Mystique: Humphrey Bogart, the Peak Years

August 4, 2011 by · 3 Comments 

Humphrey Bogart 1941

Humphrey Bog­art 1941

From hard-boiled Sam Spade to cyn­i­cal Rick Blaine, from wise crack­ing shamus Philip Mar­lowe to down-on-his-luck Fred C. Dobbs, Humphrey Bog­art cre­ated a gallery of unfor­get­table char­ac­ters. Appear­ing in over 75 films, span­ning 26 years, Bog­art left an indeli­ble mark on Amer­i­can cinema.

Humphrey Bogart’s early career was hardly note­wor­thy. His roles ranged from rich play­boys to seedy hood­lums. In the film The Pet­ri­fied For­est (1936), Bog­art, on the insis­tence of his Broad­way co-star Leslie Howard, re-created his role of the cold-blooded killer Duke Man­tee. The film was a huge suc­cess and gave a tremen­dous boost to his career. Although his imme­di­ate roles remained con­strained to the hood­lums, and mal­con­tents he had por­trayed prior to The Pet­ri­fied For­est , he remained stead­fast in his pur­suit of excellence.

By 1941 Humphrey Bog­art was on the verge of cin­e­matic promi­nence. His sub­se­quent and now cel­e­brated roles were about to gar­ner Bog­art the accep­tance and adu­la­tion he so des­per­ately craved. A recog­ni­tion he rel­ished, as he set out for­tu­itously to cre­ate the now famous “Bog­art ” mys­tique, which would dom­i­nate the screen for the next decade. He was to remark later that there were few things about which he could feel gen­uine pride, and the 1941 clas­sic The Mal­tese Fal­con, was one of them.

The Mal­tese Falcon

Humphrey Bogart

The Mal­tese Fal­con 1941

Direc­tor John Hus­ton, in his first direc­to­r­ial effort, and many feel his best, cred­its Bog­art with the films amaz­ing suc­cess. But Huston’s script and elec­tric direc­tion also con­tributed. As author of the screen play John Hus­ton made every effort to remain faith­ful to Dashiell Hammett’s novel. Names, mur­ders, and intrigues turn up quickly in this tale of an assort­ment of char­ac­ters in search of a fab­u­lous jewel encrusted crown.

In spite of the exper­tise behind the cam­era, the use low-key pho­tog­ra­phy and Thomas Richard’s effi­cient edit­ing, it’s the mem­o­rable char­ac­ter­i­za­tions on the screen that truly stand out. Mary Astor’s Brigid O ’Shaugh­nessy is a strik­ing pic­ture of fem­i­nine deceit and betrayal. Beau­ti­ful, unmer­ci­ful and cun­ning, she is able to shed tears on com­mand. Syd­ney Green­street, in his film debut, plays the bloated Kasper Gut­man, the man behind the search for the elu­sive bird. Hus­ton accen­tu­ated Greenstreet’s huge bulk by shoot­ing from low angles, allow­ing him to monop­o­lize cer­tain key scenes. But it is Bogart’s por­trayal of Sam Spade that remains clas­sic in its con­struc­tion. Cyn­i­cal, he still main­tains his code of ethics. He is brash, but not fool­hardy. He is coura­geous, but not with­out fear. Where peo­ple, espe­cially woman, are con­cerned he demands loy­alty and truth. He can spot a phony a mile away. He lis­tens to Astor’s long alibi with a straight face and then smiles, telling her, “you ’re good, you ’re very good!” This is the film role that molded the image we remem­ber of Bog­art through the early years of the for­ties an image elab­o­rated upon and rein­forced in Casablanca, and one that all Bog­art fans remem­ber with great affec­tion and admiration.

Casablanca

Humphrey Bogart, Ingred Bergman, Casablanca, watch trailer

Casablanca 1942

Casablanca (1943), a screen clas­sic, has become the rep­re­sen­ta­tive pic­ture of the 1940’s. It owes its suc­cess to a gallery of fine per­for­mances and to their almost mirac­u­lous inter­play with each other. Directed with flaw­less skill by Michael Cur­tiz, the plot, in a screen­play by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein, revolve around an assort­ment of char­ac­ters com­ing into Rick’s Cafe, a night club and focal point of intrigue in Casablanca.

