Film Review: High Sierra (1941)

Release Date: January 23rd, 1941 (Los Angeles, Louisville and Providence)
Directed by: Raoul Walsh
Written by: John Huston, W.R. Burnett
Based on: High Sierra by W.R. Burnett
Music by: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ida Lupino, Alan Curtis, Arthur Kennedy, Joan Leslie, Willie Best

Warner Bros., 100 Minutes

Review:

“Of all the 14 karat saps… starting out on a caper with a woman and a dog.” – Roy Earle

High Sierra came out just before The Maltese Falcon, which is one of the films from 1941 credited with the birth of the film-noir style. However, like a few other Humphrey Bogart crime pictures before it, High Sierra is very much film-noir.

The story sees an aged criminal named Roy Earle get out of prison, only to plan one big retirement job so that he can give himself a big nest egg before he hangs up his criminal ways for good. Along the way, he meets the young Velma and her family. Velma needs a surgery to give her back her mobility. Earle, falling for the young girl, has plans to do the job, pay for the girl’s surgery and then ride off together in the sunset. But a lot of curveballs are thrown and Ida Lupino’s Marie has her eye on Earle.

Even though Bogart plays a criminal, planning a big heist, he is a likable and charismatic character, often times acting with his hearty instead of his head. Watching the film, there is a part of me that felt that he was a character that could redeem himself by film’s end. But being that this is noir, bad things happen to people that don’t walk the straight and narrow.

The performances from all the main players were really good in this movie. Bogart and Lupino had fantastic chemistry and I feel as if the world should have seen them play off of each other more than what we got. I loved Lupino in this and Bogart was typical badass Bogart.

I also liked the dog that always tried to save the day and Willie Best’s character Algernon was a delight.

The movie has a sadness to it because you are pulling for Earle to make it out of this thing unscathed but you also know that it’s not possible.

The big standoff in the Sierras was really well shot and executed. Raoul Walsh was a fine director and his work here was no different. Also, he was working off of a script form John Huston, who would become a great filmmaker in his own right.

High Sierra is a very layered film with a lot of emotional depth from it’s two top players.

All in all, a great early film-noir with powerful leads and a good amount of energy and emotion in the big finale.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Bogart noir and crime pictures: The Maltese FalconKey Largo, Dark Passage, etc.

Film Review: Black Legion (1937)

Release Date: January 17th, 1937 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Archie Mayo, Michael Curtiz (uncredited)
Written by: Robert Lord, Abem Finkel, William Wister Haines
Music by: W. Franke Harling, Howard Jackson, Bernhard Kaun
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Dick Foran, Erin O’Brien-Moore, Ann Sheridan

Warner Bros., 83 Minutes

Review:

“So, you’re afraid! Maybe they better change the name of your outfit from the Black Legion to the Yellow Legion.” – Ed Jackson

I was talking about Humphrey Bogart, my favorite actor, with a friend of mine when he asked, “Did you see that one where he was in the KKK?” I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I looked it up and found this film, which Bogart did really early in his career, before reaching superstardom. Also, it’s not the actual KKK but it is a group based on them called “the Black Legion”.

This film is rather short but it’s definitely got a lot packed into a small package. It’s a true thriller and very noir-esque before film-noir was a thing.

The gist of the story surrounds a hard working man that is looked over for a promotion that he was pretty sure he was going to get. It weighs heavily on him and eventually, some bad seeds take advantage of that and influence him into joining their cause. That cause, sees them dressing up in black hoods, similar to the KKK’s white hoods, where they go out at night in an effort to chase off the foreigners who are coming in and taking their jobs. So the Klan (or “Black Legion”) in this isn’t so much racist, as they are xenophobic.

In his heart, Bogart’s Frank Taylor was opposed to the madness he found himself entangled in but he was already in over his head and couldn’t leave the group for fear of what they might do to him and his family. It all comes crashing down when Frank murders his best friend that was trying his damnedest to save him. Regretful and remorseful, will Frank work to bring down the Black Legion or is the fear of his family’s safety too great?

The film is intense and it moves swiftly. It was hard for me to turn away from it and the acting of Bogart, as well as his best bud, Dick Foran, was superb and kept me glued to the screen.

While this isn’t Bogart or Foran’s best picture or performance, it really goes to show that both men were definitely capable of something greater. Luckily, for us, both men would have busy careers, especially in the noir style of the ’40s and ’50s.

