Bogart for Beginners

I remember watching Bogart at an early age. One of the first films I saw of his was “Sabrina” with Audrey Hepburn. He was hilarious, albeit much older than Hepburn, but that was really part of the joke. The self-deprecating humor he used, with lines like: “Joe College with a touch of arthritis”, and the deadpan face while attempting to find a word to rhyme with “glass” were enough to keep me riveted. The plot has his brother, played by William Holden, at one point sitting on two strategically-placed champagne glasses, located in his back pockets. The look on Bogart’s face when asked by Holden, “What rhymes with glass?” as he finally says with a poker face, “Ah! Alas!” is priceless. There was never any mention of the word, “Ass” but it was so much funnier as the unspoken punch line.
Only Bogart could get away with it. He has been seen on more college campuses and has redefined the stereotypical definition of what it means to be “cool” than any other actor before or since..He is someone who worked against all odds in the category of “romantic lead.” For starters, he was short and had a lisp. He wasn’t particularly athletic-looking, and he had a sad sort of expression and a droll humor that drove his character.

If you are seeing Bogart for the first time, it’s probably best to begin with “Casablanca”. That was the tipping point in his career and it sent him into the leading man category. Before that, he had mostly played the “heavy”, the bad guy with the Tommy gun. But his career evolved, and he moved into the romantic lead category which led him to the first of his films with his greatest romantic pairing both on and off screen-Lauren Bacall.

You should watch “To Have & Have Not” to see the chemistry light up the screen between Bogart and Bacall. This is the role where Bacall says, “You know how to whistle don’t you? Just put your lips together and blow,” as she saunters out the door. One of the funniest parts has Bogart carrying another woman while Bacall snipes jealously, ‘What are you trying to do? Guess her weight?!”

Next up is “The Big Sleep”. one of the best film noir movies ever made. And even if you don’t like film noir, you can appreciate Bogart as Philip Marlowe. Even the scriptwriters admitted they weren’t exactly sure about some of the details concerning “who killed who” by the end of this movie, but even with the convoluted plot it’s worth catching this classic film with Bogart,

By the 1950’s, “Bogie” was a household name. And his portrayal of Charlie Allnut, a small-time boater who delivered supplies in East Africa during World War I, in “The African Queen” was his role of a lifetime. He seemed born to play this bedraggled, down on his luck guy who falls for the spinster-ish and upright Rose, played by Katherine Hepburn.

There are many more wonderful performances from Bogie. And he is at times poignant and defiant, at times violent and even surprisingly tender. That was his mastery of the craft. But for beginners, you are invited to enjoy a life-long love affair with this iconic actor, and these are the films I’d recommend to start you on your way.

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