Bogart, after doing film after film after film where he played a villain in the early 30s, where he always seemed to get shot by Edward G. Robinson, finally got a chance to show another side to his character in Maltese Falcon. The guy was a bit shady, played both sides of the law, but he was tough, he was gritty, and in the end, he did the right thing, even though he did love the girl. He let her hang by her “sweet neck”, regardless of his personal feelings for her.
But because he had only played bad guys, interminably, he was completely baffled and “phobic” (his words) about doing love scenes. He felt awkward, silly, and also embarrassed about the scar on his lip.
His first screen kiss was with the delicious Mary Astor in Maltese Falcon – and apparently he couldn’t get it right, couldn’t grab her right, couldn’t get his act together, couldn’t relax. They did take after take. He started to sweat profusely, and the makeup-guy had to keep running over to dab at Bogart’s face.
John Huston finally exploded, “It’s just a simple kiss, it’s nothing! Grab her, kiss her, turn her loose! That’s it!!”
7 takes later, Huston was finally satisfied.
Mary Astor later said about Bogart, “He didn’t like love scenes. He’s not really a kissing type. But Bogie didn’t have to kiss the girl. He didn’t have to touch her. You knew by the way he looked at her.”
They worked together again in Across the Pacific Bogart still treated the love affair portions of the script awkwardly, embarrassed.
At one point, she pulled back from a kiss and snapped at him, “Try not to knock my teeth out next time!”
Bogart was mortified and mumbled, “I’m sorry, kid.”
Mary Astor then, of course, had to apologize to him because she saw how embarrassed he was.
Bogart said later that, from his years of playing villains, he became used to treating leading ladies simply as colleagues, not romantic or sexual figures, or potential conquests.
And even though eventually everyone figured out that this short balding scarred-lipped lisping man was sexy, he never really figured that out, and never was comfortable with all of that. Bette Davis was sure that that was why his love scenes are so effective.
“He holds parts of himself back. The way men do in real life. Women understand that, they recognize that. It’s very attractive.”
Bogart said to an interviewer once:
“I don’t like love scenes, maybe because I don’t do them very well. It isn’t possible to shoot a love scene without having a hairy-chested group of grips standing four feet away from you, chewing tobacco. I’ll handle that in the privacy of my bedroom, old boy.”
To give you an idea of the vibe around Bogart at the time they were going into Casablanca:
Jack Warner, head of Warner Brothers, apparently said, to Ingrid Bergman, scoffingly, before the shooting began:
“Who’d want to kiss Bogart?”
Ingrid calmly said, “I would.”
Women were ahead of the curve on that one.