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This year Maltese Falcon (1941) celebrates its 75th anniversary and despite the passing years, cinema lovers’ enthusiasm for lead man Humphrey Bogart shows no sign of abating. This spring, fashion house Aquascutum, who originally made Bogart’s trademark trench coat, are bringing back his classic mac to the shops, and in October the annual Humphrey Bogart festival will return to the rather fitting location of Key Largo, Florida, with a host of special screenings and activities centered around the star.
Gallery owner Bruce Marchant takes a look at the films that made him famous, and the posters that have become the backdrop to Bogart’s immortality as an icon.
Casablanca is perhaps the obvious place to begin.
If you asked 100 people what the most famous film of all time was, odds are Casablanca (1942) would come up very high in the polls. This much loved wartime drama is perhaps the best known of the Bogart canon and its popularity is demonstrated nowhere better than in the market for the original posters. Casablanca posters have fetched over £100,000 at auction and private sales. During World War 2 Warner Bros. had to make huge cut-backs and produced mostly three colour posters. The US six sheet was the only large full colour poster produced. Some of the best and most sought after posters are foreign language pieces. The Italian, French, Australian and Polish posters are particularly sought-after.
The go-to gangster.
Bogart’s first public stage appearance was early in 1921 and it wasn’t until the late 1930s that he began to carve a serious Hollywood career. His acceleration to stardom was down to his great talent at playing tough guy front men, well suiting the post prohibition mood for film noir and rebellious crime drama. Bogart as mobster “Baby Face” Martin in Dead End (1937) was one of his first memorable roles in this style. For me, no other actor has ever come close to Bogart and his peers Edward G Robinson and James Cagney in perfecting the gangster act.
Directed by the greatest.
Bogart’s talent as an actor was given fertile ground to flourish as he worked with some of the most gifted directors of the twentieth century. Michael Curtiz directed more than 150 films in all, many of which became cinema classics including Casablanca, for which he won Oscar for Best Director and earned Bogart a nomination for Best Actor. Achieving Academy Award success, though, came nearly a decade later for the actor with The African Queen (1951). Bogart thanking director John Huston in his acceptance speech. Huston and Bogart were kindred spirits both on and off screen and worked together on five films including the celebrated Maltese Falcon (1941). Finally, a must-mention, director Howard Hawks not only cast Bogart in two blockbuster productions, he was also responsible for Bogart’s meeting of co-star and future wife, Lauren Bacall on the set of To Have and Have Not (1944).
Bogart and Bacall.
First introduced on set when Lauren Bacall was just 19 years old and twenty-five years his junior, Bacall and Bogart fell deeply in love and married the same year as filming. Their union from then on was unwavering, as was the quality of their talent on screen together, stand outs being The Big Sleep (1946) and Key Largo (1948). Only parted by Bogart’s death in 1957, for many this super star couple lived out the Hollywood love story in real life – another reason for Bogart’s legendary status.
The one to watch.
The African Queen (1951) is a personal favourite and the first serious poster I ever collected. It’s such a lovely story and one of the rare times in that period that a Hollywood movie was shot on location outside of the United States.
This film is considered to be one of Humphrey Bogart’s and Katherine Hepburn’s most enduring collaborations and the only film during Bogart’s career to clinch him an Oscar. Under the masterful direction of Huston, the production is truly magical, despite the challenging filming conditions in the sweltering jungle of the Belgian Congo (today known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Hepburn suffered from dysentery for much of the filming like much of the crew. Huston and Bogart escaped ill health allegedly because they consumed more alcohol than contaminated water during filming.
A film so good, they made a film about it.
There is such a fascination with The African Queen, its un-Hollywood production and fantastical making, that Clint Eastwood made White Hunter, Black Heart in 1990. This film is based on the 1953 book of the same name by screenwriter Peter Viertel telling of his experiences whilst filming The African Queen deep in the Belgian Congo. Key figures like producer Sam Spiegel, Hepburn and Bogart, all feature in the film under different names. The main character – brash director John Wilson, played by Eastwood – is based on real-life director Huston.
The man in posters.
Humphrey Bogart original film posters have always performed well, particularly the major titles. The foreign film posters happen to be some of the best – and at the higher price bracket – have become the rarest and most collectable. The original Italian poster for To Have and Have Not (1944) is a classic example of superior artwork to its US counterpart. The best poster for Maltese Falcon is the French design with stunning stone lithography (see our 2016 catalogue). The American poster for the same title is actually quite disappointing, as designers used an image from High Sierra (1941), and the poster was not full-colour due to financial cut-backs during World War 2.
In 1987 I bought one of the rarest British one-sheets known to exist on The African Queen. I still have it today and love it – it’s gone up over 10 times in price since then. It’s particularly interesting as it displays a key cultural reference of the fifties. At the time of production, producer Sam Spiegel was blacklisted under McCarthy and so his name could not be used. You can instead see at the bottom of the design ‘Produced by S.P.EAGLE’ as a cunning disguise. The artwork for this British piece is also truly spectacular.