Bogart by A.M. Sperber & Eric Lax: Here’s Looking at You, Kid

Duke Mantee, Fred C. Dobbs, Charlie Allnut, Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Harry Morgan, Rick Blane, Roy Earle, Frank McCloud, Lt. Cmdr Philip Francis Queeg, Linus Larrabee…

Humphrey DeForest Bogart was all these men and more. His life and career went through three marriages, survival from playing two-bit thugs, and an almost career long battle with Jack Warner. “Bogie” survived his second marriage to Mayo ‘Sluggy’ Methot, who literally stabbed him in the back, and more importantly survived his ill-advised trip to Washington to stand up to the Un-American committee. During a time of cold war paranoia and a “better dead than red” mentality that spawned a communist witch hunt in Hollywood, Bogie managed to keep one step ahead of the hunters, but he never recovered from the stress and strain of “losing face” that he had to resort to.

What Bogie could not survive was oesophageal cancer, despite a two surgeries and a valiant fight by the man who immortalized the gangster with a heart. When Bogart died he left the most beautiful woman in Hollywood a widow with their two young children in a state of mourning. Stephen Bogart was lucky, he got to spend some time with his famous papa, Leslie was just 4 when Bogie died so her memories were non-existent.

A M Sperber spent 9 years collating all the material that went into the book Bogart. When she died in 1994, the publishers had boxes of material on Bogie, but no one to put it all together. Eric Lax (what an ironic name, the same last name as the initials of the LA international airport) took over and managed to put all the collected material together in a cohesive manner.

This book tells a lot of things about Bogart, his childhood, his parents, and his start in the business. From a juvenile actor on Broadway to more leading character driven parts that lead to his working with English actor Leslie Howard on The Petrified Forest as Duke Mantee. Playing Mantee made Bogart and it was due to Leslie Howard’s insistence that Bogart reprise his Broadway performance in the film with Howard that ensured Bogie got his “proper” start in Hollywood.

I have read quite a few biographies about Bogie and this one is quite easily the most complete. The authors manage to make us privy to his private life without being overly intrusive or sensational. The book goes to great length to show the disparities of Bogies personality and his inner demons that made themselves apparent all too often.

It is interesting that I managed to pick up both this wonderful book about Bogart and another wonderful book about Cagney. Both actors were childhood heroes. Like many other men my age, when I was younger I would walk around lisping, “Play it again, Sam,” as Rick in Casablanca or snarl menacingly as Cagney, “You dirty rat.” Neither of which either actor really said in a film, but impressionists used both of these lines to great effect.

Still from just one of the films that Bogart and Cagney made together.

Both men started playing gangsters and both men moved to the top of their profession. Completely different backgrounds, Bogie born with silver spoon in his mouth and Cagney born into abject poverty. Cagney of course was an expert song and dance man and Bogie was a consummate actor.

It is also interesting that both books left you in a different state of mind after reading them. Cagney’s book left one feeling good and full of kind thoughts.

Bogart left one feeling sad and not a little depressed. Such a horrible end for one of life’s more interesting characters who was such a wonderful actor.

As an actor Bogie played roles that were unforgettable, whether he was the “loner” Rick Blane forcing his true love to go with her duty instead of her heart, or whether he was the “mad” Lt Cmdr Queeg incessantly playing with his two ball bearings, Bogie brought a truth to them all. He was another of the “remember your lines and don’t bump into the furniture” type actor, like Cagney or the unique talent that was Spencer Tracey.

Bogart was a living contradiction. He got his start playing two-bit thugs on-screen and this continued after his break-out role of Duke Mantee. Yet he was an educated man from good stock. He was so politically active he wound up on the FBI’s list before his involvement in speaking out against the unfairness of the Un-American committee. He was at turns, a tough guy and sentimental slob.

Bogies story has been told with tact, humour and sensitivity. He was a perfect example of someone who “paid” for his success in terms that most of us would find too painful to accept.

This book was a wonderful telling of Bogart’s story and the people in his life that he worked with and lived with; a 5 star book about a 5 star actor and man.

Humphrey DeForest Bogart (b: 1899 – d: 1957)

The Detective (2007): Pang Bros Noir

The Detective (2007)

I am continually amazed and impressed by the Pang Brothers. Just when I think I’ve seen everything they’ve ever made, another gem and another genre of film pops up out of nowhere. Directed by Oxide Pang and produced/written by both the Pang Brothers, The Detective is film noir at it’s finest.

Set in the back alleys and streets of Bangkok, we follow private detective Tam (Aaron Kwok). Tam’s income as a private detective obviously leaves a lot to be desired. At the beginning of the film Tam is seated behind his desk and his fan is busily rotating back and forth. He suddenly notices that the fan may be moving but the fan blades are not.

After he turns the fan off, a man he knows from a bar comes in and hires Tam to find a woman who, he says, is trying to kill him. He wants Tam to tell her that he (Lung) had nothing to do with the other thing and that she should leave him alone. Tam doubts that Lung is serious, until he pulls a wad of cash out of his pocket and drops it on Tam’s desk. Lung tells him that it is all the money he has.

After taking Lung’s picture, Tam goes to have a bite to eat at a local cafe where he bumps into his childhood friend Chak (Kai Chi Liu) who is on the police force. Tam cannot join the police as his eyesight is very bad. He suffers from extreme short sightedness. After exchanging pleasantries with his friend he pays him back some money he owes him and tells him of his latest case.

Chak jokes that he will be there to help Tam if things get too difficult.

Tam then starts his meticulous investigation and tries to find this nameless woman. As we accompany him on his journey, we learn a lot about Tam and how he works. Pictures are taken of everyone he interviews and everyplace he visits. Not long after he starts questioning people he finds his first lead and his first dead body.

Tam follows more leads, discovers more dead bodies and relentlessly continues trying to find the woman and what her connection is to all the dead people he keeps finding.

The Pang Bros signature is on every scene and every frame of this film. Their usual combination of odd and sometimes oblique camera positions and use of natural lighting helps to sell this ‘noir’ crime story. The plot is full of twists and turns and it will keep you guessing right up until the end.

Aaron Kwok portrays Tam as a likeable and tenacious man who has scars from the disappearance of his parents when he was a child. His character makes mistakes and clearly loves solving the puzzles he encounters. Tam is  the Sam Spade of Bangkok if not in action, he definitely has the spirit of Spade in him.

The whole film shows Tam’s process of following first one clue then another and going through each step of his investigation as logically as he can. He pretends to be a policeman when this can help him in his pursuit. Despite being told off by his friend Chak for impersonating a police officer, he continues to use this ruse several times.

Inspector Chak and Tam

The list of suspects and the elusive woman who Tam has been hired to find makes for a very satisfactory mix of intrigue, mystery, danger and confusion. Despite the fact that this noir crime thriller doesn’t fall into the usual catalogue of Pang Bros films, it does follow their winning formula of good story, good characters, great cinematic moments and a very satisfying ending.

My final verdict is that this film is one to see. Put on your noir thinking cap and enjoy this twisting and turning journey.