Michael Curtiz

curtiz_1928_portrait
Birth Name: Mihaly Kertesz

Birth: December 24, 1888

Death: April 10, 1962

Number of Films Michael Curtiz Made with Humphrey Bogart: 8

The Lowdown

Ask the casual Classic Film fan about John Huston or Howard Hawks and more than likely they’ll be some recognition. More than likely, Bogart’s name will come up. Huston and Hawks – those are household names if you’re in the Classic Film realm.

Now mention Michael Curtiz. There still might be some recognition from the casual fans. CasablancaWhite Christmas? Maybe if they’re a little more literate about the early years of Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” they might mention Yankee Doodle Dandy.

But the Hungarian born director is so prolific throughout Hollywood history that it’s hard to imagine his name is rarely spoken outside of intros on TCM.

Curtiz crossed the boundary between the silent films and talkies. At 38 years old and with 64 films already under his belt, Curtiz was finally lured over to the U.S. by Harry Warner in 1926 where he would work with some of Hollywood’s greatest actors – Grant, Cagney, Davis, Flynn, Crosby, Kaye, Crawford, Bergman, Lorre, Greenstreet, Huston, Muni, DeHavilland, Sheridan, O’Brien, The Dead End Kids, Bacall, Bogart, etc… many household names.

As far as Bogart was concerned though, Curtiz was always on the shortlist of directors that were pre-approved. Yes, they fought a lot on set – settling character arcs and plot developments with shouting matches while the cast and crew waited, but there was great respect there as well.

I feel like Bogart and Curtiz complimented one another, making up for what the other lacked. Curtiz hailed from the European school of film where complex camera moves with lots of dollies were the norm. Bogart was from the states where Film Noir taught directors and actors to keep it simple, get to the point, and let the actors do the heavy lifting. Perhaps more importantly, Curtiz cut his teeth in silent films, and few actors beyond Bogart knew how do so much with simple gestures and subtle facial expressions.

Bogart and Peter Lorre reportedly loved pranking Curtiz on both Casablanca and Passage to Marseille. My favorite stories are from Passage where the two actors would stall scenes with long and jokey anecdotes until Curtiz would finally laugh and then they could carry on.

For a man who was alongside of Bogart throughout his entire career – from the early B roles to the biggest film of Bogart’s life, to the lighter role of Joseph in We’re No Angels, it’s about doggone time that Curtiz was placed into The Usual Suspects!

(And I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that Curtiz also directed Doctor X! The sorta prequel to Bogart’s only venture into sci-fi/horror, The Return of Doctor X!)

The Filmography

Black Legion – 1937

blegion

Curtiz is listed as an “uncredited” co-director here alongside of Archie Mayo, so I’m not exactly sure what his contributions to the film were. Considered by many to be one of Bogart’s biggest hidden gems, Black Legion is a must-see for anyone who likes Bogart’s better character work. Occasionally there will be a movie that is very well made, and yet so gut-wrenchingly powerful that I just can’t imagine sitting through it again. Schindler’s List was this way for me. So was Mystic River. I would easily add Black Legion to that category. Loosely based on a true story, Legion took me places emotionally that I wasn’t used to going in a Bogart film.

Bogart plays a blue collar machinist who’s frustrations and paranoia take him to an ugly, ugly place, and Directors Mayo and Curtiz do a great job of squeezing every drop of tension from this one.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Marked Woman – 1937

marked

This is another “uncredited” director role for Curtiz alongside of Lloyd Bacon. Bogart might get second billing on the poster, but in reality, he’s fourth or fifth down the line when it comes to screen time. Bette Davis is the real star here, and she does a good job in, but the script leans heavily on extravagant melodrama. The ripped-from-the-headlines tone of the film is almost too clichéd in this day and age to have the same impact that it did in the 30’s and 40’s. There is plenty to appreciate in this film though, as the cast has been put together well, and it’s always fun to see Bogart and Davis looking so young in their roles. Davis is as bright-eyed and gorgeous as she ever would be, and Bogart has got the healthiest, most filled out physique that I ever remember seeing on him.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Kid Galahad – 1937

gala

This was the first full collaboration between Director Curtiz and Bogart, and it was a bit of a tepid start in my opinion. It’s a by-the-numbers Warner picture for the time it was made. It’s not bad, but it’s not great. It’s predictable, but fun. Robinson and Davis definitely save the day with their great portrayals, turning it into an enjoyable film. Bogart’s relegated to being the stock gangster character.