Black Legion is certainly worth a watch. While most movie sites don’t list this as a thriller, it definitely is… and a pretty effective one from start to finish.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Bogart films before he became a big star: High Sierra, They Drive by Night and Crime School.

Film Review: Dark Passage (1947)

Release Date: September 5th, 1947 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Delmer Daves
Written by: Delmer Daves, David Goodis
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bruce Bennett, Agnes Moorehead

Warner Bros., 106 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve cried myself to sleep at night because of you. She’s got you now. She wants you very badly doesn’t she? She’s willing to run away with you and keep on running and ruin everything for herself. But she wouldn’t care because she’d be with you and that’s what she wants. Well she doesn’t have you now. She’ll never have you. Nobody will ever have you! And that’s the way I want it! You’re nothing but an escaped convict. Nobody knows what you wrote down. They’ll believe me! They’ll believe me!” – Madge Rapf

All of the films that star both Bogart and Bacall are damn good but this may be the best of the four. In my opinion, and I really love Key Largo, this is the cream of the crop.

Dark Passage is a spectacular film and one of the greatest film-noir pictures I have ever seen. I had seen it before but it’s been quite awhile and when I did, I didn’t have the broader understanding of the cinematic style that I have now. Looking at it within the context of the other top noir films, this movie is pretty close to the top of the heap and I should probably adjust my Top 100 Film-Noir list after revisiting this.

What’s surprising about this film is that the first act is played from a first person point-of-view, as we never get to see Bogart’s face. We get his voice and follow him as he escapes prison and tries to get to San Francisco and we see his first meeting with Bacall through his eyes. Then in the second act of the film, we lose the first person perspective and see Bogart with his head wrapped up, as his character has gotten a surgery to change his physical appearance. This almost has an Invisible Man vibe to it. It isn’t until we get to the second half of the film, leading into the third act, that we get to see Bogart’s actual face. It was incredibly rare for a major studio to allow a top star like Bogart to have their visage obscured for such a big chunk of a movie.

Bogart plays Vincent Parry, a man who was convicted of murdering his wife. He escapes prison in an effort to prove his innocence and meets Bacall’s Irene Jansen, who wants to help him set the record straight.

As I point out in almost every review of every classic noir I cover, this thing has a lot of twists and turns. It’s typical of the style but this is hardly anything derivative, even if the premise sounds recycled. You’re never really sure why Irene sought out Vincent and why she wants to help him. There are some revelations, as the film rolls on, but this is a real rollercoaster.

Not to spoil anything, but there is a really brutal scene where a woman gets tossed out a window. It isn’t very violent, as this is a film from 1947, but it had a surprising harshness to it that is shocking for a film from this era. It totally catches you off guard and the camera actually gives you a good bird’s-eye-view shot of her body plummeting towards the sidewalk below.

Bogart and Bacall were both at the top of their game in this movie. Their chemistry was definitely apparent and unparalleled when compared to their work with any other actors. Not to say that Bogey and Bacall weren’t always on their A game, they were. There is just something extra magical about them being together on the screen though.

I absolutely love this movie. Dark Passage should be one of those silver screen classics that gets a nice theatrical re-release. Get on it Flashback Cinema or Fathom Events!

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The other films that pair Bogart and Bacall: To Have and to Have NotThe Big Sleep and Key Largo. Also, The Maltese Falcon.

Film Review: Conflict (1945)

Also known as: The Pentacle (working title)
Release Date: June 15th, 1945 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Curtis Bernhardt
Written by: Arthur T. Horman, Dwight Taylor
Based on: The Pentacle by Robert Siodmak, Alfred Neumann
Music by: Frederick Hollander
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Alexis Smith, Sydney Greenstreet

Warner Bros., 86 Minutes

Review:

“It’s funny how virtuous a man can be when he’s helpless.” – Kathryn Mason

Humphrey Bogart is a bad guy. No, seriously. He is pure evil in this film and that alone is worth the price of admission. This rugged, usually lovely, manly man that wooed all the ladies and some of the guys is a complete and total bastard in this. And that is why I had to see this film.

Now the reasoning behind this is pretty interesting. Despite the success of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, the head of Warner Bros. refused to see Bogart as a sexy leading man. The women wanted him, the men wanted to be him but his boss just wasn’t buying into it. Luckily, this didn’t stop Bogart from being Bogart going forward.

