BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE BEST OF BOGART COLLECTION (Warner Bros)

By • Apr 19th, 2014 •

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The title says it all. Stretching over a ten-year period when Bogart was at the top of his game, this collection does indeed represent the very best of his remarkable career. It doesn’t keep you from championing other personal favorites – IN A LONELY PLACE, for instance, or THE BIG SLEEP (where he’s paired with his wife, Lauren Bacall). But strategically speaking, this is the crucial quartet.

In THE MALTESE FALCON, Bogie embodies the hard-boiled lone wolf detective as defined by the new crop of mystery writers of the period. The third translation of Dashiell Hammett’s pivotal noir novel, Huston, Bogart, Greenstreet, Lorre and Cook Jr. finally nail it, and this is the foundation on which all subsequent detective noirs will be built. Perhaps there’s a bit too much Warner Bros ‘gray’ for the expressionist purists, but that’s its only weakness. The other noir tropes fall right into place – quirky characters, crime, femme fatale, duplicity galore, lovely camera angles. There’s even a scene in Mary Astor’s apt where not only is the light from outside coming through the slatted curtains to form the familiar diagonal pattern on the wall, but her furniture and her bathrobe have the same stripes. It’s as if we’re being clued in a) that she belongs behind bars, and b) that this is how all future noir journeys are going to be painting the frames.

Just as Bogart got the FALCON role because George Raft declined, so it was with CASABLANCA. Over a period of three years, one actor replaced the other as the key in-house super star. Not that Raft ever could have delivered what Bogart does, but he kind of threw in the towel without a fight.

Some call CASABLANCA a film noir. I don’t see it. Michael Curtiz, an excellent director but more of an objective storyteller than a stylist, came closer to capturing the noir ethos with KING CREOLE, starring Elvis Presley, in 1958. CASABLANCA is just…CASABLANCA. It stands alone, and it’s not surprising that it rates so highly on so many top ten lists. It’s one of a kind. What’s really baffling about it is that apparently, back when it came out, the studio execs, and the people involved in its production, including the lead actors, really had no idea how special it was. In 2006 it was named the best screenplay of all time by the Writers Guild of America.

THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE is the epic of the four titles. (Somehow having three disparate characters on the journey makes it more expansive than having two – as in THE AFRICAN QUEEN. Two makes it more intimate.) Bogart made a daring decision to essay the role of Fred C., Dobbs, a deteriorating paranoid personality, and pulled it off. John Huston (who directed three of the four films in this collection) cast his father, Walter, as the old codger who outlasts the two younger members of the expedition, and who copped Supporting Actor awards from The Academy and the Golden Globes for his canny, high-energy performance. He also won the Best Actor award from the National Board of Review. And his son won a slew of awards for the film as well. Oddly enough, the Writers Guild of America gave it “Best Written American Western.”

For several decades, THE AFRICAN QUEEN looked more like a wild-life nature documentary than a stunning Hollywood production shot on location. I saw it way back when it came out, in the Pix Theater in White Plains, I believe, and that’s how it looked to my young eyes. Then, several years ago, the restoration appeared, and Jack Cardiff’s genius with a camera was recaptured for posterity. The color cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, and the two great stars – Bogart and Hepburn – luxuriate in the Technicolor palette.

Quality of the BluRay transfers is the same, to my eyes, as the earlier, stand-alone releases. I didn’t previously own a BluRay of CASABLANCA, so I can’t compare them on my monitor, but I’m pleased with the saturation of the image on this disc.

Similarly, most of the supplementals have been carried over from the separate releases. I very much enjoyed listening to Roger Ebert’s commentary accompaniment to CASABLANCA. He adored the film, and made sure he got to crawl under the covers with it for posterity.

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One Response »

  1. Hi Roy,
    One Bogart film not in this collection that I think should be added is William Wyler’s The Desperate Hours (1955). From Joseph Hayes’ book, terrific performances by Martha Scott, Frederic March, Robert Middleton, Arthur Kennedy and the ever popular Whit Bissell, its a terrific portrait of class differences. Thanks, take care,

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