Few, if any, actors from Hollywood’s Golden Age could claim to rival Humphrey Bogart when it comes to being cool, iconic, and simply legendary on screen. The prolific star didn’t have the longest of lives, passing away at the age of 57 in 1957, but throughout the 1930s, ‘40s, and the first half of the ‘50s, he worked tirelessly in the realm of feature films, giving great leading and supporting performances alike.
Humphrey Bogart was also notable for how well he could play characters of varying moral quality, as he could be heroic, deliciously evil, or somewhere in between. His classics, like Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and The African Queen (to name just a few) are all incredibly well-known, but Bogart had dozens of great movies that aren’t as widely known, and sometimes get a little buried within his filmography. The following movies are among these underrated films, and are ranked below, starting with the somewhat under-appreciated and ending with the criminally overlooked.
10 ‘High Sierra’ (1941)
Director: Raoul Walsh
Starting with a fairly well-known Humphrey Bogart movie that nevertheless isn’t one of his most beloved or iconic (though it’s not too far off), High Sierra came at a point in the actor’s career when he started shifting from supporting roles to more central/leading roles. He’s billed second here, with co-star Ida Lupino getting top billing, but both emerge as having a similar amount of screen time/presence in the film itself.
High Sierra revolves around Bogart’s character getting released from prison and instantly getting back into the swing of his prior criminal lifestyle, with his plan in the film involving the robbery of a resort that spirals out of control. It’s a great Golden Age of Hollywood gangster movie, and a clear showcase for Bogart’s talent at making even villainous or nefarious characters feel surprisingly relatable and compelling.
9 ‘Dark Passage’ (1947)
Director: Delmer Daves
Humphrey Bogart married actress Lauren Bacall in 1945, and the two stayed together until Bogart’s passing in 1957. Throughout their careers, they starred in a total of four films together (plus a cameo appearance as themselves in a mostly forgotten comedy called Two Guys from Milwaukee), with Dark Passage being the most underrated of the main four they appeared in together.
It’s got the sort of “man on the run” premise that usually works within the film noir/thriller genres, revolving around a prison escapee trying to prove his innocence for the murder of his wife, a crime which he was found guilty of committing. It’s most memorable, arguably, for the sequences that don’t necessarily depict Bogart’s character, but instead show things from his point of view, throughout the film’s opening act. When Dark Passage becomes more traditionally presented following this, it remains quite engaging and rock solid, as far as 1940s thrillers go.
8 ‘Beat the Devil’ (1953)
Director: John Huston
Released towards the end of Humphrey Bogart’s film career, Beat the Devil is an undeniably odd movie, but its scrappiness and willingness to uncompromisingly do its own thing does add to its charm and memorability. The plot combines adventure and comedy genres, focusing on a group of shady characters who are all motivated by greed to obtain land in Kenya that’s purportedly rich in uranium.
The making of Beat the Devil is legendarily chaotic, what with much of it being apparently written on the fly, as well as for the fact that Bogart himself was seriously injured on set. The fact it’s intended to be a comedy does help much of the messiness inherent within the film easier to overlook or even outright accept, and it’s worth watching simply because of how distinctive and over-the-top it manages to be, compared to many other films that either starred Bogart or were directed by John Huston.
7 ‘The Roaring Twenties’ (1939)
Director: Raoul Walsh
Released during a particularly great year for American cinema, The Roaring Twenties is a fantastic 1930s movie that, as the title implies, looks back on the prior decade, particularly in regard to Prohibition. The outlawing of alcohol in the U.S. during this time drives the conflict of the film, which revolves around friends who become partners in bootlegging, only to find that this becomes a source of conflict and rivalry, leading to betrayal and violence.
The Roaring Twenties is unapologetically a “rise and fall” sort of gangster story, but it tells this otherwise familiar narrative well, and it still retains a certain amount of power when watched all these decades later. Part of that’s undoubtedly thanks to the acting, too, with both James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart in particular turning in dynamite performances.
6 ‘Dead End’ (1937)
Director: William Wyler
William Wyler began his directing career during the silent era, and went on to direct two Best Picture-winning war movies in the 1940s, as well as one Best Picture-winning epic in the late 1950s. Somewhere in the middle of all that, he was also the director of Dead End, a movie that features Humphrey Bogart as a mobster known as “Baby Face” Martin, following the various encounters he has when he returns home to his New York City neighborhood.