What sets the film apart though, is Director Curtiz’s ability to direct the the boxing scenes with explosive action and a skill that was surely honed in his silent days.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Angels with Dirty Faces – 1938

Angels with dirty faces

At one time, this Curtiz directed film was one of the biggest gaps in my Bogart/Classic Film knowledge. Does it live up to the hype? For the first hour – no. Not that I thought it was bad, because it’s actually very good. James Cagney and Pat O’Brien are great. Plus, there’s a good dose of Ann Sheridan, which is always a good thing!

I just didn’t think it was as good as everyone had told me. Up until the last fifteen minutes of the film I was ready to rank this one just below The Roaring Twenties. The script is good, but not great. Director Michael Curtiz does a fine job, but it’s a far cry from Casablanca. And then there’s the fact that Bogart is hardly in the film despite high billing and lots of presence in the advertising.

Then I got to the ending . . . wow.

Without giving anything away (in case you’re also behind on seeing this film), Cagney’s final scene is so powerful that I was still reeling from it two days after watching the film. The movie certainly didn’t have to end the way it does. It could have gone with a more audience-friendly finish. Yet Curtiz, Cagney, and O’Brien take what was a good film and elevate it to great with just the last fifteen minutes.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Virginia City – 1940

Virginia City Poster

Virginia City is a fun, old-school western with great performances by all the actors (save for a VERY poorly cast Bogart), and plenty of tension to keep you hooked until the end. With a running time of slightly over two hours, Director Michael Curtiz probably could have shaved off about twenty minutes with a few less horse chases and saloon scenes, but that’s a small complaint to have in an otherwise good film.

I thought Curtiz did a great job of making both sides of the conflict over the gold seem sympathetic. Heck, I was even rooting at points for Bogart’s painfully-accented Hispanic outlaw!

You can read my original post on the film here.

Casablanca – 1942

Casablanca Poster

The film that cemented Bogart’s legacy! If this had been his final film, I have no doubt that he’d still be the icon that he is today!

I think a majority of the credit has to go to Director Curtiz. From beginning to end, the city of Casablanca feels like a fully realized world. The daytime scenes are crammed from one edge of the screen to other with bustling streets. The nighttime scenes are packed with diversely populated clubs. The city is supposed to be overflowing with people looking to escape the war and Director Curtiz nailed it. This film is bursting at the seams with background artists, minor roles cast to perfection, supporting roles with some of Hollywood’s greatest character actors, and a handful of main characters that are handled deftly and given the time that they each need to establish their moments in the story.

Why do I need to defend what some argue as Hollywood’s greatest film?!? You can read my original post on the film here.

Passage to Marseille – 1944

Passage

This one’s a real showcase for Director Curtiz. Marseille is a film that exists almost entirely in a flashback. But not just a flashback – as it’s a flashback within a flashback, which I think even delves into another flashback! Just the way the multiple flashbacks are handled without confusion shows a director who’s storytelling craft is top notch.

The entire movie is said to be a slightly missed attempt at recreating the magic that was Casablanca, as so many of the cast and crew return from that movie including director, writer, composer, producer, and at least five other actors. Perhaps I’m far enough removed from the era, but I thought that my love for Casablanca only enhanced my enjoyment of this film. The story is much more action oriented, and it comes off as more of a prison escape movie rather than a war romance.

You can read my original post on the film here.

We’re No Angels – 1955

angels

The last of eight films between Director Curtiz and Bogart, Angels is subtle, dry, a bit goofy, and a wonderful movie for these two collaborators to go out on. In a story of three escaped convicts, Curtiz uses Bogart, Peter Ustinov, and Aldo Ray to underplay the jokes so well that this film can often near the line of “dark comedy,” although I don’t think it ever steps over.

It’s silly, wonderful fun in the best possible sense. Plus! You get to see Bogart in an apron! Come on! That makes it a must see in itself!

You can read my original post on the film here.

