Sunday, July 6, 2008

Tenderfoot of the Week #1: Humphrey Bogart

Star: Humphrey Bogart
Type: Bum
Height: Comically Short
Era: Classical Hollywood
Politics: Liberalish

Major Westerns: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
AFI Male Star Ranking: #1

Welcome to Tenderfoot of the Week. Every first Sunday of the month, we'll have a non-Western star who got the job done in at least one Western, and no more than 3 or 4. This week, we've caught us a whopper, AFI's top male star of all-time: Bogart.

Humphrey Bogart wasn't exactly a master of genres. Sure, Sabrina is a great romantic comedy. And he made some military and adventure movies, like African Queen and Sahara. But for the most part, the man made noirs and various other kinds of gangster films. The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, Key Largo - even Casablanca - over and over again, Bogart played a fast-talking tough guy who's in over his head but comes out on top. And his earlier gangster pictures still involve some version of that scenario and that character.

That's not the case with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Although frequently categorized only as an adventure film , the movie's a Western. It's essentially a naturalist parable, just like Stroheim's Greed. It's about gold, and what it does to the hearts of men - particularly Fred Dobbs (Bogart), an American bum in Mexico who goes digging for gold.

I sometimes wonder if the only reason Bogart didn't make more Westerns was his height. Western stars were tall. They just were. If you couldn't act, but you were 6' 2" or above, you could be a Western star. Bogey was 5' 8". But he's so good in this movie, playing a down-and-out drifter that's decidedly not in his traditional mode, that it makes me think he could have done this over and over again. Maybe it was just the height. I can only imagine what he would have looked like standing next to Stewart or Wayne or Cooper, and it's not a pretty picture. No one takes a midget cowboy seriously.

In fact, the Walter Brennan coot role in this movie is played by director John Huston's father, Walter Huston. Walter was 6 feet tall at least. But he the part he plays is that of a shriveled up, wizened old man, and spends the whole movie hunched over. That's probably because the script called for it. But Bogey wouldn't have looked so good if the little old man in the picture had towered over him...

It's pretty easy to tell the coot is taller than Bogey, even when they're sitting down.

Personally, I only admire the movie as an excellent one - there are many who regard it as one of the greatest of all time, including one Paul Thomas Anderson. But it is at worst a very good movie, and certainly one of the most acclaimed of all-time. Above all, it's fun for two reasons: 1. We get to see what Philip Marlowe looks like with a six-shooter
2. It provides us with that classic line, when some Mexican bandits are masquerading as Federal police, "We don't need no stinkin' badges!" Comedy ensues.

Other Westerns of Note:

Other Westerns:
The Oklahoma Kid

1 comment:

Ibetolis said...

I always felt Bogart could, and maybe should, have been in more Westerns. He does 'desparado' better than most, he can quickly shift from being the most reasonable man on earth to mental case within a frame.

I just love that crazy old man dance.

I look forward to see what other actors you feature.