Is there a classic Hollywood actor more iconic than Humphrey Bogart? Perhaps James Cagney or John Wayne, but neither of them had the versatility of Bogart. He's a genuine star, someone whose career you can track from studio bit player to leading man. Bogart is simultaneously one of the most distinctive, easily imitable actors of the Hollywood era and one of the most natural, subtle performers of the era, whether he is playing heroes, villains, or something in between.
It's difficult to pick standout scenes from his career, as he's an actor whose most memorable moments tend to be little non-verbal flourishes, such as the look of disdain he gives his fellow convicts as they listen to music in "We're No Angels," or his amusement at Rocco's childlike fear of the storm in "Key Largo." Yet, there are a few definitive moments that are the most memorable scenes of his film career.
High Sierra – Tap Tap Tap
It's a well-known but often forgotten fact that Humphrey Bogart began his Hollywood career playing heavies before making his mark as the villain in "The Petrified Forest." However, it wasn't until Raoul Walsh's crime thriller "High Sierra" that he proved his leading man credentials. In the film, he and Ida Lupino hide out in the mountains after a bank robbery gone wrong. This was the point in his career where his bad guy persona and his down-to-earth decency dovetailed.
Earle's character is based on John Dillinger, and it's a more fleshed-out, humane character than Bogart had played before. His character gets a fittingly tragic ending, but the most memorable moment in the film comes before the robbery itself, where he ensures the loyalty of the least certain member of the gang (a very young Cornel Wilde) by intimidating him with a story about a previous job. He warns against a precious accomplice's tommy gun that went "tap tap tap" and punctuates the noise of the gun by tapping on the table.
It might be a throwaway scene, one that you could just as easily imagine James Cagney performing, but it sums up Bogart's persona, which is simultaneously intimidating and reassuring to the wavering henchman.
Sabrina – La Vie En Rose
Billy Wilder outfoxed the critics who claimed that Bogart was too old to be romantically involved with Audrey Hepburn by having the characters acknowledge the age gap head-on. Bogart himself didn't enjoy the experience of making this film, and yet he gives an incredibly warm, moving performance as the consummate businessman Linus, who tries to keep his playboy brother (William Holden) away from the smitten Sabrina (Hepburn) by taking her out on a series of dates himself.
While on the surface, he intends to send Sabrina to Paris so she won't be a distraction to his brother, after spending time together, the two gradually begin to fall in love, although neither will admit it. The scene where she sings "La Vie En Rose" to him after a night out is especially moving: He's completely out of his element, and there's an almost childlike sadness to Bogart's performance.
He casts his big doleful eyes at Sabrina and makes it clear that he is only too aware that he is too old to be a really romantic prospect for her, but the usually level-headed Linus finds himself hopelessly falling for her nonetheless. It's a quiet, subtle moment of melancholy as both characters try to ignore their growing feelings for one another.
The African Queen – Reunited
After all the obstacles that Rose (Katharine Hepburn) and Charlie Alnutt (Humphrey Bogart) have endured, "The African Queen" earns its slightly twee ending. When their attempt to sink the German liner fails in the midst of a storm, the two are separated, with a bereft Charlie believing Rose has drowned. Subdued and downcast, the Germans order him hanged, but before the sentence is carried out, he discovers that Rose is still alive.
The unbridled joy on Bogart's face when he sees Rose alive and well is infectious and genuinely moving, as is Hepburn's fiery defiance when she is brought aboard. Her combative attitude is completely at odds with Charlie's deferential nature, and she stands up to the ship's captain, demanding that they be hanged together. (The best part of this entire sequence is the wonderfully judged moment where Charlie humbly explains how he constructed the torpedoes as he is obviously proud of himself but trying to hide it).
As a final request, Alnutt asks the captain if he can marry him to a delighted Rose, and the bemused captain obliges. Hepburn and Bogart complement each other beautifully, and the central relationship is a truly sweet one: This final moment together is undeniably touching, even if the happy ending resolution is a little contrived.