‘The Usual Suspects’ is an ongoing feature on the blog that highlights some of Bogart’s best collaborators. You can find the ever-growing list of names here.

Casablanca – 1942

Casablanca Poster

My Review

—Hollywood’s Greatest Film—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie

Director: Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

An American expat (Bogart) running a nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco during World War II is surprised when his ex (Ingrid Bergman) shows up, married to the leader (Pal Henried) of Europe’s underground resistance.

What I Thought

This is it. The absolute pinnacle of Bogart films as far as I’m concerned, which is why I saved it for last. This was the cherry on the top of a year-and-a-half of Bogart film viewing.

Sure, I’ve seen Casablanca so many times that I’ve lost count, but this was the first time that I’ve sat down with a more analytical eye. Knowing that I was going to do a write-up, I asked myself, Why is this film so perfect in my mind? Why was this the film that served as my gateway into classic cinema? Why is this film remembered by many, if not most casual film fans, as Bogart’s greatest role?

I think a majority of the credit has to go to Director Michael Curtiz. From beginning to end, the city of Casablanca feels like a fully realized world. The daytime scenes are crammed from one edge of the screen to other with bustling crowds filling city streets and diversely populated nightclub scenes. The city is supposed to be overflowing with people looking to escape the war and Director Curtiz nailed it. This film is bursting at the seams with background artists, minor roles cast to perfection, supporting roles with some of Hollywood’s greatest character actors, and a handful of main characters that are handled deftly and given the time that they each need to establish their moments in the story.

Another huge chunk of credit goes to the twin Epstein brothers, Julius and Philip, who adapted the play for the big screen. There are a lot of great stories about how the Epstein’s regarded this script as just another studio assignment, how they wrote and rewrote scenes the very day that they were needed, and how they never really thought much of the finished film. (Julius was quoted as saying it not nothing more than “slick shit.” Hardly a ringing endorsement.)

The script is filled with dozens upon dozens of quotable lines. Yet at the same time, it was just incomplete and loose enough that the actors were able to fill in their own memorable moments when needed. Bogart reportedly supplied the line, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and it was producer Hal Wallis who supposedly came up with, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” and had it dubbed in after shooting was complete.

“Are my eyes really brown?”

“Well, there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade.”

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

“I came to Casablanca for the waters.”

“You know, Rick, I have many a friend in Casablanca, but somehow, just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust.”

“I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.”

“Round up the usual suspects.”

“Such watch?”

These are just a few of the lines that I try very hard to work into my daily conversations and I hope that the comments section of this post is LOADED with all the quotes that I didn’t mention.

But back to Director Curtiz. What strikes me as most interesting is that this was one of seven film collaborations that he had with Bogart. Curtiz worked on a limited number of scenes for both Black Legion and Marked Woman, and directed Kid Galahad, Angels with Dirty Faces, Virginia City, Passage to Marseille, and We’re No Angels. Some of those other collaborations are good. A few I would even consider to be great. But in my mind, none come close to Casablanca’s perfection.

The Bogart Factor

After so many viewings, this was the very first time that I’ve ever really noticed how the entire span of Bogart’s career seems to be contained within nightclub owner Rick Blaine. Since this was the last film in my Bogart journey, it probably helps that I’ve now sat through all of his other work from the beginning, no matter how small a part it might have been.

Especially during the flashbacks of France, we see an energetic, ever-so-slightly goofy and naïve character much like the ones Bogart played in Up the River, Love Affair, and Men Are Such Fools. It’s just enough “aw shucks” shoulder shrugging that I was really reminded of how wide Bogart’s range could be when we transition back to the darkened bar where he’s drinking away his memories of Ilsa and Paris.

There in the bar, we have the much more tightly wound, much angrier, much more depressed man who shows up in many of Bogart’s gangster roles, but perhaps especially films like San Quentin, Dead End, or The Petrified Forest. Films where Bogart seems to spend most of his time reflecting on how poorly his life has turned out and how desperately he wishes to move past his resentment and remorse.

