Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Alternate Best Actor 1941: Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon

Humphrey Bogart did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Samuel 'Sam' Spade in The Maltese Falcon.

1941 marked an important turning point in Humphrey Bogart's film career as during the 30's he was in prominent films though usually in supporting roles, and most often as a thuggish criminal. His transition though began with High Sierra where he was the lead in the film, but he still played within type. The last step to full leading man status was found in this film with his second most iconic role as private detective Sam Spade. The film opens in the now very remembered way of Sam being visited in his office by a particularly distressed woman Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) who comes to Sam, and his partner, for help. In the opening scene Bogart shows why he was able to strip himself of his gangster only typecast through the way he establishes Sam in the opening scene. Bogart actually treads fairly lightly in this early scene as he presents Spade to almost to be somewhat bemused by the story, even more so by his partner's lusty reactions towards the woman, making it fairly obvious he is not buying into her story even though he's willing to set that aside for a certain fee. Of course the woman and the case are indeed not as they seem and on the very first night on the job Spade's partner is gun downed as is the man he was suppose to be following.

After this point Humphrey Bogart sets his course out and takes over the film with his portrayal of Sam Spade. Bogart, more than any of his other performances which is saying something, has a considerable sense of cool here. One of the earliest scenes is when he is called to the murder scene of his partner, and later is given a bit of interrogation. Bogart is terrific in the way he portrays that incisive stare of Sam as he seems to constantly be examining the factors around the mystery though he never gives away his methods to others. Bogart is great in the first scene where he is interrogated for the murder of the other man by a cop buddy of his and another cop who seems as though he's wanted to get Sam on some charge for some time. Bogart delivers his consistently snide remarks, always at the expense of the cop, with such exceptional timing. Bogart earns wholly that Sam is the smartest man in any room as Bogart makes it simply a fact with such an effortlessness in his performance. Of course showing up a pompous detective is one thing, but Bogart and Sam Spade have a greater challenge in the form of a trio of oddballs after some elusive treasure known as the Maltese Falcon.

Now the reason the three present a challenge to Bogart as much as old Sam Spade is because it would be easy enough to be overshadowed by them especially when two of them are played by Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, no offense intended towards Elisha J. Cook. It would even be easy enough to be completely put to the side by Mary Astor's portrayal of  Brigid O'Shaughnessy who is just as duplicitous as the others, if not more so, she just happens to be a bit better at then all of them. Bogart is not overshadowed by any of them though and never let's a single scene be stolen from them even though Spade has be less flamboyant when pressed set against them. Bogart though is completely brilliant in the way he plays off of every one of them. Against Lorre's Joel Cairo Bogart does particularly well just how somewhat perplexed Sam is by the man and his odd mannerisms to the point that he can't help but laugh at some of his actions. With Sydney Greenstreet's aptly named Gutman Bogart suggest Spade recognizing a worthier foe who has to be constantly matched in his wits. Bogart brings a striking intensity in his scenes together as he almost seems to be trying to decipher the man who seems pleasant yet is truly evil.

Now against poor Elisha J. Cook  Bogart just simply bring at the true bad ass side of Sam Spade as he slaps around the wannabe tough guy every which way. I particularly love the scene where he disarms him by wrapping his arms up into his own coat. Bogart's smile after that moment is just perfection as he is absolutely convincing in showing just how out of league the man is compared to Sam. The most complex relationship though is with O'Shaughnessy. Bogart is again strikes up the right town for the relationship in the manner in which Spade handles her as well. Bogart's excellent as he again shows Spade to see through her as he never becomes truly entranced by her act by any means. When affection is given though Bogart is particularly good in the way he does make it genuine though very hesitate. Even in the moment he's most pulled in by her sway Bogart still keeps a certain distance not of Sam not truly caring for her, but rather suggesting his better judgments forcing him to stay smart. Now handling them one by one might seem easy enough I guess, but then again there is the final extended scene where Sam has to handle them all at once.

The final sequence of the film is an amazing one to watch with all the key players now in one room. Again the flamboyant nature of the others could overwhelm Bogart, but that never happens at all. In fact Bogart completely commands the scene and it is something special to watch. Bogart does a particularly good job of presenting the method of Sam's investigation. That being he portrays him as always being a step above the whole affair. Not for a moment does Bogart portray an interest in the Falcon himself rather he portrays it as an enthusiasm for the game which involves solving all the murders while avoiding being killed himself. This comes most importantly into play in this last scene as Bogart brings such a thrill into his performance as he shows Sam setting everything up just the way he needs while figuring out every detail of the sordid affair. One of my favorite moments in this regard is when he brings the falcon in capturing the attention of three of them to such a degree. The reactions such are outstanding as the first three present the lust for the treasure, whereas Bogart again does well to show Sam seems far more fascinated by their uncontrollable desire.

