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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

HUMPHREY BOGART: THE MAN OF THE '40's

by Jim McAllister

Humphrey Bogart ("Bogie") was an interesting guy. When we see his screen persona as the dark, brooding, film noir antihero, it is hard to imagine that he grew up in the midst of wealth. Born in December, 1899 to a prominent New York doctor and his wife, who was a famous children’s illustrator, Bogie was actually the image of the Gerber baby at one time. Wealth did not equal happiness though as his parent’s constant bickering and drinking may have played a part in the Bogart image of years later.
As an unhappy youth, he spent some time at a private school before being expelled in 1918. A couple of years in the navy followed but in spite of his drifting, he had developed an interest in acting and made his stage debut in 1921 playing a Japanese butler in a play in Brooklyn. His drifting days were over and from1922 to 1935 he appeared in twenty-one Broadway productions.
A couple of attempts at Hollywood failed during this time but his big break was to arrive in the form of a 1934 play by Sherwood Anderson, "The Petrified Forest". He had rave reviews as the killer Duke Mantee and he won the role in the movie version produced by Warner Brothers. After being nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar though, he was relegated to a string of Warner’s "B" features between 1935 and 1941.
The 1940's were now arriving and along with them came the era of film noir: movies with dark and sinister overtones beset with dishonorable characters and lots of gray and black scenes. Bogart was a natural for this style and won the role as "Mad Dog" Roy Earle, the sympathetic antihero of "High Sierra"(1941). This was to be the last film where he did not get first billing (Ida Lupino did). With the success of that film he was now on the "A" list and on his way to 1940's stardom.
To reinforce his new found fame, he followed "High Sierra" with his role as detective Sam Spade in "The Maltese Falcon" (1941) based on the Dashiell Hammett story. In 1942 he made perhaps his most memorable film, "Casablanca". In this best picture Oscar winner, he plays Rick, the nightclub owner with a mysterious past, who encounters his lost love (played by Ingrid Bergman) in a tense wartime situation. After this success, he received a new $200,000 per film contract from Warners and a chance to make decisions regarding his roles.
Bogie was on a roll now as he made the popular "To Have and Have Not", based on an Ernest Hemingway story, in 1944. Fate was involved in this film as this is where he met his future wife, Lauren Bacall. In 1946 he made the classic, "The Big Sleep", based on the Raymond Chandler story, as he played the role of the Chandler private sleuth, Philip Marlowe.
In 1947 there appeared a different Humphrey Bogart in the role of the paranoid Fred C. Dobbs in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre". It was another great role for him and proved his versatility. In 1948 there was "Key Largo" with Bacall which was about a group of people held captive by gangster Edward G. Robinson in a Key Largo hotel. In this one Bogie got to be a sort of antihero again.
He was to make two more movies in the 1940's giving him twenty-five for the decade, but his best work was behind him. In 1951 he finally got his well earned best actor Oscar for his role as Charlie Allnut, the riverboat captain in "The African Queen", but this was a departure from the film noir roles that seemed best suited for him.
Humphrey Bogart died on January 14, 1957 at the age of 57. His great friend and director, John Huston, in his eulogy to his friend, stated that "He is quite irreplaceable, there will never be another like him." I agree.

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