Katharine Hepburn – The Making of the African Queen

Honorary Allnut Fix:

Don’t be fooled by the title – the only person responsible for Hepburn’s near-loss of sanity was John Huston. If Hepburn’s to be believed, the least important components of this film for Huston were, in order: The script, the wardrobes, and the actors.

Written as a polished version of a private journal (although how polished can it be when it regularly references vomiting and bowel movements), The Making of the African Queen is an incredibly insightful look behind the scenes of one of Hollywood’s greatest films.

Yes, if this memoir was restricted to only Hepburn’s anal retentive observations about the quality of life while living in Africa and working with John Huston, we might be left to believe that this was the most miserable period of her life. Hepburn’s charm though, comes with her ability to immediately poke holes in her own ego and readily admit when her fellow collaborators were in the right despite their own peculiar attributes and tendencies.

Filled with glorious black and white photos from Hepburn’s own collection and well known studio stills, The Making of the African Queen is an incredible chronicle of Hepburn’s fascinating working relationship with Director Huston as she learns to cope with, and appreciate, the eccentric auteur’s unique lust for life and occasionally confusing style of directing.

Hepburn badgers him endlessly about the script. (Who needs a finalized script until filming begins, right?) She fussily cares for him along the way like a three-way cross between a beleaguered sister, a frustrated wife, and a devoted assistant. (Hepburn fixes the buttons on the fly of his pants, accompanies him on an elephant hunting excursion, and dutifully joins in to help the cast and crew resurrect The African Queen after the ship sinks to the bottom of the river.) And in the book’s most telling moments, Hepburn reveals Huston’s brilliant, blunt, and simple style of direction that led to some of her most famous scenes from the film. (Yes, he cruelly made her mourn the loss of her film brother for an extended prank, but the “stiff upper lip” direction formed 95% of what makes Hepburn’s acting great here!)

What about Bogie? Well, he’s around. Bacall was on the trip, so they were often off doing their own thing while Hepburn was exploring Africa. Hepburn though, treats Bogart more like a minor character in the book. She loves his acting and professionalism. She enjoyed his endless needling off-screen and learned to respect him as a private man who had a hard time letting people into his inner circle. And in the end, she couldn’t have been happier to support him in his much deserved Oscar win for the role of Charlie Allnut.

What one will take away the most from this book is Hepburn’s dedication to her craft and her determination to make sure that she gave this film her very best. Whether she’s carefully pouring over the script to make sure it feels authentic, or lugging a full length mirror through the jungle to make sure her wardrobe and hair are the best that they can be, we see an actress that is willing to give her all for a role – even if that means acting through a severe case of the runs and losing 20 pounds in the process.

And did I mention the pictures?

The behind-the-scene moments portrayed are priceless, and the double page spreads are worth the price of this book alone. Even at her physical worst, Hepburn is so stunningly G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S.

If you’re a fan of Hepburn, Bogart, Huston, or The African Queen, this one’s definitely worth a read. To close, I’ll leave you with perhaps one of the most satisfying bits from Hepburn after the whole adventure had wrapped:

“Now, what do you suppose ever happened to Charlie and Rose? Where did they live? Did they stay in Africa? I always thought they must have. And lots of little Charlies and Rosies. And live happily ever after. Because that’s what we wanted them to do. And every summer they take a trip in the old Queen – and laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh. . .” 

I couldn’t ask for anything more.

John Huston

screenshot_2016-11-23-21-11-50

Birth Name: John Marcellus Huston

Date of Birth: August 5, 1906

Date of Death: August 28, 1987

Number of Films John Huston Made with Humphrey Bogart: 9

The Lowdown

Many would posit that John Huston was the greatest thing that ever happened to Bogart’s career and I certainly couldn’t refute the notion. More than once Bogart was on the record saying that he favored the director above any other, and Huston arguably gave Bogart the biggest moments of his career.

While Huston had written two of Bogart’s early films (the less-than-stellar The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse and the more-than-stellar High Sierra), it wasn’t until they got together for The Maltese Falcon that real magic was born. The studio wanted George Raft in Bogart’s role – Huston wanted Bogart. Thank God that Huston eventually got his way.

