Showing posts with label Humphrey Bogart. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Humphrey Bogart. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Big Shot (1942)

“He was a big shot once.”

The 1930s saw Humphrey Bogart in countless crime dramas playing every different variation on the gangster character. It wasn’t until the early 1940s, thanks to some poor decisions made by fellow actor George Raft, that Bogart’s career would do an about face. Raft turned down High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon (1941) and these two films launched Bogart into mega stardom. George Raft also bailed out on another film, the lesser known Warner Bros. movie The Big Shot (1942) which would serve as Bogie’s goodbye to the gangster film genre. It would the last vestige of that former career.

“You can’t be a crook anymore because you used up your chances. And you can’t be honest because nobody’ll let you.” – Bogie as Duke Berne

Bogart stars as Duke Berne, a career criminal who just got out of prison for the third time. One more strike and he’ll be in the hoosegow for life. He’s determined to make an honest go at things but the police have a close eye on him and his old cronies are back to rope him into another heist. This time it’s an armored car they’re after and District Attorney Fleming (Stanley Ridges) is the brains behind the operation. Turns out Fleming is married to Duke’s old flame Lorna, played the dazzling singer turned actress Irene Manning. Lorna convinces Duke to bail on the heist and spend the night with her instead.

“This armored car is no can of corn.” – Bogie as Duke Berne

The heist goes terribly wrong and Duke is misidentified by a witness, thanks to police coercion, and sent to prison for life. Lorna is his only alibi but neither can reveal that they were together that night. Salesman George Anderson (Richard Travis), desperate for money so he can marry his girlfriend Ruth Carter (Susan Peters), is hired as a fake alibi but things go terribly wrong for everyone involved. We know from the onset that things won’t turn out well for Duke. The first scene of the film shows Duke in the hospital ward of a prison dying with George and Ruth by his side. The majority of film is a flashback revealing Duke’s tragic story.

Directed by Lewis Seiler, The Big Shot (1942) is part film noir, part gangster flick, part courtroom drama and part prison film. This is a rare Bogart film which is an odd thing to say considering how easy it is to access the majority of Bogart’s film work. It was unavailable for a long time, I always missed it when it was on TCM and I was very happy to see Warner Archive made it available on DVD. I was particularly interested in this film because of Susan Peters, a favorite actress of mine who was at the height of her career in 1942. That same year she would land a plum role in Random Harvest and she would be nominated for an Oscar for that performance. 1942 also saw Bogart in the mega classic Casablanca so needless to say it was a really good year for him too.

This film is very flawed but still enjoyable to watch. There is a lot of fantastic dialogue delivered expertly by Bogart and even though Bogart and Manning didn’t get along on set they do make an electric pair on screen. Some of the cinematography in the film is delightful. There is one scene in which Bogart reveals himself from behind a curtain and he is lit to perfection. Some of the editing is not that great and while I don’t have a fine tuned eye for this sort of thing it was quite noticeable in this film which is a bad sign. There are several plot lines which makes this film more a series of vignettes than one continuous story.

The biggest problem with the film is the black face. Isn’t that always a problem when it appears in old movies? Not to reveal too much about the plot but one of the pivotal scenes towards the end of the film involves a fellow prisoner of Duke’s donning black face for a prison talent show. The black face itself is not really a plot element, just something this character did, but it does date the movie for contemporary audiences. It may also be one of the many reasons this film remains relatively unknown.

Bogart completists need to watch The Big Shot (1942). And who isn’t a Bogart completist? I know I am! The Big Shot is an oddity and an entertaining one at that.

The Big Shot (1942) on DVD is available from Warner Archive.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received The Big Shot (1942) from Warner Archive for review. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Stars & Their Hobbies ~ Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey Bogart aboard his yacht "Santana" circa 1945.
Source: LIFE Magazine
Humphrey Bogart, Sailing

“Unless you really understand the water and understand the reason for being on it and understand the love of sailing and the feeling of quietness and solitude, you don't really belond on a boat anyway.” – Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey Bogart loved sailing especially on his beloved yacht the “Santana”. He and his wife Lauren Bacall owned and sailed the yacht from 1945 until his death in 1957. Other notable stars who owned the Santana include Eva Gabor, George Brent, Ray Milland, Dick Powell and June Allyson.  Guests on the Bogart’s yacht included Ingrid Bergman, Richard Burton, David Niven and Frank Sinatra (Source).

Sailing was an important part of Bogart’s life. He developed a passion for sailing as a child when his family would summer on Lake Canandaigua in New York. He was a member of the Newport Harbor Yacht Club and Los Angeles Yacht Club and participated in races including the San Clemente Island and Channel Islands races.

