Thursday, May 22, 2014

Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957)

Born Humphrey DeForest Bogart in New York City in 1899, the son of a relatively wealthy doctor, Bogart — or Bogie as he became known -- would go on to become one of America’s most beloved actors and a figure whose fame has amazingly increased after his death. The 
5’8” or 5’9” actor wasn’t particularly fearsome in appearance, but become known as Hollywood’s quintessential tough guy after years starring in gangster and noir films.

Bogart began his career with the Navy, eventually turning to theater in New York. During the ‘20s, he appeared regularly on Broadway until the stock market crash in 1929, when many stage actors were forced to turn their sights to Hollywood as theatrical finances dried up. Though he had somewhat of a slow start, Bogart would go on to act in more than 70 films throughout his career. 

He appeared in a number of forgettable films during his early career, such as the shorts The Dancing Town (1928) and Broadway’s Like That (1930, crime comedy Up the River (1930), adventure A Devil with Women (1930), and WWI drama Body and Soul (1931). He was in The Bad Sister (1931) with Bette Davis, about a woman’s romance with a con man, the western A Holy Terror (1931), the entertaining 20s-themed melodrama, Three on a Match (1932), and others. With Midnight (1934), he began a run of crime and gangster-themed films that would shape the rest of his career. During these early years he struck up a close friendship with actor Spencer Tracy, who he met on Broadway. Tracy gave Bogie his famous nickname.

His breakthrough performance was in The Petrified Forest (1936), where he reprised his stage role of Duke Mantee. Allegedly Bogart being cast in the role was part of the agreement when Warner Bros. bought the rights. Though he received a lot of positive critical attention and signed a deal with the studio, the film pigeonholed him in gangster films for the next several years. At this time he wasn’t allowed to choose film roles and was primarily cast as a gangster or criminal in a dizzying number of films: Bullets or Ballots (1936), Two Against the World (1936), Black Legion (1937), The Great O’Malley (1937), Marked Woman (1937), Kid Galahad (1937), San Quentin (1937), Dead End (1937), Crime School (1938), Racket Busters (1938), The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938), King of the Underworld (1939), You Can’t Get Away With Murder (1939), Invisible Stripes (1939), It All Came True (1940), and Brother Orchid (1940).

During this time, Bogart was rocked by his father’s death — if you see him wearing a gold ring in a movie, it is the ring he inherited from his father — as well as his crumbling second marriage and the strain of constant work. Bogart was married four times throughout his career, each one a strong willed actress, and around this period he divorced his second wife, Mary Phillips, and married the hard-drinking, hot-tempered Mayo Methot (Marked Woman). Their fights become notorious and they were nicknamed the “Battling Bogarts,” though Mayo was allegedly the more violent partner. She allegedly stabbed Bogart, set their house on fire, and tried to kill herself a number of times

Some notable films during this period include Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), where he starred alongside gangster star James Cagney. A priest and a gangster grew up together and when they move back to the same neighborhood, the priest tries to keep the gangster from recruiting local kids into his racket. He and Cagney reunited for another gangster classic, The Roaring Twenties (1939), where three soldiers return home from WWI and try to survive during Prohibition. He also appeared in his only horror film — The Return of Doctor X (1939) — which must be seen to be believed.

His first early film noir, and one that helped him break out of the gangster mold a little, was They Drive By Night (1940), about two truck driver brothers who experience some hard luck. Bogart played second to George Raft and disappears from the second act of the film, but is memorable. This led to another hit, High Sierra (1941), where Bogart worked with writer and director John Huston. The film concerns “Mad Dog” Roy Earle, a famous criminal recently released from prison in order to take part in a heist. Here Bogart first appears as his signature characters: the tough guy with a heart of gold and a gentle, romantic streak. Huston and Bogart would go on to have a close friendship and working relationship. Ida Lupino, who co-starred as the femme fatale in They Drive By Night, returned as Bogie’s main love interest. Both would go on to have prominent, though somewhat divergent careers in film noir. 