And yet, at the core of Rick Blaine is the confident, loyal, trustworthy, stand-up man who will always end up doing the right thing, even if he tries to convince you that he sticks his neck out for no one! This is the type of character that we see Bogart playing later in his career – the Sam Spade’s, Rick Leland’s, and the majority of brooding expatriates that stick their necks out for everybody that filled Bogart’s filmography for the next ten plus years.

A white tuxedo. A trench coat and fedora. Cigarettes. Booze. A shady past. A mysterious woman. A broken heart. A pistol. These are the very things that Bogart helped define as icons of Classic Hollywood cinema and they’re all on display here in Casablanca. Of all his films, this is the one that I come back to again and again when I need a full and complete Bogart fix. I’ve found many other films where his performances might be more nuanced – more well-rounded – but this is definitively and understandably the role that establishes him as Hollywood’s greatest leading man.

The Cast

Ingrid Bergman plays Ilsa Lund, Bogart’s ex and the current wife of the underground resistance leader Victor Laszlo. I can’t say enough good things about Bergman here, as this is her essential performance as far as I’m concerned. I know it doesn’t have as much depth as a few of her other high profile roles, but doggone it if I still don’t know whether or not she was really ready to leave Laszlo for Blaine at the end of the film. That nighttime scene in the bar just after Rick’s first flashback . . . drunk Bogart . . . forlorned Bergman . . . so good.

Dooley Wilson plays the piano playing singer at Rick’s Café Américain, Sam. What an incredible job Wilson does here playing the greatest wingman any guy could ever hope for. It was only after viewing the film for the umpteenth time that I realized Wilson’s fingers are in no-way-shape-or-form playing that piano believably, yet it took me forever to notice because I can’t take my eyes off of his face and my ears away from his voice. The guy was a natural, and in my dream of dreams I would go through Wilson’s entire filmography just to see if he did anything else that was as close to great as his performance in Casablanca. (Did I JUST read on imdb that he’s an uncredited piano player in Knock on Any Door?!? I will see if this is true TONIGHT!) *It is 100% true! Just after the 47 minute mark, there he is playing piano and accepting a beer!!! – 8/14/14 BFB*

Paul Henreid plays the battle weary and aged-beyond-his-years resistance leader, Victor Laszlo. According to Hollywood lore, Henreid almost didn’t take the role because he wasn’t the lead and he was afraid that it would set him back in his career. Thank goodness he accepted the part, because so much of the film’s gravitas depends heavily on us not hating Laszlo even though he’s standing in Rick Blaine’s way to Ilsa. To be fair to his initial instincts, Henreid isn’t remembered as one of Hollywood’s greatest leading men, but I don’t think that’s any fault of his supporting role in this film. He’s a great actor and very handsome, but just didn’t have that uber-unique look or acting style that let him break into the upper echelon of Hollywood’s greatest legends.

Claude Rains wonderfully plays Bogart’s friend and sometime foil, Captain Louis Renault. What a testament to Rains’ talent that he can commit completely despicable deeds one moment, and have us laughing with joy the next. Rains was an insanely talented supporting actor, and I can never get enough of his work. I can’t be the only one who wants to see just a few minutes of Renault and Blaine’s post-Casablanca adventure together! Can you imagine these two guys fighting, drinking, joking, cajoling, and swindling their way through German troops as they work for the French resistance?

Conrad Veidt plays Major Heinrich Strasser, the head Nazi in charge of catching Victor Laszlo and making sure that he spends the rest of his life in a concentration camp, or dead. It’s not a huge role for Veidt, as he’s mainly used as an imposing villain to move the plot along, but as with the rest of the roles in the film, this one’s cast very well.

Sidney Greenstreet plays Signor Ferrari, Rick Blaine’s main nightclub competitor in Casablanca. Until this viewing, I never stopped to consider how cordial Ferrari and Blaine are when they’re together. I think these guys might actually be pretty decent friends – maybe even playing a few games of after-hours chess over drinks when curfew kicks in. Just consider for a moment that Blaine entrusts his entire staff, including Sam, into Ferrari’s hands at the end of the film. That’s got to be a great show of faith in a man who’s supposedly trying to beat you at your own game.

Peter Lorre plays the black market dealer Ugarte. How fantastic is this guy that he could make such a memorable contribution to this film with such a small part? I’m seriously shocked again and again as I watch this film and realize that he’s only in a hand full of scenes, yet his role looms very large over the legend and mythos of Casablanca.

