The Private Detectives

For my money, there was one character type that Bogart was born to play. Gangster? Convict? Escaped Convict? Ex-pat loner struggling against the Axis powers? Naw. For me, no one could play a Private Detective wrapped up inside a Film Noir nearly as well as Bogie. Guns, dangerous women, back alley crooks, illicit affairs, hand rolled cigarettes – Bogart could juggle them all with laid back ease.

For a great breakdown of the history behind the “whys” and “hows” of Bogart’s historical place within Classic Hollywood as a Film Noir detective, you should definitely check out Sheri Chinen Biesen’s book Blackout. Not only is it a wonderful primer on Film Noir, but it goes into great detail about Biesen’s belief that Bogart’s age, wartime rationing, and a lack of leading men in Hollywood led to Hollywood’s greatest icon getting the chance to play characters like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.

It’s kind of crazy to consider how few private eye films Bogart made considering how much he’s associated with the genre. Only two officially – but I throw in three more “Honorary Mentions” because I think you can get a good Bogie detective fix from them if you really need to! Let me know if you disagree.

The Private Detectives

The Maltese Falcon – 1941

This is the stuff that Film Noir dreams are made of.

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. Guess who’s left to reap the benefits? Mr. Bogart.

Playing the cynical and embittered Private Detective, Sam Spade. A beautiful femme fatale hires him for a case. His partner gets killed. Shady characters and gun play abound. And it all orbits around a priceless statue that has the ability to make people lose their scruples about going down some dark paths.

Bogart’s interactions with Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, and Elisha Cook Jr. show a man who seems to be 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.

Add in Director Huston, and I cannot see how this film could have been anything less than a classic.

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

The Big Sleep – 1946

I’m ready to declare this the coolest Bogart role in his filmography.  Private Eye Philip Marlowe is king.

In Philip Marlowe we get an über playful Bogart as he smiles, quips, flirts, and drinks his way out of every situation. The sunglassed bookstore nerd . . . the prank phone call to the police where he and Bacall switch roles so fast that they end up playing their own parents . . . the way Bogart uses his charm more powerfully than his gun against the bad guys . . .  This was a role that Bogart was born to play. He carries this film and makes it look easy. How can you keep from rooting for a guy who wants the truth above everything else, including his own life?

This film, and especially Bogart’s performance, is remarkable. The Big Sleep is my favorite Film Noir of all time. (And no, it doesn’t matter to me that all of the plot isn’t laid bare by the end – real life is messy and mysterious, so why can’t this film be as well?)

You can read my original write up on the film here. You can also read my write up on the pre-release edit of the film from the year before here.

Honorary Mentions

All Through the Night – 1942

Bogart plays Gloves Donahue, a New York city racketeer that has to track down the man/men who murdered his favorite cheesecake baker. Yes, he’s a gangster. Yes, the bad guys are Nazis. But there’s quite a bit of private eye-like atmosphere in this comedic gangster spoof. Clues are followed. Bogie goes undercover. Peter Lorre is skulking around. Bogart has to work with, and around, the police. The femme fatale is beautiful and potentially dangerous. It’s in my top three favorite Bogart films, so check it out!

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

Dead Reckoning – 1947

Bogart might be playing paratrooper Captain ‘Rip’ Murdock, but this film is all noir as Bogart falls away from the military man persona and quickly takes on the air of a hardened detective. Bogart narrates the viewer through the story, walking us along as Murdock pieces together a military buddy’s disappearance.

Of note is one particular scene that plays opposite of our typical expectations for Bogart as he sits and listens to a nightclub singer. This might be the first film I’ve ever seen where we get the Bogie drinks while the femme fatale sings’ scene, and Bogart shows no interest whatsoever in the woman. In fact, he spends most of the song looking down at his drink, ignoring Lizabeth Scott’s suggestive glances. Out of the many movies where Bogart’s played through this scenario, has there ever been another one where he shows such little interest?

