The Westerns

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Welcome to a new segment on The Bogie Film Blog called Character Reference. In this section of the blog we’ll dissect the genres and character types that Bogart played over his career. How many times did he play a jailbird? An escaped jailbird? A detective? A cop? A journalist? A soldier? A cowboy? Those and many more will hopefully be covered in the coming years!

The GenreWesterns

Today we start with The Westerns. Perhaps not Bogart’s most auspicious genre, this class of film was certainly as troubling for the Hollywood legend as it was productive. Coming to fame during the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s in Hollywood meant that an actor would more than likely have to tangle with a Western film at some point, and Bogart was no exception.

Make no mistake, Bogart is not John Wayne, and save for one Western, he probably should have skipped the genre all together. That’s not to say that a few of the films aren’t worth seeing, but it is to say that Bogart was often miscast with a wide brimmed hat and sat upon the back of a horse.

There’s the accent for starters. Whether he sounds like a big city gangster or tries to adopt something more authentic (ugh, we’ll get into it), the man just did not sound like someone who should have been inhabiting the old west.

Then you’ve got the physicality. You could do a lot with a fancy suit, a trench coat, and a fedora. Height could become fuzzy. Build could be hidden. But put a man in a tight-fit shirt and a ten gallon hat on the back of a horse and it’s pretty hard to hide an atypical cowboy frame.

It helps a bit that he was always villainous. The villains don’t have to look nearly as good as the white hats. But come on, even with six shooters Bogart had a hard time playing the part of a threatening bad guy.

Still – there’s more than one Western in his filmography that might be worth your while!

The Westerns

A Holy Terror – 1931

Holy Terror Poster2

It’s a stereotypical bad guy role for Bogart here as he plays Steve Nash, the head cowhand for a cattle ranch. No backstory is given. He’s got a bunkhouse full of goons. He’s quick to use murder to solve all his problems. When the ending arrives, you will wonder Why in the heck would anyone have this guy on the payroll?

All that said, Bogart’s the standout performance here by far. The role is essentially the same as any of his early gangster roles, complete with the East Coast accent, and no one could play stock tough guys better than Bogie. He whines, grouses, argues, sneers, and loses his temper throughout the film and it never gets old.

As one of only four Westerns in his filmography, there is enough here to make it a must see for Bogart completists as he does get a lot of screen time with all the other leads. But the script is bad, bad, bad.

At fifty-three minutes, the review for this one was almost “Watchable.” Then I got to the twist ending which immediately calls into question everything that just happened in the previous fifty-two minutes and should potentially create an incredible legal nightmare for all the shooting, fighting, and death that the took place around the main protagonists. Instead, the twist is embraced by all the characters, laughed about, and taken as a neat and tidy wrap-up for a tragically violent story. I’m obviously tip-toeing around spoilers here, but the head rancher in the film is so negligent in his communication to the other characters that he should spend the rest of his life in prison.

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Oklahoma Kid – 1939

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I had heard so many bad things about this film that I’d prepared myself for the worst. I’d heard that it was “the film with the two shortest cowboys of all time.”  True enough, but I did think that nicknaming Cagney ‘The Oklahoma Kid’ helped a lot. It probably would have been better to pair him with someone a tiny bit more threatening in stature other Bogart, though.

I’d also heard it was “the film with the cowboys that have gangster accents.” This complaint is completely understandable considering that everyone in the film besides Cagney and Bogart seem to have more Midwestern accents, if not full out drawls. Our two stars though, sound just as if they’d plopped right down outta The Roaring Twenties.

I’d also read from multiple sources that it was “the cowboy film with goofy outfits,” as even Bogart himself thought that Cagney’s costume made him look like a big mushroom:

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Although when you consider Bogart’s chapeau:

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It makes me wonder, were they out of medium sized hats that day???

I had a lot of similar feelings watching this film as I did the first time I watched The Return of Doctor X. It may not be the best use of Bogart’s or Cagney’s talents, but it is an enjoyable film if you can forgive all the casting drawbacks. Cagney especially seems to be full of endless joy as he grins and charms his way through this movie.