"An actor needs something to stabilize his personality, something to nail down what he really is, not what he is currently pretending to be." - Humphrey Bogart

You could say the Santana was the love of Bogart’s life, besides Lauren Bacall. Bogart had a minuature model of the Santana in his home. The boat in his film Key Largo was named the Santan. In 1947, Bogart started his own production company Santana Productions which produced films such as Knock on Any Door (1949), Tokyo Joe (1949), In a Lonely Place (1950), Sirocco (1951) and Beat the Devil (1953) among others.

There are many wonderful photos of Bogart on his yacht including a series shot by noted photographer Peter Stackpole in 1945 for LIFE magazine. Below is a home movie of Bogart and Bacall on board the Santana. Enjoy!

My series Stars & Their Hobbies explores how notable actors and actresses from Hollywood history spent their free time. Click here to view a complete list of entries.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics Blu-Ray Review

Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics Blu-Ray 
On Sale May, 21 2013
Buy on:
Barnes & Noble
Best Buy
Warner Bros.

The Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics Blu-Ray boxed set went on sale this week. There is also a Contemporary version of the same set with 4 different movies. The Classics set includes four of the best original gangster movies including Little Caesar (1931), The Public Enemy (1931), The Petrified Forest (1936) and White Heat (1949).

Thanks to Warner Bros. I got a chance to review this set. I've had a Blu-Ray player for quite a while but haven't really been upgrading to Blu-Rays quite yet since so many classics are still only available on DVD. I was happy to get this on Blu-Ray because I love the quality even with black and white films.

This set comes with four Blu-Ray discs, each with one of the movies  Each Blu-Ray has some extras including commentary, an intro by Leonard Maltin, a newsreel, a short, a trailer and a featurette. I don't believe these extras are anything new and were most likely available in the previous editions of these films on DVD.

I had a Twitter conversation with some folks about DVD and Blu-Ray extras. Some folks didn't care about extras and others thought really good extras could make or break a set. I liked what Laura from Laura's Miscellaneous Musings had to say. She says the best DVDs or Blu-Rays with extras are like a "film school in a box". The extras add to your knowledge of the film and that time period. I agree with her. Those types of extras really add big value to a set. I wouldn't say that this Blu-Ray set is a "film school in a box" however it's a nice introductory set for people who like the gangster movie genre but didn't know much about these films to begin with. Perhaps a "gangster film intro class in a box".

The Blu-Ray set also comes with a Bonus DVD (note it's a DVD not a Blu-Ray) which has the feature-length documentary Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film. The documentary has interviews with notable film experts. I noticed that almost all of the talking heads were men except for Molly Haskell. I found the documentary a bit repetitive and I lost interest in it. I do think it has value perhaps for someone who is learning about these films for the first time. I'm definitely going to give the documentary another shot!

The set also comes with a 32 page 2-color booklet (black and white with gold) which includes some information about the time period, the gangster movie genre and the specific films. I'm always happy to see booklets in DVD or Blu-Ray sets because I think they add nice value to the set.

I would recommend this Blu-Ray set as a gift to someone who you think would appreciate early gangster movies. This would make a great Father's Day gift especially since that's right around the corner. However, I think women would enjoy this set too because I know I love gangster films and can't get enough of them! Also, if you are a classic film enthusiast looking to encourage someone to watch more old movies, I think this would be a great way to convert them. The real value of this set is as a gift or as a collector's item.

I loved revisiting Little Caesar (1931), The Public Enemy (1931) and The Petrified Forest (1936). I was especially moved by The Petrified Forest and I connected with the film on this viewing in a way I hadn't done so before. The message of personal freedom and independence of spirit really struck me. White Heat (1949) is one of those films I always thought I had seen but really had not. It comes pretty late in the era of gangster movies and is famous for the last scene with James Cagney saying "made it Ma, top of the world!". I enjoyed White Heat immensely. I love Cagney and one of my favorite actors Edmond O'Brien plays opposite him. There are a lot of O'Brien haters out there. I know a particular blogger who found the worst picture of him she muster up to demonstrate how gross he was. Pshaw! Just watch O'Brien in White Heat and you'll learn to appreciate him. White Heat is such a fantastic film and I'm glad I got a chance to see it. And with this set you get three of the best actors at the top of their game playing the gangster roles: Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney.