The Maltese Falcon (1941) was another breakout hit for Bogart. He starred as writer Dashiell Hammett’s private detective Sam Spade in this hardboiled classic, which became one of the early films to influence the developing film noir movement. Spade must hunt down his partner’s killer and gets involved in the struggle for a mysterious, valuable statue. His costars, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, would appear in many films with him over the next few years.

During this period, Bogart moved away from gangster movies and toward war films and crime movies. He reunited with Peter Lorre and the great German actor Conrad Veidt (his future Casablanca costar) for All Through the Night (1941), which pits American gangsters against a secret ring of Nazis attempting to blow up the New York Harbor. He was given the starring role in The Big Shot (1942), a prison/gangster film, and reunited with Sydney Greenstreet and another Maltese Falcon co-star, Mary Astor, for the war film Across the Pacific (1942).

Greenstreet, Lorre, Veidt, and Bogart all teamed up for one of cinema’s most beloved films, Casablanca (1942). Bogart starred as Rick, the owner of a bar and casino in war-torn Morocco. Here Bogart solidified his role as the strong, tough lead, who is also vulnerable and romantic. More than any other, this is the film that transformed his career. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Bogart was nominated for Best Actor. He was also catapulted into the role of lead actor for the studio and soon after became the highest paid actor in the U.S., if not the world.

The success of Casablanca led to other war films: Action in the North Atlantic (1943), Sahara (1943), and Passage to Marseille (1943), which attempted to recreate Casablanca’s success. It marked the reunion of Casablanca actors Bogart, Claude Rains, Greenstreet, and Lorre, as well as director Michael Curtiz. It’s an excellent film and suffers only by comparison to Casablanca.

Bogart was in a combination of film noir and war flick with another classic, Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not (1944). Based on Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the same name, it concerns a fishing boat captain who becomes involved with the French resistance in occupied France. Notably, this was his introduction to Lauren Bacall. Though he was 44 and the fledgling actress was only 19, they soon struck up a passionate relationship put on hold only because of Bogart’s marriage. He divorced Mayo Methot in 1945, and married Bacall, who he had nicknamed “Baby,” soon after. Though not without its challenging moments, their relationship quickly became the stuff of Hollywood legend and the studio was not afraid to capitalize on their obvious on- and off-screen chemistry.

At this point in his career, film noir almost completely took over. He starred in Conflict (1945) with Sydney Greenstreet, the story of a man who kills his wife to marry her sister, but is convinced that she’s come back to haunt him. This was a rare bad guy role for Bogart. Another film noir classic was The Big Sleep (1946), Bogart’s turn to play Raymond Chandler's private eye, Phillip Marlowe. While I love Bogart as Sam Spade, he really shines as Marlowe and has some wonderful scenes with Bacall. This was an excellent showcase for his rapid fire dialogue and weighty facial expressions.

In Dead Reckoning (1947), he starred as a former soldier trying to find out who murdered one of his war-time comrades. Bacall lookalike Lizabeth Scott costars. The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) shows a return to the bad guy role, where Bogart once again stars as a man who murders his wife in the hopes of marrying another woman. He and Bacall reunited onscreen for Dark Passage (1947), about a runaway fugitive who gets facial surgery to escape the wrongful conviction of — again — murdering his wife.

During this period, Bogart protested vehemently against the HUAC interrogations, but was forced to write an article, “I’m No Communist,” to keep himself from falling under suspicion. By 1947, he also had a new contract that gave him more freedom and allowed him to turn down roles. He also started his own production company, Santana Productions, named after his yacht — Bogart had a lifelong love of sailing and of the sea. Most of the films under Santana starred Bogart himself.

His star continued to rise with the release of two more classics. First came The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), a western-like adventure film about gold prospectors who travel to Mexico and the Sierra Madre Mountains. Bogie was again directed by his friend John Huston, who also helmed film noir Key Largo (1948). Bogart costarred alongside Bacall and gangster/noir star Edward G. Robinson in this tale of intrigue and murder at an isolated Florida hotel during a hurricane. 