Watching this performance makes it abundantly obvious why this brought Bogart to super stardom. The film simply becomes his show which is no small feat considering the cast around him. Bogart's screen presence here is tremendous and something to behold all itself as he becomes such a compelling lead to maneuver through the film's mystery. He plays every angle in the film without a hitch. Whether it's a more comedic moment involving his secretary or the bumbling police Bogart hits ever comic mark without a question. When being the hero against the shady villains Bogart is never up shown and always firmly stands his ground to create some very memorable moments in the incredible face-offs between Spade and his suspects. Even the most weighty moments, such as the ending where Sam has to make a painful decision Bogart nails it. He even brings the gravitas to the idea of what the Falcon represents beautifully in essentially just a moments notice. When someone asks for the appeal of Bogart. The most unadulterated appeal of what made him the film legend he is today one should never hesitate and point to his work in this film. This is a great performance and the very best example of what Bogart became known for.


GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Sounds like your winner. Which would make this Bogart's...third win? No kidding, he really has grown on you Old Bogey.

Re-watching the film I still think it's great. Bogart is very good (though I wouldn't go so far as to give him a 5, a 4.5 for me), Astor is magnificent. But though I still loved Greenstreet and Cook Jr. this time round I actually thought Lorre stole the show this time round.

I assume Lorre's a guarantee for supporting Louis?

Michael McCarthy said...

I never would've thought you'd give three wins to Bogey, but at least it won't be a fiveless year.

Louis Morgan said...


Although to be honest I always loved him in this and Treasure, but yeah, he's definitely grown on me.

And yes, Lorre is a guarantee.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

The Maltese Falcon is miles better than The Big Sleep which I dislike more and more every time I watch it, especially in comparison to the excellent source material.

Louis (and anyone else), if you needed a case to be solved, who would you choose:

Nick and Nora
Sam Spade
Philip Marlowe
Sherlock Holmes
Charlie Chan
Hercule Poirot
Ms Marple

Louis Morgan said...

Well probably Miss Marple because I think I'd personally have the best chance at survival.

Here's the problems with others:

Nick and Nora (Watching them interact in person one would probably feel a bit left out of all the fun)

Sam Spade (Too high of body count for my liking)

Marlowe (Same problem as with Spade)

Holmes (He'd be my second choice, although it depends on what version of Holmes we are talking about)

Chan (Don't know enough about him)

Poirot (The twist would probably be that I did it even though I had an air-tight alibi)

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

'Poirot (The twist would probably be that I did it even though I had an air-tight alibi)' So true haha.

Anonymous said...

Do you consider Astor leading or supporting?

luke higham said...

Louis: Rating & Thoughts on Mary Astor, Elisha Cook Jr. Ward Bond and Gladys George in The Maltese Falcon.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Saw Furious 7. It was decent, I guess, so far as action films come and go. I must admit the ending was very touching; even if I've never been much of a fan of Walker, I thought it was a heartfelt tribute from his 'family'.

Diesel-3 (I actually thought he gave his best performance in the whole series here)
Johnson-2.5 (I understand why he had to be underused, because of Hercules, still bit of a shame though)
Rodriguez-2 (I've never liked Letty as a character, I must confess)
Gibson-3.5 (I thought he was much more endearing than his previous two outings, where he became rather grating with his 'I'm wacky, look at me!' routine, he toned it here down to something more like 2 Fast 2 Furious form which by the way was my favourite out of all the Fast and Furious Films, and I would actually give Walker a solid 3 verging on a 3.5 in that one)
Ludacris-3 (Also close to a 3.5, I must admit the interplay between him and Gibson was one of my favourite things about the film, if they make a Fast 8 they should focus more on these two, add in Johnson and Russell for some great banter)
Russell-3.5 (really enjoyed every line that came out of his mouth even if it was mostly just exposition, exposition, exposition, gotta give the man credit for creating a rather fascinating enigma within the margins of the film)
Brewster-2.5 (she really has the most thankless role of them all, but I preferred her to Rodigruez simply because she never irritated me, and was actually quite heartfelt in the scenes where she reveals that she's pregnant, again)
Hounsou-2.5 (unnecessary mugging here and there, and really not much to do except be a rather despicable sort of fool, which I thought was effective enough)
Statham-2.5 (the big disappointment of the film for me, Statham is actually a good actor in my books when he's given good material, unfortunately that's not really the case here, I understand that lots of his casting appeal comes from him kicking ass which he does well enough. I just thought an actor who's done pretty excellent work in films like Cellular, The Bank Job, and Hummingbird should be so underutilised in terms of character depth. His speech to *spoilers* a comatose Luke Evans was actually the highlight of his performance for me, he did not get enough of that sort of scene)