This film was also very close to home for the actor, as he and his wife at the time were known around town as the “Battling Bogarts” for their very public spats. A lot of this film’s narrative lines up with things in Bogart’s personal life, except Bogart obviously didn’t murder his wife like his character in this film. But it was said that Bogie had a really hard time making this film and was miserable having to act out a role that was too close for his personal comfort at the time.

This film was originally supposed to come out in 1943, just before film-noir exploded and it could have been a trend setter for that style. However, a lawsuit delayed this film’s release until 1945, which was also better for Bogart, as by that time he had already gotten a divorce and was happily remarried.

All things considered, Bogart’s scenes in this were superb and he didn’t show signs of his inner turmoil on screen. He was able to play this evil bastard yet still had scenes where he had to convincingly seem like a good guy.

While this film isn’t a horror movie, it had moments that felt like it was. The scenes that took place on the mountain road were chilling to the bone. When Bogart appears in the shadows and walks towards his wife, who is in her car, he does so in such a predatory way that is reminiscent of some of the greatest horror icons of all-time: Lugosi, Karloff, Rathbone, Price, Cushing and Lee.

Conflict is a marvelous film that may be a step below great but it is certainly effective and does a great job telling its story and churning up the right kind of emotions from scene to scene.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The Two Mrs. CarrollsDead ReckoningThe Big Shot and Dark Passage.

Film Review: Key Largo (1948)

Also known as: Gangster In Key Largo (Austria, Germany), Huracán de pasiones (Spanish title)
Release Date: July 15th, 1948 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: Richard Brooks, John Huston
Based on: Key Largo by Maxwell Anderson
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor

Warner Bros., 101 Minutes

Review:

“Hey Curly, what all happens in a hurricane?” – Ralphie, “The wind blows so hard the ocean gets up on its hind legs and walks right across the land.” – Curly

Contrary to popular belief, not all men are created equal. Reason being, there was once a man named Humphrey Bogart.

Bogart had a rare talent and that talent saw him transcend the screen. He was a superstar before anyone was even called that. He had charisma, a rugged charm and was a man’s man that many men tried to emulate and most women wanted to be with. And the best way to enjoy “Bogie” was in roles like this one.

The fact that Bogart is even in a movie, pretty much makes it a classic. Now add in his favorite leading lady, Lauren Bacall, one of the greatest on screen gangsters of all-time, Edward G. Robinson, and throw in veterans Lionel Barrymore and Claire Trevor (who won an Academy Award for this film) and you’ve got the star power of a supernova.

Did I mention that this was directed by John Huston, a true master behind the camera?

The plot is simple but it is an effective setup to one of the most tense Bogart movies of all-time.

Bogart plays Frank McCloud. He travels to a hotel in Key Largo to pay his respects to the family (Bacall and Barrymore) of a soldier that died while serving under him. Once there, he and the widow get a bit smitten with each other but at the same time, it is revealed that the other guests are gangsters. The head gangster is played by Edward G. Robinson. On top of that, a hurricane strikes Key Largo, trapping Bogart, Bacall, Barrymore and the gangsters in the hotel. Robinson’s Johnny Rocco was exiled to Cuba years earlier and is still very dangerous.

There are a lot of intense moments in the film and every time that Bogart and Robinson are opposite each other in a scene, it is bone chilling. There is one really tense moment where Robinson goes off for a few minutes while getting a shave at the same time. The added element of the shave just added more tension to the moment and this was one of the greatest scenes I’ve ever seen from the great Robinson.

A lot of this was shot on location in the Florida Keys and those scenes came off remarkably well, adding to the exotic allure of the picture. Add in the great cinematography by Karl Freund and you’ve got an otherworldly, majestic looking film.

John Huston shot this film meticulously and it shows. At the same time, he had the benefit of having one of the greatest casts ever assembled.

And despite the greatness of Bogart, Robinson, Bacall and Barrymore in this picture, Claire Trevor stole every scene that she was in. She was certainly worthy of her Academy Award for this picture.

Key Largo is a damn fine motion picture. It is one of the best film-noirs of all-time and one of the best films of its era. All the big stars here had long, storied careers but this is a highlight for all of them and director John Huston.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: The other films that pair Bogart and Bacall: To Have and to Have NotThe Big Sleep and Dark Passage. Also, The Maltese Falcon.

