Ah, Bogey, that potent mixture of world weary cynicism and dangerous charm that made up the ultimate Hollywood star. And yet, it’s hard to imagine Bogart making it today. For starters, he doesn’t have immediate physical sex appeal (smoke and words mattered more in the days when a two minute kiss was risqué); secondly, he’s too short (not as short as James Cagney, but still); thirdly, like everyone else in the movies before Marlon Brando ‘invented’ screen acting, he’s not a method actor. Despite all this, he has cross generational appeal not because people want to be like him, but because people are like him, that is to say he’s an actor whose persona and looks any man on the street can easily relate to. The fact that he started as a character baddie in gangster films and ended up on a boat in Africa only adds to his reputation. There were others, like Henry Fonda, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy to name but a few. Some of them had on screen romances with leading actresses, but none of them fell in love off screen with one of the most alluring, Lauren Bacall. It is that relationship which possibly seals Humphrey Bogart’s position as the most unlikely of romantics.
In A Lonely Place (Ray, 1950, Columbia Pictures)
This is arguably Bogart’s best performance, as a psychopathic screenwriter Dix Steele. He falls in love with Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), but their relationship gradually falls on the rocks after Dix is questioned by the police in relation to the murder of Mildred Atkinson, a girl he met in a nightclub. Bogart is surprisingly terrifying at times, as Dix’s already ferocious temper only increases as he tries to prove his innocence, of which Laurel begins to doubt.
The Big Sleep (Hawks, 1946, Warner Bros.)
A pretty good adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel, best remembered for the cigarettes, a racy conversation about horses and the burgeoning love affair between the two main stars, Bogart as the definitive Philip Marlowe and Bacall as Vivian Rutledge. They already starred together in To Have and Have Not (1944), but this is when it really took off. Never mind if the plot doesn’t make much sense (so much of the novel which did make sense was heavily censored), much like Casablanca (1942) it’s the witticisms which stand out.
The Maltese Falcon (Huston, 1941, Warner Bros.)
There’s always a debate as to what was the first film noir, well this was the first great adaptation of a detective novel in Hollywood, so that gives it as good a claim as any. Bogart is, well, Bogart as Sam Spade, but that hardly matters as he’s having so much fun playing the detective, enhancing his persona as a result. In fact, the most notable aspect of the film is the wonderful way the character actors play off each other. There is the hint of effeminacy and threat in equal measure about Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), and the quintessential fat man gentleman in the charming Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet). This is literally so in the case of Mary Astor, who does a pretty good role at playing two characters, yet telling the truth as neither.
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