Born on Christmas Day in 1899, Humphrey DeForest Bogart, affectionately known as Bogie, is probably the ultimate American movie icon, and, in 1999, the American Film Institute selected him as the greatest male star of classic American cinema – few could disagree.
What makes Bogart so unusual is that he became a major star whilst in his 40s, was of average height, had a lisp and he certainly didn’t have the classic looks of a matinee idol. But the aura he conveyed of personal integrity, being tough without drawing attention to itself and an attitude of not tolerating any bullshit made him beloved both of men and women.
He began acting on Broadway shows in the 1920s and his big screen breakthrough came with his role as gangster Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest in 1936 opposite Leslie Howard and Bette Davis. Unfortunately this led to him being typecast at Warner Bros. mainly as gangsters in secondary roles.
His breakthrough to stardom came in 1941, first with High Sierra but then into the major league as private eye Sam Spade in the marvellous The Maltese Falcon, directed and written by John Huston in his directorial debut. Both Huston and Bogart would go on together to make six classic movies in the next 13 years.
He became a romantic idol for all eternity as Rick Blaine the nightclub owner hiding from a ambiguous past and treading a fine line amongst the Nazis, the French underground and the Vichy authorities in the timeless 1943 classic Casablanca.
There’s not much more that I can say about this magnificent film that hasn’t been written before, except to say it is in my top 10 films of all time.
Bogart’s output in the 1940s was astonishing for the number of terrific films he made – Across The Pacific, Sahara, To Have And Have Not (where he met and married for the third time to the love of his life in Lauren Bacall), The Big Sleep (the definitive Philip Marlowe), Dark Passage and Key Largo.
And in 1948 he re-united again with John Huston to make the legendary The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre where he played the role of Fred C. Dobbs, who at the beginning of the film starts as a likeable bum but during the course of the movie is driven by greed to become an unsympathetic paranoid desperado. It’s arguably Bogart’s finest film performance and, again it’s a film that sits in my top 10.
Finally, in 1951, Bogart would win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Charlie Allnut in The African Queen (again directed and co-written by John Huston) where he played a rough and drunken helmsman of a small steamboat who is accompanied by a prim and proper missionary superbly played by the incomparable Katharine Hepburn.
Again, Bogart’s quality of output in the 1950s was still extremely high with In A Lonely Place, The Enforcer, Deadline, Beat The Devil, Sabrina, The Barefoot Contesa and The Desperate Hours but his last great performance was as Captain Queeg in 1954s The Caine Mutiny where he deftly played the psychotic and tyrannical officer whilst also managing to maintain a sense of sympathy for this character.
Bogart would die of oesophageal cancer on January 14th, 1957 – he was only 57.
There was never been a movie star quite like Humphrey Bogart, and, I’m quite sure, there never will be.