Humphrey Bogart is a Hollywood screenwriter that drinks too much, fights too much and brings women home at all hours of the night. When a hat check girl he brings home winds up being too innocent even for him, he sends her away to a cab stand. When she winds up dead, his only alibi is his new neighbor across the courtyard, a woman he is destined to fall in love with.
This is my second viewing of the film, and it struck me as much more nuanced this time around. The crime in this film is murder, but the search for the killer is not the thrust of the film. Instead, what we are treated to is the tension of watching a potentially violent man being pressured from two sides: Under suspicion for murder, and finally meeting the love of his love, a woman he could never let get away. Screenwriter Andrew Solt teases us with the duality of the character. Early on we get scenes of Bogey deciding not to take advantage of a young girl, and favoring an old, out-of-work drunken actor interspersed with scenes of him slugging a boastful director and being stubbornly uncooperative with police. We are not left to wonder which is the real Bogey, we are told he is both, it's just that the line in between his two sides is very fine.
Bogart is very good as an egotist. Every slight is taken personally, and everyone is under the hand of his wrath if they begin to act beyond what he wants them to. The only one seemingly immune to his wrath is Robert Warwick, who is so drunk he lacks the ability to act. Yet he is a foil for Bogey, the example of the benevolence possible when you are no threat to him, but revered, as Warwick continually heaps poetic praise upon him. There is the agent who sticks with him, subject to his verbal and, ultimately, physical abuse. There is the girlfriend that got out, an actress who told the cops she broke her nose walking into a wall. And there is Gloria Grahame, the new girlfriend, who sees all of this develop and devolves into self-doubt and paranoia.
Although Bogart is not the killer (I don't think I'm spoiling anything here), the film examines just how much responsibility for each other's lives. How much is Bogey responsible for the death (and life) of the hat check girl. And how much are the cops responsible for what ultimately happens to Bogey?