Bogie by the Numbers: Flickchart’s Top 10 Humphrey Bogart Movies
The best Humphrey Bogart impersonation I’ve heard is Mel Brooks’ impression of his sister, Linda Bogart. Humphrey had no sister named Linda. It’s an absurdist joke: Brooks tells the audience he does Linda Bogart, then proceeds to do a perfect Bogie. The bit only works because the imitation is spot-on; if it were a bad Bogie, people would wonder if it really was meant to be Linda and what exactly the joke was. But when Brooks did his Linda Bogart on The Dick Cavett Show, he nailed it and the audience got it.
Bogart had one of the most distinctive voices in film. It’s slurred but controlled, deep but fruity, murmuring but not gravelly. In movies, he often pitches it at people accusingly, and in the same moment he sounds woeful and aggrieved. The voice suits the characters: Fred C. Dobbs, a recreant man who sinks into paranoia; Rick Blaine, a cultivated cynic; Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, archetypical loners whose heydays correspond exactly with the popularity of the word “hardboiled.”
But Bogart’s first public role was anything but hardboiled. It was soft and mushy, actually: he was the Mellins Baby Food baby. His mother Maud, who was trained by the great American artist James Whistler, painted the picture. Popular legend says that Bogie was the Gerber baby, but now you know: it was Mellins.
The legend and the man were tough to untangle even in Bogart’s lifetime. His birthday was always given as Christmas Day, 1899 in publicity materials, but skeptical biographers perpetuated the somehow more believable myth that Warner Bros, which owned Bogart’s contract, faked the date to make him more appealing. He’s also known as a founding member of the Rat Pack of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin fame. At a prematurely aged 57 he was its elder statesman, but he died before the informal group of hellraisers had reached its second anniversary.
Bogart married his fourth wife Lauren Bacall, twenty-five years his junior, after they appeared together in 1944’s To Have and Have Not. The match appeared unseemly to many, notably to producer/director Howard Hawks. Yet it was the longest marriage either of them had, lasting 12 years and ending only with Bogart’s death from esophageal cancer in 1957. They were well-suited vocally: both spoke in lower registers than might have been comfortable, and that practice combined with incessant smoking caused them to develop a vocal cord disorder now known as “Bogart-Bacall Syndrome.” Fortunately, the affliction did not prevent Bacall from having a substantial voice acting career later in life, as late as the 2000s and 2010s, but it may account for why Bogart is nearly impossible to impersonate.
That the difficulty hasn’t stopped people trying, from Woody Allen in Play it Again, Sam in 1972 to J.K. Simmons on Saturday Night Live in 2015, is a testament to the number and quality of Bogart roles etched into the pop culture canon. Flickchart has three of them in the top 100 and another seven in the top 1000. They are:
1. Casablanca (1942)
- Flickchart ranking: 14
- Flickcharters who have it at #1: 686
- Flickcharters who have it in their top 20: 6648
- Wins 62% of matchups
Naturally Casablanca tops the list. The wartime romance, made years before anyone knew how the conflict would turn out and whether France would ever again be free, tops a lot of lists, including the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Passions and Leonard Maltin’s list of the greatest studio films. When movies got darker in later decades it became fashionable to accuse Casablanca of lacking artistic depth, inasmuch as its narrative is straightforward and its characters are broad types. But the former is irrepressibly moving and surprisingly funny, while the latter are enlivened by superb character actors like Claude Rains and Peter Lorre and a peerless romantic lead in Ingrid Bergman. One-liners abound, and a thousand loving parodies have paid homage. Always at their center is the heavy-smoking, heavy-drinking, tuxedo- or trenchcoat-wearing figure of Rick (Bogart), a reluctant do-gooder who stands up to Nazism belatedly but firmly, not unlike the United States from which he hails. By the time the movie came out in the winter of 1942-43, the American army had liberated large portions of North Africa including the city of Casablanca. Billy Wilder tells a version of that story in his 1943 film Five Graves to Cairo, which makes a fun double feature with Casablanca.
