Play them again: TCM pairs two Humphrey Bogart greats

Movie Review

Humphrey Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon”

It is, indeed, “the stuff that dreams are made of” … especially of you’re a Humphrey Bogart fan.

The screen icon made lots of enduring films, but two that top the list for many devotees will be paired Friday, March 12, on Turner Classic Movies. Up first is “The Maltese Falcon” — the 1941 detective thriller widely credited with cementing Bogart’s stardom —  followed by the 1942 Oscar winner “Casablanca,” surely one of the most popular movies made to date.

John Huston was a novice director and also relatively new to screenwriting when he tackled “The Maltese Falcon,” Dashiell Hammett’s twisty-turny mystery that puts cynical private eye Sam Spade (Bogart) on the trail of his partner’s killer. They weren’t particularly friends, but as Spade explains, his ethics dictate that when your partner is murdered, “You’re supposed to do something about it.” 

The trail leads him to colorful characters encompassing outright villains (Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Elisha Cook Jr.) and a femme fatale (Mary Astor), plus an item that everyone seems to want to get their hands on: a jewel-encrusted statue of a bird, hence the story’s title. Huston’s style is invaluable here, with his great use of light and shadows giving the picture its noirish feel that still keeps the result distinctive some 80 years later.

The miracle of “Casablanca” is that it was completed at all, given its famously torturous production history that has made for fascinating articles and books. The final product doesn’t betray those troubles, looking like a well-planned work, rather than something that literally was made up as they went along at many points.

That likely doesn’t even matter to a good percentage of those who are swept up in the dangerously renewed romance of nightclub owner Rick (Bogart) and his ex-love Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), who wants to secure passage out of wartime Casablanca for herself and her resistance-leader husband Victor (Paul Henreid).

Rick would prefer not to involve himself in anyone else’s problems, but that becomes impossible in the case of Ilsa … whose entrance is announced by the song he told singer-pianist Sam (Dooley Wilson) never to play again, “As Time Goes By.” It takes plenty of double-crossing and a famously unholy alliance with police captain Louis (Claude Rains) to make things come out reasonably right,  but director Michael Curtiz, a tireless team of screenwriters and one of the best ensemble casts ever ultimately get them there.

Humphrey Bogart admirers have a lot to look forward to, then, as TCM puts two of his best on a relatively rare TV double bill. However, for the true Bogart faithful, these are sure to be just the latest of many viewings.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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