Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Heath Holland On...Hollywood's Heroes: Humphrey Bogart
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.
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.
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.