The story of one of the most famous iconic actors of the 20th Century – Humphrey Bogart.
We drop in 1934 when Bogart (Kevin O’Connor) is a struggling actor. He spends his time earning money winning chess games. At age 34 he lands a job in the play The Petrified Forest as Duke Manatee, which results in his big break and it becomes his window to worldwide stardom.
While his acting career is a success and he’s becoming one of the most popular film stars around, his personal life is rocky.
During a tumultuous, violent marriage to actress Mayo Merlot, Bogie meets his true love with co-star Lauren Bacall (Kathryn Harrold). It will be a Hollywood romance both onscreen and off, before his death in 1957.
This is one of those shoddy, lightweight television movies that were popular during the late 1970’s and early 80’s. It breezes over Bogie’s life in such a careless way that it really doesn’t offer any reason to watch it, other than to see how the actors do filling the roles of famous people. None of them make it worthwhile either.
It’s a patchwork of clichéd scenes in an uninvolving story of Bogie’s life. It’s not like we’re following along this man’s life, witnessing how events unfold, thus gaining an understanding of who this man was. It’s more of a poorly done cliff notes version of Bogie’s life that includes all the major beats, but it never provides any context to them or has them offer any insight into who this man was.
Why did he become so popular from The Petrified Forest? Why did he stay in such a turbulent marriage to Mayo for so long? Why was being cast in Casablanca such a break? Why was sailing his lifelong love? Why was he drawn to Bacall? What was so special about this nineteen-year-old and what did she give him that he felt was missing in his life? Why did Bogie feel so strongly about defending the Hollywood Ten?
We see these events take place or get mentioned, but that’s all. They come and go and they’re done. If you want to learn anything more than just a laundry list of Bogie’s life you have to find it elsewhere because this movie won’t delve any deeper into them.
This is the type of movie that somehow manages to crowbar in Bogie’s movie career from 1948 to 1951, him winning an Oscar, his doubt of being a new parent at the age of 49 and Bacall revealing she’s pregnant again all within a scene that lasts about two minutes.
The film’s main focus is on Bogie’s marriage to Mayo played by Ann Wedgeworth, Lana from Three’s Company), which is a series of fights between the two. They were famously known as the “Battling Bogarts”. They have fights in public, she fires guns in their room, they yell, break down doors and make up afterwards.
A topper to one of their brawls is when Bogie is told by a friend that he needs a new door after one of their battles left it destroyed. Bogie reveals a pile of doors in the basement that the studio carpenter makes for him just for these occasions. I have no idea if that’s true or not.
Bogie has a few scenes with Jack Warner played by Richard Dysart. They’re mainly scenes that illustrate that Bogie’s personal behavior is giving Warner headaches and Bogie wants better material and stop playing movie gangsters.
One really ham handed scene is how The Maltese Falcon came into Bogie’s lap. Warner is on of the phone and screams, “Well you can tell George Raft….nevermind.” At which point he offers Bogie the job. Bogie asks, “What’s it called?”, Warner answers, “I don’t know. It’s got some bird in it.”
And that is that.
I started to wonder if they ever did any research into Bogart and what they were trying to do with this movie. I almost get the impression no one was truly interested in him and this bio pic came about only because of his name recognition. It’s not like you learn anything revealing about him from this. I don’t know for sure, but I’m betting Bacall didn’t offer any assistance to this production.
Then we move into the Bogie and Betty relationship. He meets the young Bacall and an instant attraction ignites. There are some very corny scenes that would be mocked if we saw them in a movie today.
Word gets back to Mayo about Bogie engaging in cheesy scenes of riding a bicycle with Bacall and having a picnic with her (ie. they’re having an affair). Mayo refuses him a divorce, but that doens’t stop him from continuing to see Bacall.
Some time later, Bogie leaves Bacall and goes back to Mayo, but we don’t really understand why, only that he tells Bacall he’s still married to her and it’s his responsibility. It’s not a clear explanation and it made me wonder what happened with Bogie’s first marriage that barely gets mentioned. We know he had a first wife, but she’s breezed over.
O’Connor is the man at the center of this shoddy biopic and he’s got the daunting task of being Bogart. It’s a tall order and unfortunately he just can’t manage it. He doesn’t look like Bogie. He doesn’t sound like Bogie. He ends up being a fill-in of Bogart. He isn’t able to craft a performance to make you forget of the real Bogie and it ends up being a major problem with the movie from the getgo.
The whole time watching this and seeing O’Connor puff on cigarettes and try to act like Bogie I kept thinking, “What made them decide to cast him?”
Ok, he might have a slight passing resemblance to Bogart, but O’Connor reminded me more of Morton Downey Jr. than Bogie. Maybe even Lane Smith too! But Bogart…I don’t see it.
Wedgeworth is loud and abrasive as Mayo. She mainly plays a wildcat and again I wasn’t sure what Bogart’s attraction to her was.
Kathryn Harrold comes off the best out of this. She has enough of a resemblance to Bacall and is attractive enough that I could see why she was cast. She convincingly plays this woman having a love for this older man and is savvy enough to keep him in check, but not become the yelling, abrasive wife Mayo had been.
It’s a very cheap production. The sets are bland and generic. There are some antiquated timelapse techniques used. To get across Bogie’s rise of fame we get a slideshow of black and white photos of O’Connor as Bogie in character starring in his series of movies.
It’s actually pretty comical, just at how cheap it looks and how little O’Connor looks like Bogart.
There’s really nothing worth watching in this. I only watched it because curiosity got the best of me. It’s no wonder this has fallen into the cracks of forgettable tv movies. Rather than wasting your time with this poorly made bio pic, watch one of Bogart’s movies or pick up a biography on him. That will be a more rewarding use of your time.
Here’s some scene to scene comparisons of some of the reenactments done in Bogie