The Film 100: Humphrey Bogart, no. 46


Born: December 25, 1899, New York, NY
Died: January 14, 1957, Hollywood, CA

He is quite unreplaceable. There will never be anybody like him.
—John Huston

During World War I, a young navy gunner had an accident. While roughhousing on a wooden stairway, he slipped and took a wood splinter in his upper lip. Once the injury healed, it left a stiffness that became one of the trademark features of Humphrey Bogart’s unforgettable face. This tight-lipped loner would climb through the Hollywood ranks the hard way—scraping by in dismal action films and box office disasters. When his face took on a harder edge, he started building a reputation as a tough guy and struggled through bouts of typecasting as a second-rate gangster. In the prime of his life, his mug would be one of the most recognizable in the film noir genre. And with age, his hangdog visage would become the icon of a generation—war-weary and weathered.

The Film 100
1. W.K. Laurie Dickson
2  Edwin S. Porter
3. Charlie Chaplin
4. Mary Pickford
5. Orson Welles
6. Alfred Hitchcock
7. Walt Disney
8. D.W. Griffith
9. Will Hays
10 Thomas Edison
11. John Wayne
12. J.R. Bray
13. Billy Bitzer
14. Jesse Lasky
15. George Eastman
16. Sergei Eisenstein
17. André Bazin
18. Irving Thalberg
19. Thomas Ince
20. Marlon Brando
21. Louis B. Mayer
22. Greta Garbo
23. Robert Flaherty
24. Lon Chaney
25. Anita Loos
26. George Méliès
27. Adolph Zukor
28. John Gilbert
29. Max Fleischer
30. John Ford
31. William Fox
32. George Lucas
33. Linwood Gale Dunn
34. Eadweard Muybridge
35. Katharine Hepburn
36. Winsor McCay
37. Stanley Kubrick
38. Buster Keaton
39. James Agee
40. Fritz Lang
41. Marcus Loew
42. Cedric Gibbons
43. James Cagney
44. Ben Hecht
45. Ingmar Bergman
46. Humphrey Bogart
47. Leon Schlesinger
48. Louella Parsons
49. Roger Corman
50. Edith Head
51. Bernard Herrmann
52. Gary Cooper
53. Mike Todd
54. Ernst Lubitsch
55. Sidney Poitier
56. Saul Bass
57. Billy Wilder
58. Bette Davis
59. Erich von Stroheim
60. Max Factor
61. Auguste and Louis Lumière
62. Woody Allen
63. Clark Gable
64. David O. Selznick
65. Gregg Toland
66. Lillian Gish
67. William Cameron Menzies
68. Lucille Ball
69. Samuel Rothafel
70. Akira Kurosawa
71. Marilyn Monroe
72. Vittorio De Sica
73. Natalie Kalmus
74. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert
75. Willis O’Brien
76. Shirley Temple
77. Yakima Canutt
78. Sam Peckinpah
79. Jackie Coogan
80. Federico Fellini
81. Leni Riefenstahl
82. Steven Spielberg
83. Sam Warner
84. Jean-Luc Godard
85. Robert De Niro
86. Fred Astaire
87. Francis Ford Coppola
88. Ted Turner
89. Clint Eastwood
90. Dalton Trumbo
91. Dennis Hopper
92. Richard Hollingshead
93. Melvin Van Peebles
94. John Chambers
95. Mack Sennett
96. Martin Scorsese
97. Karl Struss
98. Busby Berkeley
99. John Hubley
100. John Cassavetes

After his discharge from the navy, Bogart got in touch with a family friend, William A. Brady, who was turning small profits as a Broadway theatrical producer. Brady gave Bogart acting work, but the young sailor didn’t shine in any of his roles. In fact, most reviews were quite discouraging. So he followed some friends to Hollywood in the early thirties, where it was rumored that the film studios were searching out stage actors with strong voices to capitalize on the rage for talkies. Immediately, Bogart landed a picture deal with Fox for The Devil with Women (1930), his first feature film. When the movie performed dismally at the box office, and two other failures followed, Fox tore up Bogart’s contract and put him out on the streets.

He landed jobs at Columbia, Universal and Warner Bros., making forgettable appearances in a string of B-movie westerns alongside another awkward cowboy actor, James Cagney. However, Bogart’s ability to portray gritty characters soon emerged as a clear specialty, and his role as a prison inmate opposite Spencer Tracy in Up the River (1930) showed signs of promise. But after several years of supporting roles, Bogart’s name still eluded the attention of executives; defeated, he returned to New York in 1934.

Determined to make it on Broadway, he approached playwright Robert E. Sherwood for a chance to play killer Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest. This time, Bogart got raves from cosmopolitan theater critics and film scouts alike. Warner acquired the film rights to the play and turned it into a smash on-screen adaptation (1936), starring Leslie Howard, Bette Davis and Bogart. Warners offered Bogart a $550-a-week contract, and over the next five years he served his apprenticeship as a heavy in gangster stories and prison dramas, usually backing up the tough talk of Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni, George Raft or his old friend Cagney in such films as The Roaring Twenties (1939), Invisible Stripes (1939) and They Drive by Night (1940)—twenty-eight features in all. Among Bogart’s early financial successes were Dead End (1937) and Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), in which he gave a memorable performance beside the Dead End Kids.

Gangster roles would turn out to be a blessing in disguise; although Bogart disliked being typecast as a tough guy, he often was the first actor under consideration when Cagney or Raft turned down a role. Luckily, this was the case when director Raoul Walsh was casting High Sierra (1941), about a criminal making a last attempt at a new life. The script, by John Huston, called for the death of leading character Roy Earle. Raft simply refused to die, so Bogart stepped into history. The tense direction and supporting performance of Ida Lupino helped turn the film into a huge hit.


