5. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)
The third and definitive adaptation of the book of the same name by Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon was the directorial debut of John Huston as well as being one of the most important and best film noirs ever made. The film was also one of the greatest in Humphrey Bogart’s career, who was catapulted into super stardom as a result of his portrayal of private eye Sam Spade here.
Sam is a hard-boiled private investigator at the Spade & Archer detective agency who, along with his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan), is offered generous payment by Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor) in exchange for protection against a certain Floyd Thursby. As Miles spotted her first, he takes on the assignment which results in him and Thursby being found shot dead later that night.
It then turns out that Miss Wonderly’s real name is in fact Brigid O’Shaughnessey and that for some reason, together with two partners, Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet), she’s really after a statue of a black bird, the titular Maltese Falcon.
With its morally ambiguous private eye, femme fatale, shady characters, intricate plot and striking starkly lit black and white photography, The Maltese Falcon set the blueprint for many of the film noirs that were to follow it and is therefore often considered as one of the first and certainly most influential examples of the genre.
The film was a huge success and made Huston a director in demand as well as Bogart a bona fide star and the two would continue collaborating frequently in the years to come. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Best Screenplay for John Huston. Another absolute classic and monumental film.
4. The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946)
Two years after Howard Hawks directed Bogart in the aforementioned To Have And Have Not, the two men collaborated again with great results when they did produced The Big Sleep, a classic film noir based on the Philip Marlowe novel of the same name by Raymond Chandler. And just like in To Have And Have Not, The Big Sleep once again also starred Lauren Bacall, marking the second of the four Bogart-Bacall collaborations and the third and last one to make it onto this list (Dark Passage being the only one not to make the cut, even though it’s an interesting little film as well).
The Big Sleep’s plot is infamous for being completely impenetrable, extremely convoluted and basically unintelligible. So much so that director Hawks and screenwriter Owen Taylor had to seek clarification with the book’s author, who admitted to not understanding certain details himself. On top of the overly complicated plot, Hawks was also faced with the fact that certain aspects of the book had to be excised from the film adaptation as they were not suitable for the screen and would never make it past the censors.
Nonetheless, The Big Sleep is another of the most influential film noirs and detective films to have ever been produced in Hollywood. Basically the film deals with private eye Philip Marlowe (Bogart) being hired by a wealthy General when his daughter is being blackmailed. The case gets Marlowe involved with the girl’s older sister (Bacall), murder, gambling and the sale of pornography, which is only very vaguely alluded to in the film due to censorship restrictions.
The Big Sleep was actually finished in 1945 but the studio delayed its release by nearly two full years. The reason for this was that Warner Brothers still had a back-log of war films, which they wanted to get out as soon as possible, as they were afraid that the public would lose interest in them with the war being over.
On top of that, they also wanted to do re-shoots after some early screenings of the Big Sleep weren’t that successful. Bogart and Bacall had become hot property due to their romance and marriage and as a result more Bacall scenes were added to the movie, increasing the sexual tension between the two. It was this chemistry and sexual tension between its two leads, in addition to the rapid fire story and its extremely hardboiled dialogue ,that made the Big Sleep a phenomenon, even though most people walked away from the movie baffled.
It also didn’t hurt that the role of Philip Marlowe was perfect for Bogart and it remains one of his most iconic roles. A movie with a central mystery that remains a mystery to the viewer even after the credits roll, The Big Sleep is an absolute film noir classic.
3. In A Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
Adapted from the same name novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, In a Lonely Place is yet another classic film noir directed by Nicholas Ray.
Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is a cynical and fading screenwriter with a violent streak. When he’s asked to adapt a best-seller, he asks the cloak-girl to come home with him to tell him what the book is about instead bothering to read it himself.
The next morning, the girl is found murdered and as Dixon was the last to see her and as he’s known for his violent outbursts, he’s the prime suspect. His neighbour however, a starlet named Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), provides him with an alibi and soon the two start a romance. But as time progresses Laurel starts to have doubts on whether Dixon might in fact be the killer.
