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TomJH

Bogart Vs. Cagney Vs. Robinson

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They were the three stars of Warner Brothers that most represented that organization's reputation as the studio of tough guys.

 

Stardom came to Robinson and then Cagney at the beginning of the talkies when the gangster film first became fashionable. Cagney's star power during the '30s was incontestable, though he had to constantly battle with the studio over their tightness with a buck acknowledging his money-making status, as well as the quality of what the actor considered to be inferior scripts and dialogue. Robinson, for the most part, it seems to me, didn't get film projects as strong as Cagney's during the depression years.

 

Keep in mind, too, that part of Cagney's appeal was that he was a tough guy ladies man, while that was never the case with the more puglike Eddie G. During those early pre-code years, too, when depression weary audiences sought escape at the movies, Cagney's high energy and on-screen optimism must have been a tonic for them. Warners, in fact, tried to give Jimmy scripts in which his character, while still a rogue or con artist, was not always playing a gangster who had to end up dead in the final reel. Still, his most remembered films of the '30s are those in which Cagney was a gangster dead by film's end.

 

Toiling in the doldrums of supporting mug parts for five years at Warners (1936 to 1941), Bogart would go on to become the biggest star of them all. While Robinson was starting to get supporting or character parts in the '40s (which would continue even moreso the rest of his career), and Cagney quit Warners in 1942 (at the peak of his stardom) in an ill-fated attempt to go independent, Bogie would proceed from his breakthrough roles in High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon to Casablanca superstardom. Also soon to come with that would be his legendary off screen romance with newcomer Lauren Bacall.

 

Cagney, whose career was suffering, returned to Warners in 1949 with a bang - playing Cody Jarrett in White Heat and having one of the most memorable lines in screen history ("Made it, Ma! Top of the World!") in one of the most memorable climaxes to any gangster tough guy film ever made. The '50s, however, would be a time of general career decline for the actor.

 

Yes, he had a couple of shining moments in '50s movies but a middle aged Jimmy was putting on weight and looking a bit tired, sometimes appearing like he was just going through the motions. Always the consummate professional as an actor, Cagney's best days were, in retrospect, clearly behind him after White Heat. He would retire in the early '60s after having problems on the set of a Billy Wilder comedy in which, ironically, he gave a brilliant comedy performance, in my opinion, with, perhaps, the fastest dialogue delivery of his career. Cagney would emerge from retirement for movie roles twice during the early '80s before his death in 1986.

 

Robinson was a victim of HUAC during the '50s. Not in the sense that he was officially blacklisted by the studios, but he was getting either supporting roles in a few A productions or the lead in some minor Bs. Eddie G. had few film highlights during the 50s, following his great Johnny Rocco performance in Key Largo in 1948 (second billed with Bogart but stealing the film from him).

 

Eddie G. would continue to work until his death in 1973, having nice bits in The Cincinnati Kid, as well as his last film, Soylent Green, with a final memerable scene in that production that remains a touching demonstration of Eddie G.'s subtlety and honesty as an actor. But, for the most part, the final decades of Robinson's career are frustrating, I feel, for fans of the actor as he had limited opportunities in which to shine. What a waste! (Still, he did have a great gangland part in Hell on Frisco Bay in 1955, a film that has, unfortunately, disappeared from view).

 

It was Bogart who continued to have the most impressive film career during the '50s, even though death would cut it short in 1957. Unlike the tiring Cagney (after all, he had been the most high energy performer of them all in his prime) or the aging Robinson in supporting roles, laconic, laid back Bogart seemed very much still himself in many ways during the '50s, though he was, as before, still experimenting, at times, with his screen image in some of those roles.

 

Bogart played comedy during the '50s, of a romantic variety in Sabrina or spoof (Beat the Devil) or even an attempt at stage-adapted comedy with a gentle touch (We're No Angels). Of greater renown, however, he would win an Oscar for played a gin-soaked rumpot in The African Queen, and get another Oscar nod for returning to the screen in another paronoid characterization, this time as Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny.

 

Bogart's '50s films, as an overall collection, I think had more hits than misses, and surpassed the quality of the films during that decade of either Robinson or Cagney. More significantly, however, it was during the '60s, while Cagney was retired on a farm and Robinson was toiling to get a good role, that the deceased Bogart was "rediscovered," going on to become an anti-hero cult icon (largely due to Casablanca, it seems) with a legendary status actually surpassing anything that existed for him during his own lifetime.

 

Bogart continues to enjoy that iconic status today, though I sometimes wonder if the youth of today are as familiar with his name and work as were the younger generations of filmgoers from the '60s to '90s.

 

Anyway, what about anyone else? Do you love watching these three tough guy actors, too, and, if you had to pick a favourite, which one would it be, and why.

 

Mine is Cagney. All three were great dramatic performers, of course. Cagney, though, during his prime years, proved to me that he probably had the greatest range of the three as a performer, not just for his high voltage dramatics (though he could also be amazingly sensitive and vulnerable, at times, too), but during his pre-code period he also showed that he could be a great comic performer, as well as, of course, a natural song-and-dance man, as immortalized by his most famous film, Yankee Doodle Dandy (though, personally, I get a bigger kick out of Footlight Parade).

