Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Humphrey Bogart Passed Away On This Very Day. . .

Humphrey Bogart passed away on January 14, 1957. It is tough for those of a certain age to ponder that Bogey, whose legend represents something beyond just his performances onscreen, has been gone almost 60 years.

However, since the passing of his wife, muse and co-star Lauren Bacall in August of last year, Bogey has been on our minds again.

To quote someone else those of - yep - a certain age love who left far too soon, John Lennon, the key phrase in the Bogart mystique, then as now, is gimme some truth. Truth is what the screen oeuvre of Humphrey Bogart is all about.

No matter how many times this writer sees The Maltese Falcon, he's positively riveted by Bogart's performance, as well as those by Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.

After appearing in a few films for Fox in 1930, Bogart would soon be signed by Warners and be seen in fleeting "anyone for tennis" appearances and periodic roles as gangsters. Bogey appears as sleazy hitman "Harve" in the following gritty pre-Code melodrama Three On A Match.

Apologies for the YouTube poster, who erroneously identifies the racy Ann Dvorak-Bette Davis-Joan Blondell vehicle as a 1933 movie - it was released theatrically on October 29, 1932. Bogart's brutal character, in scenes in which, remarkably, future comic relief Allen Jenkins also plays a baddie, could simply have been identified as "nameless thug scumbag".

While Bogart spent the first half of the decade going back and forth between performing on Broadway and small roles in movies, after Warner Bros. bought the rights to Robert Sherwood's Broadway hit "The Petrified Forest", he got his big break.

The thought was Warner Bros. gangster-in-residence Eddie G. Robinson would portray the gunman who invades an Arizona diner and holds its terrified customers hostage, but, as fate would have it, Bogart won the role.

Bogey hit the part of escaped convict-psycho Duke Mantee out of the park as Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth would have clobbered fastballs down the middle of the plate. Overnight, Humphrey Bogart was no longer riding the bench at Warners.

After a wide variety of roles through the 1930's, with his key part in Dead End as a standout, Bogart played another mad dog killer part to the hilt in the gripping thriller High Sierra, directed expertly by Raoul Walsh from a screenplay by John Huston and (adapting his novel to the big screen) W.R. Burnett. Bogey's co-star was future movie and television director Ida Lupino.

Yet, it was when he STOPPED playing thugs that the picture changed for Bogey. As adept as he was as a bad guy, in Casablanca, Bogart turned the whole idea of what constituted a leading man in movies upside down. Love, death, war in Europe, Nazis, Claude Rains, white-hot and spiritual romance, Dooley Wilson's musicianship, a man finding his truth, the enduring notion of standing for something greater than yourself . . . it's all there. Indeed, we'll always have Paris.

This correspondent particularly enjoys the noir version of Bogey, wondrous in The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, as well as Dark Passage, Dead Reckoning and other films.

In an article from Moving Image Source, Passing The Test, author Imogen Sara Smith covers the films of Howard Hawks, delves into what Bogart's performances bring to the mix and to the director's specific Code Of Honor.

"Knowing how long it took the 45-year-old Bogart to shed his own awkwardness and develop his repertoire of gestures, his potent minimalism and his supremely assured presence adds something touching to his appreciation of nineteen-year-old Bacall’s quick learning, how well she imitates his own insolent confidence."

Bogart's noir presence shifted into high gear with the classic Dead Reckoning, co-starring the tough as cyanide-infused nails Lizabeth Scott.

Among the wonderfully dangerous films made by Bogart's own production company, Santana Productions (which released through Columbia Pictures), In A Lonely Place co-stars another cinema actress of originality and distinction, Gloria Grahame. It features another remarkable and nuanced Bogey performance and ranks high on the list of many outstanding films produced in 1950.

Of Bogey's last appearances, The Caine Mutiny is a favorite. The twist given to the traditional silver screen personas of Bogey, Fred MacMurray and Van Johnson (as well as the back story involving director Edward Dmytryk and HUAC) fascinates diehard movie buffs.

Beat The Devil is an intriguing genre-busting blend of caper thriller and dark wit.

Surprise surprise surprise, Bogey also could do comedy and appeared to relish opportunities to spoof his tough guy image. His extremely funny appearances on both the radio and TV versions of The Jack Benny Program cause one to wonder if Bogey and Betty Bacall actually were chums of Jack Benny (as well as George Burns), in addition to palling around with that well known 1950's proto-Rat Pack gang!

Stephen Bogart, the son of Bogey & Bacall, presents a Humphrey Bogart Film Festival annually. This blogmeister fervently hopes he will get to attend one someday - just to confirm yet again that Bogey really was the greatest screen actor of all time. And pass the popcorn.

1 comment:

ClassicBecky said...

This was really an entertaining article about the great Bogart. I loved the clips, especially the Jack Benny show. I also thought your paragraph, beginning with: "Yet, it was when he STOPPED playing thugs..." was very well-written and personifies the war years, Bogie's best work.