S. Z. Sakall plays Carl, the host/waiter in Rick’s café. A wonderful, lovable, solid, hilarious, and incredibly talented supporting actor. The scene where he watches Rick help the young couple win at roulette is enough to make you want to hug him.

There’s Bogie Film Blog favorite Dan Seymour playing Abdul the doorman! He very few lines here in this tiny role, but he is namechecked by Rick!

And there are TONS of other supporting actors who deserve a mention, but I gotta stop somewhere!

Classic Bogie Moment

How? HOW do I pick here?!? There is too, too, too much to choose from. Trench coat and fedora? White tux? A pic with Lorre? One with Greenstreet? I gotta go with this one, because Dooley Wilson just doesn’t get enough love on this blog:

Casablanca classic

The Bottom Line

I came home from high school one afternoon and my mom was just at the beginning of this film. I’d never sat through an entire classic film before, but decided to give it a try. I’ve never looked back. After 465 days and 115 posts of my own personal nonstop Bogart movie marathon, I’ve grown to appreciate not only Bogart in a much greater capacity, but Classic Hollywood, and film as a whole.

Long live the legacy of Humphrey Bogart.

Virginia City – 1940

Virginia City Poster

My Review

—Lots of Fun, If a Bit Overindulgent—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

Full Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

Union officer Kerry Bradford (Errol Flynn) escapes from a confederate prison with two friends (Alan Hale and Guinn Williams) only to later bump into his old Confederate captor, Vance Irby (Randolph Scott), in Virginia City. Irby’s trying to obtain millions of dollars in gold bars for the Confederates, and Bradford’s mission is to stop him. All the while, a young saloon dancer (Miriam Hopkins) comes between them.

What I Thought

Virginia City is a fun old school western with great performances by all the actors (save one . . .), and plenty of tension to keep you hooked until the end.

With a running time of slightly over two hours, Director Michael Curtiz probably could have shaved off about twenty minutes with a few less horse chases and saloon scenes, but that’s a small complaint to have in an otherwise good film.

I thought Curtiz did a great job of making both sides of the conflict over the gold seem sympathetic. Heck, I was even rooting at points for Bogart’s poorly cast (I’ll get to it later…) Hispanic outlaw, John Murrell. Errol Flynn looks to be at his physical best, and while I don’t think that he had as much chemistry with Miriam Hopkins as Randolph Scott did, the love triangle they set up is works well enough to keep you guessing until the end.

It’s a fan friendly film, so even the Confederates don’t really lose out in the end. Having an outside antagonist in Bogart helped make Flynn and Scott’s relationship of mutual respect grounded and believable as they eventually they got team up to do the right thing with the gold.

Very watchable, although not a must see for Bogart fans, Virginia City is a great taste of Errol Flynn’s charismatic power.

The Bogart Factor

Let’s cut to the chase . . . why in the world did they go with the Mexican accent?!? His name is John Murrell – couldn’t they have made him an ex-pat? Especially since they were going to stand him next to REAL MEXICANS for the entire film.

It’s not a big part, and at times you’ll find yourself laughing for the wrong reasons. Bogart would have made a much stronger showing if they’d let him play the role a little closer to the bad guy he portrayed in The Oklahoma Kid.

Not to say that there’s nothing of value here. Bogart’s first scene where he attempts to rob the stagecoach with Frank McHugh, Errol Flynn, and Miriam Hopkins aboard is a fun way to introduce his character. He also has a decent scene (if you can ignore the accent) with Randolph Scott as they strike a mutually beneficial deal while Bogart gets a bullet wound treated.

It’s just the wrong, wrong, wrong movie for Bogart to be in. The part’s small. The accent was a terrible choice. And putting him next to Flynn and Scott accentuated his slight stature in a way that shocked me despite having seen almost all of his films by now! Not his greatest showcase.

Virginia City was shot concurrently with It All Came True, and that might explain a little bit about why Bogart’s part is so small. . .