Bog­art plays the cafe owner Rick Blaine, a for­mer sol­dier of for­tune who has grown weary of the gun run­ning and fight­ing, and who is now con­tent to sit out the remain­der of the war in neu­tral Casablanca. The facade of his cyn­i­cism begins to weaken as he is haunted by visions of his Paris past, and the beau­ti­ful woman (Ingrid Bergman), he still loves and ran­corously remem­bers. He is tor­mented by the bit­ter­sweet mem­o­ries of his past love affair, mem­o­ries trig­gered repeat­edly as the strains of As Time Goes By, come from Sam, (Doo­ley Wil­son), his piano-playing con­fi­dante. Bergman re-surfaces and is now mar­ried to an under­ground leader (Paul Hen­reid). She needs the exit papers, believed to be in Bogart’s pos­ses­sion that will guar­an­tee her and Hen­rieds flight to free­dom. He refuses her the papers, recall­ing his heart­break in Paris. She explains to him that she had been mar­ried to Hen­reid all along but believ­ing him to be dead she fell in love with Bog­art. He weak­ens and helps get Bergman and her hus­band to safety.

The magic that devel­oped between Bog­art and Bergman made a new roman­tic fig­ure out of the for­mer tough guy. It helped him per­fect the por­trayal of the ideal man who all men wish to emu­late. Casablanca brought Humphrey Bog­art his first Acad­emy Award nom­i­na­tion (he lost to Paul Lukas for Watch On The Rhine), and it won Best Pic­ture for 1943.

The Big Sleep

Lauren Becall, Humphrey Bogart, The Big Sleep, watch trailer

The Big Sleep 1946

Hav­ing done jus­tice to Hammett’s Sam Spade it was just a mat­ter of time until Warner Broth­ers got around to cast­ing Bog­art as Ray­mond Chandler’s Philip Mar­lowe. The Big Sleep (1946), is an incred­i­bly com­plex detec­tive thriller that defies com­pre­hen­sion in a sin­gle screen­ing. Bog­art is hired to track down a black­mailer, but quickly finds him­self immersed in mul­ti­ple mur­ders, assorted double-crosses, and wan­ton may­hem. Even though one could hardly under­stand what was hap­pen­ing, Howard Hawks’ bril­liant direc­tion, and a well-chosen cast com­bine to secure the viewer’s inter­est. Con­cise dia­logue by William Faulkner and Leigh Brack­ett help to cre­ate mem­o­rable scenes elic­it­ing the sub­tleties of Chandler’s novel. When Bog­art enters the case he receives his instruc­tions in a suf­fo­cat­ingly, humid, hot­house. The sub­tle humor and sug­ges­tive by-play of Bogart’s quick flir­ta­tion with book­store clerk Dorothy Mal­one, and all of his encoun­ters with Dorothy Mal­one, are a mil­len­nium ahead of their time. If The Big Sleepwas a flawed jewel, it nev­er­the­less was an impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion to the Bog­art mys­tique. Within a year Bogart’s famous “image” period would come to an end.

The Trea­sure of the Sierra Madre

Hav­ing had his day as an idol­ized star and roman­tic lead­ing man, it was time for Humphrey Bog­art to get down to the seri­ous busi­ness of act­ing. Up until 1948 it had been Bog­art play­ing Bog­art in var­i­ous shadings.The Trea­sure of the Sierra Madre (1948) is indis­putably one of Bogart’s best films. Re-united once more with direc­tor John Hus­ton, the film tells of the greed, dis­trust, and hatred of three down-on-their-luck wastrels who team up to search for Gold in Mex­ico. Bogart’s Fred C. Dobbs is an amaz­ingly com­plex cre­ation whose slow dis­in­te­gra­tion into para­noia was bril­liantly man­aged on cam­era. He is a born loser with no poten­tial for change, sus­pi­cious, unfeel­ing, sav­age, and eas­ily cor­rupt­ible, he seems des­tined for a tragic fate. Tim Holt plays Curtin, a man who like Bog­art, is tempted but whose con­science will not per­mit him to exer­cise his cor­rupt­ible desires.

