Tag Archives: Humphrey Bogart

Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz)

Every time I watch Casablanca–and I think it’s been a while since the last time, over ten years ago, when I saw it at Radio City–I marvel at the pacing. The film runs an hour and forty minutes and it doesn’t even seem like any time has passed until Bergman is in Bogart’s apartment. I think that scene brings in the temporal aspect not because of the scene’s weight, but because Paul Henreid’s had an off-screen activity. We see everything in Casablanca–with the exception of the pre-opening incident (the murder of the German couriers)–and once we aren’t seeing everything, it becomes clear the film’s a narrative with an eventual ending. The beauty of the film is how the script sets it up to never imply a conclusion–certainly not one so quickly (as Bogart says to Bergman, he didn’t expect her so soon)–as the present action takes place over two and a half days.

The film’s opening, with the narrated introduction, followed by the daily life in Casablanca, gradually introducing Bogart, exquisitely conditions the viewer. For most of the running time, the film portrays Bogart as a cynic, hardly a heroic protagonist (he’s not even as consistently funny as Claude Rains). Watching Bogart bicker with Dooley Wilson over his drinking or lash out at Bergman, it’s a raw human desperation not often seen in films of this period. Curtiz’s frequent, patient close-ups–most often of Bergman thinking–contribute to the film’s sensitivity.

The viewer doesn’t even have all the necessary information until forty-five minutes into the film–and even then there’s the question of whether Bergman’s history with Paul Henreid is essential–after Bogart and Wilson’s bickering, after the flashback to Paris. The flashback must only take five minutes, but it always seems to take so much longer. It really does resonate, since up until that point, we’ve only seen Bogart on the one night.

The script does such an amazing job setting up the characters and their potential for empathy (especially with Sydney Greenstreet), with Nazi Conrad Veidt and Peter Lorre the only irredeemable characters. And even then, Lorre’s questionable. There’s a great ambiguity to the film in how it deals with its characters and their morality. Only Henreid and Wilson–as well as the supporting cast in Bogart’s nightclub–are scrupulous. The film doesn’t even make an issue of Bogart growing into a noble mold–there’s no implication he’s going to continue doing the right thing.

The other thing I always think about is the film’s ability to juggle being well-written and narratively solid with being constantly entertaining. Curtiz frequently brings a comedic timing to the action–for instance, with Bogart pulling the pistol on Rains at the end. The film establishes, right away, a dire setting (my wife, watching for the first time, gasped as the French police shot the fleeing man without his papers in the first scene). Everyone’s desperate, everyone’s unhappy, everyone’s in a lot of trouble… but there’s so much humor. Bogart and Lorre’s opening conversation lightens the mood, but never breaks the setting.

Rains is responsible for a lot of the levity. His police prefect is just perfect. Every scene he’s in produces a smile at the least.

Both Bogart and Bergman are fantastic, with Bogart’s performance setting a mold for all reluctant heroes to follow (I noticed a music cue John Williams borrowed in Empire Strikes Back, with Han Solo being a direct descendant of Rick Blaine). Bergman’s got a harder job–though, is this film the first where Bogart had to cry–since Curtiz loves giving her those pensive close-ups.

Wilson’s great, as is Henreid. Henreid’s actually got the hardest job, since he’s got to convince the viewer he’s this Utopian do-gooder, whose rhetoric and ideals are infectious. And he does.

I can’t think of a single complaint (I want more Wilson, but I understand he’s got to go into background as Henreid becomes more relevant to the narrative). I just miss seeing it on a seventy foot screen.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Curtiz; screenplay by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch, based on a play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison; director of photography, Arthur Edeson; edited by Owen Marks; music by Max Steiner; produced by Hal B. Wallis; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Rick Blaine), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa Lund), Paul Henreid (Victor Laszlo), Claude Rains (Captain Renault), Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser), Sydney Greenstreet (Signor Ferrari), Peter Lorre (Ugarte), S.Z. Sakall (Carl), Madeleine LeBeau (Yvonne), Dooley Wilson (Sam), Joy Page (Annina Brandel), John Qualen (Berger), Leonid Kinskey (Sascha) and Curt Bois (Pickpocket).