A deeply personal film for director Ray, who’s marriage with the leading lady Gloria Grahame was falling apart during production, In a Lonely Place is also clear attack on the darker side of the Hollywood movie industry during the McCarthy era.
The film also features one of Bogart’s best performances as the cynical and bitter Dixon, a role that couldn’t have been suited better to any other actor at the time. Not as well known as many of the other titles on this list, In A Lonely Place is without a doubt one of Bogart’s absolute best.
2. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948)
An adaptation of the novel of the same name by B. Traven, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a classic tale of greed and the first collaboration between director John Huston and Humphrey Bogart in 1948, after the pair had not worked together for a while. It’s also the fourth and final collaboration between the two men to have found its way on this Humphrey Bogart top ten list, which is testament to the fact that these guys rank amongst the great actor-director collaborations of all time.
Bogart plays Fred C. Dobbs, a down on his luck guy in Mexico, who together with fellow indigent Curtin (Tim Holt) decides to go on a gold prospecting mission in the remote Sierra Madre mountains after having met Howard (Walter Huston), who tells them about the gold which can be found there. The three men agree to split their findings three ways but as the gold is mined, Dobbs gets increasingly greedy and paranoid and the men inevitably end up turning against each other.
A fantastic morality play, the film ended up winning three Oscars (Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor), making it the first time that a father and son both won the coveted statue in the same year for the same movie. Despite critical acclaim and the awards it was granted, the film didn’t do well financially upon its initial release but has since taken its place as one of the great American classic masterpieces and Bogart’s best works.
1. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
Based on the unproduced stage play Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, Casablanca was directed by Michael Curtiz and starred Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid. Whilst the film was successful upon release, it has become one of the most beloved American films ever produced.
Rick Blaine (Bogart) is a bitter expatriate who runs the Rick’s Café Américain nightclub in the the Vichy-controlled city of Casablanca in Morocco during the first years of WWII. His café has become a meeting point for refugees who are trying to make their way to the United States whilst it is visited at the same time by Vichy French, Italian and German officials as well as locals. One night Rick’s former lover, Ilsa (Bergman), walks into his club, accompanied by her husband, fugitive Czech Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Henreid).
Rick is startled to see her and when it becomes apparent that the pair need to obtain “transit papers”, which he possesses, in order to flee to the United States. Rick is initially unwilling to provide them, still being hurt about the fact that Ilsa suddenly broke up their relationship two years earlier in Paris. But when Ilsa confesses that she still loves Rick and just wants to make sure that Victor makes it to safety to continue his work, Rick will have to choose between love and virtue.
When Casablanca was first released, there was no reason to think it would turn out to be the legendary picture it has become over the years. But this romantic, anti-Nazi, patriotic drama, which was set in an exotic location, managed to perfectly capture the audience’s imagination at the time.
It didn’t hurt that Bogart was at the top of his game and perfectly cast as the cool cynical Rick and that the rest of the cast was nothing to sneeze at either. In addition to Bergman and Henreid, Claude Rains, Petter Lorre, Conrad Veidt and Sydney Greenstreet all put in fine performances whilst Dooley Wilson also delivered a classic rendition of “As Time Goes By”, which has become iconic, along with certain other scenes and lines from the movie.
A perfect blend of romance, drama, suspense and anti-German sentiment, Casablanca was the right movie at the right time and one of the finest examples of Hollywood’s golden age. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three for Best Film, Director and Screenplay and is still considered one of the greatest Hollywood films ever made. Here’s looking at you kid…
Author Bio: Emilio has been a movie buff for as long as he can remember and holds a Masters Degree in Cinema Studies from the University of Amsterdam. Critical and eclectic in taste, he has been described to “love film but hate all movies”. For daily suggestions on what to watch, check out his Just Good Movies Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/goodmoviesuggestions.