Thank you to Warner Bros. for sending me a copy of this set to review!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Warner Archive Wednesday ~ It All Came True (1940)

"Don't worry about me baby. I got myself covered both ways from the middle." Humphrey Bogart as Chips Maguire

It All Came True (1940) is a little film with a big cast. The movie takes place in the Gay '90s (or maybe not, I couldn't quite tell. It could be that they were being nostalgic). The story follows the story of convict Chips Maguire (Humphrey Bogart) as he hides in a boarding house in order to avoid being arrested by the cops who are hot on his trail. He gets help from his buddy Tommy Taylor (Jeffrey Lynn), a musician who found himself on the wrong side of the tracks and in a whole lot of trouble.

Tommy takes Chips back to the home of his mom Mrs. Nora Taylor (Jessie Busley). They haven't seen each other in many years so it's a very sweet reunion. At the boarding home you'll find Sarah Ryan (Ann Sheridan), a beautiful wise-cracking dame who is having a bit of trouble with money so she's staying with her mom (Una O'Connor). Also at the boarding house is a cast of eccentric characters including Miss Flint played by the ever delightful Zasu Pitts. No one at the boarding house knows that Chips Maguire is a felon on the lam except for Tommy. But soon they start figuring out what is going on and Chips finds himself on edge.

Chips don't want no stinkin' broth!

I always have a difficult time picking out which film from the 1940s I want to watch. It's a tricky decade with me and if I chose a film it has to be just right. It was a comfort for me to see many of my favorite characters actors including Zasu Pitts, Una O'Conner (Christmas in Connecticut) and John Litel (Nancy Drew films).

Humphrey Bogart had been typecast in the 1930s as a gangster/criminal that it is very natural to him again in this role.  It All Came True comes just before Bogart's films High Sierra and Casablanca in which he breaks out of the mold Hollywood made for him and into major stardom.

It All Came True is somewhat typical of a 1940s film. Old people must be kooky, dames must be wise-cracking, the villain must not get his way and the good guy always wins in the end. Oh and all dogs are incredibly smart and well-trained!

Then there is Ann Sheridan as Sarah Ryan. She's a wise-cracking dame with a good heart.

Ann Sheridan strikes me as the sort of woman who was comfortable in her own skin. She seemed to exude a natural sort of self-confidence. This is just my assumption based on no real knowledge of Ann Sheridan as a person. All I know is that her woman-of-the-world persona is something I find very appealing about her as an actress. Her character is really the go-between of all the characters. She has prior knowledge of Chips Maguire, a history with Tommy, a deep bond with her mother even though sometimes they clash and familial relationship with all the boarders at the home. She's really the central character in the story that keeps things moving along.

And of course, there HAS to be a love story!

It All Came True (1940) is a film for those who want a quirky film with a fun cast of characters. Pair it with Hide-Out (1934) for a great double feature.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Movies selected are rented from Classicflix or purchased from Warner Archive, Classicflix or TCM. This series is not sponsored by Warner Archive.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tough Without a Gun by Stefan Kanfer

Tough Without a Gun
The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart
by Stefan Kanfer
Hardcover - February 2011
9780307271006 $26.95
Paperback - February 2012
Alfred A. Knopf (Random House)

In a corrupt world he kept his own code of honor, without the consolations of religion or social approval. - Stefan Kanfer

[Bogart was] the only man I have ever known who truly and completely belonged to himself. - Lauren Bacall

The term "tough without a gun" comes from author Raymond Chandler. Chandler said "Bogart can be tough without a gun... he has a sense of humor that contains the grating undertone of contempt." Bogie was a man's man. He was the man. He was tough with or without a gun. You watch him, you admire him, you fear him and you want to be him. The most important thing you need to know about Bogie was that he was always himself. He was never molded or shaped. Instead, he stayed true to what he was and it showed on screen and off.

Stefan Kanfer's book, Tough Without a Gun, focuses on the film career, personal life and the posthumous development of the cult of Bogie. I really wish Kanfer had dedicated more time to the Extraordinary Afterlife part. We get 227 pages of Bogie's life and death and only 27 pages of his afterlife. However, those short 27 pages do provide a lot of insight into why, almost 55 years after his death we still idolized Bogie.

In the book, we get to glimpse at a very young Bogie who came from a well-to-do WASP family. His mother was an illustrator (she drew the famous Gerber baby but Bogie was not the model contrary to popular belief) and his father was a doctor. He was a privileged kid but when he became an adult a lot of things changed. His mother and father's marriage went south (although they didn't divorce), his father got himself into bad debt and his sister, after having a child, suffered from post-partum depression which led to her alcoholism. We see that Bogie's early dramatic career, on stage and in movies, was very much a way for him to earn money to help his family.

