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Sunday, 27 February 2011

Cooper and Bogart: The Hero (Manny Farber)


Gary Cooper in The Virginian
(1929): film poster

The older-fashioned hero is a long-bodied, long-armed man whose air is one of troubled silence, and who grew up in the bleaker parts of the country to be shy, honest and not given to excesses. He doesn't seek success, but because he is a physical genius he reaches the hero class and performs there as a good honest man would. He is probably the most likable person to see winning so many rewards, especially when his person is that of Gary Cooper (who had as much to do with shaping this movie personality as anyone else), Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda. His career, which the earliest pioneer first hacked out and which Hemingway revived by opening new worlds for him to conquer, is apt to be an untroubled one of physical superiority; but the faint tinge of tragedy latent in his personality sometimes leads at the end of the picture to the fact that he or his wife will die or that he must leave her in some far-off desert oasis, singing in a cabaret, to prove that the twain of East and West cannot meet for very long. Though he seems made for lonely nights out on the range, the picture of his love life is always one of wholesome, perfect physical compatibility, and he is a conscientious, non-professional lover. He is seldom bothered about money, since he works outside the civilized world of business, and his few excursions into that world are in the roles of philanthropist or savior ("Mr. Deeds," "Mr. Smith").

File:For Whom The Bell Tolls trailer.jpg

Ingrid Bergman and Gary Cooper in
For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943): screenshot from film trailer

The hero played by Mr. Bogart, which grew out of the gangster film and Dashiell Hammett detective novels, looks as though he had been knocked around daily and had spent his week-ends drinking himself unconscious in the back rooms of saloons. His favorite grimace is a hateful pulling back of the lips from his clenched teeth, and when his lips are together he seems to be holding back a mouthful of blood. The people he acts badly toward and spends his movie life exposing as fools are mainly underworld characters like gangsters, cabaret owners and dance-hall girls (and the mayor whom he puts into office every year). Everything he does carries conflicting quantities of hatred and love, as though he felt you had just stepped on his face but hadn't meant it. His love life is one in which the girl isn't even a junior partner in the concern, his feeling about life is that it is a dog kennel, and he believes completely in the power of the money which he steals or works everyone else's fingers to the bone to earn. He is the soured half of the American dream, which believes that if you are good, honest and persevering, you will win the kewpie doll.

File:Humphrey Bogart in The Petrified Forest film trailer.jpg

Humphrey Bogart in The Petrified Forest
(1936): cropped screenshot from film trailer

Manny Farber: The Hero (excerpt), from The New Republic, 18 October 1943, in Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber, 2009

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