The two would go on to make some of Classic Hollywood’s most iconic films, as seen below, and reportedly enjoyed each other’s time off screen indulging in booze, revelry, and double dates with their wives. (Huston reportedly despised Bogart’s third wife, Mayo Methot, but loved Bacall.)

And, like any great friendship, their relationship occasionally became strained. Things on the set might get tense or filming kept Bogart away from his love of sailing as it did on Treasure of the Sierra Madre. And yet, they would always push through to greatness.

Huston would go on to say that whenever things got rough between them, Bogart was often the first to apologize. Thank goodness he did. Thank goodness they were both able to keep each other on their toes – on and off screen. And most of all, thank goodness these two Hollywood geniuses ended up collaborating so, so, so often.

Long overdue, here’s John Huston’s entry into The Usual Suspects!

The Filmography

Amazing Dr C Poster

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse – 1938

Huston is credited solely on the screenplay for this one and reportedly had no contact with Bogart during filming.

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 goofy hi jinks ensue.

You can read my original post on the film here.

High Sierra – 1941

High Sierra

Again, Huston is credited with the screen play here, but had a much larger on set presence where he got to know and become friends with Bogart.

Huston’s script is tight and powerful. Director Raoul Walsh gives us a lot of fantastic close ups and quiet moments to linger on. 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 Huston wisely pairs Earle with partners who are considerably younger than him, and who more than likely reflect his own recklessly impetuous past.

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Maltese Falcon – 1941

The Maltese Falcon Poster

The Studio wanted Raft. Writer/Director Huston wanted Bogart. The final result changed cinema history as we know it and boosted Bogart far enough into the stratosphere that his legend was permanently cemented into Hollywood history.

Looking back now, Warner Brothers had all of the ingredients for a timeless classic. Bogart, Lorre, and Greenstreet. John Huston writing and directing. A film based on a famous novel that had never been filmed well in two prior attempts. But Bogart was an unproven draw. Lorre was still regarded as a foreign character actor that could do well, but was considered more of a novelty than anything else. And Greenstreet was making his film debut after years in the theater. For Warner Brothers, this was still a gamble with a whole lot of unknown variables in the mix.

Look how well it paid off.  Haven’t seen it yet?  Give. Me. A. Break.

You can read my original post on the film here.

In This Our Life – 1942

In this our life poster

Huston directs here in what was my first major disappointment while blogging about Bogart. While I really loved this movie, it was a huge letdown for me to discover that Bogart is nowhere to be seen within it. According to every online and book-bound Bogart filmography available, Bogart’s credited with a small cameo in the film. IMDB says he’s an uncredited dancer on a roadhouse table. The official Humphrey Bogart Estate site claims that he has a cameo as a tavern owner. After a careful, frame by frame, examination of both bar/tavern scenes, I can definitively say that Humphrey Bogart is nowhere in this picture.

As the story goes, Huston gathered his core crew from Falcon and put them around a table in the tavern scene. While this is totally believable, I’m guessing that if it actually happened it was cut out for being a distraction to the overall film. Oh, well. Perhaps the footage will surface someday…

You can read my original post on the film here.

Across the Pacific – 1942

Across the Pacific

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

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

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – 1948

Treasure Poster

A long-time passion project for Writer/Director/Cameo Actor John Huston for over a decade, both he and his father Walter would go on to win Oscars for their tremendous work here.

Huston had a wonderful way of bringing out the best in his actors, and the triangular dynamics between each of the three main characters works on so many different levels. Perhaps one of Huston’s greatest gifts was his ability to create an environment for his actors that allowed them to believably flip between sympathetic and villainous from one moment to the next. Could anyone else have played both sides as well as Bogart did here?

While it’s not my absolute favorite Bogart performance, I don’t argue too hard with people who do claim that it’s his best. It’s certainly got to fall within the top five for me. Plus, you get to see Director Huston himself make a cameo as a generous American benefactor who gives some pity money to a lowly Bogart early on.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Key Largo – 1948

Key Largo Pic

Huston was Writer/Director for this one and there’s not a wrong note in this whole film. The cast is superb, and while Claire Trevor was the only actor from the film to win an Oscar, it surely wouldn’t have been a surprise if Barrymore and Robinson had at least been nominated as their performances are stand-out wonderful as well. (Fortunately or unfortunately – depending on whom from this film you consider – the main competition for the Oscar race that year was another little Huston film called The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet. Huston snagged Best Director and Best Screenplay for Madre, so I imagine that Trevor’s win for Best Supporting Actress here and Walter Huston’s win for Best Supporting Actor in Madre were just the icing on the cake for him.)

