Five Top Five of December — Humphrey Bogart

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Here I am with another installment of my Five Top Five series for December! Today I’ll be ranking the best films of rugged tough guy Humphrey Bogart as my contribution to my first ever blogathon, the Humphrey Bogart Blogathon! You can find the blogathon’s announcement here, and you can find the rest of the entries here! Without further ado, on with the post!

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5. In A Lonely Place (1950)

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Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame in a scene from In A Lonely Place (1950).

First up we have one of the two films that I saw for the first time at last year’s Humphrey Bogart Film Festival and thoroughly enjoyed. In this vastly underrated noir, screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart), who is known for his drunkenness and belligerence, is given the arduous task of adapting the latest bestseller to the screen. Unwilling to read the book himself, he takes home a lovely hat check girl and fan of the novel named Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart) to summarize it for him in his home. When the girl is found murdered that very same night Steele becomes the police’s prime suspect, and when he is unable to cough up an alibi his alluring neighbor Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) interferes in his defense. Dixon and Laurel become unlikely friends and eventually unlikely lovers, but will their love be enough when he becomes violent and doubts of his innocence creep into her mind? Bogart plays against type as a completely unlikable character in a Hollywood film about Hollywood, which was the fourth film produced by Bogart’s own production company, Santana Productions. With stellar writing, acting on the parts of Bogie and Gloria Grahame, and directing on the part of Nicholas Ray (husband of our leading lady at the time and the man who would go on to helm Rebel Without A Cause (1955)), In A Lonely Place (1950) deserves an immense amount of credit and should go down in history as one of the more sublime and dark noirs of the genre.

4. The Maltese Falcon (1941)

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Bogie shows off the titular artifact in a publicity still for The Maltese Falcon (1941).

I know what you’re thinking; this film is far too much of a classic to be ranked so low on my list, but I must admit that this film took a few watches to fully understand the plot and arc of the story. Once I did understand, I developed an appreciation for it, but not quite as strong as my appreciation was and is for many of Bogart’s less convoluted pictures. This iconic movie is all about Sam Spade (Bogart), a private eye and half of Spade and Archer, a detective agency with his partner Miles (Jerome Cowan). One not so ordinary afternoon, a captivating brunette who goes by Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor) enters Spade’s office and begs for his help in finding her missing sister by sending one of the detectives to track the man who she’s supposedly in love with. Archer takes the case, trailing the man supposedly named Floyd Thursby, and winds up getting murdered in the process. With hardly any leads and nothing turning out like it seems on the surface, Sam Spade entangles himself in a web of crime and deceit, all revolving around a priceless artifact: The Maltese Falcon. Bogart puts his incredible “tough guy with a heart of gold” persona on full display in this film, and even though Spade makes some antihero-like decisions throughout its entirety, you know that he will swallow his pride and do the right thing in the end. This trope that resides in many of Humphrey Bogart’s roles is what really attracts my attention to his films, and this one is no exception. If you have a desire to check out some iconic noirs and see the likes of Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, and many more talented character actors in their best roles, check out this film immediately.

3. The Caine Mutiny (1954)

Next we have my favorite of the films that I saw for the first time at the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival. Here we find newcomer Robert Francis in the lead as Ensign Willie Keith, a recent graduate who reports to the USS Caine, a beaten up minesweeper called “the rust bucket” by its untidy and unorganized crew. The commander, Lieutenant De Vriess (Tom Tully), is liked by everyone on the crew except for Keith, who believes that those on the ship could use some good discipline. Soon De Vriess is relieved by Phillip Francis Queeg (Humphrey Bogart), a far more uptight yet bizarre captain, who makes mistake after mistake and covers each one up to the best of his ability. Keith and two of his good friends onboard the ship, Lieutenants Steve Maryk and Tom Keefer (Van Johnson and Fred MacMurray), begin to doubt their captain’s sanity, and when Queeg makes a decision that Keith believes would put the Caine‘s entire crew in jeopardy, he takes it upon himself to call for a mutiny and relieve Queeg of his position as captain. Every single performance in this ensemble cast is noteworthy, but Humphrey Bogart truly outdoes himself in his role as the possibly demented captain of the Caine. The scene in which Queeg crumbles on the witness stand in an attempt to defend himself against the crew’s mutiny is especially awe-inspiring, and quite possibly the best acting of his career. If you want to see a superb war epic and acting at its finest, go see this rare color film of Humphrey Bogart’s on his birthday.

2. Dark Passage (1947)

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Bogie and Bacall share an embrace on the set of Dark Passage (1947).

