I'm a couple days late, as I'd planned on doing a Bogie post for Christmas in honor of his birthday, but you know how the holidays can slip away. But considering that even his birthday, like so much else about the man, is a point of curiosity and misinformation, maybe it doesn't really matter.
After all, he's one of the least likely to appear on my favorite leading men list. The lisp. His big, old, basset hound head. His funny walk. He's named 'Humphrey' for crying out loud. And yet, he's damn near at the very top of my favorite leading men list. The lisp! His big, old, basset hound head! That funny walk! He's named Humphrey for crying out loud! I love it. Love it all. Who else had the balls to "bogart" one of James Cagney's cigarettes and therefore have their name become a permanent fixture in stoner slang -- as a verb. Who else, not only in his time, but even now, could ever so perfectly embody romantic pessimism. James Dean became the rebel without a cause, but Bogie was the rebel with a cause. His characters were troubled and tempestuous, and yet also deeply moral and principled. He had no trouble playing the brutal gangster or the tough-guy hero, or, most winningly, the reluctant hero.
He played both Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade and is a true icon of vintage film noir. How hard-boiled was his Spade? He didn't just punch out Peter Lorre while Lorre was holding a gun on him. He did it with a laugh! Seriously, a brilliant and winning touch. And as Marlowe? Tough and ethical, and yet the viewer has the joy of watching not just his Marlowe fall for his client, but watching the sparks fly (again) as Bogie fell even harder for Lauren Bacall.
Speaking of the great dame Bacall, Bogie was also the founding father of the original Hollywood "rat pack," of which Sinatra was a member, and which Bacall appropriately named. Bogart, he once said that the "trouble with the world is that it's three drinks behind." How could I, of all people, not adore that philosophy?
Much of his personal history is still in dispute, clouded in myth by the studios. His real birthday? How he got that lip injury that gave him the lisp? Also, one of his most repeated quotes (Play it again, Sam) was never even spoken. What is not in dispute is his influence and stature, even today, as a legend and icon. He ranks #1 on the AFI's list of greatest screen legends. And if you don't know why, the biggest favor you could do yourself is to sit back and take in a few of his classics.
And among those classics, is, of course, the most classic, Casablanca. Of course, I have to pick this as his defining role, as it embodied so many of the characteristics he was drawn to portray. Now, that said, I have to admit that Casablanca, for reasons I can't fully understand, is not one of my favorite films or roles of his. I just don't connect with the film. I love Bergman. Love Bogart. What's not to like? Swarming Nazis, a hot nightclub, a bitter club owner. And yet, for his best work, I prefer Charlie Allnut in African Queen, or, frankly, Dixon Steele in In a Lonely Place. But I understand why Casablanca resonates through the decades in a way these other films don't. There's both melancholy and romanticism in the movie, and disillusionment gives way to idealism, giving you the best of everything that Bogie so easily personified within that seemingly lurid, tough exterior.
So even though it wasn't my personal favorite, it remains the zenith of his incredible career as it shot him forever from leading man to the stratosphere of true star. The public embraced him as never before. I guess you could say it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.