Tag Archives: Humphrey Bogart

Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)

Angels_with_Dirty_Faces_Film_PosterI’ve concluded that I needed to be somewhat familiar with the gangster genre to properly appreciate Angels With Dirty Faces. The first time I saw it, to my slight shame, my reaction was tepid. But when I watched it again last weekend, I thought it was wonderful. The difference? I’d finally seen Cagney’s other gangster films (and Bogart’s and Robinson’s). I understood the context much better and suddenly the film seemed like the masterpiece I knew it was supposed to be.

It’s a post-code gangster film, meaning that movies could no longer seem to be celebrating the gangster as hero. It’s a limitation that put an end to a particularly kind of film, but as often happens with limitations, it also forces creativity in a new direction. It allows Angels With Dirty Faces to explore the affect that glorification of gangsters has on young kids, but also contrasting that glamour with the more ordinary and unexciting, but wholly transformative virtue of simply doing the right thing. But it is also a story of friendship and redemption, not to mention a good excuse to watch gangsters shoot each other up.

Rocky Sullivan and Jerry Connolly (played by Frankie Burke and William Tracy), two poor Irish kids who grew up together in New York City, try to rob a freight train. But they are discovered in the act and both try to flee. Jerry gets away, but Rocky is caught and sent to juvenile detention. This is the beginning of a life of crime and he becomes the famous Rocky Sullivan (now played by James Cagney), a headline-making gangster who’s constantly in and out of prison. But Jerry becomes a priest (Pat O’Brien), who lives in the same neighborhood where he grew up and is trying to help the kids, especially by keeping them out of a life of petty crime that so often leads to hardened crime.

When Rocky is released from his latest prison sentence, he returns to the old neighborhood and is reunited with Jerry for the first time in years. He is also after his money, which he stole before his prison term, and which was supposed to be kept safe for him by a crooked and weasely lawyer, Frazier (Humphrey Bogart), who does not exactly welcome Rocky’s return because he’s set himself up in business with another crooked mob leader, Mac Keefer (George Bancroft).

James Cagney, Pat O'Brien and The Dead End Kids

James Cagney, Pat O’Brien and The Dead End Kids

The Dead End Kids play the group of delinquents that Father Jerry is trying to save, but who develop a case of hero worship for Rocky, who enjoys their adulation. As Rocky muscles his way into Mac and Frazier’s business and even controls the police, Father Jerry can’t, in good conscience, turn a blind eye to Rocky’s doings, no matter how great their friendship, and he warns Rocky that he’s going to fight corruption, for the sake of the kids. He never blames Rocky, though. He believes it’s because Rocky couldn’t run as fast as he could and that he could have been in the same position.

James Cagney plays Rocky Sullivan like a paradox. He’s cocky and enjoys the glamour of his position. He likes to read about himself on the front page (as do the kids), loves the wealth and the power and definitely the thrill of violence. He’s utterly ruthless when dealing with fellow gangsters, but there’s another side of him. He’s unshakably loyal to Jerry. Underlying the cockiness, he respects Jerry.

Some people have commented that Pat O’Brien is solid, but overshadowed by Cagney, but I think that’s the point. Rocky is supposed to be more exciting than Father Jerry. That’s why all the kids want to be like him. Living a decent life and doing the right thing doesn’t look like much fun in comparison. That is why Father Jerry is determined to expose crime as un-heroic and the easy way out.

Spoilers! Which is also why, at the end, Father Jerry asks Rocky to pretend to be a coward just before he dies on the electric chair. If the kids see that he’s actually a coward, then the glamour will fade and they can view crime for what it really is. And fundamentally, Rocky must agree with him. He admitted earlier to Jerry that he’s taken the easy way out, that Jerry’s way was harder, and, as DVD Verdict writes, for Rocky to choose to throw away his whole reputation (which is all that he has left, “Rocky [must have] thought about his life and truly found it lacking.” He ultimately agrees with Jerry and makes the sacrifice, throwing his reputation and his pride out the window and plays the coward. It’s an incredible ending to a film, making Rocky the unlikely angel of the title.