The Cast

Errol Flynn plays Union soldier Kerry Bradford. Flynn was born and bred to be an action hero, and he commands every frame of any scene that he’s in. Is it his best role? Probably not, but he portrays a much more three-dimensional cowboy than most Westerns of this era were able to pull off. He could ride, he could shoot, and he could get the women! Is there anything that Flynn couldn’t do?

Randolph Scott plays Flynn’s Confederate nemesis, Vance Irby. Scott and Flynn worked really well together in this film as every conversation between them seemed charged with tension. I liked Scott a lot here, and as I’m unfamiliar with most of his filmography, I’ll need to check him out a bit further.

Miriam Hopkins plays the Confederate spy Julia Hayne. Falling in love with both Scott and Flynn, I thought Hopkins did a great job in the role despite getting a bit razzed by critics at the time. She does a wonderful job of portraying a woman who’s torn between fulfilling her duty and following her passion.

Alan Hale and Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams play Flynn’s sidekicks, Moose and Marblehead respectively. I loved these two guys in this film, and they create so much of the comic relief that it’d be an entirely different movie without them. It’s a true showcase of how to use supporting actors to elevate the quality of a film.

Frank McHugh, a Bogie Film Blog favorite, shows up as Mr. Upjohn, a very nervous man who gets robbed on the stagecoach with Flynn and Hopkins. Any moment that you can get with McHugh on screen always delivers, and this is no exception!

Classic Bogie Moment

Well, with another small part playing a two-dimensional bad guy, at least that means we get a good death scene, right?

Virg City Bogart Death

The Bottom Line

This one is at the bottom of the Bogart bucket, but it’s a must see for Classic Western and Errol Flynn fans!

Angels With Dirty Faces – 1938

Angels with dirty faces

My Review

—A Must See Cagney Film—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

Full Bogie out of 5 bogies!

Director: Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

Two childhood friends (James Cagney and Pat O’Brien) grow up and go down very different paths after a run-in with the police. One becomes a gangster, and the other a priest.

What I Thought

This film was one of the biggest gaps in my Bogart / Classic Film knowledge. I’ve read a lot about it, had it recommended numerous times, and have even come close to actually viewing it on occasion, but this was the first that time I’ve seen it in its entirety.

Did it live up to the hype? For the first hour – no. Not that I thought it was bad, because it’s actually very good. Cagney is amazing, and my appreciation for him continues to grow. It’s the first Pat O’Brien film I’ve seen so far where I thought that he really got to play a 3-dimensional character, and now I’m starting to understand what all the fuss is about. Plus, I got a little dose of Ann Sheridan, which is always a good thing!

I just didn’t think it was as good as everyone had told me. Up until the last fifteen minutes of the film I was ready to rank this one just below The Roaring Twenties. The script is good, but not great. Director Michael Curtiz does a fine job, but it’s a far cry from Casablanca. And then there’s the fact that Bogart is hardly in the film despite high billing and lots of presence in the advertising.

Then I got to the ending . . . wow.

Without giving anything away (in case you’re also behind on seeing this film), Cagney’s final scene is so powerful that I’m still reeling from it two days after watching the film. The movie certainly didn’t have to end that way. It could have gone with a more audience-friendly finish. Yet Curtiz, Cagney, and O’Brien take what was a good film and elevate it to great with just the last fifteen minutes.

I’ll save my praise for Cagney until later in this post, but if you aren’t haunted by his final moments in this film (where we see nothing but Cagney’s hands!), then you might want to double check whether or not you have a soul. Supposedly Cagney played his final scene with enough ambiguity that the audience wouldn’t know exactly why he was saying what he was saying. Was it honest? Was it a show for his friend and for the press? The choice to play it that way was genius, and makes it my favorite moment of any film of Cagney’s I’ve seen.

The Bogart Factor

If you’re here for a Bogart fix, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. The man is barely in it, and when he is it’s a horribly small and two-dimensional lawyer turned gangster character.

Bogart plays James Frazier, a lawyer who goes into business for himself as a racketeer after he swipes a hundred thousand dollars off of Cagney after Cagney is sentenced to a long prison stint. Most of the role is spent sniveling into a phone, or sniveling to his partner in crime (George Bancroft), or just plain sniveling for his life from Cagney.