You can read my original post on the film here.

The African Queen – 1951

The African Queen

I recently rewatched this one specifically for this post as it’s one of my all-time favorites and it never disappoints. Sure, some of the special effects (re: mosquito swarms and green screens) used by Writer/Director Huston look pretty shabby in this day and age, but the performances that he pulls out of Bogart and Hepburn are so strong that their scenes together make the film a must see.

Just take the silent pan-out towards the end after Hepburn kneels in prayer next to an unconscious Bogart in the middle of the papyrus maze. To see them give up on life only a hundred yards away from freedom is heartbreaking in a way that you can feel all the way down to the pit of your stomach.

Throw in the stories of off camera drinking by Huston and Bogart (supposedly the only thing that kept them from falling ill, unlike Hepburn), and the fact that Bogie finally got a long overdue Oscar, and this film is a legend unto itself.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Beat the Devil – 1953

beat the devil poster

This one from Writer/Director Huston is probably my biggest guilty pleasure from all of Bogart’s films. While it can be one of those polarizing cult classics that people either love or hate, I think everyone across the board can admit that it’s one of the most eclectic and eccentric casts and crews that Bogart ever worked with. You’ve got the wild and hard-drinking Huston, the flamboyant and witty writer, Truman Capote, the Italian sex bomb, Gina Lollobrigida, the thick-accented Hungarian-American, Peter Lorre, and academy award winning actress, Jennifer Jones. Whether you’re an avid supporter of Devil’s cult status, or you simply find it a convoluted mess, there’s no denying that the film fascinates movie buffs and casual fans on multiple levels.

And in case I wasn’t clear enough. I LOVE THIS FILM. Plus, it’s in the public domain so you can check it out on YouTube anytime you don’t have your classic film collection on hand!

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.*

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – 1948

Treasure Poster

My Review

—Arguably One of Bogart’s Best—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie

 

 

 

Director: John Huston

The Lowdown

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

What I Thought

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

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

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

Both father and son Huston won Oscars for their work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bogart Factor

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

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

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

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

The Cast

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

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

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

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

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

Classic Bogie Moment

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

Treasure Classic

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

The Bottom Line

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

 

Key Largo – 1948

Key Largo Pic

My Review

—Fantastic—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

4 Bogie

 

 

out of 5 Bogies!

Director: John Huston

The Lowdown

A war vet (Humphrey Bogart) visits the Florida Keys to pay his respects to the wife (Lauren Bacall) and father (Lionel Barrymore) of a friend who died in combat, only to stumble upon a gangster (Edward G. Robinson) on the run just as a hurricane strikes.

What I Thought

There’s not a wrong note in this whole film. The cast is superb, and while Claire Trevor is the only actor from the film to win an Oscar, it surely wouldn’t have been a surprise if Barrymore and Robinson had at least been nominated as their performances are stand-out wonderful as well. (Fortunately or unfortunately – depending on who from this film you consider – the main competition for the Oscar race that year was another little Huston film called Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet. Huston snagged Best Director and Best Screenplay for Madre, so I imagine that Trevor’s win for Best Supporting Actress here and Walter Huston’s win for Best Supporting Actor in Madre were just the icing on the cake for him.)

The real story of this film is the interplay between Bogart and Robinson. Much of Bogart’s early career was spent playing second fiddle to Robinson when Robinson was still at the peak of his stardom. Here though, the roles are reversed. Or are they? Yes, Bogart is top billed playing his oft-stoic protagonist war hero that happens along just in time to save the day and get the woman, but it’s clear that Key Largo is Robinson’s film to steal.

From the moment that he appears onscreen taking a bath, Robinson controls almost every scene throughout the rest of the picture. My wife, who is often reading or working on her computer in the background while I watch Bogart films, glanced up the moment Robinson was introduced and didn’t take her eyes off of him for the rest of the film. Afterwards, I asked her, “Like that guy? You didn’t take your eyes off of him?”

