Thursday, July 30, 2009

Crazy Bogie

Monday’s post which mentioned the movie “In a Lonely Place” (1950) brings to mind one side of Humphrey Bogart’s many film characters for discussion. Crazy Bogie, the man you love to report to the authorities.

In “The Two Mrs. Carrolls” (1947), Mr. Bogart plays an artist, living a quiet life in the English countryside with his second wife, Barbara Stanwyck. He murdered his former wife, and he seems to have similar designs on Miss Stanwyck, but first he has to paint a really ugly picture of her. Were he just a mean guy who wanted the insurance money, we could easily dismiss him as evil, but there is something more intriguing about Bogart’s murderer that makes him hard to dismiss. He manages to affect a loneliness in his psychosis that at times elicits more sympathy than fear. He suffers in his paranoia, and appears physically pained with outbursts. If both Bogie and Stanwyck, and the script, are a little over the top at times, it’s still a thoughtful characterization of trying to make us see things his way.

“In a Lonely Place” (1950) shows Humphrey Bogart as a snide Hollywood screenwriter, quick to anger, who is under investigation for a brutal murder. We follow his budding relationship with his new girlfriend, Gloria Grahame, and navigate the highs and lows of their romance, of the suspicion under which the police hold him, and Miss Grahame’s growing suspicions in the same dizzying way Bogie navigates the winding Los Angeles streets at night in a nearly out of control convertible.

Here again, we see a guy who could be a killer, but whether or not he is, there is still something amiss, something askew in his prickly personality that begs for sympathy. He regrets his outbursts, but cannot stop himself. He is defensive, paranoid, quick to wound, and quick to hurt others. But he’s not a nut we can just dismiss as being a nut. He is intelligent and articulate. There’s so much more to his grand persona that is real and valid and logical, that the nuttiness seems only a quirk, until it brings danger, until it’s almost too late. In true film noir fashion, he brings his own downfall.

“The Caine Mutiny” (1954) is so fine a movie it deserves it own discussion sometime for the many great performances in the ensemble cast. Here Bogart is the mercurial Captain Queeg, whose irrational displays cause his men to revile him and mutiny against him. Bogart is excellent in the role (though I would have loved to have also seen Lloyd Nolan, who played the part on stage). He is fearful and fretful, vengeful and bitter, paranoid and deceptive. Mr. Bogart plays the gamut of emotion, and makes us, as with the other characters, see how it could happen, and see the dismal sadness and lack of confidence in a person’s life that would alter his psyche and remove that under-appreciated but most important aspect of a person’s humanity, his self control.

Bogart is older in this part, and looks it, and at times looks tired, at times looks exactly like a man who knows he looks old and tired and is desperately trying to hide it. One common thread in all three of these “crazy” characterizations his Bogart’s seeming empathy with the character, playing him not as a “type”, but from the inside, somewhere deep, and intimate, and troubled. In one film he touches his forehead in a reflex reaction to accusation. In another, his hands shake when he lights a cigarette. In another, he fumbles with steel marbles to comfort himself. His technique runs to more than just a crazed expression. There is so much going on his eyes as haunted as it is threatening, silently begging for help before he strikes.


K. said...

Bogart has become so iconic that we sometimes forget what a fine actor he was. Thanks for the reminder.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, K, thanks for commenting. I agree with you. We probably do take him for granted, his talent perhaps being outshone by his very stardom.

Tommy Salami said...

One of my favorite actors of all time. Such presence.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, Tommy, thanks for stopping by. To be sure, Bogart had tremendous screen presence.

panavia999 said...

I watched "In a Lonely Place" last week. Very good. In the end , even though Bogart's character had sympathetic qualities, I felt Gloria Grahame would be better off without him - he obviously couldn't handle stress. It was part of his personality. It's always a pleasure to watch Bogart - and Gloria Grahame for that matter!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I agree. You get a sense of finality to this relationship that is fitting, none of the usual hoping or expecting they'll get back together.

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