Named greatest male star in the history of American cinema by the American Film Institute in 1999, Humphrey Bogart is without a doubt one of the biggest stars of the silver screen and of Hollywood’s golden era.
In a career that spawned almost three decades, he appeared in about 75 feature films (85 credits in total if one includes television appearances and shorts), thereby averaging a staggering 2 1/2 films per year for nearly thirty years. During this time, Bogart became the quintessential hard-boiled cynical though guy, a true screen legend and ultimately a genuine cultural icon.
Born on December 25th 1899 as Humphrey DeForest Bogart, “Bogie” started acting in plays in 1921, only to appear in his first movie in 1928. After having been in about twelve films, his first breakthrough came with The Petrified Forest from 1936, in which he played a famous gangster on the run from the law.
As a result of this role, Bogart began being typecast in gangster roles for the next five years until he became a genuine star when The Maltese Falcon, one of the quintessential film noirs, turned out to be a huge hit. From there on in, success followed upon success and his marriage with actress Lauren Bacall, who was 25 years his junior and who he met on the set of 1944’s To Have And To Have Not, only made the public more obsessed with the already extremely popular star. The couple would make four films together, all of which were very successful and three of which made it onto this list of greatest Bogart films.
A life-long heavy drinker and smoker, Bogart started to develop serious health issues in the mid-fifties. His last film was The Harder They Fall, before he was diagnosed with cancer in January 1956. After a year of battling the disease, Bogart died on January 14th 1957. His funeral was attended by some of the greatest names in the industry and John Huston, with whom he had made some of his greatest films, concluded his eulogy by stating that “There will never be another one like him”. He was quite right.
10. The African Queen (John Huston, 1951)
Adapted from the same name novel by C. S. Forester, The African Queen is a near perfect romantic adventure, which teamed up Humphrey Bogart and John Huston for the fifth time in their careers and did so with great success once again.
Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) is a missionary in East Africa with her brother Samuel (Robert Morley) at the start of World War I. Their mail and supplies get delivered by Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) on his boat the African Queen. When Samuel gets killed during the German invasion, Charlie offers to take Rose back to civilisation.
Their personalities couldn’t be more different but during the course of their adventurous journey down the river, the two end up falling for each other. In the process Rose convinces Charlie that they might be able to use his boat as a torpedo to sink a strategically placed German gunship.
Action-packed, funny and romantic, The African Queen is undisputed classic which benefits tremendously from the great performances of its two leads and the chemistry between them. The film is also noteworthy for mostly having been shot on location in Uganda and the Congo, something which in those days was quite rare.
The African Queen was nominated for four Oscars (Best Actor, Actress, Director and Screenplay) but ultimately only Bogart got his statue, which would turn out to be the only one in his career. A great Hollywood adventure classic.
9. The Caine Mutiny (Edward Dmytryk, 1954)
Based on the novel of the same name by Herman Wouk, The Caine Mutiny was directed by Edward Dmytryk, produced by Stanley Kramer and stars, in addition to Humphrey Bogart, Robert Francis, José Ferrer, Fred MacMurray and Van Johnson.
Willis Keith (Francis) is a green young ensign, assigned to the Caine, an old minesweeper. As he gets familiar with the ways on board the ship, it becomes apparent that there is hardly any discipline on board, which has a lot to do with its captain, Commander William H. DeVriess (Tom Tully).
When Keith himself forgets to pass on a message to DeVriess, the captain himself suffers the consequences and is replaced with a new one, Commander Phillip Queeg (Bogart). Queeg is obsessed with discipline and starts making some severe changes on board but as time goes by, it becomes apparent that their new captain is displaying some disturbing behaviour and the men on board the Caine start having serious doubts about his state of mind.
When after a few incidents, the Caine gets caught in a typhoon and Commander Queeg seems to act irrationally, Lieutenant Stephen Maryk (Johnson) relieves him from command, supported by Keith and Lieutenant Thomas Keefer (MacMurray), who has been most suspect about Queeg’s mental well-being all along. the ship makes it safely through the storm but back on shore, the men face a court-martial for mutiny.
Made on a very tight budget, The Caine Mutiny overcame those odds and turned out to be a fantastic war drama which concludes in a courtroom drama finale. Bogart’s central performance is pitch-perfect as his captain Queeg is a neurotic man, filled with fear and contradictions, and might in fact be the greatest work of his late-career.
Robert Francis, José Ferrer, Fred MacMurray, Van Johnson and Tom Tully all put in great supporting work and director Dmytryk keeps things rolling along at a nice pace with a great typhoon sequence (although the effects have of course dated a bit and the ship does look like a model when seen nowadays) and a satisfying courtroom finale.
