Friday, December 4

Bogie & Bacall's 4 Films Together

What a pair.  There haven't been too many screen teams, let alone married-to-one-another screen teams, to cause this kind of excitement.  The public didn't seem to mind that Humphrey Bogart was 24 years older than Lauren Bacall or that he was married, unhappily so.  They made four films together, three of which were quite wonderful.  There were plans to do more but he died at age 57 in 1957.  It was a fascinating relationship, watched at the time by the entire world, it seems.  We're lucky to have these films to see all the magic they dispersed.

To Have and Have Not (1944)
Directed by Howard Hawks

Hawks' elegant wife, Slim, saw Bacall on the cover of Harper's Bazaar and pointed out the willowy teenager to her husband.  He was duly impressed and brought her out to California for a closer look.  Soon he told her he was going to put her in a film he was directing called To Have and Have Not.  It was based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway.  (After it was made, Hemingway bashed it, feeling they did little more than keep his title.  A truer version of this work was filmed in 1950 as Breaking Point with John Garfield and Patricia Neal.)

Bacall was not overly impressed with Bogart when she met him but did find him kind and very funny.  He may have saturated her with humor because she was very nervous the first day on her first set.  Very.  She shook badly.  Her head wobbled.  Her hands trembled so much that she couldn't light a match for the scene.  Hawks instructed her to lower her head until her chin was nearly resting on her chest while looking up at Bogart.  That simple trick, which helped her calm her nerves, unintentionally gave her what was later called The Look

Her character's name was Slim (hmmm) and costar Hoagy Carmichael wrote a song, Baltimore Oriole, that was played just about every time she was on camera.  It was to accompany her as she wiggled across the room... and oh my, have I always remembered that wiggling.  They wanted her to create a sensation.  I'm thinking it worked.  Of course she was also given one of filmdom's famous lines, standing in that doorway... You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve?  You just put your lips together and blow.

The story itself was a slight one.  In wartime Martinique, Steve runs a charter boat operation and will do most anything if the money is right.  He and his alcoholic pal Eddie (Walter Brennan) hang out at a local bar where the engaging Cricket (Carmichael) plays the piano.  (I'm thinking of an earlier Bogart film.  What was it called?  Hmmm.)  Into it walks Slim, a comely pickpocket who can sing a little and their lives are not the same.  Steve is approached to bring a resistance fighter and his wife into Martinique.  Of course it doesn't go well and the smarmy police get involved which keeps us all at attention until Steve, Slim and Eddie head out before the credits roll. 

By the time the filming was over, the Bogart-Bacall love affair had begun in earnest.   It's not my favorite of the four, but it is probably the most famous and it is damned good fun, thanks in large part to Bacall's sexy debut. 

The Big Sleep (1946)
Directed by Howard Hawks


Raymond Chandler's novel was a confusing one which became a confusing plot for the film version (and a remake in 1978) which made it perfect for a film noir.  I consider it one of the best noirs.  Bogart played detective Phillip Marlowe and he was just about the only one above reproach.  All the other characters veered anywhere between suspicious and corrupt.  What could be better?

Confusion or not, it's a fascinating investigation that begins when an old, rich man asks Marlowe to find and get rid of a blackmailer who has been somehow involved with the man's younger, nymphy daughter (wonderfully played by Martha Vickers).  Marlowe receives scorn from the older daughter (Bacall) who misleads and double-crosses him along the way while he finds her irresistibly attractive.  The search leads the private dick to a gambling establishment and thug after thug.  Before the end comes, five or six people are murdered, we realize we're not altogether sure what happened along the way, but we don't care.  It was a fascinating noir with Bogart and Bacall making kiss-kiss and nice-nice at the end.

Behind the scenes at Warner Bros was fascinating as well.  The Big Sleep started filming immediately after To Have and Have Not in 1944 but was not released until late summer in 1946.  The reason for that was that Bacall had made a film with Charles Boyer, Confidential Agent, right after she made The Big Sleep but Agent was released first... to devastating reviews.  Bacall was singled out as perhaps not being all that was said about her in To Have and Have Not.  Perhaps that film displayed her in a gimmicky way and she had no talent at all. 

When the brass saw Sleep, not only were they bewildered by the story, they weren't sure Bacall was any good in it especially when they compared it to the showy performance of Vickers.  So what did they do?  They left the film to sit on a shelf and collect dust.  When they looked at it again months later, they edited it by cutting out some of Vickers' best scenes and filming a new scene or two with Bacall and Bogart.  They knew they couldn't just sit on a Bogart film... he was the studio's top money-maker.  They also noted some great acting from the rest of the cast, particularly Dorothy Malone and character actors Bob Steele, John Ridgely and Elisha Cook Jr.

