Humphrey Bogart had a prolific and legendary film career. He had 82 film credits so there were many films to consider. He specialized in no-nonsense, hard-boiled roles where he usually wielded a gun and you didn’t dare backtalk him. Dames tended to fall hard for him, but he often had no patience or time for them. Bogart got his start in gangster films working his way up from co-star to leading man.
In 1941 his films High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon changed his career orbit. He emerged from crime films to take on a variety of different kinds of roles and was often the reluctant hero, thrust into difficult situations that disrupt his world and place him in the direct path of danger. Later in his career he chose some non-heroic roles, playing against type in very good films.
Here are 10 of my favorite Bogart films. These are not necessarily his best films although a few are, but these I’ll watch anytime.
Casablanca (1942) – Easy choice. No one better to play Rick. Everyone goes to Rick’s, the oasis in a sea of desperation and fascism. Bogart plays the emotionally insulated club owner who navigates the dicey political landscape of Casablanca. You can see the pain in Bogart’s eyes when Elsa re-enters his life.
Key Largo (1948) – Bogart functioned best with a solid supporting cast and he had one here. A good script and veteran director like John Huston helps. Edward G. Robinson returns to the gangster fold one more time. Bogart’s character happens into a dicey situation, a big storm is approaching and he’s in the company of gangsters. Trying to stay above the fray, he finally agrees to pilot a boat to deliver the gangsters to another destination and a confrontation with Robinson’s character.
To Have and Have Not (1944) – Cryptic title but a scorcher with Lauren Bacall turning Bogart on. You’re seeing their heat. Bogart again is the man who plays by his own rules but who gets roped into helping the French Resistance, more for financial reasons than anything. He’s a man just trying to make a living but events conspire to draw him into the fight.
Action in the North Atlantic (1943) – One of the best World War II films and a suspenseful one at that. The film portrayed the danger of merchant ships trying to get war supplies to our allies. The film starts with the sinking of a merchant ship and members of the crew barely surviving. They get a new merchant ship and again transport war supplies, this time to Russia, while being pursued by a Nazi submarine in a cat and mouse game. Bogart co-stars with Raymond Massey. The action is the star of the film, the special effects very good for when this film was made.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) – Another film with Huston, a gritty and bone-weary journey for gold, which costs more than any man can realize. Three prospectors in Mexico find gold, then have to battle outlaws and each other as greed takes over. The film mines the depth of human character and how some survive and prosper. Bogart’s character, Fred C. Dobbs, is not the hero.
The Caine Mutiny (1954) – Maybe Bogart’s best performance. He plays a neurotic and unsympathetic Captain Queeg, but you’ll develop some empathy for him in the end. You can see the emotional gears turning in his head during the entire film. A war film without the war, except between the characters. Van Johnson and Fred MacMurray have the more glamorous roles but Bogart, who dearly wanted the role, delivers a grand performance.
The Maltese Falcon (1941) – Again, no one could play Sam Spade but Bogart, even though George Raft was offered the part first. It’s dark and twisty, one of the best detective stories ever told and one of the best examples of film noir. A great supporting cast. John Huston, in his directorial debut keeps the tension tight and the story moving. Film detectives would be modeled on Bogart’s character.
The African Queen (1951) – Bogart and Hepburn. Bogart gets to display all of his bad habits but Hepburn falls for him anyway. Bogart’s character is a boozer but not a bad man, who needed a woman to give him a purpose. Most of the film is a two-person story, as they get to know each other and learn to be a team. Bogart won his only Academy Award for this film.
Sahara (1943) – Commander of a tank in North Africa, short on water but long on collecting unattached soldiers. Bogart must keep peace and stay on task as they retreat after a disastrous tank battle with the Nazis. Based around true events of the Western Desert Campaign near Tobruk in Libya. The climactic sequence is a battle over a water source. One of Bogart’s best war films.
We’re No Angels (1955) – A curious film, a comedy with Bogart, Aldo Rey and Peter Ustinov playing escaped Devil’s Island prisoners who take refuge in a nearby town where they offer help out a shop manager while hiding out. They become involved in the shop manager’s family and foil an effort by the owner’s nephew. There is larceny in the trio but also some goodness. Instead of escaping, they decide to turn themselves in to authorities. Bogart didn’t have much to do in this film, it was a light comedic role.
I didn’t mention High Sierra, Sabrina, Dark Passage, The Big Sleep, Dead Reckoning, Across the Pacific, They Drive By Night or Dark Victory. Bogart made many worthy films, but I’ll stick with my 10.