Here we have another of Bogart’s dramas that doesn’t receive nearly enough acclaim. In it he plays the role of Vincent Parry, a convict on death row at San Quentin for the murder of his wife who makes a break for it at the start of the film. He doesn’t get very far at first, but luckily painter Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) comes to his rescue and smuggles him in her car to her home in San Francisco. There she explains that she felt sorry for Parry and had sat in for every day of his trial, comparing it to the trial and execution of her own father who she believed was innocent in the murder of her stepmother. Parry hides out in Jansen’s apartment and the two are instantly attracted to each other, but destiny comes banging on the door in the form of Madge Rapf (Agnes Moorehead), a shrill and vindictive woman who is an imposing friend of Irene’s and who testified against Vincent at the murder trial out of jealousy. Will Madge and fate interfere and throw Vincent back behind bars, or will he find a better life and escape the electric chair? I find this to be a thrilling masterpiece and the best of the four Bogie and Bacall films. The directing and cinematography Delmer Daves and Sidney Hickox are revolutionary as the entire first half of the film is ingeniously shot from the main character’s perspective. This trick gives us a glimpse into Parry’s life that no other method would, and gives us a gratuitous amount of shots of Lauren Bacall, which I could never complain about either. I would strongly recommend this film to any Bogie and Bacall fan.

1. Dead Reckoning (1947)

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Lizabeth Scott and Humphrey Bogart break for tea on the set of Dead Reckoning (1947).

My top pick is likely among my list of the most underrated films of all time. In the film Bogie plays Rip Murdock, an ex-paratrooper who tells most of his story in flashback. He and his best friend and fellow paratrooper Johnny Drake (William Prince) are taken by private plane to Washington, D. C. and surprised with the fact that Drake is to be presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery and good deeds in battle. Before he is to receive it, however, Drake leaves town without a word. Determined to find out what happened and what caused his best friend’s disappearance, Murdock heads to his hometown. While there Rip digs a little deeper, and finds out that what was originally a disappearance has turned into a murder, and that Johnny was possibly involved in a murder of his own before he joined the army. To complicate matters even further, Rip finds the love of Johnny’s life, intriguing lounge singer Coral Chandler (Lizabeth Scott), and begins to fall in love with her himself. The exceptional writing by Oliver Garrett and Steve Fisher (based on a story by Gerald Addams and Sidney Biddell) is what truly makes this picture special. Almost every line is quotable in its own right, and while some of the acting may seem cliche or forced (on all counts with the exception of Bogie’s performance), you know that the dialogue spoken in the film is poetic and genuine. With beautiful and mysterious lines like “Go ahead, put Christmas in your eyes and keep your voice low. Tell me about paradise and all the things I’m missing. I haven’t had a good laugh since before Johnny was murdered.”, this film is chock full of romance and intrigue, and I classify it as a must see.

The Agatha Christie Blogathon: My Analysis of Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

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NOTE: As it would be nearly impossible to review or analyze this film without including all parts of it, this will be one of my very few posts that is NOT spoiler-free. Read on only if you dare!

I would like to begin by thanking the hosts of this awesome blogathon: Little Bits of Classics and Christina Whener. I apologize that my post is so late, but I am eternally grateful that both of you gave me the perfect opportunity to see this film for the first time, and I’m even more esctatic to be able to write about both Agatha Christie and Lauren Bacall for their birthdays! So without further ado, I send many belated birthday wishes to Miss Christie and Miss Bacall, and on with the post!

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The art deco style title card for Murder on the Orient Express (1974).

I was instantly intrigued by the art deco style of the title cards as well as the chilling score playing over them. It’s clear by the use of color and cinematography — even before we see any of the characters — that this film is from the 1970s, but I’ve always felt that movies from that decade and the one prior shed a new and possibly more realistic light on the 20s and 30s (I find The Sting (1973) and Splendor in the Grass (1962) to be the best examples of this). The use of color in the opening montage was also very functional and deliberate, as the crime scenes and newspapers regarding the disappearance of Daisy Armstrong were tinged with a blue-gray that showed the grief of the incident. The flash of red at the end that paired with the announcement of her murder really grabs the audience’s attention as any clever use of color should, and makes me wonder what sort of connection ties this story to the rest of the film.