Kanfer glosses over what he thinks are Bogie's smaller films and Bogie's biggest films are given more time, back story and explanation. He spends a lot of time talking about High Sierra (1941) , Casablanca (1942), The Maltese Falcon (1941), To Have and Have Not (1944), The African Queen (1951), etc. Do be aware that he does give away entire plot lines. If you haven't seen a film he's talking about, skip over that section and come back to it after you've seen the film. Kanfer also looks closely at Bogart's four marriages including the most well-known (and romanticized) one he had with Lauren Bacall as well as his friendships with directors, actors and actresses and his relationship with his two children.

Tough Without a Gun is chock-full of interesting anecdotes and insights. And the funny thing is, the most interesting ones are not about Bogie at all. However, they do relate to Bogie in some way and are put into context. Here are my favorites:

- James Cagney operated a 100 acre farm in Martha's Vineyard (I want to find this!)
- Edward G. Robinson had a huge collection of art work.
- Joan Bennett's husband shot her agent out of jealousy. Bennett was blacklisted from films even though the agent wasn't fatally wounded and she never cheated on her husband. Bogie helped her get her role in We're No Angels (1955).
- On the Waterfront's plot may be Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan's response to the HUAC.
- Peter Sellers was an expert Bogie impersonator and did some of the dubbing in Beat the Devil (1953).
- Casablanca almost didn't make it onto film because of the Post-Code issue of the two main characters being lovers previous to the story.
- Director Edward Dmytryk  gave many more names to the HUAC than Elia Kazan and he also spent time in jail for his Communist ties.

Also, Kanfer's book has a major error in it that I spotted right away. And it's not about Bogie! Kanfer says the following about Paul Henreid's role in Now, Voyager (1942): "On a cruise, the ugly duckling meets the unhappily married Henreid, and under his ministrations turns into an enchanting and self-assured swan." NO! That is NOT what happens. By the time Bette Davis' character makes it onto the cruise she's already a swan and it's under Claude Rains' ministrations that she makes her transformation. For those of you who are fans of the film, you may recall Henreid's character being shocked by a picture of her in her ugly duckling stage. I really hope the publisher fixes this error before the paperback publishes.

Kanfer reveals a lot about Bogie without dishing dirt. This book is great for those of you who love Bogie but don't want gossip-ridden fare. Kanfer's portrait of Bogie is both kind and realistic. The book is insightful and you'll come to understand why Bogie became such an iconoclast. So what are you waiting for? Get your read on!

Full Disclosure: I asked the publisher for a review copy.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The African Queen (1951) at the Brattle

This passage comes from the book Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart by Stefan Kanfer:

In the early 1950s the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, tried something old. Like many another venue for productions of Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Shaw, the Brattle had become a film house in the early 1950s. But it was a film house unlike any other. It had a rear-screen projector, rather than the standard setup that beamed movies on a screen above the audience. And it had owners who believed that the past could be more alluring than the present.
 In April of 1957, the Brattle screened Casablanca (1942), 15 years after it had come out and 3 months after Bogart died. Kanfer goes on to show how the posthumous cult of Bogie starts at the Brattle and spreads across the country gathering followers along the way. Having seen Casablanca (1942) at the Brattle and having seen The African Queen (1951) , another Bogie film, there too, I think this is pretty darn cool. It makes me love the Brattle more than I do already.

For a whole week, the Brattle showed a restored 35mm print of The African Queen (1951) starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart and directed by John Huston. In cases like these, I'm glad I haven't yet devoured all the great classics because I got to experience viewing The African Queen for the first time on the big screen. Not having seen it in its previous condition, I can't tell you how the restored print compares however I can tell you that I saw was strangely beautiful. A Technicolor film showing dirt and grime in all its glory. 

The trifecta of Huston-Hepburn-Bogie just works. The director and the two stars were a scrappy trio. Hepburn had an adventurous spirit and her natural mischievousness made her a perfect fit for playing Rose Sayers. Stefan Kanfer says that Hepburn enjoyed hanging around heavy drinkers John Huston and Humphrey Bogart. Perhaps because she was in a long-term, albeit extramarital, relationship with hard drinker Spencer Tracy and knew what to expect. Hepburn didn't drink much on set herself but maybe she should have. She believed in drinking lots of water and ended up getting very sick after ingesting contaminated water. Huston & Bogie staved off the sickness by sticking to the booze. Perhaps Bogie's portrayal of the gin-loving Charlie Allnut was easy peasy for him and perhaps the sober version of Charlie, after Rose throws away all his liquor, required a little more work. It all comes together to make one beautiful picture.