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Also, my ratings for the other Fast and Furious films:


Hauser-3.5 (close to a 4)

Bow Wow-1.5


de Almeida-3

Kang-2.5 (I would actually go a bit higher if he didn't play his reactions to a certain character's demise so underwhelmingly, since he was otherwise very charming with Gadot)

Anonymous said...

Louis what are your ratings and thoughts on Anne Baxter in Five Graves to Cairo, Jane Arthur in The More the Merrier, Deborah Kerr in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Anne Revere in The Song of Bernadette and Lucille Watson and Bette Davis in Watch on the Rhine?

Scott Gingold said...

Louis, I know you said your next plans after you finish the remaining alt years are to do bonus reviews of unseen films, but I really think you should consider doing actress and supp actress. why not do it?

luke higham said...

Scott Gingold: There's hardly any point now, since Louis's given his ratings & thoughts on many female performances including all of his 5s, plus the prediction contests would end up being quite pointless, since we already know his feelings toward those performances.

If Louis wanted to review female performances, I would at least have him cover every great Male performance until then.

Lastly, there is other ideas, that he could do after the bonus rounds such as reviewing Male Performances in TV Series, Mini-Series and TV Films.

(E.G. Reviewing Bryan Cranston's work in Breaking Bad per season)

luke higham said...

Scott Gingold: Louis - 'I would not say actresses would be totally wasted idea simply because I do feel there are many great performances still to be seen. Also one of my old hesitations was because there were many reviewers of performances by Actresses which isn't really the case now. Nevertheless I think after I'm done with the years I'll probably go with Robert's idea about the bonus rounds'.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

In terms of television movies/miniseries I have plenty of suggestions for Louis and company:

Stephen Rea, Donald Sutherland and Max Von Sydow in Citizen X
Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews in Brideshead Revisited
Alec Guiness, Ians Richardson and Bannen, Bernard Hepton in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The Hollow Crown Series (Ben Whishaw, Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston)
Anyone from Angels in America, but especially Pacino (checking out Pacino's television work in the past decade or so does cast a new light on this latter stage of his career)
Jim Broadbent, Andy Serkis in Longford

Anonymous said...

Oooh for TV Movies/Miniseries I'd love him to review someone for The Normal Heart (Bomer!!) or American Horror Story.

luke higham said...

GDSAO: The good thing about reviewing TV performances, is that Louis never gave a rating to McConaughey & Harrelson in True Detective, the casts of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and John Adams.

My suggestions
Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis in Wolf Hall.
Ben Whishaw, Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale and the yet to be seen, Benedict Cumberbatch in The Hollow Crown
Edgar Ramirez in Carlos (Full Version)
James Nesbitt in The Missing
Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton in Fargo
McConaughey and Harrelson in True Detective
Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Giancarlo Esposito, Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks in Breaking Bad
Odenkirk and Banks in Better Call Saul
Sean Bean, Charles Dance, Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Pedro Pascal, Conleth Hall, Jack Gleeson, Rory McCann in Game Of Thrones
Paul Giamatti in John Adams
Damian Lewis in Band Of Brothers
Alec Guinness in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Jeremy Irons in Brideshead Revisited and Elizabeth I
Al Pacino in Angels In America and Phil Spector
Idris Elba in Luther
Kenneth Branagh in Wallander
Cumberbatch and Freeman in Sherlock
Jim Broadbent and Andy Serkis in Longford
Matt Bomer in The Normal Heart
Michael Douglas in Behind The Candelabra
Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin in Homeland
Michael C. Hall and John Lithgow in Dexter
Branagh and Tucci in Conspiracy
James Gandolfini in The Sopranos
Ian McShane in Deadwood
Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire
Jon Hamm in Mad Men
Jeff Daniels in The Newsroom
Kevin Spacey in House Of Cards
James Spader in The Blacklist

luke higham said...