 

I can just imagine the three actors during WWII entertaining servicemen, and it's impossible for me to believe that Cagney doing his song-and-dance patter was not a heck of a lot more fun to watch than either Eddie G. or Bogie doing rather tired tough guy shticks or poking fun at those images.

 

But that's just my take. And I know there are bound to be some fierce Bogart and Robinson fans ready to make a case for their favourite. And, maybe, just maybe, a few other Cagney buffs too.

 

 

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*Mine is Cagney. All three were great dramatic performers, of course. Cagney, though, during his prime years, proved to me that he probably had the greatest range of the three as a performer, not just for his high voltage dramatics (though he could also be amazingly sensitive and vulnerable, at times, too), but during his pre-code period he also showed that he could be a great comic performer, as well as, of course, a natural song-and-dance man, as immortalized by his most famous film, Yankee Doodle Dandy (though, personally, I get a bigger kick out of Footlight Parade).*

 

Mine is Cagney too, Tom, for this very reason you write (and eloquently too, I may add). I love all three, but I would vote for Cagney as the most versatile.

 

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I disagree in terms of versatility. Bogart and Cagney could both play the good guy, OR the bad guy with equal aplomb. So could Robinson. But Robinson could also play the INTELLECT( which in fact, he WAS) while the other two, although not mental midgets in real life, could not, IMO.

 

 

But I do have to agree that for pure energy onscreen, Cagney had it heads and shoulders above the other two. This kind of debate about the three of them has come up often over the years, even while the trio was still alive, and to their credit, it was my understanding that neither of them paid such debate much attention, and had nothing but the highest respect and admiration for each other.

 

 

Sepiatone

 

 

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I think Bogart deserved as many starring gangster roles as Cagney got as he showed what he was capable of in High Sierra. Bogart imo could be far more believable as a hardened criminal than Cagney. Cagney could spruce up his portrayals with humor and other things but Bogart could be far more believably mean and ol' Edward G. was just plain magnificently beautiful with whatever role he took on...*"What's that? I can't hear ya I'm kinda deef!" ROCCO!!!....."Oh. He said Rocco."* :^0 :^0 :^0

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I like them all and for different reasons. Sepiatone I agree with you about Robinsons playing the intellectual but also a broader set of roles.

 

One film high on a list is "Our Vines Have Tender Grapes." Robinson is terrific in that film. As much as I enjoy the work of the others I really can't see them in that kind of role.

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I think EGR was the most verstile of the three, but I belive Cagney's top work is the best of the three. Bogart lags slightly, although I loved him in TTOTSM.

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finance, Treasure of the Sierra Madre has always been my favourite Bogart film with my favourite Bogart performance. I think he's brilliant in the film. Having said that, I find Walter Huston's performance in the movie is the one that mesmerizes me more than any other.

 

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As you already know I favor Cagney. All three men were Great but Cagney had more to offer. Cagney had more magnetism and was very handsome as a young man. So he was more appealling to women. He also could be very romantic. Cagney was also better at comedy and song and dance. Cagney to me was the Whole Package! Having said all this I still love the other 2 and the work they did.

 

 

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You said it, crazyblonde7. Cagney was the best, up there with Grant. VERY sexy, both.

 

Bogart was okay, but he was no song and dance man. But hoo boy, he burned up the screen with his Baby. Burned.it.up.

 

Both, however, were light years better than EGR in the SAAM department. As disgusting as Duryea was in Scarlet Street, I'd have to choose him over EGR. Then again, I'd dump both in favor of a dog.

 

 

I'd rather eat glass than think of going on a date with EGR. Ick and blech.

 

 

That said, I'd dump Cagney and Grant and Bogie and Powell (William and Dick), hot men all, in favor of the hottest man in all of cinema, Warren William (my future husband, icyf).

 

 

------------- sigh ----------------------- :x

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>I find Walter Huston's performance in the movie is the one that mesmerizes me more than any other.

 

Well OF COURSE you would Tom! Didn't you pretty much base your whole earlier stated "Cagney preference" on the fact that he could also DANCE?!

 

And thus, because Walter wasn't half bad in that department TOO...

 

 

 

...THIS is probably why your attention was drawn away from Bogie and Tim Holt so much in that flick...RIGHT?! ;)

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You're correct Tom; In my favorite actor ranking, Bogart is #2, while Cagney is #6.

 

I also agree that Cagney was the most versatile of the 3.

 

 

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Beautiful song alright, willbe. This one and Hoagy's "Stardust" maybe being two of my favorite old standards.

 

(...though as well as Walter did the song there, I always preferred the version "The Schnozzola" did in the early '60s...yeah, I know Jimmy really couldn't ever "carry a tune in a bucket", but somehow he brought so much "pathos" to it in his recording)

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First it was The Petrified Forest and now this!

 

Stardust is my favorite old standard. The chord changes are very unique and it is a difficult song to play.