The Big Sleep – Bookshops
The labyrinthine plot of "The Big Sleep" might not make a ton of sense, but we do see Philip Marlowe (Bogart) actually undertake some effective detective work investigating the dodgy bookstore owned by the enigmatic Dr. Geiger. He goes undercover, adopts a comically high-pitched voice, turns the brim of his hate up to make him look as bookish as possible, and asks for a book that doesn't exist ("A Ben-Hur 1860… a 3rd edition with the erratum on page 16"), thus revealing the bookstore as a front for illicit activity. As he leaves he needles the increasingly irritated clerk (Sonia Darrin) with the wry line "You do sell books, hmm?"
What follows is an even more iconic scene as Marlowe stakes out Geiger's shop from a rival bookstore across the street, where confides in Dorothy Malone's sultry shop assistant, one of many women who throw themselves at Marlowe over the course of the film. The two share a bottle of whisky and mix business with pleasure, closing the shop for the afternoon. Above all else, "The Big Sleep" is unfailingly fun, and this sequence shows Bogart at his most playful while also being the most overtly suggestive scene of the entire film.
To Have And Have Not – You Know How To Whistle…
Bogart only made four films with Lauren Bacall, but each one is filled with an undeniably palpable chemistry that infused the suggestive dialogue with genuine heat. This is evident from their very first film together, where Bogart genuinely fell in love with the young actress.
"To Have And Have Not" features perhaps the most iconic moment in Bacall's career and the first indication of the genuine attraction between them. The actual context of the scene is almost irrelevant; all that matters is the scene is the simmering chemistry between the two actors.
The script is so loaded with innuendo that it must have put quite a strain on the production code. Bacall sits on Bogart's lap and kisses him before leaving, but not before uttering the now famous line, "You know how to whistle don't you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow."
Bogart's part bemused, part entranced look is understandable, as he's almost over-awed by Bacall, but he still gets the last moment of the sequence. Once Bacall leaves, he sits stunned for a minute, then smiles and whistles playfully to himself.
The African Queen – Pulling The Boat
"The African Queen" is often viewed as little more than a light-hearted romp: An adventure film/unlikely romance between cantankerous, hard-drinking steamboat captain Charlie Allnut (Bogart)and the pious missionary Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn). However, in truth, the film has its fair share of nasty moments. The burning of the missionary outpost, the death of Rose's brother (Robert Morley), and the numerous perils faced by the main characters feel desperately real at times.
Chief among these is the scene in which The African Queen becomes mired in the thick muddy waters. As Allnut gets into the water to haul the boat through the mud, Bogart's pained facial expressions make his exhaustion feel agonizing. Even worse, when he finally gets back on the boat, Rose notices that he is covered in leeches.
Bogart's immediate reaction of revulsion is palpable and relatable, but what makes this scene all the more soul-destroying is that for all the hard work he's done, pretty soon after they are free of the mud, the boat gets stuck once more, and he has to get back in and go through it all over again. Bogart's wordless reaction is all-too-real, a haunting mixture of horror, resignation, and grim determination.
The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre – The End Of Dobbs
"The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre" is the film that solidified Bogart as a great actor as well as a bankable star. He gives an uncompromising, raw performance as Fred C Dobbs, a deeply flawed character who nonetheless has heroic qualities. He puts his life on the line to help his companions on multiple occasions but simply can't see beyond his own greed once they get the gold out of the ground. His end is fittingly unceremonious, as he is confronted by the murderous bandits he encountered earlier in the film.
Despite having gunned down the decent Curtin (Tim Holt) only a few scenes earlier, it's impossible not to feel pity for Dobbs in his final moments. Exhausted, delirious, and alone, he makes a lamentable figure as he tries and fails to bluff the bandits. It's an unbearably tense scene as the bandits cut off his only escape route, and the suspense and sense of dread are built up masterfully.
Dobbs' eventual death is abrupt and nasty, but it's the despair and growing panic evident on Bogart's face that lingers in the memory.
The Maltese Falcon – Joel Cairo
"The Maltese Falcon" was the film that really solidified Bogart's status as a viable hero in the eyes of Hollywood audiences. The villainous roles of his past still lingered in the audience's memory, so his Sam Spade is more than a little callous. It's apparent in his harsh treatment of his former mistress, his contempt for his deceased partner, and the glee he appears to derive from punching the weaselly Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), even telling him later in the film, "When you're slapped you'll take it and like it!"
