The Best of Bogart Collection (Warner, Blu-ray)
Humphrey Bogart was the first Hollywood star I ever embraced. Watching him hold down the center of Casablanca with a pose of populist existentialism covering his wounded romanticism (“Where were you last night?” “That’s so long ago, I don’t remember.” “Will I see you tonight?” “I never make plans that far ahead.”), I thought he was the coolest cat I’d ever seen on the screen. A few years ago, Warner Home Video boxed up 24 Bogie films for the impressive DVD set Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection. Now they collect four of the definitive Bogart films previously released on Blu-ray for a smaller HD box set: the definitive Hollywood romance Casablanca (1942) and three films directed by John Huston, The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and The African Queen (1951), which is a Sam Spiegel production and a Paramount release that Warner licensed for this set.
The Maltese Falcon, the directorial debut of stalwart screenwriter Huston and the film that made a star of Warner contract player Bogart, was the third adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s detective novel classic but the first to capture the hardboiled toughness of the novel and the vivid vipers nest of double-dealing thugs and con artists on the trail of a treasure like junkies chasing the ultimate fix. One-time Hollywood nice girl Mary Astor goes blonde, brazen, and absolutely ruthless as hard-hearted treasure hunter Brigid O’Shaughnessy who lies as easily as most people breathe, Sydney Greenstreet is the garrulous Kasper Gutman, keeper of the Falcon’s lore, Peter Lorre is the weaselly Joel Cairo, and Elisha Cook Jr. became a cult figure as the rat-faced gunsel and small-time thug Wilmer Cook. But it’s all built on Bogart’s incarnation of Sam Spade as the great hardboiled private detective, a mercenary with a code of ethics just slightly less vicious than characters he keeps company with. Like the man says, this film is the stuff dreams are made of, and it is the Bogart that Hollywood embraced and that America still loves: insolent, individualistic, a romantic under his hard-boiled hide. He played this character, in varying degrees, throughout the rest of his career, epitomized in his defining role as the wounded cynic in Casablanca. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Hollywood and Bogart.