All righty, my brain is somewhat rested. The last couple of weeks were busier than I thought. Oh, and the dog ate my homework. 😉 So, without further ado let’s get back to Bogart.
Across the Pacific (1942): After The Maltese Falcon and before Casablanca, Bogart played Rick Leland, an officer drummed out of the Army. Rick’s punishment was so severe that he not only got discharged, but also forfeited any pay or bonuses. What did he do that was so terrible? The movie stays very hush-hush on that, at least at first.
Rick went to Halifax and tried to join the Canadian Royal Air Force, but much to his chagrin they didn’t want them either. His break came when he walked past a shipping company office and spied Mary Astor booking passage on a ship bound for Panama. Rick didn’t appear worried about the Rising Sun flag decal on the front door, but it seems he should have been when two of the clerks looked sidelong at each other.
However, Pacific is full of surprises. There were always men lurking around Rick. They broke into his hotel room, rifled through his luggage, and tailed him wherever he went. It doesn’t take long to start wondering, “Who is this guy?” and as time goes on it becomes clear that Rick isn’t as hapless as he initially appeared. It’s hard to know who to trust in this movie. Even Mary Astor’s character, Angel, seemed tight-lipped about something, in spite of her playing the supposedly green but wise-cracking dime store clerk from Medicine Hat.
Pacific IS Bogart’s film, and classic Bogart at that: trench coat, fedora, pinstripes, the cigarette hanging from the corner of the mouth. It’s also a rather heady pleasure, especially after the melange that was They Drive By Night.
Action In the North Atlantic (1943): This time Bogie played Joe Rossi, first mate on the North Star, a rather shabby Merchant Marine tanker. The ship was on its way to join a convoy, when it was torpedoed by a Nazi U-boat. The sailors made it into a lifeboat, but the Nazis, not content with blowing the North Star out from under Rossi and Company, sliced right through the lifeboat and then floated off, laughing.
After eleven days on a raft, the same crew all signed on to the much swankier Liberty ship, Sea Witch. As often happened with the Merchant Marines during wartime, they were teamed with a Naval outfit, and all set off for Murmansk. But the sinister Nazis were never far behind, and the Sea Witch was separated from their convoy by a wolf pack and had to shake them off before arriving at their destination.
There aren’t really any spoilers to avoid giving here. For a war film, this is very quiet in terms of breaking new ground, but it’s well done and makes some interesting side points. The Office of War Information determined that the public should never quite forget that they were at war, and North Atlantic includes some subtle and not-so-subtle hints about how Americans should conduct themselves and what we we were fighting for. One somewhat lengthy scene involves Bogart punching out a guy in a bar who was talking a bit too freely about troop transports and how much raw material we would get from various places. It’s got all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Besides that, the film highlighted how much it meant to our men that the home fires were still burning, and that all Americans must keep fighting the good fight.
North Atlantic is not as riveting as Across the Pacific, but it has a lot of great moments. It’s one of those movies that’s more of a time capsule than anything.
Passage To Marseille (1944): Directed by the prolific and subtly brilliant Michael Curtiz, Marseille has Bogie in the role of Jean Matrac, a waist gunner on a Free French bombing crew. This is another simple film, although an intriguing one. It’s also another ensemble piece. Even though Bogart had top billing, Claude Rains got more screen time than he did. This isn’t a bad thing, because the supporting cast is a stellar one. Besides Rains, Peter Lorre, Helmut Dantine, George Tobias, Philip Dorne, Sidney Greenstreet and Michele Morgan round out the cast.
The movie began rather mysteriously with a B-17 flying over a farm after a bombing run and dropping a pipe out of the bomb bay doors, to be picked up by a woman waiting in a field. She pulled a letter out of it and tearfully waved to the departing plane, while Bogart waved back to her from a window.
After that quick little bit of scene-setting, the plot of the film was told in flashback within flashback within flashback, set off by Captain Freycinet, played by Claude Rains. Five men on a raft were picked up by a Merchant Marine freighter, haggard and almost dead. As they rested and recovered their strength, they related their stories to the sympathetic Freycinet, who learned the men were inmates of Devil Island, a prison off the coast of Venezuela. As the story was set after the fall of the Maginot Line, each of the characters were more or less driven by the same goal: to fight for France’s freedom. Even Matrac, who only wanted to get back to his wife, came around when Nazis show up.
Patriotism is Marseille’s byword. The Nazis blazing in seemed slightly tacked on, as one of the characters turned out to be a traitor, but we don’t have time to be suspicious. It was probably done to keep the film from becoming too placid. In spite of that, there is an urgency and intensity to this film, and others made during that time, that is unmistakable. What’s interesting about films made about the war during World War Two is almost a sense of real time. The actors in these movies had the events of the day in their heads, as well as the insecurities and anxieties about the future. They didn’t have the luxury of hindsight. When it came time to fight, even just in the movies, the resolve in their faces is real. As one of the characters gasped out as he died: “We’ll get them all.”
Since these films were put out by Warner Bros, the ancillary material is terrific. Lots and lots of shorts, documentaries, newsreels, and so forth. Other studios like Universal do all right at presenting their history, but it can’t be denied that Warner is the alpha in this regard. The only thing I’m not super crazy about is the packaging–with the exception of The Roaring Twenties my Bogart films came in one of those TCM sets, and the DVDs are stacked inside the case. It could be worse, but it’s sort of a pain having to remove all the discs if I want to watch something that isn’t on top. Oh well, we can’t have everything.
I am, however, glad I got these films after all. While I’m still not Bogart’s number one fan, it’s good to broaden the horizons now and then.