The first of the many characters that we meet during the course of the film is our star detective, Hercule Poirot. He is immediately revealed to be a strange yet intelligent man, who surprisingly does not seem to show a great deal of empathy for the lives of others. Next we begin to meet some of the characters who will soon become the passengers of the Orient Express and eventually suspects in the murder of Mr. Ratchett. Colonel Arbuthnot (Sean Connery), followed closely by the woman who we eventually find out is his lover Mary Debenham (Vanessa Redgrave). We see the murder victim in question, Ratchett, and his secretary McQueen (Anthony Perkins) as well as his valet Beddoes (John Gielgud), the elderly Princess Dragomiroff (Wendy Hiller) and her maid Hildegarde (Rachel Roberts), Count and Countess Andrenyi (Michael York and Jacqueline Bisset), the twice-wed Mrs. Hubbard (Lauren Bacall), devout missionary Greta (Ingrid Bergman), the Italian car salesman Foscarelli (Dennis Quilley), Pinkerton’s employee Hardman (Colin Blakely) and the steward on the Express, Pierre (Jean-Pierre Cassel). As Poirot expertly unravels the details of the murder, he slowly but surely finds out that every single suspect was once connected to the Armstrong family.

Agatha Christie attended the premiere of this film when she was eighty-four years old,

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Albert Finney as enigmatic detective Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express (1974).

just fourteen months before her death on January 12th, 1976. Murder on the Orient Express (1974) was supposedly the only film adaptation of her novels that she was completely satisfied with, and she praised Albert Finney’s portrayal of the shrewd Hercule Poirot as the closest screen version to her character that she had ever seen (though she was reportedly unhappy with the whimsical moustache that he was given in this film). The film was no walk in the park for lead actor Albert Finney, however, as he was starring in a stage play while filming, and the task of completing both productions allowed Finney hardly any sleep at all. In an attempt to make the actor’s life a little bit easier as he played both parts simultaneously, the makeup department would pick him up every morning in an ambulance and painstakingly transform Finney into Detective Poirot while he was still asleep in his pajamas! To make matters worse for him, Poirot’s famous monologue at the end of the film required take after take as the set did not allow for more than one camera to occupy the cramped train compartment at one time. This of course was no easy feat for the peculiar detective, as his closing speech was over eight pages long.

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Theatrical poster for Murder on the Orient Express (1974).

Finney’s performance certainly paid off as I found the actor’s performance to be delightful, though he was completely unrecognizable in the main role. High praises could also be given to the rest of the all-star cast, including Ingrid Bergman, who won an Academy Award for her performance and had to redevelop her Swedish accent with the help of diction coaches to play the role of Greta. Oscars aside, I must admit that my two favorite performances in the film were those of Anthony Perkins and belated birthday girl Lauren Bacall, who played the suspicious secretary McQueen and the talkative Mrs. Hubbard, respectively. Other notable appearances included the always wonderful Sean Connery as Colonel Arbuthnot, Vanessa Redgrave as Mary Debenham, Jacqueline Bisset as the beautiful Countess Andrenyi, Martin Balsam in a wonderful leading role as Bianchi, and of course Richard Windmark as the murder victim Ratchett, who only took on the role in order to meet the array of other stars who would be present during filming. Of course it’s really no wonder that the cast was so impeccable, as I found out that the film boasts fifty-eight Oscars between the members of the cast and crew.

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My favorite performance: Lauren Bacall as Mrs. Hubbard in Murder on the Orient Express (1974).

Despite the valiant efforts of the cast, director Sidney Lumet, and composer Richard Rodney Bennett, I did find a few issues with the film’s plot. Granted, this may be because I have only seen the picture once, but I can’t seem to understand why twelve people, who were all very closely related to the same family and the same crime committed five years ago, happen to be on the same train at the same time on a totally separate continent. Also, if all twelve of these people were so closely related, how did none of them slip up even once to Poirot and reveal that they knew each other? These points lead me to believe that it was either a completely improbable coincidence or that it was planned, and if it was, I noticed no evidence or explanation of this aforementioned plan in the film. I also find it difficult to believe that all twelve of the compartment’s passengers (despite having motive) were completely fine with participating in the murder. The only character to show any remorse at all is Greta, but only because she was committing a crime in the eyes of God. Not a single person seemed worried that they were breaking the law, that one of the world’s greatest detectives was onboard the same train, or that they would more than likely be going to jail. I think more detail could have been provided from the novel to answer these plot holes, or even better I think a sequel that would contain the confessions and backstories of each of the passengers would be a clever way of clearing everything up and tying all of the film’s loose ends. Despite these lingering questions, I still find the film to be a mystery as genius as only Agatha Christie could pen, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who loves a good crime thriller or is a fan of murder mystery dinner theatres, as this was without a doubt the tale that sparked the genre.