Film Review: Road to Bali (1952)

Also known as: The Road to Hollywood (working title)
Release Date: November 19th, 1952 (premiere)
Directed by: Hal Walker
Written by: Frank Butler, Hal Kanter, William Morrow
Music by: Joseph J. Lilley
Cast: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Carolyn Jones, Humphrey Bogart (cameo), Jerry Lewis (cameo), Dean Martin (cameo), Jane Russell (cameo)

Paramount Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“He’s gonna sing, folks. Now’s the time to go out and get the popcorn.” – Harold Gridley

Bing Crosby and Bob Hope made seven Road to… movies. This was the sixth one and the only one filmed and released in Technicolor. It actually benefited from the process, as this is an incredibly exotic looking picture with a strong Tiki aesthetic in the height of the Tiki loving era in America.

I had seen bits and pieces of all these movies when I was a kid because my mum and granmum used to watch Bob Hope movies all the time. I always loved the look of this picture, mainly because I’ve always had a love for everything Tiki.

Crosby and Hope were always really fun together and by this point, they were so familiar with one another that everything they did was incredibly natural. They were a great and iconic duo and this film is one of the times that they were at their absolute best.

I don’t like musicals. I’m not a fan of musical numbers advancing plot. I don’t mind music heavy movies, typically I love them. Just musicals have never worked for my brain, I guess. Still, I like the musical numbers here and while some are used to advance plot, most of the numbers work organically. In the opening, the musical number is actually Crosby and Hope performing on stage. These stage sequences are better than the ones where the picture follows a more traditional musical style.

Road to Bali sees Crosby and Hope take a treasure diving job on a tropical island in the Pacific. They both fall for the same girl and spend the movie competing to try and win her heart. The movie is lighthearted and energetic and these two have a magnetic charisma. Dorothy Lamour also added a lot to the picture, as the apple of these boys’ eyes.

This a a beautiful but kitschy looking film that should make any Tikiphile smile.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other Road pictures with Hope and Crosby. For the Tiki aesthetic and also featuring Dorothy Lamour, check out Donovan’s Reef, which also features John Wayne, Lee Marvin and Cesar Romero.

Film Review: The Big Sleep (1946)

Release Date: August 23rd, 1946
Directed by: Howard Hawks
Written by: William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman
Based on: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone, Elisha Cook Jr.

Warner Bros., 114 Minutes, 116 Minutes (pre-release)

Review:

“And I’m not crazy about yours. I didn’t ask to see you. I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners, I don’t like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings. I don’t mind your ritzing me drinking your lunch out of a bottle. But don’t waste your time trying to cross-examine me.” – Philip Marlowe

There are few women that can match the presence of Humphrey Bogart on screen but I guess there is a reason why Lauren Bacall was in four pictures with Bogie and why they fell in love and got married, despite quite the age difference.

This is one of many Philip Marlowe stories put to celluloid in the 1940s. Strangely, a different actor played Marlowe in every movie as there wasn’t any sort of cohesiveness to the rights of the character. Different studios owned the rights to different books and some Marlowe movies even changed the character’s name to things like “The Falcon” and “Michael Shayne”. In The Big Sleep, we get to see Bogart become the character in what is arguably the best and most popular version of Marlowe.

Like typical film-noir and a Marlowe story, for that matter, this thing has a lot of solid twists and turns. You never really know where the roller coaster ride is going but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. In a nutshell, private dick Philip Marlowe is hired by a rich general with two beautiful daughters. One daughter has massive gambling debts, so Marlowe is brought in to help resolve this. The older sister, played by Lauren Bacall, assists Marlowe because she knows that the situation her little sister is in, is something bigger and deeper than what’s on the surface.

The Big Sleep is very complex and while it may, to a degree, work against it and make it hard to follow if you’re not completely tuned into it, it’s still well constructed and executed. I’m not sure how faithful of an adaptation it is to the book but it probably did its best in giving that story its life on screen. Complex stories are usually a bit easier to follow in a book than on screen, as there is a different sort of pacing and you have to be engaged by the book, giving it your full attention. But this isn’t too dissimilar to most film-noir films adapted from the crime novels of the day.

Bogart and Bacall always had fantastic chemistry. This is a great display of just how good each of them were and especially how good they were playing opposite of one another. Bogart is his typical cool self and Bacall has a serious sass that isn’t something most women can match.

Howard Hawks made one of the best Philip Marlowe pictures of all-time with The Big Sleep. It was probably easy directing the duo of Bogart and Bacall, however. Plus, he had the cinematography of Sidney Hickox at his disposal. Hickox being a real veteran with a lot of mileage under his belt at this point.

Rating: 9/10