There are so many great long shots of Bogart sitting, thinking, lying in bed, and drinking, that if nothing else, I feel like Director John Cromwell should be thanked for his work towards recording Bogart’s great visage for posterity!  If the entire movie had been the above shot for two hours, I would probably have still enjoyed it!

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

The Enforcer – 1951

Bogart plays Assistant District Attorney Martin Ferguson. Running on little sleep and next to no time,Ferguson and his right hand man, Captain Frank Nelson (Roy Roberts), are suddenly faced with a ticking clock. Ferguson has to be in court within eight hours, and his main piece of evidence against the ringleader of a hit man crew is no longer breathing. But wasn’t there something he missed? Some small piece of evidence that’s lurking in the dark recesses of his mind? Something that he didn’t think he’d need to remember?

Even though he’s on the government payroll, Bogart certainly goes on a Film Noir journey that feels every bit as lowdown and seedy as the first two films mentioned in this post. I think this one’s a real hidden gem that a lot of people haven’t seen, and it’s well worth a watch!

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

*This post is another write up in the Character Reference series on The Bogie Film Blog where we break down some of Bogart’s most well known genres and character types. You can read the rest of the entries here.*

 

 

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The Attorneys

Marked Woman

*Character Reference is an ongoing segment of The Bogie Film Blog where we dissect the different recurring genres and characters from Bogart’s filmography. You can find the rest of the entries here.*

The Lowdown

Bogart played every angle on both sides of the law during his career. Petty criminal. Gang Boss. Convict. Corrections officer. Private Eye.

And yes, even a lawyer a few times.

An actor who could play good or evil with equal ease, the role of an attorney fits Bogart just like any other. The suits are a little less flashy, the dames don’t fall for him as hard, and nobody gets plugged, but doggone it, Bogart knew how to play a crusader who fought for justice at any cost.

While none of Bogart’s attorney films probably rank in your “Top 10 Bogie Movies of All Time,” they are all three worth a watch. I would even consider one of them a rarely talked about gem.

The Attorneys

Marked Woman – 1937

marked

Bogart plays Assistant District Attorney David Graham, the man trying to capture and convict a powerful mob boss who’s running a ring of high-priced “hostesses” at nightclubs, among other nefarious illegalities. Bette Davis is one of the “hostesses” in question, trying to stay out of trouble from both Bogart and the mobster as she makes her way through life.

Bogart is still pretty young, even letting his previously over-used gangster accent slip out a bit when he tells his nemesis, “I’m going to indict you for moider!” Overall though, he gives a strong performance as the lawyer who’s pulled himself up by his bootstraps from his own dark past to make sure that justice is served.

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. While it’s fun to note that the roles of criminal and do-gooder have now switched between Bogart and Davis since Petrified Forest, I didn’t feel that the same tension and chemistry between the actors was there.

There’s a great moment when Davis enters Bogart’s office in a desperate moment of need that rings with a bit of Maltese Falcon-ness with Bogart coolly sitting behind his desk as the lady pleads for help.

You can read my original post on the film here.

Knock on Any Door – 1949

Knock On Any Door Poster

Bogart’s wonderful here as Defense Attorney Andrew Morton, the man set to defend a young hoodlum (John Derek) that’s accused of killing a cop.

He has some great scenes as he attempts to mentor his young client, and it’s a lot of fun to see him battling it out in the courtroom with the District Attorney (George Macready) in a battle of wits as they attempt to sway the jury over the young defendant’s life. Bogart’s personality and presence are so strong, he could probably convince a jury that the sun only rises at night if he worked hard enough.

Quiet, reflective, occasionally torn and brooding, Bogart plays this one close to the chest and it works. I loved the fact that he didn’t initially want to take the case, but was sort of guilted into it by his girlfriend (Candy Toxton). This worked in the film’s favor as at several points, Bogart’s reluctance is conveyed through the doubt he carries about his client.

This one’s definitely worth a look. You can read my original post on the film here.