Suddenly, Bogart was able to break away from underworld figures and show himself as a leading man. Casablanca (1942), his first romantic role, would provide further proof that Bogart was star material. Based on an unproduced play called Everybody Goes to Rick’s, the film places nightclub owner Rick Blaine in the middle of a love triangle between an old flame and her freedom-fighting husband, who is escaping Hitler by way of Morocco. Bogart’s haunting portrayal was at the heart of one of the screen’s greatest love stories. The lingering piano, the bizarre cast of characters, the classic farewell at the airport and the memorable pledge of friendship at the close of the film made Casablanca irresistible. At Oscar time, Bogart was nominated for Best Actor, and the movie won for Best Picture.

Teaming again with John Huston in his directorial debut, The Maltese Falcon (1941), Bogart returned to darker themes. The film featured Bogart as detective Sam Spade in what became the first of a long collaboration between the unconventional director and the established movie star. Under Huston’s guiding hand, in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and Beat the Devil (1954), a deeper sentiment replaced the cynical, self-reliant exterior. Huston helped carefully nurse Bogart’s reputation by casting him against type, and often these offbeat characters revealed an unexplored side of the aging tough, breathing new life into his career. This lasting legacy would inspire Jean-Luc Godard and Woody Allen, among others, to elect Bogart the patron saint of sensitive-but-manly males.

In 1944, Warner offered Bogart the unprecedented sum of $15 million for a fifteen-year agreement, signaling a significant change in Hollywood’s preferences for leading men. Bogart’s trademark performances were far from the glamorous swashbucklers and macho leaders that had long gained favor with audiences. In fact, Bogart was the antithesis of these men—his successes were almost exclusively based on roles that required him to play the sullen outcast who shuns responsibility or romantic involvement. Throughout his performances in High Sierra, Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Bogart carved a niche as the quintessential loner, a character type that would become the dominant choice for protagonists in thousands of scripts to come. In casting the mold for the outsider, Bogart became a forerunner of Robert Mitchum, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro.

Bogart’s love life flourished when a sexy, young femme fatale in To Have and Have Not (1944) taught him to whistle. The sharp, witty twenty-year-old fashion model named Lauren Bacall married Bogart in 1945. Their May-December romance generated sparks, both on camera in smoldering dramas and behind the scenes of political battles, where they vocally supported the blacklisted Hollywood screenwriters during the witchhunts of the McCarthy era. With Bacall as his costar, Bogart went on to make The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948)—films that permanently marked Bogart as the epitome of the film noir actor. He continued in several memorable roles in the dark and moody Dead Reckoning (1947) and The Desperate Hours (1955).

Bogart’s skyrocketing salary led to another important development in 1947; he became the first major actor from the studio system to set up his own independent production company, Santana Productions. Although still under contract with Warner, Bogart’s company would produce several films for exclusive distribution through a different studio, Columbia. This trailblazing move was envied by his peers and soon became the ideal sought for by such actors as James Cagney, Clark Gable, John Wayne and Bette Davis (Today, hundreds of stars form their own production companies to develop scripts into movies). Although many of the Santana productions did not feature Bogart, he did eventually wind up in four, notably the gritty Knock on Any Door (1949) and the cult favorite In a Lonely Place (1950). His turns in Tokyo Joe (1949) and Sirocco (1951) were forgettable Santana productions that didn’t perform well at the ticket counters, further proving that audiences weren’t interested in seeing Bogart in action-adventures.

The African Queen (1951) was the film that explored most deeply the inner complexity of the “Bogie” persona. Depending heavily on Huston for the proper sense of comic vulnerability and romantic quibbling, Bogart played a seafaring drunkard compelled to help a spinster missionary, elegantly performed by Katharine Hepburn. The simple, charming script won over audiences and the Academy. Bogart was awarded a Best Actor Oscar, beating out Marlon Brando in the landmark film A Streetcar Named Desire. The film also proved to be the launch of Bogart’s final period, marked by an oddball and complex turn as the unbalanced Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny (1954), for which he received another Best Actor nomination. Bogart’s other roles, as a wily film director in The Barefoot Contessa (1956), a wealthy stuffed-shirt in Billy Wilder’s Sabrina (1956) and the unscrupulous sportswriter of The Harder They Fall (1956), rounded out a stellar final year that showed the diverse sides of the aging actor.

Bogart’s influential role in film history coincides with a sweeping change in the types of scripts Hollywood selected after World War II. During the heyday of large-scale epics and high-adventure films, Bogart was an actor out of sync with the tastes of moviegoers and studio heads. But as money became scarce in postwar America, producers turned to smaller settings and more intimate stories. The camera got closer than ever to actors, and directors began examining the psyche of characters. Suddenly, the darker themes of film noir were popular, and the weathered face of Humphrey Bogart grew on audiences. In fact, his image became an indelible screen icon—often listed with Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin as one of the greatest faces in cinema. Like many high-ranking actors on this list, he stood for an entire genre. True, his image is not as closely associated with film noir as John Wayne’s is with the western. Nevertheless, he forged a new identity for the modern movie male that was distinctly different from the decisive man of action that preceded him— Bogart’s screen portrayals allowed audiences to examine the complexity of characters that weren’t heroic. The enduring popularity of the antihero, a type that has dominated scriptwriting since Bogart’s memorable performances, is a testament to his lasting influence on films.

To read all the republished articles from ‘The Film 100,’ go to Reintroducing the Film 100 here on Keyframe.

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