Whip McCord is a pretty two-dimensional bad guy for Bogart, and there are several times during the film when the character disappears for extended periods. Any shortcomings though, stem more from the script than from Bogart’s performance. He does his best with a limited role, and he even looks kind of comfortable on horseback. His lack of screen time might have partially been due to the fact that he was concurrently filming Dark Victory with Bette Davis while he was making this film.

It does have an AMAZING fight scene at the end!

You can read my original post on the film here.

Virginia City – 1940

Virginia City Poster

Oh, thank the good Lord that High Sierra was just around the corner. Don’t get me wrong, this is not bad film, but Bogart is terribly miscast as a Hispanic outlaw with a very bad accent. His name is John Murrell – couldn’t they have made him an ex-pat hiding in Mexico rather than a native? Especially since they were going to stand him next to REAL MEXICANS for the entire film.

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 Errol Flynn and Randolph Scott accentuated his slight stature in a way that shocked me despite having seen almost all of his films. Not his greatest showcase.

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – 1948

Treasure Poster

While many of you might argue that this one’s not a “true” Western, it’s listed as such on IMDB and has many of the Western tropes that Classic Hollywood was famous for.

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

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

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

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

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.* (Eventually 🙂 )

Alan Hale

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Alan Hale with Johnnie Pulaski in Action in the North Atlantic

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Birth Name: Rufus Edward MacKahan

Birthdate: February 10, 1892

Number of Films Alan Hale Made with Humphrey Bogart: 4

The Lowdown

Probably like most folks from my generation, I learned of Alan Hale’s son, Alan Jr., long before I knew of the talented and distinguished character actor himself.

Hale’s legend seems to grow greater for me every time I dig a little deeper. He studied opera, invented folding theatre seats, starred as Little John alongside of Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, and John Derek in three different Robin Hoods, directed as well as acted, was great friends with Errol Flynn, and fathered the one and only Skipper for goodness sakes!

It’s impossible to see Hale in a film and not enjoy every moment. Larger than life, good natured, and wonderfully talented, Hale will forever be remembered as one of Classic Hollywood’s best character actors, and a member of ‘Warner Brother’s Stock Company.’

Along with Frank McHugh, Alan Hale was one of the actors that I was most excited to (re)discover while putting posts together for this blog.  While he barely shared any screen time with Bogart, Hale was definitely part of the glue that held several of his films together.

The Filmography

Virginia City – 1940

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Hale with Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams

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Alongside of Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, Hale plays one of Errol Flynn’s sidekicks, Olaf ‘Moose’ Svenson. Hale, Williams, and Flynn are Union soldiers trying to root out an underground shipment of gold headed for the Confederate army. I loved Hale in this film, as he and Williams 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 script. You can read my original write up on the film here.

They Drive by Night – 1940

Hale Raft They Drive by Night

Hale with George Raft . . .

Hale plays Ed Carlsen, the fun loving and hard drinking owner of a trucking company that hires George Raft after a trucking accident. Ed’s the trucker who made good, finally opening his own company, and it’s a crime – A CRIME, I TELL YA! – when his onscreen wife, Ida Lupino, bumps him off. What kind of monster thinks that it would be a better world without Alan Hale?!? It’s insanity in its purest form! Hale is so doggone likable in this film, that it’s a wonder any truck driver in this world wouldn’t want to work for him. Sharing some great scenes with both Raft and Lupino, Hale gets to do what he does best – joke, laugh, shout, drink, and love. It’s my favorite Hale/Bogart collaboration out of all four films, and it really gives Hale a chance to show how great of an actor he really was! You can read my original write up on the film here.

Action in the North Atlantic – 1943

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Hale at the Deployment Office with Some of His Crew

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Hale plays ‘Boats’ O’Hara, one of the crewmen under Bogart’s command as they survive a German U-Boat attack during WWII. Hale gets some great time to shine as he holds the ship’s crew together, leading by bravado and example while they wait to get redeployed. The scene where Hale plays cards with his shipmates in the deployment office is one of the strongest in the film, and this one’s a must see for Hale fans who like both the comedic and dramatic sides of the character actor. You can read my original write up on the film here.

