Hour docu plays as a surprisingly balanced, almost unflattering warts-and-all portrait of Humphrey Bogart as seen through the ambivalent eyes of long-haunted son Stephen Bogart, who doesn’t narrate so much as he purges personal demons while separating the film legend from the father he barely knew.
For too long, Stephen Bogart says at the outset, he has been “trying to run away from” being his father’s son.
“But I have since discovered that I am very much like him,” Stephen explains.
That revelation is a decidedly mixed blessing given this show’s verdict on Bogie as a spoiled rich boy who used his considerable family connections to get into the film business, married four times, physically abused at least two of those women, drank to wretched excess and turned out to be a loner and “an uneasy father” who refused to take an infant Stephen with him and Lauren Bacall during the shooting of “The African Queen.”
“He was anti-social,” recalls Stephen Bogart in the show. “The first time you met him, he would try to put you off. The first time he met the great John Steinbeck, my dad told him, ‘(Ernest) Hemingway tells me you’re not a very good writer.’ ”
Stephen’s mother Bacall, however, has only fond memories of the man who has turned out to be the one true love of her life. In a rare interview chatting about Bogie, she fairly glows while singing his praises as a man among men.
John Huston, who directed Bogart in his breakthrough 1941 film “The Maltese Falcon,” as well as in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “The African Queen,” also is seen here in an interview filmed before his death and has nothing negative to add about the Bogart character issue, as they might say in Washington political circles.
The clip-rich hour, timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Bogart’s death, gathers further insights from movie historian Robert Sklar, actress Rose Hobart (who notes pointedly that the young Bogart “loathed” being an actor, believing it “a sissy thing”), biographer Joe Hyams, his business manager Jess Morgan, “Casablanca” co-screenwriter Julius Epstein and Entertainment Weekly film critic Ty Burr.
We are reminded, among other things, that Bogart was a society scion born into affluence on Christmas Day 1899 to a doctor father and an internationally known illustrator mother. We also learn that George Raft turned down the lead in “The Maltese Falcon” because he didn’t want to work with first-time director Huston.
However, we never really do uncover just why Stephen Bogart, an author whose books include “Bogart — In Search of My Father,” suddenly considers himself so much like the abusive, distant alcoholic we see discussed here.
Stephen, still seemingly struggling to come to grips with being the offspring of such a legend at age 48, is seen poring over newspaper clippings about his father or sitting poker-faced in an empty theater as his dad’s films flicker onscreen. The effect is contrived, but we should probably cut the man some slack for the evident load he’s had to cart around.
The two things that no one questions in “Bogart: The Untold Story” — sharply packaged by producer-director Chris Hunt — are Bogie’s acting talent and his love for Bacall.
But if you put all the pieces together, the Bogart puzzle as shown here seems to showcase a profoundly troubled human being who lacked the tact and compassion genes.