“No,” she said, “His face is weird.”

But she watched. Regardless of the fact that he possessed a face that no caricature could ever exaggerate enough, Robinson exuded charisma and raw energy out of every pore. You can’t not watch the guy when he’s on screen. Huston and Bogart give him plenty of room to work with too, letting him take center stage at almost every moment to wring out a performance that I would rank as one of his best.

It’s fun to note that the final confrontation on the boat was apparently the original ending to Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not. When Huston couldn’t think of an ending to Key Largo, Hawks offered this one and Huston took it! It gives Robinson an incredible finale to a stellar performance!

The Bogart Factor

Bogart’s war vet, Frank McCloud, is essentially a rehash of a whole list of previous characters that he’s already played. A loner ex-soldier, McCloud is there to stop the bad guy and get the girl – period. It’s not colorfully written, but it’s not supposed to be. He’s there to glue together the rest of the cast that is both literally and metaphorically caught up in the middle of a storm.

Again though, if you’re going to cast a leading man that needs to be tough, brooding, and still sympathetic – can you do better than Bogart? Especially when he’s in the hands of a director like John Huston who’s going to use Bogart’s skill set to its fullest potential while making every frame that he’s in feel like an iconic image of Hollywood’s greatest star.

Is this Bogart’s best role? No. But it’s a textbook example of what a great actor can do with a stock “hero” character.

The Cast

Edward G. Robinson is a force to be reckoned with as the mobster on the run, Johnny Rocco. Playing a gangster who’s on the verge of losing his most valuable weapon – his confidence – we get to watch Robinson strut, punch, slap, yell, threaten, sweat, quiver, and cower all in just an hour and forty minutes. On the receding side of his career, this was supposedly a “thank you” role for Robinson after giving Bogart so much time to shine in their earlier collaborations together. Robinson nails it. No matter what’s going right or wrong for Rocco in any given scene, there is an underlying sense of fear present that pervades every word and action on display.

Claire Trevor plays Robinson’s 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 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.

Lauren Bacall plays Nora Temple, the widow of Bogart’s army buddy who died in the war. Like Bogart, the role isn’t anything special, but Bacall plays it as well as anyone could. She’s strong, defiant, and just soft enough to care for the stranger who has stumbled across her doorstep. The real life chemistry between these two carries over well into the film, and the close ups they share together are worth the price of admission alone.

Lionel Barrymore plays James Temple, the wheelchair bound father of Bogart’s dead friend. Barrymore is really good here and gets plenty of opportunity to wrestle scenes away from Robinson – especially the moment he leaves his very real and necessary wheelchair in order to take a swing at the gangster. His affection for Bacall feels real as well, and it’s not hard to lose yourself over to this grieving father who’s trying to pull the right strings to get Bogart to stay on at his hotel and take care of his daughter-in-law.

Thomas Gomez, Harry Lewis, and Dan Seymour play Robinson’s gang, and they’re each wonderful in their own way. Gomez is a ton of fun as Curly, the gum chomping, wise crack spewing, henchman. Lewis plays a great “little villain” as Toots, the weaselly goon with a hair trigger. And perhaps my favorite is Seymour as Angel. After To Have and Have Not and Casablanca, I need to add him to the list of Usual Suspects. His parts are never huge, but he’s got a great face and a wonderful presence for a character actor.

Classic Bogie Moment

Look at how Huston introduces Bogart into the film even though his back is initially set to the camera!!! Great shot. Great use of a mirror. A simple scene that was probably much more complicated to block than it looks!

Bogart Classic Key Largo

The Bottom Line

Come for the Bogie and Bacall. Stay for the Robinson and Barrymore. You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

Across the Pacific – 1942

Across the Pacific

My Review

—As Good as an Action Thriller Can Get—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

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

The Lowdown

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

What I Thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bogart Factor

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

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

Greenstreet Bogart Astor

The Cast

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classic Bogie Moment

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

Bogart Greenstreet Across the Pacific

Mine’s bigger than yours . . .

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The Bottom Line

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

The Maltese Falcon – 1941

The Maltese Falcon Poster

My Review

—Bogart, Lorre, Greenstreet, Astor, Huston – ‘Nuff Said—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: John Huston

The Lowdown

A private detective (Humphrey Bogart) tries to unravel the mystery behind a priceless statue after a beautiful woman (Mary Astor) hires him for a case that leads to his partner’s (Jerome Cowan) death.