I forgot about James Nesbitt in Bloody Sunday and Gary Oldman in The Firm.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I'm gonna add James Badge Dale, Joseph Mazzalo, and Rami Malick in The Pacific onto that pile.

luke higham said...

Louis: With this TV idea, can you do prediction contests, just for the TV Films and Mini-Series and write reviews for Performances in long form shows such as Breaking Bad and Game Of Thrones in monthly projects.

L Rime said...

If we're talking tv shows, you probably have to start with the three best shows of the past half decade or so.

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad.

Jon Hamm from Mad Men.

Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins from Justified.

RatedRStar said...

I honestly dont think the idea would work if Louis did TV shows, for starters, that would mean Louis would have to watch a season 1 for example of a performance, and that could take a long while to do, I would say Louis has a review up once a day, maybe once every 2 to 3 days for films, if Louis did TV performances, it would take like a month just to do 5 performances because Louis would have to watch the whole season for all of the performances.

Another is that, how would the predictions work, would it be like this

Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad Season 1
Benedict Cumberbatch - Sherlock Season 1

Or will it just be the performance for the whole series complete, I dont think either idea would work because if it was Cranston in Season 1, Cranston in Season 2 it would just be confusing and kinda awkward, and if it was the entire performance for all seasons it would just take too long for reviews, imagine how long it would take, one review a week lol =D. Mini series could work, possibly, ehh its hard to say.

Oh you forgot one actor

Aidan Gillen - Queer As Folk =D.

RatedRStar said...

Ahh we will Cross the bridge when we get there, and dont forget Queer As Folk =D.

L Rime said...

Imagine Louis trying to tackle each incarnation of the Doctor in all 34 seasons of Doctor Who. Lol.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: What I would do is work on writing those reviews over a long period of time (E.g. 3 months each for the cast members of Breaking Bad and Game Of Thrones) whilst writing one day reviews for performances in TV FIlms and one or two per week for mini-series.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: Also, there's no need for prediction contests for long form tv shows, considering the length of time it would take.

Lastly, I see no problem doing them over the course of a single season than in its completion.

Cranston - Season 1 - 5
Cranston - Season 2 - 5
Cranston - Season 3 - 5
Cranston - Season 4 - 5
Cranston - Season 5 - 5

RatedRStar said...

I am sure Louis will have something prepared for then, hoping that he will still definitely be running the blog by the time the bonus reviews finish by like 2017/2018

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: I know Louis's probably in his late thirties, maybe more, but I hope he's still doing this for another 5-10 years and the main reason why I came up with the TV idea, is that I enjoy reading his reviews too much and it will be a sad sad day not only for me and everyone else on the blog but for Film Journalism/Criticism in general, when he retires from it.

Louis Morgan said...

All that talk in regards to TV performances I'd say just hold on since I have not finished even the alternate reviews yet.



I could've sworn I've covered Astor.

Cook - 4(A performance that has grown on me on re-watches. Cook is simply a pro at being a loser and certainly fulfills the role of the wannabe as one would expect he would. Cook though goes a bit further though as he does bring some depth to the part showing a very strong vulnerability in the character. His reaction to see everyone's cold face is particularly good)

Bond - 3(A good bit of Bonding (Pun definitely intended) as Sam's cop friend. Does not have much to do but as usual he adds a bit of something with his presence)

George - 3(She really does not get to do much at all but she's good in his brief screen time being effectively grotesque as a not so grieving widow)


Baxter - 3(She's just fine in the role in terms of her accent and just portraying a fairly standard sort of character)

Arthur - 4(She has some enjoyable chemistry with both Coburn and McCrea and some splendid comic timing in the early scenes of the film. The third act though she practically is forced to be one note. Not that's she bad at it, she's just a bit too constrained by it all)

Revere - 2(I can never stomach her performances. She's just so bland and from what I've seen she plays every part exactly same. The only time I thought this worked at all was in A Place in the Sun)

Watson - 2.5(It's not a particularly memorable rendition of the colorful old lady routine. She's really pretty forgettable)

Davis - 3(Well almost everyone is aside from Lukas. Davis barely gets much of a part her. She basically just needs to looked concerned by her husbands's more interesting actions throughout the film. She's not bad at it, she just does not have much to do)

luke higham said...

Louis: I give my humble apologies.