Thursday, June 19, 2008
The quintessential tough guy, Humphrey Bogart remains one of Hollywood's most enduring legends and one of the most beloved stars of all time. While a major celebrity during his own lifetime, Bogart's appeal has grown almost exponentially in the years following his death, and his inimitable onscreen persona -- hard-bitten, cynical, and enigmatic -- continues to cast a monumental shadow over the motion picture landscape. Sensitive yet masculine, cavalier yet heroic, his ambiguities and contradictions combined to create a larger-than-life image which remains the archetype of the contemporary antihero.
Humphrey DeForest Bogart was born January 23, 1899, in New York City. Upon expulsion from Andover, Massachusetts' Phillips Academy, he joined the U.S. Navy during World War I, serving as a ship's gunner. While roughhousing on the vessel's wooden stairway, he tripped and fell, a splinter becoming lodged in his upper lip; the result was a scar as well as partial paralysis of the lip, resulting in the tight-set mouth and lisp that became among his most distinctive onscreen qualities. (For years his injuries were attributed to wounds suffered in battle, although the splinter story is now more commonly accepted.)
After the war, Bogart returned to New York to accept a position on Broadway as a theatrical manager; beginning in 1920, he also started appearing onstage, but earned little notice within the performing community. In the late '20s, Bogart followed a few actor friends who had decided to relocate to Hollywood. He made his first film appearance opposite Helen Hayes in the 1928 short The Dancing Town, followed by the 1930 feature Up the River, which cast him as a hard-bitten prisoner. Warner Bros. soon signed him to a 550-dollars-a-week contract, and over the next five years he appeared in dozens of motion pictures, emerging as the perfect heavy in films like 1936's The Petrified Forest, 1937's Dead End, and 1939's The Roaring Twenties. The 1939 tearjerker Dark Victory, on the other hand, offered Bogart the opportunity to break out of his gangster stereotype, and he delivered with a strong performance indicative of his true range and depth as a performer.
The year 1941 proved to be Bogart's breakthrough year, as his recent success brought him to the attention of Raoul Walsh for the acclaimed High Sierra. He was then recruited by first-time director John Huston, who cast him in the adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's -The Maltese Falcon; as gumshoe Sam Spade, Bogart enjoyed one of his most legendary roles, achieving true stardom and establishing the archetype for all hardboiled heroes to follow. A year later he accepted a role originally slated for Ronald Reagan in Michael Curtiz's romantic drama Casablanca. The end result was one of the most beloved films in the Hollywood canon, garnering Bogart his first Academy Award nomination as well as an Oscar win in the Best Picture category.
Bogart then teamed with director Howard Hawks for his 1944 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's -To Have and Have Not, appearing for the first time opposite actress Lauren Bacall. Their onscreen chemistry was electric, and by the time they reunited two years later in Hawks' masterful film noir The Big Sleep, they had also married in real life.
Subsequent pairings in 1947's Dark Passage and 1948's Key Largo cemented the Bogey and Bacall pairing as one of the screen's most legendary romances. His other key relationship remained his frequent collaboration with Huston, who helmed 1948's superb The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. In Huston, Bogart found a director sympathetic to his tough-as-nails persona who was also capable of subverting that image. He often cast the actor against type, to stunning effect; under Huston's sure hand, he won his lone Oscar in 1951's The African Queen.
Bogart's other pivotal director of the period was Nicholas Ray, who helmed 1949's Knock on Any Door and 1950's brilliant In a Lonely Place for the star's production company Santana. After reuniting with Huston in 1953's Beat the Devil, Bogart mounted three wildly different back-to-back 1954 efforts -- Joseph L. Mankiewicz's tearful The Barefoot Contessa, Billy Wilder's romantic comedy Sabrina, and Edward Dmytryk's historical drama The Caine Mutiny -- which revealed new, unseen dimensions to his talents. His subsequent work was similarly diffuse, ranging in tone from the grim 1955 thriller The Desperate Hours to the comedy We're No Angels. After completing the 1956 boxing drama The Harder They Fall, Bogart was forced to undergo cancer surgery and died in his sleep on January 14, 1957.
Jason Ankeny, All Movie Guide