Joan Leslie

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Birth Name: Joan Agnes Theresa Sadie Brodel

Date of Birth: January 26, 1925

Date of Death: October 12, 2015

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

The Lowdown

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

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

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

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

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

The Filmography

High Sierra – 1941

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

The Wagons Roll at Night – 1941

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

Thank Your Lucky Stars – 1943

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

I Am an American – 1944

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

Two Guys from Milwaukee – 1946

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

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

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Two Guys from Milwaukee – 1946

Two Guys from Milwaukee poster

My Review

—Amiable Fun—

Your Honorary Bogie Cameo Fix:

Bogie Cameo

Director: David Butler

The Lowdown

A Balkan prince (Dennis Morgan) befriends a New York City cabbie (Jack Carson) and falls for a manicurist (Joan Leslie) as he tries to disappear into the American culture for a week and meet the Hollywood legend Lauren Bacall.

What I Thought

It took me awhile to track this one down, and I’d all but given up on this Bogart cameo until TCM recently reran it. Charming, and somewhat predictable, it’s still a fun ride as we watch Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson zip around New York City, seeing the sights and the nightlife, as they both try to woo Joan Leslie into a lifelong romance.

Warner Brothers took huge advantage of its concurrent release of The Big Sleep to work in a side angle where the Balkan prince is desperate to meet the legendary Lauren Bacall. We’re left to assume that he must have been very taken by To Have and Have Not and Confidential Agent as he asks practically every American he meets if they know the beautiful leading lady.

It’s the Morgan/Carson chemistry that really sells this picture, though. A 40’s film comedy duo, Morgan and Carson have a great chemistry together, and I’m excited to track down another Bogart cameo film they both appeared in – Always Together. Morgan’s the handsome hunk. Carson’s the lovable lummox. Both men do well supporting one another and seem to sincerely enjoy each other’s company. Director David Butler used the same light-handed rom-com charm in another Bogart cameo film, Thank Your Lucky Stars, in which Morgan and Carson also appear as themselves.

Are there a few plot holes that I would have liked filled in? Sure. For instance, did I miss something, or does it seem odd that Dennis Morgan’s Prince Henry doesn’t have any sort of accent? Why would a man so obsessed with Lauren Bacall choose to show up ½ way through one of her movies? Why does one popular speech make Jack Carson’s cabbie not only famous (understandable) but seemingly rich and powerful? (I understand the status switch that Morgan and Carson make at the end of the film for plot reasons, but it’s a bit of a stretch even for a light romantic comedy.)

Was The Big Sleep really promoted as a Lauren Bacall vehicle in some posters? (And can I get one of these posters?)

Big Sleep Poster The Bogart Factor

(SPOILER ALERT)

Bogart plays himself for one line as Prince Henry finally has a chance meeting with Lauren Bacall on a plane to Milwaukee. Again, it’s tiny, but nobody knew how to play up their showbiz image as well as Bogart. I’ll save all 100% of the cameo for the ‘Classic Bogie Moment’ below.

The Cast

Dennis Morgan does much better in this film as a love-struck Balkan prince than he did as the surgeon in The Return of Doctor X. Both characters are essentially the same – handsome and charming fish-out-of-water who are trying to keep up with a goofy sidekick, but Prince Henry has a few more subtleties built into his character as the royal son who’s desperate to embrace all that democracy, the American culture, and the American women have to offer. This one certainly makes me want to see the rest of the Morgan/Carson team-ups.

Jack Carson plays cab driver Buzz Williams, and other than the fact that he seems a little too eager to let his girlfriend hang out with a handsome prince, he seems like just the kind of guy who you’d want to have a beer with. This was the third Carson/Bogart film that I’ve watched for the blog and it was probably my favorite role for Carson.

Joan Leslie plays the manicurist love interest to both men, Connie Read, and she’s very good in the role. Yes, she does seem a little shallow to leave Buzz behind for a prince just because he’s a prince, and yes, I’m still not quite sure what the whole psychotherapy dream at the end had to do with making her choice between the two men – but again – plot coherency shouldn’t be at the top of your priorities for enjoying this film.

Bogie Film Blog favorite S. Z. Sakall plays Prince Henry’s right hand man, Count Oswald. As always, Sakall’s presence is another testament to how well Classic Hollywood’s studio system worked when it came to producing strong supporting character actors. Sakall’s scene with little Peggy as she demands the true dirt behind fairytale princesses is especially fun. I’m glad that I’ll now get to add him to ‘The Usual Suspects’ portion of the blog after this one!

Patti Brady plays Peggy, Jack Carson’s precocious niece who’s also in love with Prince Henry. Yes, it’s essentially the same role as the one she would play the same year in Never Say Goodbye, but in a much more scaled back version, but she’s still shines brightly.

And, of course, there’s Lauren Bacall as herself in a tiny cameo!

Classic Bogie Moment

Prince Henry sees the object of his desires alone on a plane with an empty seat next to her. Just as he’s making his move, there’s a tap on his shoulder and we see this:

TGFM Cameo“Pardon me, you’re in my seat. Lift it, bub!”

