As noted, I have been using the occasion of TCM’s recent Humphrey Bogart retrospective (from which I taped no fewer than 25 films) to seek some larger patterns in Bogie’s career. At least as interesting as his working relationships with lesser-known directors such as Lloyd Bacon [see “Makin’ Bacon”] were his collaborations with Mark Hellinger, a writer-producer from the Walter Winchell school of journalism. They did not get off to an auspicious start, as Hellinger reportedly penned an uncredited treatment for Racket Busters (1938), which I have already mentioned unfavorably. But then, one of his stories served as the basis for Raoul Walsh’s The Roaring Twenties (1939), which—although it did not offer Bogie much more than the “supporting-gangster” role he often played opposite Warner Brothers stablemates James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and George Raft in that period—was at least one of the most accomplished of those films, and proved to be Cagney’s last gangster role until Walsh’s White Heat (1949) a decade later.
As a result of its success, Warners made Hellinger a producer, and it’s noteworthy that although Bogie played gangsters in three of his four consecutive Hellinger-produced efforts, the films and his roles varied considerably. It All Came True (1940) is a light-hearted film in which Bogart, while on the lam, takes refuge in a boarding house populated by eccentrics who (along with Word-Man fave Ann Sheridan) gradually reform him. Brother Orchid (1940) is a similarly comedic crime caper, in which Robinson—left for dead after an attempted rubout orchestrated by rival Bogart—finds temporary refuge in a monastery. A change of pace was Walsh’s excellent They Drive by Night (1940), with Raft and Bogart as trucker brothers. Bogie loses an arm after falling asleep at the wheel, while Raft gets Sheridan; the scene in which Ida Lupino cracks up on the witness stand, after she falls for Raft and then jealously frames him for the murder of hubby Alan Hale, is classic. Finally, Bogie took a big step toward stardom with his multifaceted gangster Roy Earle in Walsh’s High Sierra (1941), co-scripted by John Huston, who would soon make his directorial debut with Bogart’s breakout hit The Maltese Falcon (1941). If you’ve ever had a hankering to see Eddie (Green Acres) Albert as a lion-tamer, check out the one he made (post-Hellinger) in between, The Wagons Roll at Night (1941). This remake of Bogart’s own Kid Galahad (1937) substitutes the big top for the boxing ring, with Bogie, Silvia Sidney and Albert in the roles originally played by Robinson, Bette Davis and Wayne Morris. It’s almost certainly the only film in which Bogie meets his fate at the claws of a lion…and no, I’m not making this up.
But I digress, as usual. For the next few years, Hellinger flitted back and forth among Warners, Fox, and Universal, during which time he joined Bogart in front of the camera, playing himself in a cameo in Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943). Bogart’s own scene is mercifully brief, as a tough guy who is browbeaten by, of all people, S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall (delightful as Carl, the waiter in Casablanca), but because the film was one of those all-star studio extravaganzas to raise funds for World War II, I will not complain. Hellinger died suddenly (at 44) in 1947, but not before he had produced the noir classics The Killers (1946), Brute Force (1947), and The Naked City (1948)…and, alas, one of Bogart’s all-time worst films, The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947), in which he plays a wife-killer (as he did in the similarly unfortunate Conflict ) targeting Barbara Stanwyck as his next victim.