Humphrey Bogart, The Movie Gangster

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Early in his career film icon Humphrey Bogart found that he was being typecast. In the 1930’s, years away from becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest leading men, Bogart was frequently cast as a gangster. James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson rose to frame portraying gangsters. The only differences is they were the lead actors in their films. Bogart was relegated to third, fourth and fifth billing in many of his early movies. Cagney and Robinson were also able to move on from the gangster roles far quicker than Humphrey Bogart.

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Throughout the 1930’s Bogart was able to portray various character types. But the string of movies where he was cast as a gangster is pretty extensive, Films such as Bullets Or Ballots, Kid Galahad, Dead End, The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, Racket Busters, Angels With Dirty Faces, King Of The Underworld, You Can’t Get Away With Murder, The Roaring Twenties, Invisible Stripes, It All Came True, Brother Orchid. This is not to say that these were the only roles that he was cast in. In the same time frame he portrayed a prosecutor, a movie producer, a school superintendent, a truck driver and a carnival manager. However these were generally supporting roles. Even when he was the lead none of these films were able to provide a breakthrough for Bogart.

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When watching many of these movies one understands the typecasting. Despite his young good looks he was extremely convincing as a gangster. Whether he was the boss or just a henchmen he excelled in these roles. Thankfully, after several years he was able to break free of these characters.

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Ironically enough the roles that proved to be the biggest stepping stones on his path to fame were gangsters. His performances as Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest (1936) and Roy Earle in High Sierra (1941) elevated his profile in Hollywood. Bogart is the antagonist of The Petrified Forest and he pretty much steals the movie from the two co-stars, Leslie Howard and Bette Davis. Although Ida Lupino has top billing in High Sierra, it is clearly Humphrey Bogart’s movie.

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Crime doesn’t pay, especially in the old time Warner Brothers movies. However, Humphrey Bogart’s repeated portrayal of gangsters helped him as he paid his dues on the way to becoming one of the biggest movie stars of all time. His star turning performance in High Sierra opened the door for his breakthrough film, 1941’s The Maltese Falcon. And the rest is movie history.

Troy T.

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