Without any shred of doubt, Humphrey Bogart was the greatest cinematic icon of the 20th century. Voted by the AFI as the greatest male star in the history of American cinema, Bogart appeared in some of the definitive masterpieces which helped shape the future of Hollywood as well as the greater tradition of American filmmaking in general.
Born in New York City in 1899, Bogart’s parents had hoped that their son would attend Yale University but he dropped out due to poor academic and disciplinary records before joining the Navy. After returning home, Bogart eventually got around to appearing in theatrical productions after attempting to write and direct projects.
Graduating from Broadway to Hollywood by starting out in the John Ford film Up the River, Bogart played supporting parts and gangsters at first. However, he is remembered now for what came later – the emergence of the greatest leading man that America had ever seen whose contributions to the art of acting are invaluable.
As a tribute to the late legend, we have listed some of the greatest acting performances by Humphrey Bogart.
Humphrey Bogart’s 10 best films:
10. Sabrina (Bily Wilder, 1954)
Billy Wilder’s 1954 romantic comedy features the likes of Bogart, William Holden and Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn is fantastic as Sabrina, the daughter of a chauffeur who catches the eye of the wealthy boss’ playboy son (Holden) before his elder brother (Bogart) interrupts the courtship.
When the film started, Bogart was not at all convinced of the project and harboured resentment towards Holden and Wilder. He felt that a film like this wasn’t appropriate for him but after it was all said and done, Bogart apologised to Wilder and now Sabrina is regarded as one of his best films.
9. The Petrified Forest (Archie Mayo, 1936)
Based on the eponymous Broadway production, The Petrified Forest was one of those early films which showed the world the kind of talent Bogart had within him. Starring alongside the likes of Bette Davis and Leslie Howard, Bogart managed to steal the show.
Set during the Great Depression, the film revolves around a homeless drifter (Howard) who stumbles into a remote diner and develops a bond with the owner’s daughter (Davis). Things get complicated when a notorious bank robber (Bogart) barges in.
8. To Have and Have Not (Howard Hawks, 1944)
A prime example of what critics called the “Bogie-Bacall” phenomenon, To Have and Have Not is an interesting interpretation of Hemingway’s 1937 novel. Although Hemingway did not participate in the project because of his hatred for Hollywood, another literary giant stepped in to write the screenplay – William Faulkner.
Bogart stars as Harry Morgan, the operator of a charter boat in Martinique during the war who finds himself in a difficult spot when he falls in love with a pickpocket (Bacall) and spends almost all of his funds to buy her a ticket back to America.
7. The Caine Mutiny (Edward Dmytryk, 1954)
A competent adaptation of Herman Wouk’s award-winning novel, The Caine Mutiny is an interesting addition to Bogart’s filmography because it saw him playing a role that people wouldn’t usually associate the actor with because of the unappealing nature of the character.
Bogart delivers an interesting performance as Captain Queeg, a strange figure who makes all his officers angry due to his obsessive pursuit of absolute control and overwhelming paranoia. As a result, calls for a mutiny are generated to fix the leadership issues.
6. High Sierra (Raoul Walsh, 1941)
One of the most well known American gems from the beloved film noir genre, High Sierra pairs Bogart with Ida Lupino. Bogart stars as a thief just out of prison who is pulled back into the criminal life by an ageing crime boss planning a heist in California.
While the film was directed by Raoul Walsh, it was instrumental in solidifying the friendship between Bogart and John Huston who wrote the script. High Sierra paved the way for greater success for Bogart as he moved on to leading roles after playing supporting parts.
5. The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946)
Often cited as one of the most incomprehensible film noir masterpieces ever made, The Big Sleep is a strangely enigmatic adaptation of the eponymous Raymond Chandler novel. Bogart is brilliant as a private eye hired to resolve domestic gambling issues.
However, with every little addition to the building case, things inexplicably take a turn for the worse with death and despair piled on. Featuring the combination of Bogart and Bacall once again, The Big Sleep is a brilliantly atmospheric work of art that dismisses its own narrative inconsistencies with grace.
4. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
Nicholas Ray’s engaging 1950 film In a Lonely Place provided Bogart with one of his darkest roles – a troubled screenwriter who is suspected of murdering a girl because of his violent tendencies. Now touted as an essential American masterpiece, In a Lonely Place is Bogart at his best.
Critics have also noted the similarities between Ray’s work and some other gems that came out that same year such as Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve because all these works shared similar subtextual commentary about the dark side of Hollywood.
3. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)
The Maltese Falcon was John Huston’s directorial debut after he had penned the script for another 1941 project – High Sierra – which starred Bogart as well. Due to the success of that film and their friendship, Huston decided to cast Bogart in one of his most iconic roles ever.
Although there have been several adaptations of Dashiell Hammett’s famous novel, none have surpassed the artistic achievements of Huston’s version which starred Bogart as a cynical private eye whose client is a femme fatale (played by Mary Astor).
2. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
Probably everyone’s favourite Bogart role which immortalised his image in popular culture forever, Casablanca starred the actor as Rick Blaine – a tragic romantic figure who operates a famous bar in Casablanca but his world falls apart when his former lover (Ingrid Bergman) enters his life again.
Casablanca is an untouchable classic whose status in American history can never be diminished by anything and the on-screen magic created by Bogart and Bergman is a vital part of this cultural phenomenon that is still going on almost 80 years later.
1. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948)
The greatest achievement in both Huston’s and Bogart’s respective careers, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a fantastic meditation on the human condition which has influenced generation after generation of aspiring filmmakers. It revolves around two downtrodden, unemployed Americans who go to Mexico to search for gold.
Bogart’s indelible performance as one of those men is now an indispensable part of film history and has inspired other brilliant performances such as Daniel Day-Lewis’ acting in Paul Thomas Anderson’s modern masterpiece There Will Be Blood which owes a lot to this classic.