The Enforcer – 1951

Enforcer

My personal favorite attorney role from his filmography, Bogart is Assistant District Attorney Martin Ferguson. Ferguson is a man in desperate need of sleep when the movie opens, and even more desperate need when it wraps up. The key witness in the biggest trial of his life just died and he has to spend all night going over the evidence to find a new lead on a gangster (Everett Sloane) that’s about to walk free.

Ferguson and his right hand man, Captain Frank Nelson (Roy Roberts), reopen the case from the beginning, and we the viewers get to flashback to the first moments that the gangster’s men slip up, and the crime syndicate flashes onto ADA Ferguson’s radar.

Imagine an extra-long episode of Law and Order, except the cast is made up of classic Hollywood actors. It’s a murder mystery who-done-it in which we get to watch Bogart track down one lead after another, only to find out that every new witness he needs has just turned up dead.

There’s also a nifty twist at the end, that I’ll admit, I should have seen coming. But twist endings weren’t as common in classic Hollywood, so I wasn’t expecting it! It’s not my fault, see! The clues were there but I wasn’t paying close enough attention! I’ll wager that even if you do see it coming, it’ll still be pretty satisfying – I’ll say no more just in case you haven’t seen it yet!

This one’s a must see, and an underrated gem in my opinion. You can read my original post on the film here.

*Character Reference is an ongoing segment of The Bogie Film Blog where we dissect the different recurring genres and characters from Bogart’s filmography. You can find the rest of the entries here.*

The Enforcer – 1951

Enforcer

My Review

—A Decent Thriller—

Your Bogie Fix:

3.5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Although Bretaigne Windust is credited, Raoul Walsh was brought in after only a few days of filming when Windust was taken to the hospital, seriously ill.  Windust would not return in time to finish the picture.

The Lowdown

Well, I think I’m finally ready to start writing a book entitled Where Have All the Character Actors Gone?  While the old school studio system with its contract players might not work in today’s world, it sure did produce a heck of a lot of solid men and women who could play side roles so well that an entire movie could be elevated.

Bogart is Assistant District Attorney Martin Ferguson, a man in desperate need of sleep when the movie opens, and even more desperate need when it wraps up.  (What are the odds that I’d randomly pull two movies in a row where Bogart’s a desperate District Attorney?  How many can there be?)

ADA Ferguson is one night away from going to trial with Albert Mendoza (Everett Sloane), a man that he believes to be the mastermind behind a criminal ring of hitmen, and the police have just brought in the one and only witness that can make the case stick.

Ted De Corsia plays Joseph Rico, Mendoza’s second in command, and he’s the last chance that ADA Ferguson has left to put Mendoza in prison.  Rico has other ideas though, as he knows that there is nowhere he can run to escape Mendoza’s grasp.  Rather than rat out his boss and pay the consequences, Rico makes a break from a third story window, and then makes a lot of breaks as he hits the ground after losing his balance on a ledge.

Ferguson and his right hand man, Captain Frank Nelson (Roy Roberts), are suddenly faced with a ticking clock.  Ferguson has to be in court within eight hours, and his main piece of evidence against Mendoza is no longer breathing.  But wasn’t there something he missed?  Some small piece of evidence that’s lurking in the dark recesses of his mind?  Something that he didn’t think he’d need to remember?

Ferguson and Nelson reopen the case from the beginning, and we the viewers get to flashback to the first moments that Mendoza’s men slip up, and the crime syndicate flashes onto ADA Ferguson’s radar.

Imagine an extra-long episode of Law and Order, except the cast is made up of classic Hollywood actors.  It’s a murder mystery who-done-it in which we get to watch Bogart track down one lead after another, only to find out that every new witness he needs has just turned up dead.

There’s also a nifty twist at the end that I’ll admit, I should have seen coming.  But twist endings weren’t as common in classic Hollywood, so I wasn’t expecting it!  It’s not my fault, see!  The clues were there but I wasn’t paying close enough attention!  I’ll wager that even if you do see it coming, it’ll still be pretty satisfying – I’ll say no more just in case you haven’t seen it yet!