Bogart’s trying, but there’s literally nothing here to work with. Why have two crooks in Bogart and Bancroft? Why not just consolidate them into one role and give it a little more meat? It’s probably the biggest shortcoming of the script that we don’t get a better antagonist to work against Cagney’s attempt at creating a new criminal empire.

The Cast

James Cagney plays Rocky Sullivan, the small time hood who grows up to be a big time criminal. Cagney’s onscreen charisma is off the charts in every starring role that I’ve seen, and perhaps there needs to be a Cagney Film Blog somewhere down the road. He more than capably pulls off an incredible amount of likability from the audience even while we watch him do some pretty lowdown things to his friends and the kids he begins to mentor. Perhaps the gift that I appreciate the most is the fact that you can always see Cagney’s mind racing, as if he’s thinking one or two steps ahead of the current plan, racing his mind to cover all the bases. This is great, great, Cagney. And like I mentioned earlier, his delivery of his final lines is so emotionally painful, it’s a rare thing for a movie from this era to disturb me so deeply.

Pat O’Brien plays Father Jerry Connolly, Cagney’s childhood friend and former fellow hoodlum. After Cagney’s arrested and begins a life of crime, O’Brien’s Father Jerry finds the straight and narrow and dedicates his life to helping juvenile delinquents get a shot at a better life. After several films in which I really wasn’t a fan of O’Brien (China Clipper, San Quentin), I have to say that I was really impressed here. His character had a lot more nuance and subtext than the last two films, and O’Brien made me believe he was a man with a darker past. I admit that I was caught completely off guard when he slugged the patron at the bar for giving him a hard time. It was a realistic moment of fury that helped show the fine balance O’Brien was taking to toe the line between ex-criminal and clergyman.

Ann Sheridan plays Laury Ferguson, and GOOD GRIEF is she underused in this film. After falling in love with her in It All Came True, I was pretty anxious to see her in another leading lady role – but this ain’t it! There’s a few moments of promise at the beginning when she starts a relationship with Cagney, but after that, Sheridan is relegated to occasionally popping up to fret over the men of the film and try not to look out of place even though she has little to do. I’m going to have to keep searching for another great Sheridan role I guess . . .

George Bancroft plays Bogart’s partner in crime, Mac Keefer. There seems to be a little more depth here than what Bogart got to play with, but not much. I liked Bancroft and his team of thugs, but I never really bought that any of them were a real threat to Cagney.

The “Dead End” Kids basically play themselves. They are one of the strongest points of the film, and they all get a little more time to shine than they did in Crime School, as their screen time is divided up a little more evenly and Billy Halop doesn’t take all the good lines. What’s most entertaining to me is that this is apparently the film where Bogart finally got fed up with their bad behavior after they stole some of his pants and lobbed fire crackers at him. (Cagney supposedly smacked Leo Gorcy for adlibbing!) The boys are very charismatic, and add quite a few good moments of levity to the film.

Classic Bogie Moment

Not much to work with here! So I’ll just go with a pic that illustrates how no one could smoke like Bogie could smoke –

Angels classic

The Bottom Line

Even though Bogart gets shortchanged, you need to see this one just for Cagney’s performance!

Passage to Marseille – 1944

Passage

My Review

—Very Good—

Your Bogie Fix:

4.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Michael Curtiz

The Lowdown

Come slip down the rabbit hole as we have a movie that exists almost entirely in a flashback – but not just a flashback – as it’s a flashback within a flashback, which I think even delves into another flashback!  Worry not, though, as director Michael Curtiz is well skilled in the art of filmmaking, and guides us easily through the multilayered story.

Claude Rains is Captain Freycinet, commander of an Allied air base that’s about to launch a bombing raid out of England.  John Loder is a reporter named Manning who sits down with the Captain and hears an amazing tale of five Devil’s Island escapees who are rescued from their ocean-adrift canoe by a steam tramp that’s headed to Marseilles, France during World War II.

The catch?

The steam tramp has a delegation of English and French officers onboard (including Capt. Freycinet), and mid trip, word breaks that the French have submitted to German occupation.  The escaped prisoners are all patriotic Frenchmen trying to make it home to fight, and the English officers onboard would kindly appreciate it if the ship would change course for England.