 

The Bottom Line

A miniscule, but very rewarding cameo! Come for the Bogart, stay for the Morgan/Carson chemistry!

Lauren Bacall

Bogie and Bacall Big Sleep

Birth Name: Betty Joan Perske

Date of Birth: September 16, 1924

Date of Death: August 12, 2014

Number of films that Lauren Bacall made with Humphrey Bogart:  6

The Actress

I wasn’t planning on adding Bacall to ‘The Usual Suspects’ portion of the blog for quite a while. Much like when I saved Casablanca for my final Bogart film review, Bacall was going to be the cherry on top of a year spent recapping some of Bogart’s other greatest collaborators. I was going to save the best for last. But alas, with Bacall’s passing this past week, I couldn’t help but spend some time reliving a handful of my favorite films with my all-time favorite actress.

When I heard the news that Bacall had died, I had a strange feeling of regret rather than remorse. Usually when one of my favorite Hollywood icons passes, it leaves me in a funk for several weeks. (Jimmy Stewart passed not too long after my grandfather. Don’t even ask how wonderful I was to be around for a few months after that . . .) Here though, I felt different. I felt an immediate sense of great disappointment rather than grieving.

I think that in the back of my mind I had always assumed that I would eventually get to see Ms. Bacall in person. Maybe even get the chance to talk to her or get an autograph. Perhaps it would be at a TCM or Bogart film festival – I’m not sure, I hadn’t actually planned it out in my head, but of all the actors that I’ve written about since starting this blog, Lauren Bacall was still alive. She was still with us. She was a physical link to Classic Hollywood, Humphrey Bogart, and cinema history. She was a living, breathing presence that graced the same ground that I did.

I have no doubt that the grieving will hit me sooner than later. Just the act of creating this post gave me pause a few times as I popped Bogie/Bacall DVDs. A quick and simple screencap from To Have and Have Not ended up lasting over an hour as I just started watching the film rather than watching for a good moment to steal.

So no Bacall bio from me this week. Maybe someday. If you need to, check out her IMDB page here, or read her wonderful autobiography. Head over to Wikipedia for her page or watch one of the numerous Bogart DVD extras that record her amazing rise to fame at nineteen and the subsequent love affair with Hollywood’s greatest star. I just don’t think that I’m ready to dive back in and write-up a more concise record of her life and career yet.

Rest in peace, Slim. If only we were so lucky as to have seen you walk into that great gin joint in the sky and be reunited with Mr. Bogart. Your legacy will live forever, but your presence will be sorely missed.

The Filmography

To Have and Have Not – 1944

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From my original post on the film here:

“I . . . I don’t even know where to begin. I fell so deeply in love with this woman because of this film. Marie is reportedly based largely on Hawks’ own glamorous wife, which, if true, good for him. This being Bacall’s first movie, I am continually astounded at how she is able to play such a depth of maturity at such a young age. I’ve seen Bogart fall in love with a lot of women on screen, but this is the one time I truly believed it. It’s more than the lines and the blocking. We are watching this woman and this man court one another right before our eyes.”

Bacall plays Marie Browning, a young grifter in Fort de France, Martinique who falls for Bogart’s tour fishing captain, Harry Morgan. Again, from the orignal post:

“The first moment when Lauren Bacall sits on Humphrey Bogart’s lap in To Have and Have Not, something inside me stirs in such a deep and private way that I’m uncomfortable watching the film with other people in the room.

“Broke and stranded in Martinique, Marie takes to conning men – teasing them to the point of stupidity, before making off with their wallets. She says that she’s slowly building her funds so that she can make it back home, but we don’t believe her because Morgan doesn’t believe her. He reads her even better than she can read him or any other man. Marie is running from a past of pain and abuse, and the fact that Morgan picks up on it so quickly unnerves her deeply.

“Morgan and Marie are two people who both exude extreme confidence while privately loathing what they’ve let themselves become. So close are they attuned to each other’s inner truth, that they immediately start to distance themselves in a bit of role-play – as if using each other’s real names might be too intimate. Morgan only refers to her ‘Slim.’ Marie refers to him as ‘Steve.’ (Which, according to IMDB might, be a reference to the word “stevedore” which means “dockworker.”) They circle one another endlessly, gently keeping their distance – until Hawks has them touch. And then? Boom. White hot sparks.

“Bacall was nineteen when she starred in this! NINETEEN! What were you doing when you were nineteen? I was . . . well, I won’t bother telling you where my sympathies lay back then.”

This was the film where I fell hard for Lauren Bacall and she became my number one classic film screen crush. I could have this one on a loop in the background for eternity and never get tired of it. You can also read the write-up I did on the radio adaption of the film starring both Bacall and Bogart here.

The Big Sleep – 1946

Bacall Big sleep

A film that I got to enjoy posting on twice, The Big Sleep is available in two versions. From my original posts here (1946’s Hollywood release) and here (the unreleased pre-edited 1945 version):

“The widely accepted and well chronicled story is that Lauren Bacall’s agent, Charles Feldman, started to get nervous about his new young wunderkind after horrible reviews were written for her performance in the film Confidential AgentAgent was Bacall’s follow-up film after becoming an overnight sensation alongside of Bogart in To Have and Have Not, and Feldman was apparently freaking out at the idea of Bacall disappearing into Hollywood obscurity after being labeled as a one-hit wonder.