Oh!  And Zero Mostel plays “Big Babe” Lazick, one of the hit men that Bogart has to flip for the prosecution!  So we get some great work between the two actors as Ferguson leans his full force onto Lazick’s hefty shoulders, using every bit of threat and intimidation that he can muster into getting the poor dope to turn over Mendoza – even coldheartedly using Lazick’s wife and child.

And just to show you how cliché it’s become in the modern day to have hitmen as a part of our cultural entertainment, there’s a number of scenes in the movie that actually take the time to explain what the words “contract” and “hit” mean.  Some of that lingo is so commonplace now that I wouldn’t be surprised if my six year old knew it.  Can you even imagine being unaware of how a hitman works in this day and age?

The Great

This cast is so much fun.  Zero Mostel and Ted de Corsia are standouts for sure, but even the smallest parts – King Donovan as Sgt. Whitlow – are so well cast that every actor on screen is fighting for your attention with even the smallest line.  Jack Lambert as the crazy killer, “Philadelphia” Tom Zaca, and Tito Vuolo as Tony Vetto, help round out the killing crew – both scene stealers in their own right.

Everett Sloane’s portrayal of the hit man gang’s ringleader Albert Mendoza is expertly down played until the final act of the film, and when he finally appears in a scene with de Corsia, it’s chilling and wonderful.

Bogart gets a “great” mention as well.  A perfect double feature would be to pair this film with Marked Woman.  In Marked Woman, Bogart’s the young, idealistic ADA who’s fighting for justice through a web of rules and regulations.  In The Enforcer, we see a Bogart who’s aged and weary, just as ready to lob a right hook at a suspect as he is an interrogation question.  Ferguson is a weary soul, and Bogart gives the character his just due.

The Good

While there’s nothing groundbreaking with this script by Martin Rackin, it is a very solid mystery / thriller.  Once the flashback starts, the viewer is pulled through multiple twists and turns along the case with Bogart until the big reveal at the end.  There’s no romance thrown in to pander to the date crowd, and Bogart gets to play Ferguson as a flawed and frustrated man who isn’t afraid to bend the rules a bit to get the job done.   A remake of this today, if done well, would be a solid summer popcorn flick.

Classic Bogie Moment

The cops lead Rico into the station to meet ADA Ferguson.  The office door opens and inside the darkened room is Bogart, sitting behind his desk, hunched over and smoking a cigarette.  He doesn’t have to say a word for us to know his state of mind.  He’s tired and edgy.  Did he sleep last night?  Probably not.  Will he sleep this night?  More than likely he won’t, and he knows it.

Someone should put together a montage of all the “Bogie smoking behind a desk” moments from cinema history.

The Bottom Line:

This is an very satisfying police procedural.  Not as dark and noir-ish as Bogart’s private detective roles, but a fun look at a more by-the-book type of lawman from Bogart.  (Even though he’s not all that by-the-book at times!)  Very rewatchable, especially the second time when you get to reexamine the scenes that hint towards the twist.

Fun Fact:

Just for fun, sometimes I like to go through the full cast and crew to see what the overlap between Bogart movies might be.  So go to IMDB’s page and then scroll down through the cast until you get to a guy by the name of David McMahon, who happens to play a police officer in this movie, although he was “uncredited.”  Now click through to his filmography and see a long list of “uncredited” roles that McMahon played throughout his career.  Bartenders, cops, deliveyrmen, Taxi Drivers – if there was a small role or background character to be played, this guy played it – and more than likely he was “uncredited” at the time.

This was an era in Hollywood when you could be a contracted working actor with a career made up of dozens and dozens of movies and TV shows, and yet you might still be completely unrecognizable to the public at large.  It wasn’t until the end of McMahon’s career, when began to appear as a regular on a few TV series, that he might have finally gained some notoriety.

How many times do you think this guy heard, “Hey!  Don’t I know you from somewhere?” only to run through his long list of bit parts until the befuddled fan finally came up with, “The Virginian!  Yeah!  Yeah!  That’s right!  You’re the conductor on The Virginian!”

David McMahon!  We salute you!  It was actors like you who brought years of experience to small roles in order to elevate a movie’s credibility!