By G. Michael Dobbs
AMHERST If there ever was a “classic” movie star who would appeal to new audiences in the 21st century, it might just be Humphrey Bogart.
The characters Bogart played in his prime were often outsiders, cynical and tough, but almost always with an inner decency.
Thanks to the Amherst Cinema, audiences who haven’t been introduced to Bogart’s rough charms will have the opportunity through a summer-long festival of Bogart’s best films.
“He’s still a great favorite and so many of the films he made are still great classics,” Carol Johnson, executive director of Amherst Cinema, said. “There just no doubt there’s an audience for Bogart.”
Showing classics from the United States and other countries is a standard part of their programming, she said.
Last year, the Amherst Cinemas presented an Alfred Hitchock festival, which Johnson said was a huge success.
The tough guy star of “Casablanca,” “The Maltese Falcon” and “The African Queen,” among many others, spent his formative years as a Broadway actor. A stint with Fox Pictures in the early 1930s didn’t amount to stardom and it was only after a return to Broadway where he played Duke Mantee, the gangster on the run in “The Petrified Forest” did he resurface on Hollywood’s radar.
When Warner Brothers bought the rights to the play, star Leslie Howard insisted his friend Bogart reprise his role on screen. The result was a long-time contract with the studio where Bogart was cast and in his estimation, wasted in secondary tough guys and gangsters supporting James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson.
It was only when he starred as hard-boiled detective Sam Spade in director John Huston’s first film “The Maltese Falcon” in 1941 that audiences began to realize that Bogart could be a leading man, but a very different kind of leading man.
After “The Maltese Falcon,” Bogart left the gangster roles for good, although his choices of roles still included people who frequently danced on the line between right and wrong. He often played complex men who clashed with not just authority figures but often had their own inner struggles.
The Amherst Cinemas will show some of the actor’s best films in chronological order beginning with “The Maltese Falcon” on July 3 with a 2 p.m. screening. It will be repeated July 6 at 7:30 p.m.
The next film will be arguably Bogart’s most well known and beloved film, the romantic drama set in World War II, “Casablanca,” on July 10 at 2 p.m. and July 13 at on 7:30 p.m.
All of the films, with the exception of “Dark Passage,” will be presented with new 35mm prints.
“They’re going to look really great on the big screen ... it’s just a completely different experience to see them on the big screen instead of a television,” Johnson said.
The other films include: “To Have and Have Not,” July 17 at 2 p.m. and July 20 at 7:30 p.m.; “The Big Sleep,” July 24 at 2 p.m. and July 27 at 7:30 p.m.; “Dark Passage,” July 31 at 2 p.m. and Aug. 3 at 7:30 p.m.; “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” Aug. 7 at 2 p.m. and Aug. 10 at 7:30 p.m.; “Key Largo,” Aug. 14 at 2 p.m. and Aug 17 at 7:30 p.m.; “In a Lonely Place,” Aug. 21 at 2 p.m. and Aug. 24 at 7:30 p.m.; “The African Queen,” Aug. 28 at 2 p.m. and Aug. 31 at 7:30 p.m.; “Beat the Devil,” Sept. 4 at 2 p.m. and Sept. 7 at 7:30 p.m.; and “Sabrina,” Sept. 11 at 2 p.m. and Sept. 14 at 7:30 p.m.
Of these films, “Dark Passage” is one of my favorites. Bogart plays a man wrongly accused of murder, who undergoes plastic surgery after his escape from prison so he can catch the real killer of his wife.
Another gem actually there isn’t a bad film in the bunch is “To Have and Have Not,” in which a 19 year-old model from New York City named Lauren Bacall made her screen debut and damn near stole the show.
A real change of pace for Bogart was the romantic comedy “Sabrina,” in which Bogart’s older and settled businessman finds himself wooing a much younger woman played by Audrey Hepburn.
For more information, visit www.amherstcinema.org.
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