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The Maltese Falcon Review


Excellent
The proof that some films are simply immune to satire or the wear and tear of time is fully contained in the sharp little diamond of cinema that is John Huston's 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon. (Dashiell Hammett's novel was actually filmed twice before, under the same title in 1931 and as Satan Met a Lady in 1936 with Bette Davis.) All the recognizable private detective flick elements are here, from the wisecracking P.I. himself to the femme fatale, scurrilous mugs who are too quick with their guns and too slow with their brains, and the McGuffin itself, a 400-year old statue of inestimable value. But even though these stock devices have become so well-worn over the intervening years with mockery or tribute, this remains a highly entertaining thing of beauty, done with skill and economy, not to mention smarts: none of which are things much in evidence today.

Smarts is ultimately what separates Bogart's Sam Spade as clearly from the rest of the characters in Maltese Falcon just as it separates the film itself from most of its inferior imitators. Spade is the eagle-eyed watcher, a calloused and borderline morally indifferent student of humanity who seems to get his kicks tossing verbal banana peels out for the more dim-witted to trip themselves up on. He has plenty of opportunity for such sparrings, dropped as he is into a mess of scam-artists and treasure hunters violently turning San Francisco upside down as they hunt for a long-lost jewel-studded falcon supposedly once given by the crusading Knights Hospitaller to the Holy Roman Emperor in exchange for the island of Malta. The world around Spade -- a sort of aloof knight errant in fedora and sharp suit -- is one of manipulation and lies, stupidity, and the occasional cleverness dulled by unlimited greed.

Continue reading: The Maltese Falcon Review

The Big Sleep Review


Extraordinary
There's little else I can add about this proto-noir, one of the archetypes of the genre and a showstopper for Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, who spar through a catty romance while dancing through a taut mystery that has dead bodies turning up at every turn. (Bogie is assigned to look after Bacall's kid sister, who's prone to trouble. Martha Vickers, as young Carmen, almost steals the show; pay attention to her underrated performance.) With Howard Hawks and William Faulkner in charge here, there's simply not much to complain about.

The Roaring Twenties Review


Very Good
A gangster flick of the bootlegging/Prohibition ilk, this complicated tale starts in the trenches of World War I with stars Cagney and Bogart fighting the good fight, then finding nothing waiting for them when they return home. They turn to crime, with mixed success. A love story feels a bit tacked on, but ultimately the film is most notable for being the last film of the 1930s gangster era, a genre which wouldn't be revived again for close to a decade.

Beat The Devil Review


OK
This understated comedy is often a love-it-or-hate-it affair with viewers, a very dry satire that often flies over the heads of its target (Bogart-style mysteries) and, just as often, its audience. Which just goes to show it's really difficult to spoof yourself, as Bogart proves when he plays the lead in Beat the Devil.

Essentially a revision of a dozen or so Bogie movies, all mashed together, Beat the Devil follows a group of miscreant adventurers on a quest to secure a parcel of land in Africa which is rich in uranium. Naturally, events and foes conspire against them, culminating in their arrest.

Continue reading: Beat The Devil Review

Dark Passage Review


Very Good
A minor classic in the noir genre, Dark Passage is nonetheless too simplistic and too unbelievable to make much of an impression. Bogart is typically great as a falsely-accused prison escapee searching for his wife's real killer, while Bacall is also good as the woman who inexplicably helps him out. The gimmick? Bogie gets plastic surgery to become Bogie -- and he doesn't appear on camera for nearly an hour until the bandages are off. Also of note: Stephen King appears to have borrowed large chunks of Dark Passage for his novella The Shawshank Redemption.

Angels With Dirty Faces Review


Very Good
Casablanca director Michael Curtiz turned in this pioneering entry in 1938 -- part of the budding street urchin genre that posed the question of what society would do with its troubled kids. Starring the Dead End Kids (a group of hooligans akin to the Litle Rascals, only meaner), their story is filtered through the eyes of two men. Rocky (James Cagney in another career-defining gangster performance) is fresh out of jail and back on the streets where he hopes to make some cash. Father Jerry (Pat O'Brien) is a priest and boyhood friend of Rocky's, who's managed to turn toward the path of good. Oh, and Humphrey Bogart makes an appearance as a scheming attorney through into the mix.

How these three men interrelate is the main story line, while the hijinks of the kids stands as a continuous backdrop to the action. Sometimes it's fierce, but just as often it's plodding and uninspiring. The underlying social commentary -- how children can turn good or bad depending on how they are raised, a controversial idea in the 1930s -- doesn't get much of a chance to shine, which may be a problem of too many stars, too many precocious child actors, and not enough legroom for all of them to stretch.

