Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Heath Holland On...Hollywood's Heroes: Humphrey Bogart

In this inaugural edition of Hollywood’s Heroes, we’re taking a look at one of classic cinema’s most prolific and influential stars: Bogie.

Breaking news: Humphrey Bogart is awesome. Results from a leading Swiss scientific research team that I’ve just made up conclusively point to Bogart as officially being “the coolest.” Contact has been made with life from other planets, Jodie-Foster-hallucination-style, and they were wearing fedoras and had droopy ciggies hanging from the lips while repeating the line “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.”

Humphrey Bogart isn’t just on the list of Hollywood leading men that are instantly recognizable; he sits at the top. In fact, in 1999 the American Film Institute named him the most recognizable male movie star in film history.

Watching Bogart on film is a dangerous proposition, like playing with electricity while standing in a puddle. At all times equally dour and unattached yet endlessly magnetic, Bogart is in a league all his own in terms of the energy and tension that he brings to the screen. In other words, Humphrey Bogart is badass.

And the crazy thing is, when you consider that Bogart acted in over eighty films, the actor worked for years before he saw mainstream success. He’d been acting on stage and in minor roles for a full fifteen years with little fanfare before he finally broke through with his role as the killer Duke Mantee in the 1936 Warner Brothers film version of the play The Petrified Forest.
Bogart was PERFECT in the role, playing a criminal on the run and backed into a corner, willing to do anything to stay alive. He seemed to burn through the screen every single time he was on camera. The darkness of The Petrified Forest has been referred to as a precursor to film noir, a genre that arguably wouldn’t be what it is without the contributions of Bogart.

And while Bogart’s name has become synonymous with the darker roles he made famous in films like Angels with Dirty Faces, Black Legion and The Roaring Twenties, he also excelled at playing honorable men caught up in circumstances beyond their control. He had a quality that conveyed angst and unhappiness, even in roles where he was allowed to play things a bit lighter.

And that’s what draws me in. Bogart smolders but suffers simultaneously, providing a duality to his performances. It didn’t matter if he was playing a lowly thug, a gangster at the height of his power, a father who was quickly losing control of his life or a jilted lover who carried bitterness and regret; there was an undercurrent of humanity and vulnerability to every single thing he did.
Last year I took the plunge and bought Warner Brothers’ “Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection” 24-film DVD set and it has been an eye-opener. I’d seen the man’s mainstream hits, but as I watched movies that I’d never even heard of I was amazed at how consistent his screen presence was, even in his earlier roles. The man was a master, conveying a range of emotions with a single look. I’ve honestly never seen a bad Bogart performance. I can’t say that for all the films, but Bogart’s performances are uniformly great.

Between 1936 and his untimely death in 1956 from cancer, Bogie starred in some of the most respected films ever captured on celluloid. That’s a big claim but no hyperbole is needed; his work is really important to movies as we know them. Most actors aspire for one huge hit that they’ll be remembered for, but Bogart had many: High Sierra, The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, Key Largo, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The African Queen are all considered classics. And while I haven’t even come close to seeing everything the man starred in, that’s definitely a goal of mine.

Bogie played every type of role during his reign as one of Hollywood’s leading men. He mastered the crime thriller and wooed hearts with his romantic roles. He played the hero and he played more than his fair share of villains. But he brought depth to every role, giving each one a life of its own.
So raise a glass and toast to his memory and legacy. Here’s to Humphrey Bogart, the coolest cat this side of Rick’s Café. You must remember this: Bogie made a lasting impression on cinema that still exists today and has forever earned a place as one of Hollywood’s Heroes.


  1. That was great Heath, Bogie really was the greatest. Which of his roles is your favorite? As JB has said, Rick Blaine is the coolest man who ever lived, but I've always gravitated a little more towards his turn as Fred C. Dobbs in Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

  2. I'm going to once again put a word in for To Have and Have Not, which is basically Casablanca (a movie I love) without any of that silly romantic nonsense. Bogart and Bacall are a joy to watch in that movie, and then again a few years later in The Big Sleep. Their "racehorse" scene in The Big Sleep is as sexy as you could possibly get in the 40s.

  3. I haven't seen To Have and Have Not yet, but romance is STUPID, so now I'm eager to do so. :) I haven't gotten that far in my box set yet, but I'm looking forward to it now.
    Myke, I don't know if I can answer that question. I mean, that's like choosing which testicle is my favorite: I have so many. I do love Rick Blaine VERY much. It's iconic. But then, the role you mention is also a precursor to Indiana Jones, which is one of my favorite cinematic characters. If I'm being honest it's his Casablanca character. but you make a great case. Also, his role from Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse appeals to me because it's so out there.

  4. The title of that movie alone has me clamoring to go rent it. Thanks for the recommendation.

  5. Oh, and also, the Return of Doctor X, a sci-fi horror movie where he has a white stripe in his hair and carries a rabbit. There's so many.

  6. He is one of my favourite actors. Like you stated, he never gave a bad performance!