“With this film already delayed, Feldman wrote to Jack Warner, pleading to reshoot some scenes and add more of the fiery romantic flavor that Bogart and Bacall shared in To Have and Have Not. Warner agreed, Director Howard Hawks eventually relented to rework some shots, the stars reassembled a year after production, and seven reels of the film were altered with reordered scenes and a little over 20 minutes of new or alternate material.

“Bogart and Bacall’s romance is beefed up considerably. I felt that in the pre-release version, Bacall comes off as a bit more threatening to Bogart. Reshoots were done on a few scenes to make her a little more affectionate, and their innuendo-heavy ‘horse racing’ scene was added to help build up the sexual tension. In the original version though, I thought that Bacall came off as much less trustworthy and there seemed to be considerably more tension as to whether or not she was really on Bogart’s side.”

As the older sister Vivian Rutledge, Bacall is fantastic in both films. Whether you love or hate the overly complicated plot, this one’s a must see if you’re a Bacall fan, a Bogart fan, a classic film fan, or a cinema fan of any sort!

Two Guys from Milwaukee – 1946

It’s just a brief cameo here by the couple playing themselves. I’ve got a write-up on the film coming in about a month, so, as I said, I was planning on holding off on this ‘Usual Suspects’ post for a bit. But since it’s just a cameo, I figured that I could update it when the post on the film is finished . . .

But to make up for it, here’s a YouTube clip of the entire cameo.

Dark Passage – 1947

Bacall Dark Passage

Bacall plays Irene Jansen, the woman who mysteriously seems to have a personal stake in an escaped convict (Bogart) and houses him after he alters his appearance with plastic surgery while on the run. As the story goes, Jack Warner and the critics were pretty upset that Bogart spends the first hour of this film hidden behind bandages. Not only that, but there are a number of first-person shots from his eyes, so all we hear is his voice over.

As for me? I can’t complain. From my original post on the film here:

“Make no mistake about it, this is Bacall’s movie to make or break. She’s gotten a lot of flak for not being able to stand on her own without Bogart when it comes to many of her non-Bogart films, but here she shows that with the right director, she can work wonders. Much of the first hour of this film is spent in close-ups on her remarkable face as we see from Bogart’s first-person point of view, and it’s impossible to take your eyes off the screen whether she’s talking, moving, or just sitting perfectly still. This woman is stunning, and when given a chance, she knew how to combine her looks and her acting talent to truly command the big screen. If you’re a Bacall fan at all, this one’s definitely worth a look.”

Key Largo – 1948

Bacall Key Largo

Their last big screen film together, Bacall plays Nora Temple, the widow of Bogart’s recently deceased army buddy. Not the deepest of roles compared to their other four major pairings, but Bacall is strong, defiant, and just soft enough to care for the stranger who has stumbled across her doorstep. The real life chemistry between Hollywood’s greatest couple carries over well into the film, and the close ups they share together are worth the price of admission alone.

The overall film is so great, and with Lionel Barrymore and Edward G. Robinson as costars, it’s a wonderful way for Bogie and Bacall to finish their time together on the silver screen. Bacall’s relationship with her surrogate father, Barrymore, speaks volumes to her subtleties as an actress as she’s able to convey so much affection through simple touches and caring looks.

That shot above where Bacall casually brushes back her hair as she helps Bogart on the docks is such an authentically small moment that it melts my heart every single time. How is it possible that she seems even younger here than she did four years earlier in To Have and Have Not? How amazing is it that Bogart got to close out his onscreen relationships with two of his greatest costars (Bacall and Robinson) in one film?

If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and call in sick tomorrow. You can read my original post on the film here.

Producer’s Showcase – “The Petrified Forest” – 1955

pet From my original post here:

“Nearly twenty years after Humphrey Bogart made Duke Mantee his breakout role on the silver screen, he returned to the small screen to reprise the gangster one more time for the TV show, Producer’s Showcase. Stepping in for Bette Davis is Lauren Bacall as Gabby, and Henry Fonda plays Alan Squier, the role made famous by Leslie Howard.”

Well, to be honest, trying to step into a young Bette Davis’ shoes is all but impossible, but Bacall still does well here. She may not capture the spunk and vigor of Davis’ original love-struck teen, but Bacall does comes off as much more believable in the scenes where she talks about literature and recites poetry.

Again, it’s another wonderful instance of Bacall getting to share in a monumental moment with Bogart as he returns to the role that really notched his belt with its first major mark as a superstar in front of the world. Such an incredibly interesting experiment in the rebooting of a film, this one’s worth a look if only to say that you saw Bogie and Bacall together for the last time!

* ‘The Usual Suspects’ is an ongoing feature at The Bogie Film Blog where we highlight some of Bogart’s most celebrated costars, and occasionally, it makes this writer tear up a bit when he has to write a post like this one. You can read the rest of the posts in the feature here. *