What is it that makes Bogart so romantic? The confidence, or the tortured look that knows what it belies? His career is filled with men that were fallen, torn, but wanted to be more than that were. Perhaps that’s the reason that today he reads not only as the atypical tough hero of his day but someone that we all are.
There is a story (which the great Peter Bogdanovich told on stage last night at the Paramount) that Bogart was asked why he was so much more handsome in CASABLANCA. His response? “When you’ve got a woman as beautiful as Ingrid Bergman looking at you like you are adorable, you’re adorable”, which could easily be said about Audrey (or Katherine) Hepburn as well. Bogart’s best work was always done with a strong female sparring partner. Hawks cast Lauren Bacall because he was looking for someone “more insolent” than Bogey. His interplay with women, a knowledge that is mixed with regret, is integral to his character. Bogart is a man who wants a better world and a better life, but doesn’t believe it’s possible. His secret is that he still wants to fight for it anyway.
I think this finally is what makes Bogart such an appealing presence. Unlike Gary Cooper, the man we all wish we were, Bogart was something more human: the man we all hope we could be with our backs to the wall.