Bogie. That face. Humphrey Bogart has two things going for him that few other actors, star or bit player, have. One of them is his face and voice. The other is how he uses them.
He has a face and a voice that you will not forget. Once you see Bogie, those dark eyes sheltered by thick eyebrows, his large and slightly crooked nose and of course that high forehead, you will never confuse him with any other actor. And just in case you are not good with faces, there is always his voice. You will forever know his nasal voice and slight lisp. Yet for some reason we do not think of Bogie as having an iconic voice (even though he does), like we would for his fellow badasses Edward G Robinson, James Cagney, or Marlon Brando. The reason, possibly, is that while his voice itself is indeed, distinctive, what makes it unforgettable is the way he can punch out or gloss over a line as means to build the tension of a scene. He can do romance, mystery, action, comedy, and definitely crazy. And that kind of versatility comes from an incredible talent, more than natural traits alone.
If Bogie had been a different sort of man, but with the same physical traits, he never could have made it in Hollywood. They would have kicked him out of town, let alone any of the studios. But lucky for us, Bogie was an irascible bloke who uses his distinctive features to his advantage. He owned his features. He neither pretended to be a dashing Cary Grant nor did he let his (now iconic) features dominate his performances. He did not use his features to be the funny looking sidekick character actor, like Jimmy Durante or Edward Everett Horton (Both of whom I love). But like Spencer Tracy or Jimmy Stewart, his features work to his advantage because he adapts the film character to fit his face, instead of the other way around. Many actors rely on their looks to carry them to stardom, or as a vain (ha, see what I did there?) attempt to get close enough to touch stardom. Bogie doesn’t need that.
Now that I have clearly established my utmost respect and love to Bogie, I have a confession. The first time I saw him I was not impressed. I started Casablanca and stopped about 10 minutes in because I was bored and it felt slow. And let’s be real, Bogies face was not a hue draw for me…at the time. Its terrible, I know. I am still trying to redeem myself from that. Now I love that first interaction we have with Rick in the Cafe. Just a look, a nod, a stiff drink and a cigarette. That is all we need. We don’t need words, big gestures, dramatics, or charm. Bogie is rough, hard, even cruel in many of his films.
He walks the line between good and evil, at times seeming to have simultaneously a deep sense of honor and a total lack of morals or ethics. What morals, ethics, or good deeds that occur seem to happen most often because they are in his best interest, not because they are inherently right. We don’t know if we can trust him. But his easy confidence and complete control over the scene and all the other characters makes us want to trust him. Desperately. Even when he is a killer. Or abusive.
We are both scared of him and drawn to him, just as many of his leading ladies are within the film. This is not puffed up slaps, verbal jabs, or nice smiles. When he smiles, you know something really bad is going to happen.
His slightly upturned mouth, the squinted eyes as he analyzes a person, his famous Sam Spade ear tug, those are normal Bogie mannerisms. You know he will protect you till the end, even die defending you if you deserve it. He will do what it takes and he is the man who will get the job done. But don’t try to double cross, seduce, or pull a fast one on him. Cause I can guarantee you he is a step ahead. Just when you think you have won, he will turn around and laugh in your face. Yet even as you curse his name you will still think to yourself, “What a sexy beast.”