LIKE MANY classic Hollywood stars, Humphrey Bogart first became known to me via Looney Tunes. Remember that one with Bugs Bunny and the penguin and Bogart kept showing up and asking if they'd help a fellow American down on his luck?
While I doubt Eight Ball Bunny will be a surprise entry at Cinema 21's mini-Bogart film festival, You'll Take It and Like It, the fact the legendary actor was so easily caricatured is likely one of the reasons he's still so famous. The best performers in Hollywood's Golden Age were as much a brand as they were artists, acting in projects that were catered to their particular image. Thus, in all three films lined up for this weeklong celebration, Bogie plays a guy who can't help but do the right thing, even when it's against his own self-interests. Rick in Casablanca, Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, and Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep are all superficially interchangeable. The keen observer will note, however, that their existential backbones are poised at different stoic angles. The private detectives aren't mere clones of one another: Sam Spade is a self-serving animal who'd steal that Falcon himself if the crooks would stop being so crooked, whereas Marlowe keeps chasing the truth because he couldn't live with himself if he didn't.
The subtle differences—the ways Bogart makes each character distinct, while still remaining Bogart—is exactly what makes Bogart, well... Bogart. He was always a star audiences paid good money to see, yet he was also someone wholly new. The You'll Take It and Like It selections may seem a tad obvious, but they're also Bogart at his best. They call them classics for a reason, and you can't get more classic than Humphrey.