It hits all the beats you’d expect a crime movie made in the 1930s to hit, but is nevertheless fairly engaging and a good showcase for Bogart. Dead End featured one of his bigger roles up until that point, and though the film overall can feel a bit scattershot in parts, it’s still got a good Bogart performance at its center, making it a worthy title within his filmography.
5 ‘They Drive by Night’ (1940)
Director: Raoul Walsh
Not only was the 1940s a great decade for cinema, but it was also when Humphrey Bogart truly emerged as a star, given the 1930s was a decade where he mostly had supporting roles. They Drive by Night was ultimately a film where his role wasn’t the lead, but was nevertheless one of the last key supporting performances he gave before he established that leading man status.
They Drive by Night has Bogart fourth-billed overall, and playing the brother of George Raft’s character. Both are trying to make it as independent truck drivers, all the while continually clashing with an assortment of shady characters who are all trying to disrupt the brothers’ small business. It gets the job done, as far as crime dramas from this era go, and is a more than solid watch that still largely holds up.
4 ‘The Petrified Forest’ (1936)
Director: Archie Mayo
Running for just 82 minutes and thereby feeling appropriately lean and snappy, The Petrified Forest is a great 1930s movie that feels underrated despite its impressive cast, including not just Humphrey Bogart, but also the likes of Leslie Howard and Bette Davis. Those latter two play two hostages in love, while Bogart portrays the villainous character who’s taken them and various other people hostage at an isolated diner.
The Petrified Forest starts off feeling fairly intense and just ratchets up that kind of emotion as it goes along. It’s always exciting and interesting, and was a very good early showcase for Bogart’s talents in playing an antagonist. Perhaps one could accuse it of feeling a little too straightforward, but the no-nonsense attitude when it comes to both its premise and its runtime ultimately works in service of the film as a whole.
3 ‘The Desperate Hours’ (1955)
Director: William Wyler
Humphrey Bogart’s penultimate film, The Desperate Hours, saw him re-teaming with William Wyler, the director of Dead End, as well as returning to the kind of villainous role comparable to the ones that first got him noticed in the 1930s. Like in the aforementioned The Petrified Forest, Bogart plays a character here who takes a group of people hostage. In this instance, it’s a suburban family.
The premise is an inherently great one for a crime/thriller sort of movie, and The Desperate Hours utilizes it well, with Bogart also rising to the occasion and being a successfully menacing antagonist. It’s a testament to how high he’d risen that despite playing a villain, Bogart still got top billing here, unlike what was the case for many of his earlier antagonist roles back in the 1930s.
2 ‘Conflict’ (1945)
Director: Curtis Bernhardt
A simple title foreshadows the simple premise of Conflict, as well as hinting at the brief runtime it all plays out during (under 90 minutes, when all’s said and done). This ensures Conflict works undeniably well as a no-nonsense thriller, following a plot that audiences will know is going to go wrong right from the start, given the main character has a plan to murder his wife so he can marry her sister.
Bogart excelled within the film noir genre, and though films like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep are legendary and well-loved, Conflict flies a little under the radar, and deserves more love as a result. It’s a tight and undeniably well-paced movie, and should inevitably deliver the goods for anyone who’s in the mood for a good old-fashioned film noir experience.
1 ‘All Through the Night’ (1942)
Director: Vincent Sherman
A World War II movie that was released the same year as Casablanca, while the war in question was still very much being fought, All Through the Night is much more than “just” a war movie, and shouldn’t be mixed up with the aforementioned (and similarly titled) They Drive by Night. All Through the Night rivals Beat the Devil when it comes to being tonally all over the place and eclectic in its mix of genres, being a war movie, a comedy, a thriller, a film noir, a crime film, and even something of an action movie.
All Through the Night centers on an unlikely and surprisingly heroic gang who band together to take on Nazis who are planning on destroying an American battleship. It’s a little silly and strange at times, but also remains hugely entertaining for a film of its age. It’s possible even to label it criminally underrated, considering it’s not often brought up as one of Bogart’s best movies, even though it probably should be held in much higher regard.
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