Bogart and Lorre were actually good friends, and even though the characters detest each other, the two actors clearly enjoy their verbal sparring. This makes their first scene one of the most purely enjoyable of the film, from Cairo's suggestive fiddling with his cane to Spade's amusement at Cairo's mannerisms. When Cairo pulls a gun on Spade in order to search his offices, there is a simmering fury plain on Spade's face, and once he disarms Cairo, he gives a sadistic grin before knocking him out with one punch.
Spade's subsequent interrogation of Cairo is comic in its civility, particularly as it takes place so soon after the violence, with Cairo plaintively whining, "Look what you did to my shirt!" The ending of this scene is delightfully absurd, with Cairo politely asking for his gun back, only to once again order Spade to put his hands up so he can search his offices.
In A Lonely Place – Re-Enacting A Murder
Nicholas Ray's dark, brooding masterpiece, "In A Lonely Place," might not feature all the staples of the genre, but it remains film noir through and through, with a jet-black, poetic script, with lines like: "I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me."
Bogart is at his most acerbic and callous as the washed-up screenwriter Dixon Steele, who is accused of murdering a young coat check girl, and his natural callousness and morbid sense of humor make him a prime suspect for the police. The most memorable moment comes when Steele demonstrates his intense creative process to just about the most unfortunate audience possible: His detective friend Brub (Frank Lovejoy).
As they discuss the case, Dix explains how he would have written the murder scene and gets Brub and his wife to re-enact the murder. He leans forward and gets noticeably animated about the idea, even egging Brub on to throttle his wife.
It's a disturbing sequence that casts his character in a much more sinister light and lends credence to the idea that he is capable of murder. Bogart judges it just right, leaving it ambiguous as to whether this intensity is due to his passion for screenwriting or the fact that he is in fact a murderer.
Casablanca – Putting Ilsa On The Plane
What more can be said about this scene? The farewell between Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and the love of his life Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) is possibly the most iconic film ending of all time: It's often parodied and referenced but never bettered. It's telling that despite the fact that it's so well-known, the scene still resonates today, largely because of Bogart's impassioned yet understated performance.
Everyone knows the dialogue now, but in Bogart's mouth, it never feels cliched; it feels earnest, impassioned, and heartfelt, and most importantly, it feels spontaneous, like he's saying it for the first time. Both Bogart and Bergman give wonderfully restrained performances, but it's Bogart's stoic delivery of that final "Here's looking at you kid" that proves to be the most moving moment.
He cradles Ilsa's face as he says the repeated phrase as a private farewell that's meant just for her. It's a beautifully tender scene, and watching it today causes all cynicism to wash away, even though you likely already know all the dialogue. It's impossible not to get caught up in the emotion of the scene.
The Caine Mutiny – Queeg On The Stand
The question that sticks with you after watching Edward Dmytryk's "The Caine Mutiny" is just how at fault the fastidious Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) really is. It's clear from his first appearance that he's a difficult commanding officer with his own quirks and strange affectations (not least the metal balls he rolls between his fingers when nervous). However, it's apparent that had his officers supported him more instead of undermining him and fueling his paranoia, the outcome might have been drastically different.
The scene in which Captain Queeg falls apart on the stand is the high point of the film. As an exasperated Queeg is being questioned by prosecutor Greenwald (Jose Ferrer), an exasperated Queeg gets incensed and launches into a diatribe about missing strawberries, getting noticeably agitated and revealing his delusional paranoia to the court.
He catches himself, but it's too late. Bogart's wonderfully emotive brown eyes are emphasized by Dmytryk's tight close-up, catching the instant he realizes that he's been outmaneuvered. It's an incredible piece of acting from Bogart, and proved immensely influential, inspiring similar scenes in "A Few Good Men" and "Better Call Saul."
Queeg is a petty, small-minded tyrant, and in the hands of another actor, his bluster and pomposity might seem comic, but Bogart zeroes in on his vulnerability and reveals the human being underneath. It's impossible not to feel for him as he comes irreversibly unstuck on the witness stand.
The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre – Paranoia
As incredible as "The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre" is, it's difficult to pick out one scene that showcases Bogart's excellent performance because his descent into murderous paranoia is so gradual. He starts the film as a down-on-his-luck hero, a little rough and ready perhaps, but fundamentally decent. It's only when he and fellow prospectors Howard (Walter Huston) and Curtin (Tim Holt) discover the gold that he starts to lose his moral compass.