- Flickchart ranking: 59
- Flickcharters who have it at #1: 4
- Flickcharters who have it in their top 20: 191
- Wins 55% of matchups
Virtually all American crime-based morality tales, from the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men to AMC’s Breaking Bad, owe a great deal to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The plot is simple enough: three men go into the high desert in search of riches, but the gold they seek can only be borrowed, not owned, and at the cost of their souls and their lives. Early in his career Bogart played a lot of gangsters and cheats, but he never had a role darker than Fred C. Dobbs. Dobbs isn’t obviously a bad guy; at first he’s just a hustler, an aspiring entrepreneur even, willing to work but eager to make enough not to have to. He’s the protagonist, our guide through the movie, wiser than Tim Holt’s greenhorn and apparently saner than Walter Huston’s old prospector. But by the end these dynamics are fully reversed, and the darker elements of Dobbs’ nature have taken over. Bogart was snubbed at the Oscars, perhaps splitting the nomination voters with his appearance that same year in Key Largo, but The Treasure of the Sierra Madre won three of the big awards.
3. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
- Flickchart ranking: 93
- Flickcharters who have it at #1: 55
- Flickcharters who have it in their top 20: 976
- Wins 55% of matchups
The topmost of Bogart’s PI roles is one of cinema’s finest book-to-film adaptations, often cited as a rare case of a movie improving on the written word. It’s also an instance of a remake bettering the original: the first Maltese Falcon had come out a decade earlier. The titular falcon, a black statuette bound up in the history of the mystical Knights Templar, is the McGuffin to end all McGuffins. This was the first collaboration for Bogart, Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet, who would appear together in Casablanca and several other Warner Bros films in different combinations. The Maltese Falcon plays out primarily in offices and parlor rooms, eschewing big shootouts and alley chases of the sort that punctuate the number 4 movie on this list, but its stylized back-and-forths between a gumshoe, a femme fatale (Mary Astor), and an almost vaudevillian pair of antagonists are just as thrilling in their way.
4. The Big Sleep (1946)
- Flickchart ranking: 103
- Flickcharters who have it at #1: 7
- Flickcharters who have it in their top 20: 174
- Wins 52% of matchups
The Big Sleep has a plot so confusing that even the author of the novel, Raymond Chandler, claimed not to know whodunit. It’s a great atmospheric work, impenetrably thick with intrigue. It’s also flush with supporting actress roles, boasting not one but three female characters who are much more strongly characterized and aggressive than usual for a 1940s crime yarn. Bacall leads as the bemused coequal of Philip Marlowe (Bogart), Martha Vickers contrasts her with a tawdrier turn, and Dorothy Malone’s rare book expert steals the show behind thick librarian glasses. The Big Sleep plays to Bogie’s skills as a flirt as much as to his cold, jaded demeanor, and stands out from the pack.
5. The African Queen (1951)
- Flickchart ranking: 263
- Flickcharters who have it at #1: 4
- Flickcharters who have it in their top 20: 137
- Wins 45% of matchups
There’s a scene in The African Queen where Bogart’s character, a drunken boat pilot, watches Katharine Hepburn’s prim missionary pour out a case of liquor into a muddy river, one bottle at a time. I have seen the moment referenced on a large mirror behind a bar as an advertisement for the brand in question: Gordon’s Gin. It’s a memorable visual that uses the movie’s setting, the river, to good effect. Director John Huston chose to shoot on location in the Congo and Uganda, a part of the world now sadly unlikely to host a major Hollywood production starring two of the industry’s most bankable stars. Hepburn and most of the crew got violently ill, but though the color photography shows how much Bogart had aged since the height of his career less than a decade earlier, he somehow escaped the tropical sickness. The African Queen plays a bit like a travel documentary with its interstitial scenes of monkeys and hippos, but the simple love story between two classically mismatched characters has made it a beloved entry in both Hepburn and Bogart’s filmographies.
