Saturday, November 17, 2007
The man who would tell Ingrid Bergman, "Here's Looking at You, Kid," at the conclusion of Casablanca (1942) was born Humphrey DeForest Bogart in 1899. He would become one of the twentieth century's greatest icons of tough masculinity, a complex blend of "good guy" and "bad guy" at a time when World War II had many Americans re-examining their personal codes of loyalty, honor, and character. Underneath his coarse exterior, Bogart, or simply "Bogie," betrayed an underdog vulnerability and a genuine desire to find the "right" answer in a world that was increasingly chaotic and off-kilter. The star was also well known for his celebrated marriage to co-star Lauren Bacall, whose sultry wit reflected his cynicism but who always drew out his romantic, heroic side.
Although Bogart became known for playing brutish characters from the wrong side of town, he was raised in the world of upper-middle -class New York City. He was eventually expelled from the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and joined the Navy for service during World War I. It was in the war that he suffered an injury which left his lip slightly paralyzed, resulting in the stiff and affected facial gestures which became one of the actor's trademarks.
Bogart began his career on stage in the 1920s and entered Hollywood by playing minor roles a decade later. But when Leslie Howard lobbied for him to co-star in The Petrified Forest (1935), he proved that he was well-suited for gangster or villain characters. He generally played this type until High Sierra (1941) in which he (with the film's screenwriter John Huston) developed a trope of masculinity which was complicated by ambivalence, pragmatism, and complex moral fortitude. Here, Bogart starred as Mad Dog Earle, an ex-convict on the run and destined for his own demise, who lays bare a particular emotional sensitivity through his sympathy for a simpler, gentler Joan Leslie. He continued to develop his star persona through this kind of role in The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1941), both of which are considered his watershed films. Though he maintained a turbulent relationship with Warner Brothers, the studio which helped forge his image, Bogart made a comfortable fit with its house style which relied on the gangster genre and films which drew on the topical social problems of the day.