waiting for us at the bank. But we don’t say nothing. Lefty Jackson goes out and gets his gun. He comes back and sits down and holds it across his knee. The guy with shakes is sitting right across the room from him. Pretty soon Lefty just touched the trigger a little, and the gun went (BOGART TAPS THE TOP OF THE GUN CASE THREE TIMES WITH HIS INDEX FINGER) like that. The rat fell out of the chair dead and we drove off and left him there. Yeah, the gun went (BOGART TAPS THREE TIMES AGAIN).

Mendoza: (NERVOUSLY) Well, I better be getting back. I have to go on duty at 8:30.

Director Walsh could have gone over-the-top with this scene, making it a loud and threatening encounter, but he holds back, and it plays out powerfully.

The Bottom Line

If you’re a Bogie Film Blog reader, more than likely you’ve already seen this one. But if by some chance you haven’t, what are you waiting for?!? Go get it!

Thank Your Lucky Stars – 1943

ThankYourLuckyStars

My Review

—Wonderful, Goofy Fun— 

Your Bogie Film Fix:

Full Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  David Butler

The Lowdown

Two Hollywood dreamers (Joan Leslie and Dennis Morgan) crash a war effort variety show in order to get their music heard.

What I Thought

Much like Hollywood Victory Caravan, this is a film with a script that’s devised to move the plot along from one musical number to another. Fortunately for us, the script is pretty doggone good. Who knew that Eddie Cantor was the gatekeeper to making it in Hollywood? If you wanted a career, you apparently had to go through him!

We get songs from Jack Carson and Alan Hale, John Garfield, Dinah Shore, Ann Sheridan, Hattie McDaniel, Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, and a few others. The production budget is big, the dances are great, and everyone seems to be having a really good time as dozens of celebrities make their short and sweet cameos along the way.

The stand out performance by far though, is Eddie Cantor playing a double role as himself and an aspiring actor who’s stuck driving a tour bus. The best part? The tour bus driver can’t stand his lookalike counterpart, and he’s disgusted when he has to imitate him.

If you like musical comedies, Classic Hollywood, or you just have a heartbeat, you’ll probably enjoy this film as an entertaining night of popcorn fun.

The Bogart Factor

Despite his high billing, Bogart doesn’t show up until an hour into the film, and even then he’s only onscreen for a minute or two. That being said, his minute or two is really great.  In a dark suit, snap brim hat, and five o’clock shadow, Bogart accosts one of the show’s producers (S. Z.  Sakall) about his part in the variety show. The producer, already at the end of a very long day, gives Bogart a tongue lashing like few others in film ever have. After the producer leaves, a security guard approaches Bogart and asks:

Security Guard:  Let the old man bulldoze ya, huh? 

Bogart:  (VISIBLY SHAKEN) Ya, dat ain’t like me. Gee, I hope none uh my movie fans hear about this . . .  (SLINKS AWAY MEEKLY)

Is it a must see? For the Bogart portion? No. But for the overall quality and fun of the film?  Yes.

The Cast

There are so many good performances to name here, so I’m just going to touch on the bigger roles . . . 

Eddie Cantor is the true star of the show as he plays himself and bus driver Joe Simpson. He capably pulls off playing both the egotistically narcissistic Hollywood star (as himself), and the goofy nobody who’s desperate for a shot in show business (as Simpson). Cantor grabs the most laughs throughout the film, and if you want a great snapshot of his style of comedy, this is a good movie to see it.

Joan Leslie plays Pat Dixon, an aspiring young song writer who’s willing to do anything to get her music heard by the world. Leslie is a lot of fun in the role, although it’s a kind of underwritten. She adds a nice little physical mannerism to Pat in that every time she starts to get a great idea, she tucks her head down and pounds on her temples. It’s also a lot of fun to see her impersonate James Cagney’s “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you. . .” speech from Yankee Doodle Dandy, considering that she’s the one who costarred with him in the film!

Dennis Morgan plays Tommy Randolph, the singer who wants to get out of the bush leagues and make it big. He does fine here, but it’s not really a role written to earn him leading man status. His character seems to exist to connect the dots between Joan Leslie, Eddie Cantor as the bus driver, and Eddie Cantor as himself. I will say that Morgan gets to show a little more depth here than he did in The Return of Doctor X though!

Edward Everett Horton and S. Z. Sakall play the two high strung producers of the variety show, Farnsworth and Dr. Schlenna. They serve their purpose well, and both men are so talented with comedy that I never tire of seeing them pop up in good roles.

I’m also a big Spike Jones fan, so if I didn’t give a mention to him and his band, I’d be deeply remiss. They deliver big with their short time in the film. Jones is one of those genius performers that I fear will eventually be forgotten with time.

For a better write-up on the song and dance numbers, you should check out @hollywoodcomet’s review of the film here.

Classic Bogie Moment

The reason that Bogart was so good at making cameos as himself was that he always seemed willing to play up his mythic persona to the hilt. Just look at this costume and that five o’clock shadow:

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Is this how he went around Hollywood in his free time? Of course not. But it’s how we want to see him, and in almost all of his cameos, it’s how he appears. Thanks for keeping the dream alive, Bogie!

The Bottom Line

The cameo is short and sweet, but the film is worth a watch on its own merits!