RARA-AVIS: RARA AVIS, Bogie, et al

From: Dixon H. Chandler II ( dchandler@nettally.com)
Date: 13 Aug 2001

Mark Sullivan said:

>It made me realize how, to me, Bogart is the voice of hardboiled. Of
>course, he portrayed both of the iconographic PIs, Spade and Marlowe, so
>it's not surprising that his voice is now so identified with the genre.

I agree that it was a revelation. His earliest work is rarely seen, and it's true he played mild-mannered characters, but it's not as if he carried the picture in a John Boles Good Guy part. Bogart's work prior to this wasn't always good guys as much as it was filling whatever bill needed filling on the Warner's lot. Duke Mantee in the Petrified Forest, the gangster in High Sierra were only part of a 1930s career that included lots of gangster and convict parts, often second banana to Edward G. Robinson or James Cagney. Such as roles in San Quentin, Racket Busters, Angels with Dirty Faces, The Roaring Twenties the underrated western The Oklahoma Kid (opposite Cagney) and The Return of Dr. X (as a vampire!). But the sneer, the damn-it-all-to-hell attitude he bought to Spade really breaks with what had come before. And I agree, Huston's not to be sneered at. His framing is perfect, his pacing right on the money, and he was smart enough not to mess with the dialogue, lifting largely from Hammett.

And Mr. T. wisely adds:

>delivery, both perfect for Marlowe. I *wouldn't* want to
>see Cary Grant as Marlowe. He would be too florid and would
>end up swallowing the movie. This is not to slight this

Yeah, Grant is too ... I dunno, too Big Movie Star. His presence is too great, just as James Stewart's was. Only Hitchcock could really make those two stars disappear away from their star power, and have their performances shine through. This isn't to slight either actor, either. Both still gave great performances in other venues, Stewart's 1950s Westerns in particular. But after Cary Grant became CARY GRANT, it was tough to see him as a literary character ... I suppose that's true of all Movie Stars of the era, though. Such was the nature of the star system.

Back to Marlowe. I prefer Dick Powell to Bogart. Bogart was Spade, but somehow he seemed to be rehashing for Marlowe. Powell bought a gentility to the role, and his cynicism seemed more effective. Possibly that's because I
(and then-contemporary audiences) knew him as a song and dance man? Or because he was fighting to overcome that perception? I don't know, but I've always preferred his Marlowe to Bogie's.

An entirely different Spade, since we're talking voices, was Howard Duff on radio. Again, cynical, world-weary, but producer William Spier emphasized the sense of humor. I can live with both his and Bogart's versions of the characters.

But Mitchum's ... nope, I agree. Not smart enough.

Just my two cents,


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