Tim Holt, Humphrey Bogart, Barton MacLane, Treasure, watch trailer

The Trea­sure of the Sierra Madre 1948

Wal­ter Hus­ton, John Huston’s father, plays Howard, a tooth­less old codger, who knows all along what will hap­pen when they find the trea­sure. Filmed on loca­tion in Mex­ico. It is mainly the inter­ac­tion of these three men from their first meet­ing and uneasy part­ner­ship through their final con­fronta­tion. The result, a Bog­art per­for­mance whose lus­ter seems to brighten with every screen­ing. The film won three Oscars, includ­ing Best Sup­port­ing Actor for Wal­ter Hus­ton, leav­ing Bog­art still in pur­suit of the elu­sive statuette.

Since his death forty years ago, Bogart’s per­sona has become more stead­fast than it ever was dur­ing his life­time. Be it Woody Allen’s alter ego in Play it Again Sam; (1972), or George Segal’s, woe­ful The Black Bird (1975), a dread­fully, unfunny rip-off of The Mal­tese Fal­con, the Humphrey Bog­art mys­tique will be for­ever entwined in the Amer­i­can psyche.

Mike Rosenberg’s ster­ling Trib­ute, con­tains hun­dreds of images, and many anec­dotes about Bog­art. A must see for even the most inci­den­tal fan.

by Michael Mills

About Michael Mills
Rank-amateur photographer, I like Classic films, real Jazz, Opera, and a little Hank Williams . . . and sometimes baseball . . .

Comments

3 Responses to “Mystique: Humphrey Bogart, the Peak Years”
  1. Michael says:

    I recently came across a book enti­tled The Tough Guys by James Robert Parish there is a ded­i­ca­tion page to Bog­art yet Humphrey isn’t listed in the book! Any­one know if there is any­thing behind that? It doesn’tmake sense to me…

  2. I hope this post­ing is allowed. The won­der­ful film STAND-IN with Bog­ard was directed by my father, Tay Gar­nett, who died in 1977. Now I’m on a mis­sion to put his won­der­ful mem­oir back into print. There were pas­sages in his book about the film­ing of STAND-IN, as well as two pho­tos of Dad on the set with Humphrey Bog­art. You can find more info on my project, as well as a gallery of old pho­tos from his career (includ­ing the two men­tioned above) at http://www.lightyourtorches.com.

    You will find the Kick­starter link on the open­ing page and a video clip of me explain­ing the project to get Dad’s mem­oir avail­able again to movie buffs and avid read­ers.
    (This is the link: http://soc.li/etpfOgM )

    Again, if I’m vio­lat­ing any rules by post­ing this, I’ll delete imme­di­ately.
    Best to you all, and many thanks.

    Tiela Gar­nett

    nashbook@aol.com

  3. Hello, All. The film STAND-IN was directed by my father, Tay Gar­nett, who died in 1977. Now I’m on a mis­sion to put his won­der­ful mem­oir back into print. There were pas­sages in his book about the film­ing of STAND-IN, as well as two pho­tos of Dad on the set with Humphrey Bog­art. You can find more info on my project, as well as a gallery of old pho­tos from his career (includ­ing the two men­tioned above) at http://www.lightyourtorches.com.

    You will find the Kick­starter link on the open­ing page and a video clip of me explain­ing the project to get Dad’s mem­oir avail­able again to movie buffs and avid read­ers.
    (This is the link: http://soc.li/etpfOgM )

    I hope this post­ing doesn’t vio­late any rules. If so, I’ll delete imme­di­ately.
    Best to you all, and many thanks.

    Tiela Gar­nett
    nashbook@aol.com