I enjoyed this film very much. I was a bit thrown off by that first scene in the church when all the native Africans are trying to mimic the sounds of an English hymn as Katharine Hepburn and Robert Morley try to sing eloquently over their drones. It did set up the comedy aspect of the movie though. While Rose and Charlie are in a lot of danger, it's a very light-hearted movie. Because there is such a strict focus on those two characters you get plenty of time to understand them, care for them and laugh at their wild antics. While this film was also screened at the Somerville Theatre, I'm glad I watched it at the Brattle, the so-called originating point of the cult of Bogie.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

We're No Angels (1955)

Finishing a blogathon 5 months later is okay... right?!

We're No Angels (1955) is a Christmas story like no other. It's the turn of the 20th Century and three Devil's Island convicts find themselves on a tropical island colonized by France. They need money to catch a ship back to Europe but find themselves without any resources. So what are three convicts to do? Steal and kill of course! Joseph (Humphrey Bogart), Albert (Aldo Ray) and Jules (Peter Ustinov) target the Ducotel family who run a local shop. But the mother Ducotel (Joan Bennett), father Ducotel (Leo G. Carroll) and the lovesick daughter Isabelle (Gloria Talbott) are sweet, kind and charming. What are three ruthless convicts to do when they are being treated nicely on this Christmas Eve? They still need to make it home! Will they be able to kill this nice family?

This is one of the few Humphrey Bogart films in color. The only other one I can think of is The African Queen. And boy is there a lot of color. So make sure that if you are a Bogie fan that this film is in your repertoire. While Bogie is charming as the swindler of the convict pact (he's the brains behind the operation) and Peter Ustinov is also charming as the goofy and lovable safecracker, it's Aldo Ray that caught my attention. Why? Because he doesn't look like he belongs in a film from 1955. He looks like he's straight out of the 21st Century. He's got that All-American look that is All-American now but not back then. Big broad shoulders, big arms, lots of height, buzz cut hair and tattoos. That's NOW. He stuck out like a sore thumb to me. Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas were buff in a barrel-chested kind of way. Aldo Ray had some real bulk to his muscles. Wow!

Moving on... This is a very enjoyable film. It's black humor with a wholesome feel and a bit of sex thrown in. We're No Angels can be a bit slow paced. I won't hide the fact that I fell asleep twice while watching the film (it could be a lullaby!). It's not explicitly Christmas. In fact, the tropical setting and the focus on the Convict-Family plot makes you forget the holiday theme a few times in the film. However, I think that non-Christmas films that take place at Christmas are great for Holiday viewing.

Three Angels came to earth that night and all around the stars were bright.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dead End (1937)

I've heard a few film-loving folks on Twitter proclaim that sleep is overrated. Hmph! It is indeed NOT overrated. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is highly underrated. A good night's sleep does wonders for ones well-being. And as film enthusiasts, being awake and alert and not drowsy (or the opposite, jittery from the excess caffeine) is the only way to watch a film. Sure you can cram a few more films in if you sleep fewer hours but are you really enjoying them?

I watched Dead End at home, on my sofa, wrapped in a warm blanket. I was instantly hooked, especially because I had enjoyed Crime School (1938) (another Dead End Kids-Bogie film) so much. 40 minutes into this 93 minute movie and I started to doze off. I kept trying to stay awake but no matter how good the story I just couldn't. After a long week with not enough sleep, I was mentally and physically fatigued. I drifted in an out of consciousness during the last 30 minutes, Bogie's face popping up intermittently along with that of Sylvia Sidney, Joel McCrea and the delightfully rambunctious Dead End kids. However, I couldn't keep awake. I saw enough to understand the plot and know what was going on but Carlos had to fill me in at certain points.

Before I return Dead End to Netflix, I'll give it a proper viewing, rested and awake and ready to full absorb the film. One thing that is notable about Dead End is that Bogie has a considerable role in the film, which was not all that common in his film career during the 1930s. He plays Baby Face Martin, a gangster just come out of some reconstructive surgery on his face and heading back to his old 'hood to find a dame he once knew as well as to reconnect with his mother. He takes some time to cause some mischief as well. Bogie's idleness in the film (he hangs around a lot, watching and threatening but not doing much until towards the end) is what keeps the various plot points together. After each section ends, it keeps coming back to Bogie's character and his growing ire and itch to do something really bad. The Dead End kids as well as the physical location do this as well. They are all anchors for the film and keep us grounded.

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