Thank Your Lucky Stars – 1943

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Hale with Jack Carson

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Hale does a song and dance routine with Jack Carson in this film about a variety show fundraiser. Singing “Going North,” we get to hear just a glimpse of Hale’s very solid singing voice, and it really makes me wish that I could hear him sing some of the opera that he trained for when he was younger. Plus – he dances! And he does it very well! For a big guy, he’s very light on his feet as he trots around the stage with Carson, clearly enjoying himself. While it’s only a short scene in the film and he’s never together with Bogart, this one’s a must see for Hale fans, as we don’t get the typical goofball lummox that he played quite often in movies. You can read my original write up on the film here.

Frank McHugh

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Name: Francis Curray McHugh

Birthdate: May 23, 1898

Number of Films Frank McHugh made with Humphrey Bogart: 5

The Lowdown

I have yet to talk to anyone that doesn’t love Frank McHugh. Every time he pops up in a film, no matter how large or how small the role, McHugh always makes it better.

Starting out in the theater as a child before going on to work with nearly every big named star at Warner Brothers over the span of his lifetime, McHugh was a gifted character actor with incredible comedic chops and a face built for registering any emotion.

I honestly can’t remember the first time I saw McHugh in a film, but I know that every time he appears in one of Bogart’s, I can’t take my eyes off of the guy. Is it possible that he was as sweet, goofy, and personable in real life as he was on the big screen? I don’t know. But that laugh! Good grief, that slow, donkey-ish, I’m running out of breath, staccato laugh was so great!

I defy you to find anyone that knows who he is and still says that they don’t like him . . .

The Filmography

Bullets or Ballots – 1936

Bullets or BallotsWith Joan Blondell . . .

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McHugh plays Herman, Joan Blondell’s numbers-running sidekick. The part is small, but McHugh works really well with Blondell as he mugs his way to stealing nearly every scene that he’s in. This film is a great example of how just a little dose of McHugh lends a lot of great comic relief to a movie. You can read my original write up on the film here.

Swing Your Lady – 1938

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With Leon Weaver, Bogart, and Allen Jenkins . . .

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McHugh plays Popeye, one of the trainers that helps Bogart pull off a professional wrestling match out in the sticks of rural USA. The film’s gotten a lot of criticism for its over-the-top ridiculousness over the years, but I loved it. McHugh is great alongside Bogart and Allen Jenkins as they do a slightly subdued combination of The Three Stooges and The Marx Brothers. So often, McHugh played comic relief for semi-serious films, so for me it was a hoot to see all these guys playing for laughs in a screwball comedy. You can read my original write up on the film here.

The Roaring Twenties – 1939

Roaring TwentiesWelcoming Cagney Home . . .

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McHugh plays Danny, best friend to James Cagney’s returning war veteran. Out of all of Bogart’s films, this is probably McHugh’s most grounded role, as he seems to be playing realistic camaraderie with Cagney rather than outright comic relief – and it’s my favorite McHugh character that I’ve reviewed for the blog. Wouldn’t anyone like a best friend like Danny? I think a little piece of me died during McHugh’s final scene. . . You can read my original write up on the film here.

Virginia City – 1940

virginia city 2With Miriam Hopkins and Bogart . . .

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McHugh appears briefly as Mr. Upjohn, a very nervous insurance salesman who gets robbed by Bogart on a stagecoach with Errol Flynn and Miriam Hopkins. While this film is probably best known to Bogart fans as the one with the HORRIBLE accent, his scene with McHugh is good for a few laughs, and even though it’s a tiny role, it’s always fun to see McHugh pop up. You can read my original write up on the film here.

All Through the Night – 1942

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McHugh plays Barney, one of Bogart’s three sidekicks alongside William Demarest and Jackie Gleason. A gangster/WWII crossover spoof, I can’t say enough good things about this film. The comedy with McHugh, Demarest, and Gleason hits all the right notes, and McHugh’s nervous-nelly newlywed is one of the big highlights of the film. You can read my original write up on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is a regular feature on the blog where some of Bogart’s best collaborator’s are given their own spaces to shine. You can read the rest of the entries here.

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!