Bogart also starred in court drama/film noir Knock on Any Door (1949), Tokyo Joe (1949), another crime thriller about a soldier returning home to a life of chaos, and the post-war film Chain Lightening (1950), where Bogart stars as a pilot trying to make his way after WWII is over. He was in the similarly themed smuggling film Sirocco (1951), set during the French occupation of Syria

Undoubtedly the finest film of his late career and the best movie produced by Santana was Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place (1950), a grim noir tale about a struggling writer who falls in love with his neighbor, a beautiful woman with a troubled past. After a young woman is found murdered, the writer is the main suspect, though his new girlfriend believes he is innocent against the odds. Bogart’s friend, actress Louise Brooks, later said that his performance as the writer Dixon Steele was the closest to the actual Bogart. In a Lonely Place was ignored at the time, but has since become considered a classic. It is my favorite of all Bogart’s films. 

He followed this with the classic, The African Queen (1951), starring for the first time alongside Kathryn Hebpurn. He reunited with his favorite director, John Huston, for this WWI drama/romance that was a success both critically and financially, but was a hellish experience involving weeks in the African jungle. He made another war-romance, Battle Circus (1953), set during the Korean war.

There were, of course, more noir films, including The Enforcer (1951), a police procedural about Murder, Inc., Deadline - U.S.A. (1952), a newspaper noir, and Beat the Devil (1953), a noir spoof that was directed by John Huston, costars, Peter Lorre, and was co-written by Truman Capote. It is one of Bogart’s lesser seen films, but has come to be regarded as something of a cult classic.

The end of Bogart’s career boasted some riskier, more unusual projects. He lowered his asking rate to star in The Caine Mutiny (1954), a war film that he was desperate to make. It was another success and shows off Bogart’s acting skills, as he portrays a WWII Naval commander who goes mad. He garnered an Academy Award nomination for the role. He also appeared in a rare romantic comedy, Billy Wilder’s Sabrina (1954), starring Audrey Hebpurn as a young chauffeur’s daughter who falls in love with a handsome, but reckless millionaire. His older brother (Bogart), tries to end the affair before it begins and winds up falling in love with Sabrina himself. 

The Barefoot Contessa (1954) was less well-received. Bogart starred as a director who revitalized his career by discovering a young, frivolous dancer, played by Ava Gardner. Shot in Rome, this beautiful, if flawed film was allegedly based on the tragic life of Rita Hayworth. After this, Bogart reunited with Casablanca director Michael Curtiz for We’re No Angels (1955), a comedy about escaped prisoners. In religious drama The Left Hand of God (1955), Bogarts stars as a priest newly arrived to a Catholic mission in China. He develops a mutual attraction with a young nurse, played by Gene Tierney. This was one of Bogie’s few color films.

Of course he returned to noir for his last two films, The Desperate Hours (1955), a disturbing tale of three escaped convicts invading a home. He ended a long, beloved career with The Harder They Fall (1956), about a sportswriter hired by a questionable fight promoter. During the mid-‘50s, Bogart was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, most likely thanks to a life of heavy drinking and smoking. One of his other claims to fame was that he was the founding member of the Rat Pack, which officially began in the spring of 1955 in Las Vegas. The term originated with Bacall and referred to a particularly raucous party including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, David Niven, and more. Romanoff's in Beverly Hills became their headquarters. 

He died on January 14, 1957 when he was just 57 years old. His friend Spencer Tracy was too upset to give the eulogy, so director John Huston stepped in. Over the years, Bogie has gotten numerous recognition for his talents, including a star on the walk of fame, a stamp, several Looney Tunes cartoons, and increasing fame over the years. In 2006, part of 103rd Street in New York City — just in front of Bogie’s boyhood brownstone — was renamed "Humphrey Bogart Place,” with Lauren Bacall in attendance.

To learn more about this curmudgeonly, enigmatic, and iconic man, check out this great tribute page and the official site, as well as this awesome Tumblr. For even more, there’s a biography, Bogart, by Ann Sperber. Obviously, watch all of his films staring with In a Lonely Place.

Here’s looking at you, Bogie.

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