Robert Morley

Morley Beat the Devil 2

Birth Name: Robert Adolph Wilton Morley

Birthdate: May 26, 1908

Date of Death: June 23, 1992

Number of Films Robert Morley Made with Humphrey Bogart: 2

The Lowdown

Someone unfamiliar with Morley’s work could be easily misled by reading his many encapsulated bios online. The word pompous shows up so often that one might think critics and biographers were contractually obligated to use it.

Yes, Morley was unabashedly British in some of the most stereotypical ways. From the way he seemed to revel in dancing his tongue around inside of his mouth with the most airy of English diction – to the way that he would slightly cock his head backwards and to the side, nose slightly raised, in many of his performances (and even publicity shots) as if to present himself as better than – Morley was keenly gifted at playing the entitled Englishman who was well aware of how lucky you were to be in his presence.

The great misdeed in only using the word pompous when it comes to describing Morley’s roles occurs when writers fail to include the words incredibly likable along with it. Morley’s deftness at incorporating mischievousness into his pomposity made him the classic king, preacher, ringleader, sidekick, and cameo actor that audiences loved to be driven crazy by.

Only appearing in two films with Bogart, Robert Morley makes an enormous contribution in both. Playing polar opposite roles, it’s hard to imagine that his characters from The African Queen and Beat the Devil wouldn’t actually have quite an interesting and lively conversation together – stirring one another up with their shared spark for personal obsessions that might teeter precariously close to mania.

Check out all the great roles Morley played here on IMDB, but if you want my opinion, start with the two films listed below.

The Filmography

The African Queen – 1951

Morley african queen

Morley plays Katherine Hepburn’s missionary brother, Rev. Samuel Sayer, the recipient of Bogart’s rare and much-welcomed riverboat deliveries deep in the heart of Africa. Have you ever wondered how so many people in this world can put up with, and even be swayed by, over-the-top and stuffy conservative evangelicals? Morley’s work here is a testament to his likability despite his exasperating pretentiousness, and doggone it, I’d go listen to that guy preach. While he 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 ground the storyline in a deep foundation of believable emotion and motivation for the two lead characters. It’s easy to imagine Morley and Hepburn as real life siblings, and watching them chatter about and take care of one another at the beginning is a major highlight of the film. You can read my original write up on The African Queen here.

Beat the Devil – 1953

Morley Beat the Devil

The only complaint that you’ll read about Morley’s performance in this film is that it’s hard not to imagine Sydney Greenstreet in the same role. Morley spends 90 minutes cavorting and scheming alongside of Peter Lorre as Mr. Peterson, in a very Greenstreet-ish role. Morley joins Lorre, Bogart, Ivor Barnard, and Marco Tulli as one of Hollywood’s best cast group of criminal ne’er-do-wells who are desperately trying to make it to Africa so that they can pull off a uranium swindle. It’s a complete about-face from his role as the missionary preacher in The African Queen, and I think that Morley is able to add a much greater sense of deviousness to the character than Greenstreet might have been able to pull off. Mr. Peterson is a character that needs someone a little less likable than Greenstreet – someone who could edge a bit closer to “annoying” and “pompous” than Greenstreet might have been capable of at this point in his career due to the sheer joy he could inspire in audiences with every appearance alongside of Lorre. There’s an especially fun scene in Beat the Devil where Jennifer Jones tells Morley that she and her husband are headed to East Africa on a spiritual journey in an attempt to exorcise their lifetime of sins. Whether it was in the original story, or thrown in as a nod to Morley’s character from The African Queen, it plays out very funny as we watch his face go aghast at the thought that Jones is using religion to con him. You can read my original write-up on the film here

* ‘The Usual Suspects’ is an ongoing feature on the blog where we highlight some of Bogart’s most talented costars and directors who worked with Bogart on at least two or more films. You can the rest of the entries here. *

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:


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:


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!