What I Thought

Writing something up for Bogart’s more obscure classics always seems like a breeze. Writing something for these iconic classics however . . . that’s always tough. So much has been written about The Maltese Falcon that it’s hard to know what I could ever add to the conversation.

Warner Brother’s originally assigned George Raft to the role of Sam Spade – not because they really wanted him for the role, but because they wanted Henry Fonda for another film and Fonda worked for Twentieth Century Fox. So follow this . . . Raft didn’t want to do The Maltese Falcon. He supposedly hated the script and didn’t want to work with first time director John Huston. (Huston didn’t want him either. Bogart was always Huston’s first choice.) So Warner Brothers, knowing that Raft would balk at Falcon, gave him the option of going on ‘suspension’ so that he could go over to Fox and Fonda could come over to Warner Brothers.

Raft in the Spade role would have been different. I don’t think it would have killed the film if the actor and the director could have put their personal differences aside and shot the movie as Huston wanted it, but it probably wouldn’t be the classic that it is today.

Looking back, Warner Brothers had all of the ingredients for a timeless classic. Bogart, Lorre, and Greenstreet. John Huston writing and directing. A film based on a famous novel that had never been filmed well in two prior attempts. But Bogart was an unproven draw. Lorre was still regarded as a foreign character actor that could do well, but was considered more of a novelty than anything else. And Greenstreet was making his film debut after years in the theater. For Warner Brothers, this was still gamble with a whole lot of unknown variables in the mix.

Look how well it paid off.

The legend of this film is so wide and so deep that when one of the falcons from the film came up for auction in November of 2014 it went for over 4 million dollars and the story was covered by all the major news outlets. (The only movie memorabilia item that I could find to have sold for more was one of James Bond’s Aston Martins which went for $4.1 million.) People love this film deeply.

A small cast of brilliant actors, tight directing with no wasted scenes, a faithful adaption from the novel that lifts moments directly from the book, and a hungry first-time director who happens to be a genius make The Maltese Falcon flawless in a lot of people’s eyes. I really can’t disagree. This is one of those films that could play on an endless loop in my house and I’d never get tired of it.

The Bogart Factor

I love watching The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep back to back. Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe are so similar and yet so different at the same time. Both are private eyes who let money lead them down some pretty dark paths, yet while Spade seems cynical and embittered by humanity, Marlowe is able to hold onto a more playful outlook on life, flirting and quipping his way through every situation without quite as much sarcasm dripping from every line.

Bogart had made a splash with High Sierra just months before The Maltese Falcon premiered, but this was definitely one of the first big films that showed Warner Brothers that Bogart’s name could really start to become a draw for fans. His B-movie career all but died after The Maltese Falcon won over audiences and his filmography quickly filled with some of Hollywood’s most beloved classic films.

Bogart’s interactions with Astor, Lorre, Greenstreet, and Elisha Cook Jr. show a man who seems in complete control of every emotion and physicality in an actor’s toolbox, and there’s a level of confidence on display that I don’t think Bogart hit so highly in any of his previous films.

The Cast

Mary Astor plays femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy, the woman who pulls Bogart into the danger and mystery surrounding the falcon statue. According to a few different bios and websites, Director Huston had Astor run around the set before takes in order to lend a constant, breathless quality to her performance. After re-watching this film for the umpteenth time, I have to say that it certainly seems to be true and it works well for her performance. I guess Astor had a bit of a reputation around Hollywood at the time for enjoying her time with lots of different men and that helped feed into the excitement of this film when it came out. While that aspect might be lost on modern day viewers, Astor is still amazing in the role – hitting all the right notes and keeping the audience’s sympathies despite a string of nonstop lies and manipulations.

Peter Lorre plays Joel Cairo, one of the criminals who’s been chasing around the world in order to lay hands on the statue. I can’t say enough good things about Lorre here. He looks to be in the best shape of his life. He plays a coward who’s able to muster some courage when there’s a gun in his hand, giving both an air of humor and danger to many scenes. His moments with Bogart and Greenstreet are all the more fun when you consider how much he thought of both men in real life. Strangely enough, I think that one of my favorite aspects about his performance might be his hair! It’s so wonderfully dark and curly and thick and slick looking! I’ve read a lot about what a ladies’ man Lorre was and this film is always the one that convinces me that all the stories could well be true!