James Cagney, George Bancroft and Humphrey Bogart

James Cagney, George Bancroft and Humphrey Bogart, looking distinctly shifty

There is some question about whether Rocky really pretended to be a coward (because he tells Jerry he won’t do it) or if he simply fell apart for real and Jerry just thought he was doing it for him. I’m more inclined to think Rocky did it deliberately When you look at the last shot of his face before he is put on the electric chair (which we only see in shadows), he has a look of steely determination. He does not look like a man who’s about to fall apart. And it jives with his previous, contradictory performance of a gangster who’s also secretly self-aware, who can still recognize goodness when he sees it.

Angels With Dirty Faces is a film chock full of great talent. Ann Sheridan is still at the beginning of her career (she really hit it in 1940) and plays Rocky’s sweetheart, a sort of reformed fallen woman who falls again. The only problem is that her character disappears in the last part of the film and one can’t help but wonder what happens with her.

Humphrey Bogart is also in pre-star mode. I used to wonder how Warner Bros. could have relegated him to supporting roles for so long, but in truth, he’s actually pretty good at it. As the lawyer, Frazier, he’s weasely and craven, not a man of action, who sweats under pressure, shifty and greedy. It’s not a role you think of with Bogart, but he plays it well. He’s not at all like the charismatic leading man of the 1940s. He knows how to inhabit his roles without overplaying them or trying to compete with the other stars. He’s understated and subtle. The more of his pre-star roles I see, the more I seem to appreciate him as an actor.


Posted by on September 18, 2015 in Movies


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Revisiting Casablanca

casa7Yesterday, I had a small family party and we watched Casablanca, partially because my cousin had not seen it before and wanted to (he said he liked it). The last time I saw Casablanca was before I developed my slightly obsessive enthusiasm for classic movies, so I was hoping to be able to see a familiar classic with new eyes. I don’t know if I quite did, but here are the four things that I took away this time.

1) There’s a lot of music in Casablanca. All movies have music, but it’s particularly noticeable and pointed. Max Steiner (he wrote the score for Gone With the Wind and King Kong), weaves in “La Marseillaise” and “Die Wacht am Rhein” throughout the entire movie score. “La Marseillaise” is the French National anthem and stands in for freedom. “Die Wacht am Rhein” is used to represent the Nazis (it’s a song about the fatherland and fighting in the Rhineland – specifically against the French). They are a call to arms and a drawing of the battle lines.

Juxtaposed with this martial music are the romantic songs that Dooley Wilson sings, especially “As Time Goes By.” Since that is the song that we really remember from the movie, the underlying message is that love will last forever and transcends war and hatred and evil. This point is made more clear when we see repeated scenes of Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) falling in love in Paris (to the music of “As Time Goes By”) interspersed with scenes of the Nazis invading France to martial anthems. Rick and Ilsa may not get to be together at the end of the film, but there will always be other people who will fall in love, especially when the war is over and tyranny is defeated. “The world will always welcome lovers, as time goes by.”

still-of-ingrid-bergman,-humphrey-bogart,-claude-rains-and-paul-henreid-in-casablanca-(1942)-large-picture2) I have a theory that it takes one to know one. Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) may be a flagrantly, cheerfully corrupt official, but his clear understanding and sympathy with Rick makes me suspect that at heart, he is just as much a sentimentalist as Rick. I like to imagine that he had a romantic and quixotic past before he came to Casablanca. He’s just had more years to grow entrenched in his cynicism than Rick. At least, that’s my theory. Because at the end, he proves just as sentimental as Rick. For him to throw up everything and join the Free French is quite a step for a man who “blows with the wind.”

3) At the end of the movie, to convince Ilsa to get on the plane and leave with her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), Rick tells Ilsa that she must go because Victor needs her, that she is the only thing that keeps him going through all his trials, and that she would later regret having left him.

Captain Renault then comments that Rick was spinning  a fairy tale and that Ilsa knew that the things Rick said were not true (she probably wouldn’t regret staying with Rick and Laszlo is far too dedicated to his work to quit even if his wife did leave him). So why did she stay with her husband? Because Rick needed to fight and he couldn’t do that if they ran way together. Love must be sacrificed for duty, which both she and Rick recognized. It’s all a matter of timing, as Ilsa notes when they are in France, when she says they picked a terrible time to fall in love.