6. In a Lonely Place (1950)
- Flickchart ranking: 300
- Flickcharters who have it at #1: 2
- Flickcharters who have it in their top 20: 15
- Wins 61% of matchups
Bogart broke new ground in the late 1940s by leaving Warner Bros to start his own production studio, Santana Productions. At a time when the studio system was essentially the only game in town, this was a gamble, and its success was limited. In a Lonely Place was Bogart’s third independently-produced title, and it provides him with one of his most personal and emotional roles. His character is, as usual, a dour man and a drinker, but as a writer he is also a perceptive judge of character. The film is a critical favorite, but its box office take was unremarkable, and Bogart eventually sold Santana Productions to Columbia Pictures.
7. Key Largo (1948)
- Flickchart ranking: 350
- Flickcharters who have it at #1: 1
- Flickcharters who have it in their top 20: 38
- Wins 46% of matchups
Where Casablanca depicts an American taking up the good fight, Key Largo belongs to the fine tradition of aftermath films. Bogie plays an army veteran and Bacall a soldier’s widow. Postwar life in the Florida keys isn’t all sunshine; there are deadly dangers to face even at home. The movie unites not only the starring power couple, but frequent Bogart director Huston and a sterling supporting cast including Claire Trevor, who won an Oscar for the film, and Edward G. Robinson, one of the top character actors of his generation.
- Flickchart ranking: 387
- Flickcharters who have it at #1: 4
- Flickcharters who have it in their top 20: 77
- Wins 48% of matchups
Billy Wilder films are notable for, among other things, casting that is either eerily perfect (Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim in Sunset Blvd) or brilliantly against type (Edward G. Robinson as a moral center in Double Indemnity). Bogart in Sabrina is a little bit of both. It’s not that Bogie hadn’t been a leading romantic man before, and he was famously married to a much younger woman, but he still didn’t seem an obvious match for the sprightly Audrey Hepburn. And yet that was the point: in Sabrina Hepburn is first attracted to William Holden, overlooking the steadier, sadder, older Bogart. Certainly he is well-suited to convey those traits, but whether you buy her change of heart is another question.
- Flickchart ranking: 566
- Flickcharters who have it at #1: 0
- Flickcharters who have it in their top 20: 16
- Wins 53% of matchups
Bogart never looked like a leading man. Even when he was young he sported a droopy lower lip, watery eyes, and a deeply crevassed forehead. So he started as a character actor, filling memorable bit parts like James Cagney’s crooked lawyer in Angels with Dirty Faces. When people say movies lacked ambiguity in the studio era, I think of the ending of this classic. It leaves you wondering, along with the street urchins referred to in the title, “Did he or didn’t he?” The “he” there is Cagney, not Bogart, but the movie is easily good enough for a spot on Bogie’s top ten despite the tertiary nature of his role. Angels with Dirty Faces was directed by Michael Curtiz, who helmed Casablanca four years later.
10. To Have and Have Not (1944)
- Flickchart ranking: 611
- Flickcharters who have it at #1: 2
- Flickcharters who have it in their top 20: 19
- Wins 58% of matchups
Even film buffs who haven’t seen this loose Ernest Hemingway adaptation can quote its most famous line, in which Bacall tells Bogart how to whistle. Like the earlier Casablanca, To Have and Have Not takes place in a Vinchy territory during the war, and Bogart plays an entrepreneur slow to throw in his lot against the Nazis. There’s even a pianist (Hoagy Carmichael rather than Casablanca’s Dooley Wilson) who provides the meet-cute between Bogart and his leading lady. While certainly not as beloved as Casablanca, this effort is iconic enough to hold the 10th Bogart spot on Flickchart by a comfortable margin.
The Caine Mutiny has the best Bogart performance that doesn’t crack his Flickchart top 10 or the global 1000—by a pure acting metric, it would be at or near the top of this list. The Roaring Twenties, Bogie’s second gangster film with Cagney, master of the genre, is another notable one that just misses the cut. The addition of those makes an even dozen for one of the suavest, coolest, most inimitable movie marathons you could put together around a single actor.