Grifter with a Heart of Gold
Humphrey Bogart was not this type of star.
Even in his early days playing second-tier gangsters in movies like The Roaring Twenties (1939), his face was slightly drawn, his voice as gritty as a gravel trap. Though he was the son of a New York surgeon, an attendee of Andover and Yale, he exuded blue-collar gruffness. Maybe it was just a mark of his talent, but I watch his unsavory trucker in They Drive By Night (1940) and see a city tough who made it to the big-time through guile. Dropping the “r” or the “g” off every other word, he steals Raoul Walsh’s classic noir from right under George Raft’s nose. When he grabs a shady compatriot by the collar, demanding the $300 he feels he’s owed, Bogart’s slim frame effortlessly mixes trickery and strength — he’s an actor whose unscrupulous means and moral ends are not contradictory but fitting.
Read the rest of my column on TCM's Bogart retrospective at TOH! And catch a more in-depth look at The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in my 2009 piece at The Filmgoer.