Cinemagic happens when certain actors and directors join forces. John Wayne and John Ford made 14 gems, like Stagecoach, The Searchers and The Quiet Man. William Holden and Billy Wilder teamed for three (Sunset Blvd, Sabrina and Stalag 17, which earned Holden his Best Actor Oscar). Then there’s six-time collaborators Humphrey Bogart and John Huston, who became fast friends, on-screen and off, after Huston launched Bogie to stardom in The Maltese Falcon (1941).
The pair’s most productive year was 1948 when Warner Bros. released The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in January and Key Largo in July. Although Huston directed Walter Huston and Claire Trevor to Oscars in those flicks, Bogie’s work went unrewarded by the Academy. Despite the snubs, both Bogie-Huston movies are prime examples of symbiotic artists operating at peak capacity.
Writer Joseph F. Bressi neatly sums up the pair’s legacy: “The combination of Huston and Bogart covered a period of 16 years and produced at least three classics...In working for Huston, Bogart was able to achieve any level he wanted. His ability as an actor goes beyond the mystique of the ‘Bogart cult’ and as his portrayals in [The Maltese Falcon], Sierra Madre and The African Queen bear out, he was able to play more than the one role for which he is most remembered...Bogart had acted under many directors, but it was John Huston, his greatest director, who eulogized him.”
Bogie slayed it as Fred C. Dobbs in Sierra Madre, though John and his father Walter took home a trio of Academy Awards that night. Talk about a charming acceptance speech! Walter said, “Many, many years ago, I raised a son, and I said, ‘If you ever become a director or a writer, please find a good part for your old man. He did alright.’” Bogie was blown away by Walter’s performance, quipping, “One Huston is bad enough, but two are murder.”
Key Largo was an Oscar orphan, but a box-office hit, thanks to fine actors in a taut tale co-written by Huston. Bressi recaps the plot: “Here Bogart is starred with Edward G. Robinson and Lauren Bacall...The action is centered on a Florida hotel temporarily seized by desperate men hiding out from the police. The mood is typified by the intervention of a hurricane, which parallels the tensions created by the group trapped in the hotel.” In less capable hands, Key Largo could have been a ho-hum gangster pic. What elevates it is the quality of Huston’s script and direction, matched by the terrific supporting cast (Lionel Barrymore and Trevor).
Once again, Bogie was the bridesmaid at Oscar time, with Trevor winning Key Largo’s only prize, which she locked up during this scene as a boozy floozy singing for her (liquid) supper. Turns out, she was reacting, not acting. As IMDB.com dishes, “In a classic case of a director being emotionally manipulative, Huston did not inform Trevor about when she was to perform her song solo until the day it was shot. Trevor was not a trained singer, and she had not rehearsed the song yet. She also felt very intimidated that she had to perform the song for the A-list actors seated directly in front of her. The result was a hesitant, nervous, uncomfortable rendition--exactly [what] Huston was hoping to get.”
In 1951, Huston (finally) directed Bogie to his only Best Actor trophy for The African Queen. Here’s a link to that moment, in which Bogie gives a nice shout-out to Huston. Six years later, Huston’s eulogy nailed the essence of his screen muse and BFF: “He was endowed with the greatest gift a man can have: talent...His life, though not a long one measured in years, was a rich, full life...We have no reason to feel any sorrow for him – only for ourselves for having lost him. He is quite irreplaceable. There will never be another like him.”