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Chain Lightning (1950, Stuart Heisler)

Both critically and popularly, Chain Lightning gets classified as one of Bogart’s lesser, late 1940s films. While the film certainly is a star vehicle for Bogart, it’s only “lesser” if one compares it to Bogart’s stellar films (basically, the ones everyone remembers). On its own, Chain Lightning is far from perfect, but it’s a fine film. Director Stuart Heisler can direct some good scenes–since the film’s about a test pilot, there’s a lot of Bogart-only scenes, which Heisler handles (he has trouble when it’s a group scene). The special effects are quite good and they’re another thing Heisler incorporates well. I was about to say he didn’t do the romance scenes right, but there’s one scene between Bogart and Eleanor Parker where I can say I’ve never seen the shots before or since, so he does good on that aspect too.

The problems with Chain Lightning come from its lack of prestige. It’s about a test pilot, Bogart’s the only “star,” as Parker probably wouldn’t become a star for another year or two. (Apparently, Chain Lightning’s release was even held up for a year). The film’s got some really dynamic character relationships–between Bogart and Parker (he abandoned her in Europe during the war when he went home for no reason other than laziness), between Parker and Bogart’s rival Richard Whorf, and between Bogart and Whorf. Except none of the relationships are standard–Whorf, for instance, thinks the world of Bogart’s pilot, while never doubting Parker will choose him (even though, obviously, the audience knows different). Bogart gets to come across as petty and mercenary, to degrees I don’t think I’ve ever seen him go before (even in Casablanca, which is probably the best comparison). It’s just too short.

At ninety-five minutes, with multiple special effects sequences and a five or six year present action (some takes place during the war, then in 1950… sorry, 1949), it’s way too short. There’s not enough fat on the script to pad out the film, so it’s just the one straight gesture and the writers can’t quite make it work without hokey voiceovers and narration. For some of it, most of it in the middle, actually, I kept thinking it was so much better than I remembered it being (then the final act came around). Still, it’s certainly not a bad or even mediocre film. It has a lot going for it.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Heisler; written by Liam O’Brien and Vincent B. Evans, from a story by Lester Cole; director of photography, Ernest Haller; edited by Thomas Reilly; music by David Buttolph; produced by Anthony Veiller; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Matt Brennan), Eleanor Parker (Jo Holloway), Raymond Massey (Leland Willis), Richard Whorf (Carl Troxall), James Brown (Major Hinkle), Roy Roberts (Gen. Hewitt), Morris Ankrum (Ed Bostwick), Fay Baker (Mrs. Willis) and Fred E. Sherman (Jeb Farley).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 1: DREAM FACTORY.

The African Queen (1951, John Huston)

As I started The African Queen, I wondered what the hell John Huston ever did to earn him such a good rep. Maybe it was The African Queen.

Besides the amazing cinematography, the film’s laid out beautifully. Get Bogart and Hepburn in a boat together, in WWI Africa, and see what happens. The film starts looking like a documentary. I can’t think of any other Hollywood production that treated native Africa with any regard and I think it threw me off a little. Jack Cardiff’s cinematography and the British accents–Bogart seems kind of like guest-star in the first bit, doesn’t he?–also threw me. Then, about thirty-six minutes in, I started to get it.

The ending, of course, makes the film. Most films are made by the ending, no matter when they were made. Kind of like how a novel sort of needs a kick-ass close too. Well, not sort of at all. The most interesting aspect of The African Queen is the romance. Besides that Bogart was probably closer in age to Hepburn then he was to any previous love interests (except maybe Mary Astor) sets Queen apart. While, yes, younger female actors could hold their own against older men, somewhere after Faye Dunaway (and Michelle Pfeiffer?) they’ve lost that ability. A point that has nothing to do with The African Queen.

It’s a great film. I can’t believe Vivien Leigh (for Streetcar) beat Hepburn for this one. Wow. Vivien Leigh beat Eleanor Parker for Detective Story that year too. You know, I remember when I used to (this is the early-to-mid 1990s) get pissed when someone good lost the Oscar to someone bad. How bad must it have been when four good people lost to one ham? I suppose people didn’t care that much back in 1952, but still….

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Huston; screenplay by James Agee and Huston, based on the novel by C.S. Forester; director of photography, Jack Cardiff; edited by Ralph Kemplen; music by Allan Gray; produced by Sam Spiegel; released by United Artists.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Charlie Allnut), Katharine Hepburn (Rose Sayer), Robert Morley (Rev. Samuel Sayer), Peter Bull (Captain of the Louisa), Theodore Bikel (First Officer of the Louisa) and Peter Swanick (German Army Officer).