A few months back I came across yet another biography of Humphrey Bogart titled TOUGH WITHOUT A GUN: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF HUMPHREY BOGART by Stefan Kanfer. It is a slim volume by Bogart biography standards clocking in at a mere 320 pages compared with others on the same subject. I had read Ann Sperber and Eric Lax’s much large book (720 pages) titled BOGART a few years ago and thought that I had found out a good deal of Mr. Bogart’s life yet for some reason I wanted another take. The author advanced the idea that there are no tough guys in today’s cinema which got me thinking that he is correct to a point that the ‘Tough guy’ role has become the ‘Action hero”
Who do today’s studios have that could portray a world weary, cynical tough guy cut from the same cloth as we see in Classic Hollywood? I tend to agree with what Mr. Kanfer says that there are nothing but “Boy men” personified by the likes Toby Maguire, James Franco, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum, Josh Brolin with the rare exceptions of Tommy lee Jones, Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro and Sean Penn. Josh Harnett did a good turn in the opening of SIN CITY (2005) reminiscent of Dana Andrews in WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950)
Classic Noir often has the detective as the one with the qualities of a cynical acid tongue looking through the world through the bottom of a Scotch bottle and too many cigarettes. Today we give the villain the power to have ruthless odd behaviour while the pursuing Law are often painted as being an ‘Everyman’ reacting as the audience is supposed to. Great example of this is NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) with Javiar Bardem tearing up the screen the bad guy against Josh Brolin. You always remember the bad guy or girl in films as leading men are acted upon.
You try not to say that they “Don’t write them like they did” anymore but it is true. The stories should not be the same as Hollywood has changed the world has changed from the war years of the 40’s and the Cold war/atomic fear of the 50’s. The actors from Classic Hollywood often came by way of the theatre not as the reverse today. I still believe the theatre trained actor has tremendous technique with an ability depending on the group to create roles with accents done properly. It is deadly important to show ‘truth’ in the walk and speech pattern of a role yet that seems to escape many actors of today. Let’s look at Humphrey Bogart as Duke Mantee in THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936). The role of Duke Mantee originated in the theatre with Bogart developing that facial snarl, the shuffle walk and rat like hand movements. Mantee had a face like a clenched fist ready to spring out at you or anyone in his way.
These men and in some cases women all came from a world of War and the fear of the Depression. Many emerged from poor upbringing marred by alcohol, mental illness or just plain dirt poor living in some shack. It is a different time now with stories to tell for a different market. The “tough guy’ and tough Girl” has become the action hero of today populating such CGI films as the FAST AND FURIOUS series, The X MEN, IRON MAN, GI JOE films. Actors can also pick projects shifting from genre to genre giving stronger career latitude. Today people don’t identify actor with certain style of role as they once did except in the Horror film series. Difference can be good yet I still enjoy the rumpled hat and body in the rain leaning against a wall in an ally