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Positively 104th Street

There’s a new biography of Humphrey Bogart. From the write up in the New York Times Book Review:

Experience had engraved itself on his face. By the time his film breakthrough came, he was 42 and already wearing the vestiges of betrayal, loss and resignation that would bring the shadow of a back story to every role he played. Photographs of Bogart in the 1920s, when he was in his 20s, show a bright-eyed, smooth-cheeked actor whose features haven’t set yet. The transformation took place before we made his acquaintance. The Bogart we came to know on the screen was mature when he arrived, with compressed emotions, an economy of gesture and a compact grace in movements that were wary and self-contained, as if all the world were not a stage but a minefield. Kanfer’s book takes its title from Raymond Chandler, who approved of the decision to cast Bogart in “The Big Sleep” as Philip Marlowe, the hard-boiled detective he had created, because Bogart could be “tough without a gun.”

…Bogart’s appeal was and remains completely adult — so adult that it’s hard to believe he was ever young. If men who take responsibility are hard to come by in films these days, it’s because they’re hard to come by, period, in an era when being a kid for life is the ultimate achievement, and “adult” as it pertains to film is just a euphemism for pornography.

One of the reasons I like Benicio Del Toro is because he’s got a face with some character. So many of the leading men today are hopelessly pretty, and when it comes to playing tough, they just don’t cut it.


1 Sliced Bread   ~  Feb 5, 2011 11:06 am

you know who's currently a great actor with a great face? Michael Imperioli. Check out his new show. Excellent work.
Not saying he's a bigscreen Bogart type, but he has one of those great acting faces described above.

2 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 5, 2011 11:20 am

Yup, closer to a character actor than a leading man. Also, there is a huge difference between leading men on TV and on the big screen. Imperioli is a TV star, not a movie star. Not a knock on him just the truth.

3 williamnyy23   ~  Feb 5, 2011 11:23 am

Amen to that last line. The same is true of actresses to a lesser degree. Nowadays, they all seem to be cut from the same cloth.

4 williamnyy23   ~  Feb 5, 2011 11:25 am

[1] He probably is a good actor, but his Sopranos role has really typecast him in my mind.

5 Sliced Bread   ~  Feb 5, 2011 11:27 am

[2] yeah, and sometimes TV stars become movie stars: Travolta, Hanks, Will Smith immediately come to mind. All guys with good faces, and multiple expressions, all much deeper people than you'd think from their TV roles. I think Imperioli is capable of being bigger than he is.
Speaking of Hanks, I'm still floored by his performance in Cast Away. That movie would have been a disaster with a guy who didn't have the right face for it. He was perfectly cast.

6 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 5, 2011 11:36 am

6) One thing I found interesting is a note that Steven Soderburgh gave to Clooney early in Clooney's movie career. Said that Clooney had a tic of burying his chin into his chest on TV, and it was OK on tv but was awful on the big screen. Said his only note to Clooney when they were doing "Out of Sight" was to keep his chin up.

Guess that worked.

7 Sliced Bread   ~  Feb 5, 2011 11:38 am

6) that is interesting. Clooney owes Soderburgh big-time for that note. Subtle adjustment, and hello $20 mill per movie.

8 williamnyy23   ~  Feb 5, 2011 11:39 am

[6] "Keep your chin up"? Hmm...that's a new one.

9 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 5, 2011 11:45 am

8) If you ever see an old episode of ER with Clooney, check it out. Amazing what a subtle change can do to make a huge difference. Clooney also has a great generosity as a leading man--Marky Mark has this too in "The Fighter"--where he lets the cast around him shine.

10 Sliced Bread   ~  Feb 5, 2011 11:48 am

looking forward to seeing "The Fighter." I've heard mixed things, but I'm pretty sure I'll like it. I'm a sucker for a good boxing story.

11 RagingTartabull   ~  Feb 5, 2011 12:00 pm

Wahlberg gave one of the more understated leading man performances I've seen in a while in The Fighter, but it totally worked. Especially when you have two really BIG performances by Melissa Leo and Christian Bale, three would've been too many. I really enjoyed it.

12 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 5, 2011 12:08 pm

[6] Hah! During Clooney's ER days, my Dad used to always bitch about George's chin into chest move. He would do an impression of it every week. I, too, recall that it was Soderbergh on Out of Sight who made him knock it off. He would stop takes if Clooney did it.

There's been a weird thing happening to the leading man over the last decade. Somehow, they've all become baby faces - pretty and callow-looking young men whose faces don't show any experience or hardship. Gyllenhaal, DiCaprio, Maguire, et al. Even Matt Damon to an extent. I suppose they appeal to women, and largely, they're good actors, really, but something is missing.

I recall talking with my brother years ago when Pearl Harbor came out, and we were lamenting the lack of cool male stars. He said "With Paul Newman or Steve McQueen, you'd watch them in a movie and as a guy, you wanted to BE that guy. I don't want to be Ben Affleck."

13 RagingTartabull   ~  Feb 5, 2011 12:17 pm

[12] I don't know if I'd put DiCaprio in there, back in Titanic days sure. But I think once Scorsese got a hold of him he did a good job of uglying it up, especially in The Departed

14 williamnyy23   ~  Feb 5, 2011 12:23 pm

[9] I remember Clooney in a role on a Golden Girls episode, and his acting was pretty bad, so he definitely came a long way.

15 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 5, 2011 12:27 pm

[13] Scorsese has pulled a complexity and depth out of DiCaprio (and his expressive face) that I didn't think was there, but c'mon, he still looks young for his age. Lee Marvin, he ain't.

16 Sliced Bread   ~  Feb 5, 2011 12:29 pm

alas, they all can't be Nathan Lane. Now there's a leading man.

17 RIYank   ~  Feb 5, 2011 12:53 pm

Forest Whitaker.
Not a leading man, but he has that dangerous quality, when he wants to project it.

18 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 5, 2011 2:13 pm

It is funny that Leo D does so many tough guy action roles. I dont believe him as tough at all, but also thought he was out of his league in the movie with Kate Winslet about the depressed suburban couple. He does have charisma and I can see why Scorsese likes him. He was droll in "catch me if you can" so I am a little surprises he hasn't tried his hand at romantic comedy. Then again the scripts for romantic comedies these days are thin.

Maybe he will grow out of his boyishness. Bogart didn't hit it until he was in his 40s.

One thing I find annoying is his every actor and actress seems to show off their
Muscular arms and figures. It is like they care more about going to the gym than they do about acting. I'm happy that they are fit but it is boring to watch and makes them look the same an I don't think being in shape necessarily translates to sexiness.

19 Branco   ~  Feb 5, 2011 9:28 pm

I find it difficult to admire "tough-guy" actors these days. Back in the day, you'd have a real job before becoming an actor. You'd spend your 20's gaining experience as a blue collar working man, and then have something real behind your eyes when you got in front of a camera. These days, actors are groomed from childhood. I'm sorry, you can't be believably tough if all you've done with your life is play make-believe.

20 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 6, 2011 10:15 am

[18] Gee, like our man Affleck in his own film, The Town? Man, Jeremy Renner steals every scene he's in, and Postlethwaite does likewise. Affleck just isn't as interesting. Now Renner I'd like to see more of - he's got a Cagney-like quality to him.

21 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 6, 2011 11:40 am

20) So true. Would have loved to see Renner in the lead role but I don't know that Affleck gets the movie financed unless he plays the lead.

22 Matt Blankman   ~  Feb 6, 2011 12:30 pm

[21] Odds are that in the near future, Renner will be the bigger star. At least we can hope so.

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