Humphrey Bogart The Ultimate Anti-Hero Hero

May 3, 2012 | Writing

Okay I’ll admit it I’m an unabashed, smitten, convinced there will never be another actor of his caliber, willing to watch his movies over and over again no matter how many times I’ve seen it before, fan of the actor Humphrey Bogart. So if you believe there’s another actor that is better than him, stop right here and read no further. (And write your own blog praising them.)

I won’t enlighten you with the details of his life, you can find that on the Humphrey Bogart official website. I’m more interested in Bogart and his roles as the anti-hero Hero. There are three essential writing books on my desk. Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation & Conflict, Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, and Barbara Ann Kipfer’s Flip Dictionary published by Writer’s Digest. When I’m crafting my female and male characters I’m always looking for ways to make them three dimensional, tough, cynical, willing to kill for the greater or not so greater good, and most all generate respect and sympathy by the reader.

Vogler defines the anti-hero hero as not the opposite of your typical hero but as a special type of hero. “One who may be an outlaw or a villain from the point of view of society, but with whom the audience is basically in sympathy.” The anti-hero hero appeals to me because he’s not the handsome tall, dark, rugged, handsome man who swaggers onto the first page or screen and screams hero. Whoa, that’s John Wayne another favorite actor of mine. Bogart’s face had lines, his voice was deep at times menacing. He didn’t walk with a swagger but more like a coiled tiger you best not try to pet.

Vogler describes two types of anti-hero Hero. The first is the character who behaves like your conventional hero but is cynical, wounded, and doesn’t let anyone close, and keeps their emotions locked away. Vogler even cites two of Bogart’s biggest movies, The Big Sleep and Casablanca. I’d like to add The Maltese Falcon to this list. The second type of anti-hero Hero is the tragic character who is not only not likable and we may dislike their actions. (Ah that would be Humphrey Bogart in The Caine Mutiny).

The first movie I ever saw Humphrey Bogart in was The Petrified Forest. He played Duke Mantee an escaped prisoner who held people at an out of the way cafe hostage. Duke was waiting for his girlfriend. When Bogart, as Duke, burst into the diner, I twitched. He was bad, ruthless, and scary. I rooted for his demise yet I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He stole your attention. Apparently this same plot point appeared in another Bogart movie, The Desperate Hours. His character, Glen Griffin was again an escaped convict holding a family hostage as he waited for his girlfriend. Women- the bad guy’s downfall. Duke and Glen both die in the end. Leslie Howard, the star of The Petrified Forest, campaigned hard for Bogart to play Mantee. Howard protested doing the movie unless Bogart got the part. The studios wanted Edward G. Robinson. Trivia Point: When Bogart and Robinson were in gangster movies together they made a pact. If Robinson had top billing, Bogart died first, then Robinson. If Bogart had top billing, Robinson died first, then Bogart. Thank you Turner Classic Movies for that tidbit. Also later Bogart and Robinson would team up in Key Largo.

Casablanca transcends decades. The movie holds up and should never, ever be remade. It cemented Bogart as a star. As Rick Blaine, the nightclub owner of Casablanca, he has the characteristics of the anti-hero hero. Although I think Maltese Falcon is better example of this type of hero and I’ll explain later. We know Casablanca’s plot. Rick’s old love Ilsa, who left him in Paris, comes to Casablanca. Ilsa and her husband are trying to escape the Nazis. He’s a freedom fighter, Rick’s a saloon owner. Touch choice for Ilsa. They need letters of transport to leave Casablanca and their lives are in danger. Rick has the letters. He’s tried to forget Ilsa. She left him in the city of love. I’d be devastated too. So now we have sympathy for the anti-hero hero. When Ilsa insists Sam, the piano player, play ‘As Time Goes By’, Rick explodes into the room demanding why Sam is singing a song he had strictly forbidden to ever be played. Then Rick sees Ilsa. It’s an emotional reunion and Bogart plays it just right. He keeps his cool when you know he’s seething and hurting inside. The coiled tiger. Later in the movie, Rick demands Sam play the song just for him. Then Bogart through his acting allows you to see and experience his pain. In the end, Rick sends Ilsa away with her husband. He doesn’t want to, he loves her, but for the greater good lets her go. It’s been said that the movie’s writers wrote the scenes and dialogue each night before the next day’s filming. How I envy them. To have the ability to create dialogue and to have actors who could say the words and perform in such a way to make the film one of the greatest films of all time. This year is the 75th anniversary of Casablanca.

