Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Legends Of Film Noir: Bogie, Bacall, Joan Crawford, and Peter Lorre

Legends Of Film Noir: Bogie, Bacall, Joan Crawford, and Peter Lorre
By []Timothy Stelly Sr

"Bogie and Bacall" may have been America's most popular movie star couple, with its genesis in the 21940s--the era of film noir. Along which Peter Lorre and Joan Crawford, this quartet set the tenor for that genre of film. Though there were others who were as popular during that time--particularly James Cagney, Bette Davis, et al. It was the aforementioned foursome who best personify that era. Bogart was the tough-as-nails deective or every man, torn between being a mobster and a man abiding by a moral decision. Bacall was the rare combination of vamp and girl next door. Her dimples, almond-shaped eyes and flowing locks made her as big a female actor as her contemporaries, of which Crawford was one. Between 1932-36 Crawford was one of the four biggest box office draws in movies and Lorre was typecast as the consummate villain.

Humphrey DeForest Bogart was born on Christmas Day, 1899, in New York City. His parents were Belmont Maud Humphrey, a surgeon and a renowned commercial artist.

After an uncredited bit part in "Life" (1920), Bogart appeared in 21 Broadway productions between 1922 and 1935. Bogart won his first starring role ten years later in, "Up the River." Bogart's film resume is second to none, having starred in the classics, "Angels With Dirty Faces" (1938), "The Maltese Falcon" (1941, a part turned down by George Raft), "Key Largo" (1948), "Casablanca (1942)," "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948), "The Roaring Twenties" (1939, with James Cagney), "The Big Sleep" (1946), "Dark Passage" (1947), and "The Caine Mutiny(1954)." However, he won the Oscar for Best Actor just once, for his performance as a tough-talking, but soft-hearted boat captain in "The African Queen" (1951) opposite Katherine Hepburn.

Bogart often played characters caught between the allure of the gangster life, but conflicted by moral concerns. This was also a concern of his in real life. His Wikipedia biography states, "Bogart was proud of his success as an actor, but the fact that it came from playing a gangster weighed on him. He once said, 'I can't get in a mild discussion without turning it into an argument. There must be something in my tone of voice, or this arrogant face. Something that antagonizes everybody. Nobody likes me on sight. I suppose that's why I'm cast as the heavy'."

Bogart's voice was often comic fodder for impressionists, Louise Brooks, author of "Humphrey and Bogart "wrote, "His handsome face was made extraordinary by a most beautiful mouth. It was very full, rosy...he both loved and hated his beautiful mouth. America, in the Twenties, was exclusively Western in its ideas of beauty and vulgar people made fun of Humphrey's 'nigger lips'." Nonetheless, Entertainment Weekly magazine named him the number one greatest movie legend of all time. In 1997 he was ranked 9th in the British magazine "Empire" among the "Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time."

Of the American Film Institute's "100 Greatest movie Quotes", six are attributed to Bogart. They include: "Here's looking at you, kid" (No. 5), "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship" (No. 20), "We'll always have Paris" (43rd), "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine" (67), "Round up the usual suspects." (No. 32, all from "Casablanca"); and "The stuff that dreams are made of" (No. 14, from "The Maltese Falcon")

Bogart was known as a heavy drinker and pushed himself through the making of "We're No Angels." He had cancer of the esophagus, having it removed in 1956, but by then the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes and ribs. He died in 1957. In his eulogy of Bogie (a nickname bestowed upon him by friend Spencer Tracy), John Huston said succinctly, "He is quite irreplaceable. There will never be another like him."

Peter Lorre was born Ladislav Lowenstein on June 26, 1904 and was known as the consummate villain, over a career that spanned - years. He had been an onstage actor in several foreign productions before Fritz Lang cast him in his classic thriller, "M." (1931). The film is best known for its ending, where Lorre's character pleads for his life. Following "M" he appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's, "The Man Who Knew Too Much." (1934). In 1940 Lorre found his niche, playing a killer in "Stranger On The Third Floor," which many consider Hollywood's first film noir vehicle.

Lorre went on to star with Bogart in "The Maltese Falcon" (1941), "Casablanca" (1942) and the anti-Communist drama, "All Through The Night." (1942). But he was perhaps best known for his portrayal of Japanese detective Mr. Moto, a series which ran from series (1937-1939).

Later in his career Lorre suffered through ill health and made more television appearances than film. He died from a stroke on March 23, 1964, just months after his final film, "The Patsy". The film starred Jerry Lewis and was a movie Lorre was reluctant to do.

Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske in New York City on September 16, 1924. She is the daughter of William and Natalie Perske and is also the cousin of former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

In 1942 she adapted the stage name Betty Bacall (the surname a reworking of her mother's maiden name, 'Bacal'). She was a model who was discovered by director Howard Hawkes, who later cast her in "To Have and Have Not." He suggested she change her name from Betty to Lauren.

During the 1940s Bacall became one of the biggest and arguably sexiest stars of the silver screen, but may be best known for being Bogart's wife. She and Bogie worked together on 1944's "To Have and Have Not," where she seductively cooed one of the greatest lines in movie history: "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow" (No. 34 on AFI's "100 Greatest Film Quotes").

While Betty Davis' eyes" might have inspired a song, Bacall's almond-shaped orbs enchanted many a moviegoer, and even Bogart who met her on the set of "To have and Have Not." He divorced his wife Mayo Methot, and despite being 25 years Bacall's senior, wed her a year later. It was her first marriage but his fourth.

They also worked together in the classics, "Key Largo (1948), "The Big Sleep" (1946), and "Dark Passage" (1947). The two were married for 12 years, until Bogart's death in 1957. It has been written that his last words to her, "Goodbye, kid." He was a legendary boozer and once said, "The trouble with the world is that it's always one drink behind." It is rumored that his last words were, "I should never have switched from scotch to martinis."

Bacall was briefly engaged to Frank Sinatra, then married actor Jason Robards for 8 years, until they divorced due to his alcoholism.

She was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her role in
"The Mirror Has Two Faces," losing to Barbara Hershey ("Portrait of a Lady"). However, she did win a Golden for her performance.

Joan Crawford was once to have said, "I have always known what I wanted, and that was beauty, in every form." A post-mortem bestseller by her stepdaughter Christina which was later turned into a major motion picture, painted a portrait of Ms. Crawford that was quite the opposite. However, no one could argue with her talent, beauty and screen presence.

She was born Lucille Fay Leseur, in San Antonio, Texas, on March 23, 1906. Crawford grew up a poor girl, her father having deserted the family shortly before her birth. But like her character Ethel Whitehead in the movie "The Damned Don't Cry", she was ambitious almost to the point of obsession. The family moved to KC when Joan was but 10, and upon her graduation she went to Chicago.

She began her career as a member of a Chicago dance troupe and was discovered by a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer talent scout. She was invited to Hollywood for a screen test and afterward was signed to a six-month deal. She became so popular with the studio's head, Louis B. Mayer, who believed her last name sounded too much like "sewer." Being that he had grown fond of his new hire, Mayer launched a national contest to find her a new name. After becoming Joan Crawford she soon after became one of the movie industry's biggest stars. She was teamed with Clark Gable in eight films including their only musical, "Dancing Lady" (1933), a film noted for being Fred Astaire's film debut and also featured the Three Stooges. Despite the success from this film, Crawford worried that "talkies" would ruin her career.

Feeling underappreciated, and believing that she was being passed over for better roles in favor of Bette Davis and other actresses in the MGM stable, Crawford left MGM in 1942. MGM believed her popularity was faltering and let her go without acrimony.

Her heyday was during the 40's when she produced some of her best work, "A Woman's Face" (1941), "Mildred Pierce" (1945, for which she won the Oscar for Best Actress), and "Possessed" (1947). Years later, when she was considered "washed up" she stunned audiences with her turn in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" (1962), where she shared screen time with her arch-rival Davis.

She landed at rival Warner Brother Studios where she nabbed the title role in "Mildred Pierce", a movie about a working woman who rises to the top of her field, but whose spoiled daughter steals her husband and eventually is pinned for his murder. A year later she made "Humoresque," where she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, but lost it to Loretta Young for "The Farmer's Daughter." The same result would befall her in 1952, when she lost to Shirley Booth for her performance in "Come Back, Little Sheba".

She died in Manhattan in 1977, of a heart attack. Sadly, she may be forever remembered as a sadistic stepmother with an extreme disdain for wire hangers.

Humphrey Bogart profile, Wikipedia
Lauren Bacall profile, Wikipedia
Joan Crawford profile, Wikipedia
Peter Lorre profile, Wikipedia
Louise Brooks, "Humphrey and Bogey," Sight and Sound, Winter 1966-67, Vol. 36, No. 1
Timothy N. Stelly, Sr. is the author of two novels" "The malice of Cain" and "Tempest In The Stone." He is also a contributor to several e-zines and is a fan of the film noir genre.
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