Showing posts with label Humphrey Bogart. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Humphrey Bogart. Show all posts

14 May 2013

The Double Dippers


by Terence Faherty

I've always been as big a fan of old movies as I am of detective fiction, as anyone who's read my Scott Elliott series knows. In fact, I first discovered many literary detectives through movies and only later headed to the library to find their books. I was almost always blown away by the source material, but I never lost my fondness for the films.

Somewhere along the line, I spotted the odd fact that is the topic of this column and that I'm offering, free of charge, to anyone stuck for a doctoral dissertation subject. It is that an actor who played one famous detective from popular literature back in Hollywood's golden age often played a second.

Mr. Bogart
The most famous example is Humphrey Bogart, who played both Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. The success of Bogart's 1941 The Maltese Falcon certainly inspired his 1946 The Big Sleep. In the trailer for the latter, Bogart enters a bookshop and asks for something similar to the Hammett book. The helpful clerk hands him the Chandler. But Bogart by no means repeated his Spade performance when playing Marlowe. Where he was sardonic and cocky in the first film, he was stalwart and self-deprecating in the second. (Although, you might argue that this was just the way Bogart's screen persona had evolved.)

Mr. Powell
William Powell was a much bigger star than Bogart in the 1930s, though he's not as well- known today. When he is remembered, it is most often as Nick Charles (another Hammett creation) or at least as the man who's always standing next to Nora Charles, as played by Myrna Loy. But Charles was Powell's second detective persona. The first was S.S. Van Dine's Philo Vance. Powell first played Vance in the silent-turned-talkie The Canary Murder Case in 1929 and then in three more films. The best is the last, The Kennel Murder Case, released in 1933, only a year before The Thin Man. Powell's Philo Vance, a well-dressed and serious clubman (often in gloves), would never be mistaken for his brilliantly freewheeling Nick Charles. But the Vance role was probably more important to Powell's career, as it lifted him out of the ranks of silent-screen supporting players and made him a talkie star.
Mr. Rathbone

In the middle of Powell's run as Philo Vance, a rival studio brought out Van Dine's The Bishop Murder Case, starring Basil Rathbone as Vance. Rathbone, as well turned out sartorially as Powell, was much stiffer in the part. He would only find career-changing success as a film detective nine years later, in 1939, when he was given the role he'd been born to play, Sherlock Holmes, in The Hound of the Baskervilles. More on that epic performance at some later time.

Mr. Cortez
Ricardo Cortez is pretty much forgotten outside of film buff circles, but he was the screen's first Sam Spade. His Maltese Falcon was released in 1931, ten years before Bogart's, and, for an early talking picture, it wasn't bad. Cortez was especially good. He was an actor who smiled and laughed a lot, and his Spade was even better-humored than Bogie's. (If you're thinking that Cortez's performance was also a blow for Hispanic actors everywhere, don't let his stage name fool you. He acquired it when he arrived in Hollywood in the 1920s, during the scramble to find another Rudolph Valentino. Up until then, Cortez had been a New Yorker named Jacob Krantz.) Cortez played a second famous detective in 1936's The Case of the Black Cat, taking over the role of Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason, which had previously been played by Warren Williams. Cortez's Mason smiled a lot and acted like he'd actually cracked a law book or two.

Mr. Montgomery
There are further examples, like the aforementioned Warren Williams, who, in addition to playing Perry Mason, was yet a third Philo Vance, and George Sanders, who was both Leslie Charteris' Saint and Michael Arlen's Falcon (and good luck telling them apart), but I'd like to close with Robert Montgomery. When I was growing up, Montgomery was already fading from popular memory, being mostly known as the father of Bewitch's Elizabeth Montgomery. But old film lovers remember him as the star of classics like Here Comes Mr. Jordan and They Were Expendable. Montgomery also played two very famous literary detectives. He was another Philip Marlowe, in 1946's flawed but interesting Lady in the Lake. And earlier, in 1940, Montgomery had starred as Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey in Busman's Honeymoon. In both films, Montgomery was more or less miscast, but you have to admire the versatility of an actor who can play both Marlowe and Wimsey with even qualified success.

What does all this double dipping mean? What does it say about the film business or the actors named or the popular fictional detectives of the day? It's your doctoral dissertation; you work it out. And don't forget to send me a copy.

