The National Theatre screens a series of films each summer downtown. They've become so popular that, after last summer's Hitchcock tribute, the theater began holding its mini-festivals year-round.
But there's no better time to relax in an air-conditioned theater than during a heat wave, and this summer sees one of the best film programs yet. "Here's Looking at You, Bogart: A Hollywood Legend" offers eight films starring the man many consider the greatest actor ever to grace the screen. The program started last Monday with "Casablanca."
The rest of the films in the Bogart series, which runs Mondays at 6:30 p.m., are almost as good: "The Big Sleep," "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," The Maltese Falcon," "Key Largo," "The African Queen," "Sabrina," and "The Caine Mutiny."
|If you go|
|'Here's Looking at You, Bogart: A Hollywood Legend'|
|Where: National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW|
|When: 6:30 p.m. Monday; through Aug. 20|
|Info: Free admission|
" 'The Maltese Falcon' was really his big role that established him as a Hollywood star," said John Loomis. He's the theater's corporate administrator who programs the film series. "It was a B-film that a lot of people turned down before Bogart agreed to do it." Ronald Reagan was one of them. Both Bogart and his co-star, Mary Astor, were about the studio's fourth choices. It, too, is a masterpiece.
"A lot of people consider 'The Maltese Falcon' the beginning of film noir. Not only with the story lines, but the style of the film. There are many shadows that are created, such as Venetian blinds falling across the characters' faces. There's lots of symbolism there, symbolizing entrapment," Loomis says. And if you had to pick a single actor that epitomized the film noir tradition, Bogart would be your man.
Bogart brings a special charm to the big screen -- and what's great about the National's series is that they allow you to see these films the way they were meant to be seen.
"He's not a classic, good-looking Hollywood actor," Loomis stated. If you're going to talk about "beautiful" actors -- and Loomis says he hates that term -- you'd name Cary Grant and Gary Cooper. "One reason Bogart, in my opinion, attracted such large audiences is that people could identify with him. He's a good-looking guy, but he's not a matinee idol. But he gets the girl like Ingrid Bergman or Lauren Bacall. That's pretty amazing."
The eight films on show are varied, but in most of them, Bogart plays a similar type of character: the cynic with a heart of gold.
"His characters have their own moral code that might not agree with what society said was the law, but that audiences could understand," Loomis said.