The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Film, Screenplay and Actor for Bogart, whilst Dmytryk was nominated for Best Director at the Director’s Guild Awards and the film itself was in the running for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
8. Sabrina (Billy Wilder, 1954)
Adapted for the screen from Samuel A. Taylor’s play Sabrina Fair, Sabrina is a classic romantic comedy directed by Billy Wilder and starring Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden.
Sabrina (Hepburn) is the daughter of a chauffeur and lives together with her dad on the estate of the wealthy Larrabee family. The Larrabee patriarch has two sons: one, Linus, a serious workaholic business man (Bogart), the other, David, a younger debonair playboy (Holden).
Sabrina only has eyes for David but he doesn’t take her seriously. That is until she returns as a sophisticated lady from schooling in Paris but by that time David is engaged to the daughter from a very wealthy family. Sabrina still wants to get her hands on David and he seems quite responsive but Linus steps in as the marriage is of the utmost importance to the Larrabee’s family business. In order to do so he tries to charm Sabrina himself and in the process actually falls in love with her although he is initially unwilling to admit this.
Lighter and not as cutting edge as some of Wilder’s other comedies, Sabrina is nonetheless a lovely romantic comedy which is miles ahead of most other films in the genre. The outstanding cast contribute to this fact greatly and all three leads seem to be enjoying themselves in their respective parts. Whilst some argue that Bogart was miscast in his role, which was originality intended for Cary Grant, he still holds his whilst being cast against character.
The movie was nominated for five Academy Awards but ultimately only won one (Costume Design). The film was also remade in 1995 with Harrison Ford, Julia Ormond, and Greg Kinnear but didn’t come close to capturing the charm of the original.
7. Key Largo (John Huston, 1948)
After having gone their own way for a few years, John Huston and Humphrey Bogart got back together again in a big way in 1948 when they collaborated on no less than two movies, both of which have made it onto this list. Key Largo was their second collaboration that year and a return to the type of film which had put them both on the map: the film noir. And with Key Largo they delivered another classic of the genre, just as they had done with their first collaboration, which we’ll get to later.
The film tells the story of Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) who arrives at the hotel of his deceased war buddy’s father (Lionel Barrymore) to meet up with him and his widowed daughter-in-law Nora (Lauren Bacall). Once there, he finds out that some of the people inside the hotel are hoodlums led by a hard-as-nails gangster called Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) and soon everybody in the hotel finds themselves taken hostage by the group.
Rocco is at the hotel to make a deal with a contact from Miami but has to wait for the approaching hurricane to subside. As everybody is holed up in the hotel and police arrives looking for some native Americans who had escaped their custody, the situation worsens and Frank needs to decide whether he will stand up to Rocco or not.
Key Largo was the fourth collaboration between Huston and Bogart as well as the fourth and final film husband-and-wife team Bogart and Bacall made together. With its stark black and white photography, classic cast and great screenplay by John Huston and Richard Brooks, the film ranks amongst the all-time classic film noirs of the forties. The film won one Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Gaye Dawn, who played the mistreated love interest of Johnny Rocco.
6. To Have And Have Not (Howard Hawks, 1944)
A clear re-interpretation of many of the elements which had made Casablanca a resounding success two years earlier, To Have And Have Not was the first of two highly successful collaborations between Howard Hawks ad Humphrey Bogart, both of which have bee included on this list.
Harry Morgan (Bogart) is the captain of a fishing boat in Martinique in 1940, shortly after France has fallen to the Germans. Harry is requested by activist “Frenchy” (Marcel Dialo) to assist members of the French resistance but not wanting to get involved, Harry initially refuses. But after the French police arrest a client who owed him a lot of money and he gets involved with a beautiful pickpocket, Marie “Slim” Browning (Lauren Bacall), who needs to get back to the United States.
When he picks up the resistance members, Helene (Dolores Moran) and Paul de Bursac (Walter Surovy), his boat is spotted by a patrol boat. Harry manages to get away from them but not before de Bursac is wounded. Back on shore, the police arrest Harry’s right-hand man is Eddie (Walter Brennan) and hold him hostage in order to make him give up the resistance members, forcing Harry to take further action.
Although in some ways this is definitely a rehash of the extremely popular Casablanca, this Bogart movie is an absolute classic for a myriad of reasons. It was directed by Hollywood heavyweight Howard Hawks, who bought the rights to Hemingway’s book from Howard Hughes. He however considered it to be his worst work and proceeded to work on the story with the author himself, changing the story dramatically and turning it into a Casablanca-type film.
William Faulkner than further worked on the screenplay. This is also the film that first time Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall shared the screen, fell in love and soon after got married. Lastly, the film even has a piano player, just like in Casablanca, played by jazz legend Hoagy Carmichael. 1940’s Hollywood doesn’t get much better than this and the “You know how to whistle, don’t you?” scene by Bacall has become the stuff of legend.