Unboxing Bogie, Part One

Happy (belated) New Year, everyone!

Has the dust settled for you all yet? My son and I have gotten back into our school routine, my husband is back at work, and our fake Christmas tree is back in the closet. I also realized when I got all the presents organized that I received five Humphrey Bogart movies this year. Yup. Five. I wanted them for my World War Two film collection and they were on my Amazon wish list, but once I had them my reaction turned into, “How did I end up with all these Bogart movies?” They call that wisher’s remorse, I believe.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Bogart fine. The Petrified Forest is fantastic. Dark Passage is terrific. African Queen is a classic. Casablanca…hello. ‘Nuff said. He’s just not who I gravitate to on a normal basis. He’s…Bogart.


Okeydokey. Since we’re here, let’s see what I’ve got. In chronological order, just because we can. 🙂

Title available on Amazon.

The Roaring Twenties (1939): Starring James Cagney, Bogart, Priscilla Lane, and Jeffrey Lynne, The Roaring Twenties was one of the final gangster films made during the 1930s and Cagney’s last until White Heat in 1949. Cagney and Bogie’s characters fought side by side in the First World War, then came back home to find no one would give them jobs.

Cagney played Eddie, a good guy who felt backed into a corner and allowed himself to be seduced into choosing a not-so-good path. Bogart was George and just plain evil. This is hinted at very early on in the film, when Bogart’s character takes delight in how high German soldiers fly when he shoots them. Jeffrey Lynne’s role as Lloyd the lawyer was very minor, and he was kind of the odd man out, but he had his own job to do.

Like many desperate people in the post-Great War period, Eddie and George turned to bootlegging, and we all know what that means–speakeasies, bathtub gin, cover stories, and raids, not to mention a high body count. The violence in Twenties isn’t gratuitous; although there’s quite a bit of it. The characters are so well drawn that the bang-bang aspect is mostly window dressing. In a lot of ways, Twenties is rather sad. Not only was I rooting for Eddie and George to get a clue and redeem themselves, but the film essentially serves as an eulogy to the gangster era. I’m sure there were plenty who weren’t sorry to see it go, but everyone knew it was time to move on. As one character put it, “You and me, we’re done.” In a way, Twenties is also an eulogy to peacetime, as the film was released roughly one month after the Second World War began.

This was Cagney’s movie, and Bogie’s screen time was minimal, but the latter made his presence felt. Although I’m a huge Cagney fan, I can’t decide who gave the better performance, as he and Bogart played off each other extremely well. The intensity in their scenes together is almost palpable. Definitely a must-see film, even for those who may not be into gangster movies. 

Source: Wikimedia Commons

They Drive By Night (1940): This wasn’t Bogart’s movie either, as he was still in his second banana phase, which he reportedly found frustrating. He and George Raft played small-time truck driving brothers, Joe and Paul Fabrini, with Ann Sheridan and Ida Lupino rounding out the main cast. I had to chuckle when I saw that Bogart and Raft were paired together, because it’s rather hilarious how similar they were.

The Fabrini brothers struggled along, plagued by everything from keeping their truck to staying awake on the road to just having enough money to buy hauls in the first place. The women in their lives pleaded for stability and worried about their safety, but it’s not until Joe bought a big haul of lemons and they were able to fend off the repo man that their fortunes began to change.

As always though, the going wasn’t pretty, and there’s the rub. The Fabrinis, especially Joe, went from the problems of being out on the road to the problems of being the guys who send guys out on the road. All this was easy, though, compared to dealing with Lana, the boss’s wife, played superbly by Ida Lupino. Seriously, it’s to Lupino’s credit what  a slimy, scary diva Lana was. I won’t give any spoilers except for “THE DOORS MADE ME DO IT!” Cryptic? Yes. Creepy? Absolutely. That’s all I’m gonna say.

Honestly, this is kind of a weird movie. It goes from trucking to romance to murder to mental illness and back again. I think the problem was that there weren’t really any transitions–the whole thing was bing bing bing, and the audience doesn’t have time to acclimate. At least I didn’t. I really had to pay attention to keep up with all the different threads, and one viewing may not be enough to tie them all together. Ah, the beauty of owning the DVD.

That movie wore me out. I think my brain needs a break. Continued in Part Two…

They Drive By Night is available on DVD.

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