Tag Archives: Ingrid Bergman

High Sierra: Bogart’s Breakthrough Role

17 Mar

HIGHSIERRA_2Lead character Mad Dog Earle is a cold-blooded killer at the beginning of High Sierra (1941). But by the end he’s helped heal a disabled young woman and fallen hard for a cocktail dancer named Marie (Ida Lupino), in a rare noir western that would be the breakthrough film cementing Humphrey Bogart’s A-List Star status. Unlike Private Investigator Sam Spade, the main character in the Maltese Falcon, also made in 1941 and starring Bogart, Roy Earle is a hardened criminal. The character is the literal half-way point for Bogie’s evolution from B-movie gangster tough guy to screen preeminence as ultra-cool, bowtie and tuxedo wearing Rick Blaine in Casablanca (1942).

HIGHSIERRA

Bogart’s breakthrough-role involves the wide-ranging emotional landscape Bogart would dominate in from the early-40’s into the early-to-mid fifties. But in 1941, he was breaking into the mainstream as a tough guy with a heart. Bogart’s characters would still be tough and more than able to defend themselves, simultaneously someone you wouldn’t want to mess with while every woman in the world secretly wanted to be in love with – they would mellow over time like fine aged whiskey.

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High Sierra is known for being the movie where Bogart showed true range. He let’s himself fall in love with Marie – yet remains wildly unstable. And while the film may seem dated to some, unlike Falcon and Casablanca which seem to retain their style and freshness timelessly – High Sierra is well worth-watching to see the genesis of the Bogart character coming into it’s own. Mad Dog has a vulnerability that is meant to be ironic and against-type, and it’s exactly the role Bogart needs to test the romantic waters for Casablanca.

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Bogart was not at all sure audiences would buy him as a romantic lead in 1942. It was the experience of shooting High Sierra that gave him the initial confidence to take the Casablanca role. And while Sam Spade was toying with Brigette O’Shaunessy (Mary Astor), through most of Maltese Falcon, Rick is truly smitten with Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) in Casablanca. The vulnerability Bogart is able to show and still remain manly and tough in Casablanca began in High Sierra. I won’t spoil the ending, but just watch for the moment when Bogart’s Roy Earle decides maybe love is worth sacrificing for, if not the greater good.

Humphrey-Bogart_HIGH SIERRA

Bogart with his trademark Mad Dog Earle haircut yukking it up with his High Sierra director, Raoul Walsh.

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CINEMUSES: INGRID BERGMAN – PARADISE IN PARIS

7 Jan

I’m a student of film and grew up loving the stars of Pre-Code, through to the 40’s and 50’s. Especially the leading ladies. And no other leading lady captured my young imagination and set my adolescent heart afire more than Ingrid Bergman.

I first met Ingrid, the beautiful Swede, as many did in Casablanca. It’s hard to argue Casablanca isn’t the finest American film ever made, largely because of the performances by Bergman and her leading man, Humphrey Bogart. Bergman embodied the role of Ilsa, a young woman with a secret who falls head over heels in love with Rick when they meet in Paris right before the German occupation of the City of Lights during World War II. This we find out in flashbacks, framed in the knowledge that Ilsa betrayed Rick and ever since has been the disillusioned, bitter owner of the most popular watering hole in the desert location on the North African continent.

Any film lover will tell you that Casablanca is meticulously constructed. Film students like me pour over every frame of film, literally, in books such as (Warning: Film Geek!) “Casablanca:The Film Classics Library.” But what I only realized just recently, after having watched the movie repeatedly for over twenty years, is the theme of closure. Never having gotten over losing Ilsa, Bogart’s Rick walks around like an open wound, the not-knowing what happened to his lost love gnawing at his guts all these years later. This betrayal is central to the narrative and everything hinges upon what Rick will do once he finds out why Ilsa betrayed him. And maybe even more to the point – whether she ever really loved him in the first place.

My favorite scene when I was a kid, was the moment at the airport near the end when Rick lets Ilsa go. But after having loved and lost myself, my new favorite is when Ilsa comes to Rick’s the night before and ends up pointing a gun at his heart to try and get the letters of transit. Rick tells her to shoot – she’d be doing him a favor by putting him out of his misery. At this very moment, Ilsa’s resolve melts and she falls into her true love’s arms. At that moment Rick’s faith in love and humanity is restored by the only person on earth with the power to do so – Ingrid Bergman.

Bergman is at her most beautiful in Casablanca. Her face radiates youth and beauty. She exudes a wholesome sensuality that makes everyone in the film fall immediately in love with her and want to help her. We can all relate to Rick, having once been so lucky to have been loved by such a woman, then left standing in the rain at a train station with a cryptic dear john letter melting in his hand, his heart broken in a million pieces. Only an insanely beautiful woman could do so much carnage, made all the worse by depriving her loved one with the reason why; with closure. It doesn’t really matter what the reason is, just the not knowing. That’s when the mind will turn on itself. Fueled by liquor, cigarettes and rage, Rick represents everyone who’s ever had their “guts kicked out” by a beautiful woman. And Ilsa is the only one who can put us out of our misery.

I have a feeling that Casablanca will continue to fascinate me for decades to come. No doubt, there are more surprises to come as I live and dare to love again. And having been deprived closure by a lover like Rick, I still would love to know why I had my guts kicked out. But I also know I’ll never get Paris back, because that only happens in the movies. That’s why I’ll never stop being fascinated by Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. Because she taught me that even though someone says they don’t love you anymore, a part of them always will. The part worth remembering. Paris.