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Neglected Bogart

April 19, 2010

by John Farr

Three of the great Humphrey Bogart’s lesser-known films.


High Sierra (1941)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Weary, aging gangster Roy “Mad Dog” Earle (Humphrey Bogart) is enlisted in a hotel-robbery scheme after mobster friend Big Mac (Donald MacBride) springs him from prison. On his way to a rendezvous point, he meets and falls for club-footed farmer’s daughter Velma (Joan Leslie). Meanwhile, Marie (Ida Lupino), his colleague’s tough-as-nails girlfriend, develops a soft spot for Earle. Once the heist goes down, however, the attachments he’s formed with the two women could bring about his downfall.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Though the forties saw a waning in gangster pictures, early on Bogart was given a juicy breakout role in Walsh’s “High Sierra”, as a killer with a compassionate side. Bogart’s “Mad Dog” Earle is more Dillinger than Capone, more sympathetic and human, but when threatened, still a scary individual. Young Lupino stands out as Earle’s loyal protector who can’t win his love. Co-written by a young John Huston, “High Sierra” is a solid, flavorful entry for “Bogie-as-bad-guy” fans, boasting a slam-bang finish.


Sahara (1943)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

In the Second War, after the fall of Tobruk in Libya, Sgt. Joe Gunn (Humphrey Bogart) and his remaining men, including soldiers Jimmy Doyle (Dan Duryea) and Waco Hoyt (Bruce Bennett), retreat in their tank across the blistering desert, picking up more straggling allies and two POWs along the way. Finally, they reach a fortress which holds a limited quantity of that most crucial substance: water. When a superior German force arrives, the enemy is desperate enough to offer an exchange of food for water. Gunn’s challenge is to hold them off until British reinforcements arrive.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Director Korda’s gritty, gutsy WWII actioner vividly evokes the particular risks and hazards of desert warfare, while showcasing Bogie in his prime, on the front lines of battle. Duryea is solid as usual as Jimmy, and character actor J. Carroll Naish lends poignancy as a good-hearted Italian prisoner caught in a war not of his own making. Suspenseful and smart , “Sahara” is a distinctive, sadly overlooked war film that makes you thirsty for more of the same.


Dark Passage (1947)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Wrongfully accused of murdering his wife, Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) escapes San Quentin prison and hides out in the apartment of Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall), a lovely socialite convinced of his innocence. After undergoing plastic surgery to radically alter his face, a now unrecognizable Vincent devotes his efforts to seeking out the actual killer.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Filmed on location in San Francisco, this inventive noir is the third of the legendary Bogart-Bacall pairings, and hinges on the unusual face-transformation plot point: For the first part of the film, Daves presents the action using a point-of-view camera shot, in which we see everything through Vincent’s eyes. Once his bandages are removed, the objective perspective is restored, and Bogart appears for the first time. This visual gimmick and the sexual chemistry between the two leads is half the fun of watching “Passage” and then there’s Agnes Moorehead, who vamps it up as a shrewish deviant named Madge. For a first-rate mystery-thriller, “Dark Passage” leads the way.


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