It has become Kitsch to discuss the mystique of Humphrey Bogart movies. Film critics, psychologists, even Soc Rel majors have delved into the emotional response of a weary student to the stimulus of brutality, wit, and sensuosity that is the Bogie image. Suffice it to say that a Bogart evening at the Brattle during exam period with a packed, unruly, and howling partisan crowd is an experience that no Harvard undergraduate should miss.
An historical approach to Bogart is possible this spring because the Brattle has programmed thirteen (count 'em) of the master's movies in one-day shots, guaranteed to ruin any carefully planned study schedule. The interested viewer can follow Bogie from his bit roles in George Raft type gangster films through the "classic" private eye series of the 'Forties to the start of his final ("warning" or "mature," depending on your preference) period in 1948.
Of the five pre-1940 films, only one is really worth seeing, Petrified Forest (1935), in which Bogie recreated his famous Broadway role.
Maltese Falcon (1941), the first private eye movie from Hollywood, established the "film noir" in America for the next ten years, and Bogart as the prototype Twentieth Century man. Two masterpieces, Casablanca (1943) and Big Sleep (1946), and a number of clever near-misses like To Have and Have Not (1945), Key Largo (1947), and Dark Passage (1947) brighten the canon of Bogie films in the 'Forties, which includes a good number of dull patriotic epics (Passage to Marseilles) and gangster potboilers. During the making of the cinema landmarks, a famous team of Bogart, Lauren Bacall ("If you want anything, just whistle."), Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook, Jr., and Peter Lorre gathered together. The swansong of the team, its leader, and the whole crime movie genre came with Beat the Devil (1954), a parody of Maltese Falcon. Since then, fictional gangsters have become sensitive persons with damaged psyches, and the brutal but efficient good guys a group of prosaic scientists, psychiatrists, and philosophers.
Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) was the beginning of the serious acting career of Humphrey Bogart. Splendid performances in African Queen and Sabrina that followed showed that the type casting of some twenty years had kept back a real talent, but Bogie's popularity fell when he ceased to play the symbol. At the time of his death in 1955 he presided over his own rather sophisticated "rat pack" as a Hollywood elder statesman.
The Brattle is to be commended for bringing us this baker's dozen of Bogey items. One can only wistfully shed a tear that such splendid works as Roaring Twenties (1938), High Sierra (1939), African Queen (1952) and Beat the Devil could not have been substituted for the five mediocre works on the program, Big Shot, Kid Galahad, Crime School, San Quentin, and Passage to Marseilles.