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!
5. 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)
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)
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)
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.