 

 

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Then we have even MORE to talk about while you'll be here, eh James?! ;)

 

(...looks like I better plan on gettin' an extra 6-pack of Fat Tire or 1554 Porter for us, 'cause now I'm gettin' the feelin' that THOSE might be YOUR favorite brews TOO, huh?!) ;)

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LOL

 

Yeah, it kinda looks that way, doesn't it Twink!

 

(...sort of a "Cagney/O'Brien" thing, eh?!) ;)

 

Edited by: Dargo2 on Jul 7, 2013 12:25 PM

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Tom, first, wow, my man, just an incredibly lay down there of three of my favorite actors of all time!!! Wow! I love the WB style of the early to mid-30's and these 3 figured prominently at that time! And into the 40's with Bogie really doing most of the big stuff by that time, but wow, all of these are totally groovy!!!

 

 

I can't really choose, they all bring strengths to the table. All of them, while similar, are distinctly unique in their style and approach as well as their respective screen presences.

 

Eddie G is not just one of my favorite "tough guy" actors, but he's probably my absolute favorite actor of all time!!! He could just do no wrong for me no matter the role or flick!

 

But really...all of these mugs could turn my cinematic experiences totally on, and send me into a groove orbit! Love all of them!!

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Mine is Robinson. I feel he is the more versatile of the three. Cagney is good, but lacks the charisma of Robinson, IMHO. I never thought of Cagney as a ladies' man; I've always found Robinson more attractive. And I'm just really starting to appreciate Bogart; to me, he just seemed to be Duke Mantee in every role. Then I saw "In A Lonely Place", and my opinion of him changed. Edward G. Robinson steals practically every scene he is in, and whenever he steps out of "gangster mode", he is fantastic. He played such a willing victim in "Scarlet Street", and although he was a cheating husband, I felt genuinely sorry for him as the doormat of Kitty March. But I think the role that gave him the #1 spot for me was his portrayal of Dathan in "The Ten Commandments". He slithers around throughout the film and I detest him; but after he inherits the master builder's home and is enjoying the fruits of his labor, at one point he sniffs a jar of fragrance and puts some of it behind his ears. It's the way that he did it, with such attention to detail that made me wonder if a lesser actor would have chosen to do the scene in that way. It is unfortunate that he was caught up in the HUAC; I'm pretty sure there would have been a lot more outstanding performances left for us to enjoy.

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Funny how I've gotten to *like* all three of these giants more and more as time goes by, while at the same time I'm less and less thrilled with most of their movies. Too much exposure, I guess, but when I think of my 100 favorite films I have a hard time coming up with any of theirs that would be in the top 50 or even 75. But if I lost my memory and had to start from scratch, I'm sure my enthusiasm for their films would be quickly revived, beginning with The Public Enemy, Little Caesar, and probably High Sierra or Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

 

It's also mildly ironic that while Cagney is the most clearly virile of the trio, it was only Bogart who's remembered for his romantic roles. When I think of Cagney and women I'm more likely to think of grapefruits than of Paris.

 

As for choosing among them, it's impossible, since their screen personae were all so dynamic and just plain interesting. Robinson was the most versatile, Cagney the most energetic, and Bogart the most likely to play a complex character. But if I had to choose one of their repertories to take onto a desert island, I'd probably go with Robinson's, if for no other reason that I'd probably have more surprises in store.

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Thanks very much, willbefree. It was lovely to hear that heart felt rendition of September Song by Walter Huston. The song had been the highlight of an only modestly successful 1938 stage musical Huston was in, Knickerbocker Holiday. In 1950 Huston's rendition of the song was used again in the film September Song, becoming a number one hit on the charts, ironically the same year as Huston's death.

 

Walter Huston was raised in Toronto. The row housing on Major Street that had been his home as a young boy was, unfortunately, torn down about twenty years ago. I have thought of visiting the street, though (it's near Kensington Market for those who know the city), wondering if the houses still existing on the opposite side of the street might still be the original structures that Huston saw as a young boy.

 

In any event just a couple of months ago another house in which Huston lived, on Wellesley Street, went up for sale for almost 2 million. It's an impressive three storey red brick house that has been declared a heritage property. I'm sometimes in that part of the city but have yet to take a look at this very striking renovated structure. I have no idea how much of the house today is reflective of the home that Huston once knew.

 

Evelyn Keyes, after her years with John Huston, said that the best thing about being married to the quixotic director was having Walter as her father-in-law.

 

I guess most Bogart fans feel some degree of affection for Huston for that wonderfully wise old bird of a performance he gave as Howard. Huston brought great depth to his characterization, which included a sense of decency. And, as Dargo pointed out, Huston did one joyous gold dance in that film that is pretty hard for anyone to forget.

 

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>Evelyn Keyes, after her years with John Huston, said that the best thing about being married to the quixotic director was having Walter as her father-in-law.

 

I can imagine that, Tom. Years ago I read John Huston's autobiography, "On Open Book", and I recall him admitting that his relationships with most of his five wives were often rather "prickly", and especially as I recall, his marriage to Keyes.

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