The Maltese Falcon is by far the Bogart movie I enjoy the most. Everyone has their favorites. Vogler calls the anti-hero hero “often honorable men who have withdrawn from society’s corruption, perhaps ex-cops or soldiers who became disillusioned and now operate in the shadow of the law as private eyes, smugglers, gamblers, or soldiers of fortune. Bogart throughout his movie career has portrayed each one of these characters. I recently read Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. The movie is faithful to the book. Dialogue, characters, and plot. Hammett in the book describes the Joe Cario character as effeminate in manner and speech. Peter Lorre is perfectly cast as Cairo. His mannerisms, speech, soft voice, and big eyes are excellent. Hammett wrote that Cario wore a chypre fragrance. Hammett never explains for the reader what chypre smells like. Today’s writer can’t do that. If I wrote he wore a chypre fragrance I’d have to describe it for the reader. Otherwise they’d wonder what chypre was and how it smelled. The reader would lose the story’s momentum. After the third chypre mention I had to Google it. Chypre is a citrus, floral and mossy fragrance with patchouli added. Trivia Point: Badgley Mischika’s fragrance, Coco’s Mademoiselle, Darling by Kylie Minogue, DKNY’s Be Delicious, and Givenchy’s Ange au Demon are top selling chypre based fragrances today.

In the next to final scene in The Maltese Falcon, Bogart explains why he has to turn Brigid, his love interest, in for the murder of Spade’s private detective partner, Miles Archer. At this part of the movie I start laughing. A lot. Why? Two reasons, okay three reasons. First the dialogue is fantastic and every word defines what an anti-hero Hero is. Second is Humphrey Bogart’s delivery. It is emotional, cynical, convincing, and funny. Spade figured out Bridget killed Miles, how and why. He forces her to admit it but she doesn’t believe he’ll turn her in because he ‘loves’ her. She’s right he tells her, he doesn’t want to turn her in but he has to. He didn’t like his partner and was planning to end their partnership. So what if he was sleeping with Miles’ wife. Spade’s analysis of the situation and Bogart’s acting would make a psychiatrist proud. Bogart delivers each line with conviction.”Well if you get a good break you’ll be out of San Quentin in twenty years and you can come back to me then.” And he adds, ‘If they don’t hang you.’ Because as Spade says, he won’t play the sap for her. Spade explains that when a man’s partner is killed, he’s suppose to do something about it. He tells her to not believe the talk that private detectives are crooked. That kinda of talk is good for business, he says. Spade’s knight in shining armor is tarnished but he still knows right from wrong. I’m still laughing as Brigid is being taken away by the police. The shadows on the elevator door look like prison bars. I’m rooting for Spade and feeling sorry for him. He fell in love with a killer. Even though he has his vices, he still has a moral conviction and becomes the ultimate anti-hero Hero. Only Humphrey Bogart could have played Sam Spade. ‘Damn good acting’, as the Turner Classic Movie saying goes. The third reason I’m laughing? My cynical sense of humor.

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  1. A good read. I enjoyed Bogart in the mentioned pictures and hope no one tries to remake any of them. I’m also a romantic and find no matter how cynical he played, Laureen Bacall always smoothed out his edges. The neat thing about them was, you could tell they were crazy about each other and no matter what the scene, it came through.


  2. Yasmine, you’re spot on about Bogie. There will NEVER be another actor with his class and style. He is the perfect man to use as a yardstick for a hero.


  3. Sloane he was and still is an awesome actor. And yes Karen he and Bacall ‘Betty’ were a great pair on and off the screen. Bacall coined the phrase ‘Rat Pack’ because Bogie was an original member. Frank Sinatra joined after Bogart died and everyone thought he started the group. Ha!


  4. You got it, lady!

    “Vogler describes two types of anti-hero Hero. The first is the character who behaves like your conventional hero but is cynical, wounded, and doesn’t let anyone close, and keeps their emotions locked away. Vogler even cites two of Bogart’s biggest movies, The Big Sleep and Casablanca.”

    I’ll watch Casablanca as long as it can be found. This is my problem. I fall these type of guys with no way out and no happy ending. Ha!


    • Yes Minnie. The Maltese Falcon is the other one for me. When Spade tells Brigit he won’t take the rap for her murdering his partner I’m in love with him and respect him even more.


  5. What a trip from the past, reading about Bogey! Thanks for the memories, will have to rewatch these classics, been too long. Wish I could write a male character like him, he held such power on the screen. I agree, the Maltese Falcon should have been on that list. A personal favorite 🙂
    Thanks for an interesting blog, Yas!


  6. Bogart was absolutely the greatest anti-hero in cinematic history. no need for any further discussion there but dont forget about his part in Key Largo. he has no intention of taking on a big city syndicate czar much less his gang also. yet he is galvanized into action by Rocco’s ruthless murder of a local deputy and his callous indifference to the indians com ing for shelter at the hotel during the hurricane’s height. i also think “bogey” was made for ‘film noir’ his facial expressions,brooding adn cynical attitude are perfect for these dark,moody melodramas which are laden with both criminal and social corruption in shadowy urban settings. he is the consummate tough guy,often lonely and stand-offish but almost always takes the moral high ground. did more acting without even uttering a single line than anyone in history.Here’s looking at you,”bogey”. John Huston’s eulogy said everything anyone would need to know about him…”there will never be another like him,he is quite irreplaceable”


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