20 December 2012

We're No Angels


"I'll say one thing for prison:  you meet a better class of people." 
               Joseph (Humphrey Bogart) in "We're No Angels", 1955.

Aldo Ray, Bogart, Peter Ustinov
Okay, so that's only true (with some exceptions) in movies.  But I'd cheerfully spend all day with these guys. I first met them when I was ten years old, back in the 60's, watching the 1955 Christmas Classic, "We're No Angels," a black and white TV set, all by myself.  I laughed until I cried, and I remembered lines from it for years afterwards.  It warped me for life.

"I read someplace that when a lady faints, you should loosen her clothing."  - Albert

Three convicts escape from the prison on Devil's Island on Christmas Eve.  There's Humphrey Bogart as Joseph, a maniac and master forger, Peter Ustinov as Jules, an expert safe-cracker, in prison only because of a "slight difference of opinion with my wife", and Aldo Ray as Albert, "a swine" of a heart breaker who only fell afoul of the law after asking his uncle for money (the illegal part was when said uncle said "no" and Albert beat him to death with a poker - 29 times).  Oh, and their fellow-traveler, Adolphe - or is it Adolf?

                       "We came here to rob them and that's what we're gonna do - beat their heads in, gouge their eyes out, slash their throats. Soon as we wash the dishes." - Joseph

Anyway, these 3 convicts need money, clothing, passports - and they find it all at Ducotel's General Store, the famous Ducotel's, "the one who gives credit".  Along with Felix (Leo G. Carroll), the most inept, innocent, and financially challenged manager in history, his beautiful wife, Amelie (played by Joan Bennett), and their daughter Isobel (Gloria Talbott, in full super virgin mode). 

"You really like us, don't you?"  - Amelie (before Sally Field)

You can see where this is going:  they get hired, they get interested, they get all warm fuzzy, they change their ways, everyone is happy.  Right?  Well, not quite.  Because the big fat plum in this pudding is Basil Rathbone as Andre Trochard, who owns Ducotel's, and has come to Devil's Island - with his sycophantic nephew Paul - to do the books on Christmas Day.  I love a good villain, and Basil Rathbone is as snooty, snotty, sneering, vindictive, scheming, insulting, arrogant, belittling, and generally nasty as they come.  ("Your opinion of me has no cash value."  - Andre Trochard.)  He makes Ebenezer Scrooge look like a warm pussy cat.


Andre Trochard - "Twenty years in solitary - how's that for a Christmas present?"
Jules - "That's a lovely Christmas present.  But how are you going to wrap it up?"

There's no Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, or Future in this one; no "God bless us, every one"; no Tiny Tim; but there's theft and forgery, fraud and deceit, murder and mayhem, all done with sharp, hilarious dialog.  Go.  Rent it now.  Pour a Chateau Yquem (you'll understand later) or its equivalent, pull out a turkey leg, and enjoy!  Merry Christmas!  Compliments of the Season!

NOTE:  This was Joan Bennett's last role for Paramount for a very long time:  she was in the middle of a huge scandal when her husband, the Paramount film producer Walter Wanger, shot and almost killed her agent, Jennings Lang, in front of her in the MCA parking lot.  "I shot him because I thought he was breaking up my home," Wanger said.  Ms. Bennett said Wanger was wrong, that Wanger was in financial trouble, that Wanger was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but there would be no divorce. (!)  Wanger got 4 months at the County Honor Farm and went back to producing movies.  (Now that's Hollywood, folks.)  Bennett got blacklisted.  Until, O happy day! Dark Shadows hired her as matriarch Elizabeth Stoddard and she got to play with vampires instead of agents and producers.  As always, life is stranger than fiction.  If only she had had an Adolphe...  or is it Adolf?

SECOND NOTE:  This movie has a ton of great lines, but I have to admit my 2nd favorite Christmas movie has my favorite line of all time - the movie is the 1942 version of "The Man Who Came to Dinner", and it's Beverly Carlton (a thinly veiled Noel Coward) commenting on his former costar Larraine Sheldon (a thinly veiled Gertrude Lawrence):
"They do say she set fire to her mother, but I don't believe it."  
I laugh my head off every time...