Even before France’s occupation is announced, though, we know that there’s trouble afoot because French officer Major Duval, is on board, played by the wonderfully snarky Sydney Greenstreet.  Duval immediately pegs the prisoners as escaped convicts from France, and when it’s discovered that the Germans are now in charge of his home country, the Major can’t get there quickly enough to show his support to the new occupiers and turn over the prisoners to the proper authorities.

What ensues is a climactic battle between the steamer and a German bomber as Freycinet and the prisoners try to keep the ship in one piece long enough to make it back to safe waters.

Bogart plays one of the five prisoners, a French reporter named Jean Matrac, who ended up on Devil’s Island after being framed for murder.  Matrac saw the corruption of the French government growing long before the rest of the world did and is shipped off to the prison after printing a series of tell-all articles in his paper.  His goal after the escape?  Make it home to his wife, Paula, played by Michèle Morgan, who worked side by side with him in the newspaper office until it was shut down.  Matrac also has a son he’s never met, who we meet before the flashback, anxiously waiting for a letter from his father to be dropped from a bomber after a raid.

Unlike the other four convicts who escaped Devil’s Island with him, Matrac is unsure of his allegiance to his former country.  Consumed with bitterness and revenge, we’re not sure where his allegiances lie until he’s forced to make a choice and fight.

Joining Bogart as another one of the convicts is Peter Lorre as Marius, in what I found to be one of his most likable roles (despite the fact that he’s a convicted felon!).  Perhaps the biggest highlight of the movie is getting to see Bogart and Lorre team up against a German bomber while wielding two on-deck machine guns.  Watching them offer friendly waves back and forth across deck as they take shots, and avoid shots, was great fun.  Bogie and Lorre – action heroes!  Believe it or not.

marius 2Peter Lorre waving to Bogart across the deck while battling the German bomber.

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The entire movie is said to be a slightly missed attempt at recreating the magic that was Casablanca, as so many of the cast and crew return from that movie including director, writer, composer, producer, and at least five other actors.  Perhaps I’m far enough removed from the era, but I thought that my love for Casablanca only enhanced my enjoyment of this film.  The story is much more action oriented, and it comes off as more of a prison escape movie rather than a war romance.

I’ve only done limited research, but I wonder how much the solitary confinement scenes from Passage influenced the ones in Papillon.  It would make a fun double feature!

The Great

Michael Curtiz directed a lot films in his long and prolific career, and while not all of them were gems, his classics outweigh his bombs.  Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood, Angels with Dirty Faces, White Christmas, We’re No Angels, etc.  Curtiz had the skills to make amazing films.  Just the way the multiple flashbacks are handled without confusion shows a director with a fine hand at storytelling without losing an audience.

Bogart plays dark and brooding like no other.  If you like his action oriented roles, this will satisfy you greatly.  The interrogation scene with Freycinet and the prisoners is especially well acted by Bogart as he directs the other men with nothing more than subtle head nods.  The man knew how to do a lot with just a little.

Bogart, Rains, Lorre, and Greenstreet together?  Fantastic.  While none of them have the depth of character that they had in Casablanca, this was a fun film to assemble them for again.  Rains especially nails his role during a funeral in the final moments of the movie.

The Good

Even catching sight of the wires on one of the bomber miniatures doesn’t bother me.  I love the special effects from the classic years of Hollywood.  Water tanks and boats built on set.  Miniature bombers.  Matte back drops.  I’ll take this stuff over CGI any day.

While Michèle Morgan doesn’t get quite as juicy of a role as Ingrid Bergman did, she still plays great against Bogart.

Classic Bogie Moment 

No words.  Just a pic this time.  C’mon, we know Bogie’s good with a gun, but how classic is this?

passage classic

The Bottom Line

I loved this movie.  It’s not the best-of-the-best from Bogart’s collection, but it’s in the top half for sure.  I get such a charge out of seeing Bogart and Lorre together, especially when they’re on the same side.  That machine gun scene on the boat is worth the price of admission in itself.  Peter Lorre is the man!

Fun Fact

According to IMDB, this is the movie where Bogart met Bacall!  She wasn’t in the movie, but was on set to test her chemistry against Bogart’s for a little movie called To Have and Have Not.