Continue reading: Angels With Dirty Faces Review

Key Largo Review


Very Good
Bogart is always a pleasure to watch, and Key Largo is no exception, despite its rather overly dramatic -- yet simplistic -- plot structure involving a gangster (Robinson) who takes over a Florida hotel during a deadly hurricane. It ultimately pales next to other Bogart and Bacall work, though it's still a reasonably good watch that has stood up well over the last 50 years.

To Have And Have Not Review


Excellent
Lauren Bacall made her nerve-wracked screen debut in the memorable Howard Hawks film To Have and Have Not, put opposite the hugely famous Humphrey Bogart in a Casablanca-esque tale of intrigue in France during WWII. Bogart's crusty fisherman and Bacall's swindling lounge singer get roped into aiding the French resistance, but the plot is ultimately a throwaway -- having none of the depth of Casablanca. Instead, To Have and Have Not owes its success to some fiery chemistry between its leads as well as amazing supporting turns by Walter Brennan and Hoagy Carmichael. The jazzy tunes played in Bacall's bar are unforgettable, too. You know how to whistle, don't you?

Dark Victory Review


OK
You know you're in trouble when such a classically tooled and sculpted weepie as 1939's Dark Victory - one that should require boxes of Kleenex and a couple hours of recuperation - doesn't even begin to wring out a tear until near the final act. What happens when a three-hankie picture just isn't that sad? You get Dark Victory.

The story is the sort of thing that could fuel a whole season or two of one of your better primetime soap operas: Idly wealthy Judith Traherne (Davis) is 23, single, and bereft of any cares besides what trainer to hire for her thoroughbred horses and exactly how many martinis to drink. Having complained of sight problems and headaches, Judith gets browbeaten into seeing Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent), a renowned brain surgeon about two hours away from chucking his whole practice to go do medical research on his isolated Vermont farm. Steele takes about five minutes to figure out that Judith has a rare and extremely serious condition that needs to be operated on right away. After the operation, Steele tells Judith's friend Ann King (Geraldine Fitzgerald) that Judith will feel fine for a while, but in about ten months, her vision will start to go again and then she'll die, quite suddenly and painlessly. The two then do what any sensible people would: agree to keep the truth from Judith while arranging for her to marry Steele, whom she's fallen in love with.

Continue reading: Dark Victory Review

Casablanca Review


Essential
"Play it again, Sam." Well, those lines aren't in Casablanca, but the words "Bogie and Bergman" rank just below "Bogie and Bacall" when it comes to famous celebrity film pairings. Sometimes a kiss isn't just a kiss -- in this case, it's forever. And it was certainly the beginning of a beautiful friendship...

A new double-disc DVD of Casablanca enhances the film for novelists and cineastes alike. I rarely do this, but I listened to Roger Ebert's entire commentary track, which he uses to discuss the film's curious shortcomings (what good would letters of transit signed by Charles de Gaulle be in getting you out of Morocco?), Bogart's past and rise to fame (this being his first starring role), Bergman and her foibles, endless points about the film's dozen or so famous lines, and extended commentary on the lighting, special effects (if you can call them that), and camerawork.

Continue reading: Casablanca Review

They Drive By Night Review


Good
Humphrey Bogart plays the lesser of two truck-driving brothers who get caught up in a murder plot courtesy of screaming starlet Ida Lupino, who caught a huge break with this film. The story is classic melodrama, with screwy dames, inquisitive coppers, and a screaming courtroom breakdown ("The doors made me do it!"). Amusing in the end but hardly a classic.

The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre Review


Essential
It's too bad that one of the greatest films of all time is remembered for a line ("We don't need no stinkin' badges!") that doesn't appear in the film. (It's actually, "We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges!" Must be something about Bogart movies and misquoted lines...)

It's also too bad that one of cinema's great adventures is often forgotten as one of cinema's great tragedies, too.

Continue reading: The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre Review

High Sierra Review


Weak
Droll little Bogart film -- his first leading man role. Unfortunately, all the promise of intrigue and adventure in the Sierra mountains never really materializes. Instead, High Sierra is concerned more with a leg-extending operation for one of Bogie's dames and a dog that keeps barking, messing up his heists. The various robberies are utterly lacking in suspense or originality. It ends up as a rather plain entry into 1940s adventure movies which can barely hold your interest for its running time.
Humphrey Bogart

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Humphrey Bogart Movies

The Maltese Falcon Movie Review

The Maltese Falcon Movie Review

The proof that some films are simply immune to satire or the wear and tear...

Angels With Dirty Faces Movie Review

Angels With Dirty Faces Movie Review

Casablanca director Michael Curtiz turned in this pioneering entry in 1938 -- part of the...

Dark Victory Movie Review

Dark Victory Movie Review

You know you're in trouble when such a classically tooled and sculpted weepie as 1939's...

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