Sydney Greenstreet made his film debut at 62 years old playing Kasper Gutman, the main goon who’s following the falcon around the globe. Every single scene Greenstreet’s in is pure joy. His laugh is amazing, his amusement over Bogart’s confusion is wonderful, and it’s a real shame that it took so long to get this man to the big screen. I’m incredibly jealous of all the audiences that got to see him on stage in England for years before coming to Hollywood as there hasn’t been a big-man actor with such a commanding presence onscreen since his last film over 60 years ago. By gad! The scene where he turns on Wilmer is so painfully funny and well done that it might be my favorite bit from all of his films. A villain who so believably loves life while committing dastardly crimes at the same time is the best kind of bad guy a film could ever hope for.

Elisha Cook Jr. plays Greenstreet’s diminutive sidekick and gunman, Wilmer Cook. The other actors in this film are so great that Cook often seems to be overlooked in reviews, but he’s really good. His moments with Bogart and his betrayal at the hands of Greenstreet would be considered the best of the film if Lorre hadn’t been so good at stealing scenes.

Lee Patrick plays Bogart’s secretary, Effie. I love the fact the woman who works for Sam Spade seems almost as sultry and dangerous as the woman who hires him onto a case that almost gets him killed. Patrick’s role isn’t huge, but she’s great. This is exactly the kind of woman that Spade would want working for him as she seems almost as sardonic as he does. Yet, she still seems to have a good heart buried beneath the cynicism as she quickly agrees to take Astor into her apartment to keep her safe when things start to get rough. I need to check out the rest of Patrick’s filmography.

Bogie Film Blog favorite Barton MacLane plays Lt. of Detectives Dundy. This guy is such a solid supporting actor and it’s fun to see him in a role where he’s not completely against Bogart. They get to have some fun back-and-forth teasing with just the right amount of edge to it. I can’t wait to add MacLane to ‘The Usual Suspects’ portion of the blog.

Jerome Cowan plays Bogart’s ill-fated partner, Miles Archer. It’s a very small role for Cowan as he’s bumped off early on in the film, but he does well. He’s a good reminder for the audience that private detectives can run a bit on the sleazy side as his love for women is probably what gets him killed in the first place.

Gladys George plays Cowan’s widow, and Bogart’s mistress, Iva Archer. Again, it’s another small role that seems to be in place in order to show us a darker side of Spade’s character, but George does fine in the role with what she has to work with.

Classic Bogie Moment

So much to love here. I’m torn between a shot of him behind the desk as Astor enters his office, a shot of him with the falcon, a shot of him with Astor, and a shot of him with Greenstreet. But I just can’t resist this moment from the film where two men who genuinely came to love one another’s company in real life create one of my favorite moments in film history:

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Bogart Lorre Falcon

“When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it!”

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The Bottom Line

It’s the stuff that cinematic dreams are made of!

The African Queen – 1951

The African Queen

My Review

—Bogart Earns His Oscar!— 

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  John Huston

The Lowdown

By turning his boat into a homemade torpedo, disheveled Canadian boat captain Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) helps Methodist missionary Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) exact revenge on the Germans for killing her brother.

What I Thought

This film is satisfying on so many levels, not the least of which is getting to watch two of Classic Hollywood’s greatest stars throw themselves headlong into roles that they truly seem to enjoy.

Boat captain Charlie Allnut is the exact opposite of everything that Rose Sayer stands for.  His very existence is a stark contrast to her life and work.  His boat whistle interrupts her hymn sing with the African natives.  His discarded cigar distracts her congregation from worship.  His booze and river water soaked stomach growls all the way through her tea time.  His boat whistle even blasts through Rose’s grief as she sits on her porch, mourning her recently dead brother (Robert Morley).

His response to completely disrupting everything in Rose’s life?

“Ain’t a darn thing I can do about it.”

Charlie Allnut is who he is, and there’s no changing it.