It's never a good sign when a character starts talking to himself in the third person, and when Dobbs is asked to take the donkeys to town, he does just that, muttering to himself about his growing suspicions. He's resentful of being sent into town alone and is reluctant to leave his partners alone with all the gold.
Bogart plays this paranoia perfectly: He never shies away from the less attractive aspects of his character, making Dobbs petty, confrontational and insecure, but he also never allows him to be an outright villain. Even in his worst moments, you can see his conscience is still there, gnawing away at him. He is just overwhelmed by the idea of all that gold, making him an infinitely more interesting, complex character than if he was planning on stealing the money from the start of the film.
The Big Sleep – That's One Eddie!
"The Big Sleep" is full of Raymond Chandler's signature dry dialogue, with iconic lines like "She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up" and "So many guns around town and so few brains," as well as that iconic pairing of Bogart and Bacall.
However, the most stirring moment in the film is memorable less for its wit than for the intensity of Bogart's performance. For once, he's not calm or laconic, he's genuinely menacing. After arranging to meet sleazy club owner Eddie Mars (John Ridgeley) at the house of an earlier victim, Marlowe arrives early and sees Mars' henchmen waiting outside. What follows is one of the greatest confrontations in all of the noir, as Marlowe manages to use the trap intended for him back on Mars himself.
Bogart looks positively feral as he stalks towards Mars, brandishing his gun and snarling, "What do you want me to do, count to three like they do in the movies?" in a callback to the cold-blooded murder of poor hapless Jones (Elisha Cook Jr). Marlowe realizes the henchmen will shoot the first person to leave, and in an uncharacteristically ruthless move for the time, fires his gun at Mars, shouting, "That's one Eddie!" forcing him to run out straight into the path of his henchmen's bullets.
Casablanca – As Time Goes By
"Casablanca" is one of those films that is so ubiquitous, so well known, that even people who have never seen it will recognize the imminently quotable dialogue. For all the famous lines, though, Humphrey Bogart's most powerful moments are largely non-verbal.
Take this scene, coming immediately in the wake of the famous "As Time Goes By" sequence, where Rick (Bogart) angrily tells Sam never to play that song, only to be confronted by his old flame Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman). Rick retreats to his office to drown his sorrows and barks at Sam to play the song again, saying, "If she can listen to it, so can I."
What makes this scene work so well is the way Bogart's face is cast almost entirely in shadow. As the music swells, the camera pulls in close on Bogart's hangdog expression with only his tear-filled eyes glistening in the dark.
No other actor of the era could have conveyed so much sadness, so much heartbreak, with just one look, as Bogart does here. For us, though, it's the sad little half-laugh that he gives just as Sam begins playing the song that makes us well up, it's almost like an involuntary physical reaction to the song, and it's a beautifully observed moment.
The Maltese Falcon – Handing Over Brigid
"Casablanca" and "The Maltese Falcon" are almost like the opposite sides of the same coin in terms of the central romance. In both cases, Bogart's character gives up the woman he loves in favor of doing the honorable thing. In "Casablanca," his actions are driven by idealism and a wish to ensure Ilsa's happiness. In "The Maltese Falcon," it's more complicated: Spade hands the conniving Brigid O Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) over to the police because she killed his partner, and he knows he can't trust her.
That doesn't mean he isn't in love with her, though, and in this final monologue, he lays out his reasons for turning her in. It's a beautifully delivered soliloquy with the perfect balance of intensity and self-loathing. Bogart makes the rapid-fire, exposition-heavy dialogue sing as he tries to convince himself that he's doing the right thing, even as he fights his impulse to let Brigid go. As he puts it: "I won't because all of me wants to, regardless of consequences."
This is the only scene in the film where Spade seems genuinely uncertain. He's clearly conflicted, and Bogart fills each line with doubt. He didn't like his partner, but he is determined to avenge him. Even though everyone has assumed the worst of him throughout the film, in this scene, he demonstrates his integrity with the line: "Don't be too sure I'm as crooked as I'm supposed to be."
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