Posted July 22, 2012 by Andy Foster in Movies



Humphrey Bogart is still revered in Hollywood as a silver screen legend, at the top of just about every film historian’s short list of the greatest actors of all time.  The following are ten of his best movies:

1)  Casablanca

Not only Bogart’s best film, it might just be the motion picture industry in general’s best as well.  Winner of the 1943 Academy Award for Best Picture, Casablanca has in its story line the elements of war, occupation, romance, intrigue, patriotism, and a black market economy.  It also has one of the greatest endings in cinema history, where Bogart and Claude Rains walk down the airport runway into the fog, planning their next journey that symbolically has already begun.  Bogart dominates every scene he appears in with the exception of those he shares with Rains, whose screen presence as Police Captain Louis Renault is more than equal to the task.  It’s undeniably a cinema classic that has withstood the test of time, even in its glorious black and white format.


2)  To Have and Have Not

From the Ernest Hemingway novel of the same name, Bogart again finds himself the accidental patriot as was the case in Casablanca.  His character, Harry Morgan, is a fisherman for hire on the French island of Martinique.  In the midst of World War II, he initially avoids taking sides in the ongoing fight between the revolutionaries and the Nazi-backed Vichy government.  Financial hardships force him and his boat to take jobs that consequently entrench him politically with the Free French movement.  He stars opposite a 20-year-old actress making her film debut, Lauren Bacall, who would soon become the fourth Mrs. Bogart and the true love of his life.  The movie also allows him the opportunity to embrace his other two loves: seamanship and sarcasm.

3)  Sahara

Another of his great pictures that over time seems to fly under the Bogart radar for some reason.  Set in the Northern Africa theater of operations during World War II, Sahara was a box office success when it was released in 1943, and is a film that Bogart himself touted as being one of his best.  He plays an American tank commander fighting with the British 8th Army who, after the fall of Tobruk, finds himself and his two crew members isolated from their regiment and thirsty.  While crossing the Libyan desert in search of water, which they don’t find right away, they pick up stragglers, both friend and foe, who are also separated from their respective armies.  The five British, one French, and one Sudanese soldiers who became part of their make shift crew would symbolically represent a microcosm of the Allied forces that fought together throughout the war.

4)  The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

A film in which the audience gets to see Bogart’s true diversity as an actor, playing an unsympathetic, untrusting American panhandler turned prospector by the name of Fred C. Dobbs.  He is a man down on his luck, stuck in Mexico looking for any legitimate work he can find.  While spending the night in a boarding house, he hears stories of finding gold in the local hills told by an old time miner played by Walter Huston.  He and another American become partners with the miner, and the three men set off to find their fortunes in those same mountains.  Dobbs’ paranoia during the journey might have been well founded, but it was misdirected when it came to his venture partners.  After greed becomes its dance partner, Dobbs separates from the party; a decision that would bring about his demise.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

5)  The African Queen

It’s hard to fathom that as talented an actor as Bogart was, he would capture only one Best Actor Oscar during his career.  That would be in 1951 for his performance in The African Queen.  Considering that he would spend months half way around the world during filming; endure leeches, potential disease, and generally poor living conditions; and have to outperform Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, Bogart more than earned the award.  Charlie Allnut is an unkept, ill mannered Canadian boat captain with a taste for gin.  While delivering mail deep in the African jungle, he rescues a English missionary (Katharine Hepburn) who in turn tries to rescue Allnut from himself.  Approaching a German ship, currently at war with Great Britain (World War I), they decide their patriotic duty is to turn the boat into a torpedo and run it into the side of the enemy vessel.

The African Queen

6)  The Maltese Falcon

Playing the role of Private Detective Sam Spade, the 1941 release of The Maltese Falcon silenced many of Bogart’s critics who at the time weren’t convinced he was the right person to be cast in the leading man role of “A List” movies.  The film was based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett, and centers around the search for a 16th Century falcon encrusted with jewels that had been seized by pirates.  After Spade’s business partner is murdered, his investigations entangle him with a group searching the world for the falcon and who will stop at nothing, including murder, to find it.  Staying one step ahead of the police, who consider him a suspect in at least one murder, Spade is finally able to tie up the loose ends and clear himself with the law, but the authentic falcon is never found.

7)  The Caine Mutiny

Another role in which Bogart was cast against type and thus able to demonstrate his acting versatility.  Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg is a troubled, paranoid, detail oriented micro manager to the “nth” degree who takes command of a Navy ship with an unmotivated crew.  When his junior officers begin to question his sanity and he is unable to function during a crisis situation at sea, Queeg is relieved of his command by his first officer (Van Johnson) in what is collectively thought to be the only option to prevent the ship from capsizing.  Due in part to Queeg’s stellar Naval record to date, assuming command at sea is difficult to justify in the eyes of the Navy’s top brass and the first officer is brought up on charges of mutiny.

8)  The Petrified Forest

His portrayal of gangster Duke Mantee was a role that Bogart had perfected while The Petrified Forest was a Broadway production.  By the time it became a feature film in 1936 he had almost become Duke Mantee, giving a performance that cemented him permanently as Hollywood’s first choice when casting movie gangsters.  While the plot centers around the romantic spark between a drifter, played by Leslie Howard, who happens upon a desert outpost where he is smitten with a young woman, played by Bette Davis, who dreams of seeing the world.  Howard’s character is destitute with only a life insurance policy to his name, which he signs over to Davis as beneficiary.  Through flattery and daring, he convinces Mantee to shoot him so Davis can cash in the policy.

9)  In a Lonely Place

Arguably one of Bogart’s most complex characters is the volatile screen writer Dixon “Dix” Steele.  Having a history of violent outbursts, he becomes the prime suspect when a coat check girl turns up murdered shortly after leaving his apartment.  When Laurel Gray, his attractive neighbor from across the courtyard (Gloria Grahame’s role), steps up to provide an alibi for Steele, he is let go by the police although remaining a suspect.  The two become romantically involved and eventually fall in love, and Steele’s disposition appears to be changing for the better.  When Gray begins to see a different side of Steele however, one prone to violence, she questions whether or not he could have committed the murder.  She pulls away emotionally, but the more she does the more possessive Steele becomes.

10)  The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep provides Bogart with another opportunity to play a private detective, Philip Marlowe in this case, and a second on screen pairing with his soon to be wife, Lauren Bacall.  Marlowe is hired by an elderly client, General Sternwood, who is being extorted and blackmailed with information and photographs of his youngest daughter in compromising situations.  Marlowe’s investigations get him intertwined in a second shakedown, this time involving the ex-husband of Sternwood’s eldest daughter, played by Bacall.  After uncovering the truth about a few business fronts and discovering a succession of dead bodies, he is finally able to piece together a rather complex sequence of events.

Andy Foster

Freelance writer, historian, and educator based in Southern California. Writing interests include but are not limited to history, sports, pop culture, politics, biographies, war stories, documentaries, and cutting edge topics.