If opposites attract, then these two were made for each other.  It’s with incredible joy that we get to watch them boat down the river, fighting all sorts of horrible pests and dangers, as they fall in love.  Not for a second do we question why Rose begins to adore Charlie.  Neither do we wonder what Charlie sees in Rose.  They are two halves of a greater whole.  They are the perfect love story waiting to happen.  They each lack exactly what the other contains.

They complete each other.

It was Hepburn’s first color film.  It was Bogart’s Oscar win.  Everyone on the shoot got horribly sick from the water except for Bogart and Director Huston – which they attributed to their massive alcohol intake – and the pain they went through during filming only adds to its realism and enjoyment.

Is it a perfect film?  No.  But even imperfect John Huston is better than almost anything you’ll find in the theaters today.  There was some concern at the time that filmgoers wouldn’t pay to see two “old people” fall in love.  Thank goodness we all get to benefit from their lesson learned!

The Bogart Factor

To be perfectly honest, while Bogart is absolutely amazing as Charlie Allnut, it isn’t his best role – it’s just the one that he won the Oscar for.  If I had to pick a character that’s more deserving, I might offer up Captain Queeg or even Fred C. Dobbs, but knowing a little bit about how the Academy works, I’m more than happy to celebrate the win for Charlie Allnut.

Out of his entire filmography, this is Bogart’s most playful role as he seems to revel in the goofy silliness of being a slightly-off-his-rocker boatman in East Africa.  Did he ever play a character quite like this before?  There were countless young punks, gangsters, detectives, district attorney’s, and prisoners, but when else was he able to be a completely, honest-to-goodness, down to earth good guy?

There is no trace of menace or swagger in his performance.  All memories of his gun toting, alpha male tough guys are forgotten the first time we see him smile at Hepburn and “Yes, miss!” his way to more buttered bread.

Bogart deserved the Oscar for so many of his iconic roles, and I think he received it here as a nod for superb work, not only in this film, but for an entire career.

The Cast

With only four major characters, it’s another testament to the film, and Huston’s direction, that we never stop to look at our watch because we’re bored.

Katharine Hepburn is magnificent as Rose Sayer.  I can’t imagine anyone else in the role, as Hepburn is unmatched for her ability to play women who are both tough and proper at the same time.  When I really look at it, Rose is a much more layered character than you might think after first viewing.  The sister of a Christian missionary, Rose is a woman who’s given up absolutely every comfort in life in order to live chaste as she supports her brother’s ministry.  Then, when the Germans ruin everything that she’s helped to build, the peace loving church organist flips a switch and becomes the revenge seeking guerilla fighter.  Plus, I think it’s great that a forty-four year old beauty gets to flaunt her wares in a classic film:

afq

Watching Bogart watch Hepburn as she confesses their entire plot to the Germans at the end of the film is perhaps the greatest love scene from the entire movie.  How could anyone not fall in love with Rose after watching her live, love, and fight her way to the finale of this film?

Robert Morley plays Hepburn’s missionary brother, Rev. Samuel Sayer.  While Morley doesn’t get as much time to shine here as he does in Beat the Devil, his short appearance, and subsequent death, add just enough weight to kick off the storyline.  It’s easy to imagine Morley and Hepburn as real life siblings.

Peter Bull plays the German Captain of The Louisa.  Short, but sweet, Bull has one of the better jokes in the film when he condemns Bogart and Hepburn to death within a millisecond after pronouncing them man and wife.

Classic Bogie Moment

This film is a great showcase for Bogart’s talent at comedy.  The man who knew how to do a lot with just a little gets to offer up a plethora of wit that’s dryer than the gin that Rose pours overboard.  What I love most about his humor though, is that he never over-mugs for the camera.  Perhaps my favorite moment of the entire film comes when he helps Rose back onboard The African Queen after she bathes.  Just look at the expression on his face as he does his best not to look at her while she climbs over the rail:

classic

Those eyes!  Every fiber of his being is working towards doing the polite thing for Rose.  How bad must Charlie want to take a peek?  How crazy does it make him to get the chance to touch a soaking wet woman after so many months (years?) on the river without a female companion?

We can only imagine what’s going through his mind . . .

The Bottom Line

I know a number of people who say that this is their absolute favorite Bogie film.  While I might not agree, I can’t fault them for their choice.  It’s a must see with endless re-watchability!