Annex - Bogart, Humphrey (Casablanca)_11In the original screenplay, Rick and Ilsa were going to leave together. However, when America entered the war, the studio realized that it would be impossibly irresponsible and selfish to have two people run away together as if there were not a cataclysmic war raging across the world. So the ending was changed.

4) Although Casablanca is not the movie that turned Humphrey Bogart into a leading man (High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon did that), it is the movie that cemented his reputation both as a star and as a romantic lead. And I think Casablanca summarizes his appeal as a romantic lead. He looks like a gangster, he talks like a gangster, but as Captain Renault perceptively notes in Casablanca, beneath the cynical shell there is a sentimental man. He may look like a tough guy and talk like one, but you can instinctively feel that inside he is an idealist who has been disappointed, but can’t quite shake the idealism. He has a sensitive soul and intelligent mind. It just took the studios a while to figure it out because he does not look like a conventional leading man.


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In Memory of Lauren Bacall: 1924-2014


From her first, unforgettable debut in 1944 in To Have and Have Not with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall was electric, beautiful and poised, and it was hard to believe she was only nineteen. She later said she was nervous and shaking, but you can’t tell in the movie. That is how she developed her trademark Look. She held her chin down and looked up to keep from shaking, but The Look became one of her trademarks, along with her deep, husky voice.


The Have and Have Not is also were she first met Humphrey Bogart. She was nineteen and he was 44 but they were crazy about each other and they were married in 1945 until his death in 1957. Theirs was probably the most famous romance in Hollywood during the time and they made four movies together: To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and Key Largo.

But although there was talk that she couldn’t carry a picture without Bogart in the film with her, she proved to be more than an actress in her own right, many people arguing that she only got better and acquired even great presence through the years: in movies, TV and on stage.


She is known, and and deservedly so, for her roles in such film noirs as The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not, where she plays the poised, almost a good version of a femme fatale, trading repartee with Bogart. The chemistry between them is marvelous. However, here are some examples of other roles that she also shone in.

Key Largo is a little bit different movie for both her and Bogart, partially because it is based on a play and because it is not a star performance for anyone but is more of an ensemble cast. It is about a group of people, including gangster Edward G. Robinson, who are trapped in a hotel during a hurricane in Florida. It is also different because she plays a much more quiet and slightly vulnerable role and there is none of their usual onscreen flirting between her and Bogart (they were married when they did this film). In the movie, they are two damaged souls who find peace together and their low-key performances are lovely and a nice contrast to the excellent, but by no means muted, performance of Robinson.


From Key Largo

And she was not only good in noirs and dramas, but also had real comedic flair in movies like Designing Woman with Gregory Peck and How to Marry a Millionaire with Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. In the later film, the three girls are models determined to catch rich husbands. But of course they fall in love with poor men instead. Bacall has her eyes on the filthy rich William Powell (dapper and gracious as ever), but finds herself attracted to Cameron Mitchell.

Bettt Grable, Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe

Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe

Another movie I love her in is the 1974 Murder On the Orient Express, with Albert Finney as the famed detective Poirot. In a movie bursting at the seams with stars (Ingrid Bergman, Michael York, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave) she is one I remember most, the central dynamic character who has planned everything from the beginning. A great moment comes when Finney, as Poirot, turns around to encounter Bacall standing there, lightly holding up a dagger for him to look at. It is a wonderful entrance that she carries off brilliantly and is easily my favorite moment in the entire film and one of my favorite entrances into a scene, in any movie, too.


in Murder On the Orient Express

Lauren Bacall passed away yesterday, at 89, and is survived by her three children, Stephen Humphrey Bogart, Leslie Bogart and Sam Robards.

I think it is fitting to end this memory of Bacall with a clip from one of her movies, Dark Passage. It is the end of the film and Bogart’s character is waiting to see if her character has left America to join him in Peru. There is so much sweetness in how she is holding on to him as they dance off the screen.

The song playing in the background is “Too Marvelous for Words”


Posted by on August 13, 2014 in Actors


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