A while ago I came across yet another biography of Humphrey Bogart titled TOUGH WITHOUT A GUN: THE LIFE AND THE EXTRAORDINARY AFTER 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, with the rare exceptions of Tommy lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe, Benicio Del Toro and Sean Penn. Josh Harnett, and did a good turn in the opening of SIN CITY (2005) reminiscent of Dana Andrews (A slight facial resemblance) in WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950)
The Classic ‘Tough guy’ is often the Detective who has the qualities of a cynical acid tongue looking through the world through the bottom of a bottle and too many cigarettes. Today we give the villain the power to have ruthless odd behavior while the pursuing Law are often painted as being an ‘Every man’ reacting as the audience. Great example of this is NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) with Javiar Bardem tearing up the screen as the bad guy against Josh Brolin. You always remember the bad guy or girl in films as Leading men are acted upon.
Women of the thirties and forties were different yet some could do “gritty” (non prostitution) roles like Aline McMahon and Ann Dvorak in HEAT LIGHTNING (1934) or Anne Sheridan in NORA PRENTISS (1947).
These and others would give rise to the Femme Fatale of the coming, not named postwar original Film Noir cycle. It would also spawn the chance of female writers and Editors who has always been in Hollywood as shown in the work of Ida Lupino in front and behind the camera.
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 alone with the world has from the war years of the Forties and the Cold war/atomic fear of the fifties. Now we have ‘instant gratification” plus the very real fear of populism in Government and fear mongering of any group deemed different without the cost of accountability.
The actors from Classic Hollywood often came by way of the theater not as the reverse today. I still believe the theater trained actor has tremendous technique with am 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.
Humphrey Bogart as Duke Mantee in THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936) is a strong example. The role of Duke Mantee originated in the theater 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 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 different 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. The resourceful woman is more at home in the Horror Genre with countless examples of being the ‘Final Girl’ in many a franchise old and new.
Actors can also pick projects shifting from genre to genre giving stronger career latitude. This versatility for actors as well as Directors, Writers and others can be two edged in that it give employ ability yet not giving the public identification. Tom Cruise is not Clark Gable yet certain segment goes to see a Tom Cruise film because of him. This segues into Director Paul Schrader’s controversial article on the audience.
(Excerpts from Indie wire article)
“There are people who talk about the American cinema of the ‘70s as some halcyon period,” Schrader said (via Deadline). “It was to a degree but not because there were any more talented filmmakers. There’s probably, in fact, more talented filmmakers today than there was in the ‘70s. What there was in the ‘70s was better audiences.”
“When people take movies seriously it’s very easy to make a serious movie,” he continued. “When they don’t take it seriously, it’s very, very hard. We now have audiences that don’t take movies seriously so it’s hard to make a serious movie for them. It’s not that us filmmakers are letting you down, it’s you audiences are letting us down.”
The “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull” writer went to summarize his point by saying, “If audiences are receptive to a quality movie, believe me they will get it. We’re all just waiting to make it. At that time, that period about ten, twelve years, every single week there was some kind of film coming out addressing a social issue in a fictional form.”
I believe it is not “slag’ of younger people in the audience but a general “call to arms’ for an audience to care making the studios produce better material. One does not have to have the “Cineaste” knowledge or study frame by frame as anyone can acwuire knowledge but few can point to what is interesting. The movie going public has changed with many new platforms for presentation and delivery available. That means more people also more chance of a failure through ‘word of mouth” advertising and the many people and sites including myself that write film criticism and opinion. Difference can be good for a tough story :I still enjoy the rumpled hat and body in the rain leaning against a wall in an ally. They always wore wool even in the rain or the desert heat. Bogart was even tough as a cartoon without a gun.
Actor Lou Telligan who was an actor/sculptor in early Hollywood and had the walk of a “panther” once said to John Carradine when they were both younger: “I love my Men of Sin”. Many tend to agree then: now include the women.