The Big Sleep went on to become a rollicking success and it still holds a special place in the hearts of noir addicts and fans of the couple.  They married shortly after the filming completed but by the time it was released they had been married for over a year.  They had been the darlings of the movie magazines and the public was clamoring for more of them.

Dark Passage (1947)
Directed by Delmer Daves

This is my least favorite of the B&B quartet and it didn't fare so well at the box office.  Bogie plays a man falsely accused of murdering his wife.  He has just escaped from prison and is intent on finding the real killer(s).  He feels his face is too well known and will betray him in his newfound freedom so he has a plastic surgeon remodel it.  We actually never see his face before the bandages go on.  A little far-fetched but this is what we have to work with.

Part of the problem, perhaps, of embracing this film is that Bogie's face is bandaged for a great deal of it.  One likely goes to a movie like this to see Bogart and it doesn't happen for some time.  Additionally, director Daves unwisely uses the camera subjectively, meaning the audience sees things through the character's eyes.  The camera darts around a room as the character looks around.  It just doesn't work.

He meets Bacall's character and she almost immediately invites him up to her apartment and offers to hide him.  The storyline feeds us the notion that a young woman, living alone, invites a stranger and an escaped prisoner into her home because her own father was once falsely accused of a crime.  Uh-huh.  Bogie certainly appeared listless and entirely too much so to play someone who's energized to find his wife's killers.  Bacall, on the other hand, was spirited and a total delight. 

The best things about the movie was the travelogue feel for beautiful San Francisco and a wonderful Agnes Moorehead performance.  She portrayed a villainess with all the acting prowess she could muster and she takes a tumble off the top of her apartment complex.  Years later when a friend of mine, a resident of the city, took me around to show it off, we came to the high-rise, he said... and here's the Agnes Moorehead building.

It's been said that studio head Jack Warner was unaware Bogie's face was bandaged for so much of the film (obviously it really wasn't the actor at all... why would it be?) and Warner was sore when he found it out too late in the filming to do anything about it.  His response was to not pour a lot of money into publicizing it.  He was also miffed at the Bogarts' very public support of the Committee for the First Amendment established to slug it out with the House Un-American Activities Committee and its Red Scare.  There was a march on Washington D.C. and the Bogarts were front and center.  They didn't much care what Warner thought or how the film did.  They were newlyweds and crazy in love.

Key Largo (1948)
Directed by John Huston

Their final film together was my favorite.  I fully understand that one of the others may be yours.  Well, ok, maybe I wouldn't fully understand if you chose Dark Passage.  One thing I loved about Key Largo was its impressive cast, the best of any of their films.  This was the fifth pairing of Bogart and Edward G. Robinson and the only one in which Bogie got top billing.  When Bogie started out at Warner Bros, Robinson was already a top star.  While they often played enemies on screen, they were good work buddies.  Bogie greatly respected Robinson.

Claire Trevor had worked with both of them before.  This was one in a string of films that joined the talents of Bogie and director Huston.  Writer Richard Brooks and Huston collaborated on the screenplay.  They were personal friends who inspired one another to do good work.  While this was Bacall's only Huston-directed film, the Bogarts and the colorful Huston were fast friends for many years.  Huston directed Bogie in six films, nearly all great successes

Out of all of this came an often tense melodrama.  A disillusioned ex-military man (Bogart) comes to visit the rundown Florida hotel operated by the father and wife of his deceased soldier buddy.  The father is wheelchair-bound (just as actor Lionel Barrymore was in real life) and the wife (Bacall) is a bit of an innocent dreamer.  It's interesting seeing her play a submissive character.    What should have been a pleasant visit turns dark when a gang of thugs (led by a vicious Robinson and his minions, the wonderful Thomas Gomez and also Dan Seymour and Harry Lewis) and a reluctant moll (Trevor) commandeer the empty, off-season hotel in an effort to wait out a hurricane.  Much of the tension comes out of wondering when the bad guys are going to go ballistic and if and when the good guys will get pushed too far and take some action.

A supporting Oscar was swept up by Claire Trevor for her booze-soaked rendition of a humiliated, sickened woman who would like to lead a better life.  Oscar voters didn't miss one of the best scenes when Robinson makes her sing for the crowd before he will allow her to have another drink, which she's begging for.  The character sang terribly and was visibly shaken.  To get that performance, the occasionally cruel Huston, who had told Trevor that particular scene was not going to be filmed for weeks, suddenly surprised her, telling her to get dressed for it... it would be shot that day.  It left the actress unprepared and nervous, just what Huston was looking for.

The one who fared less well was Bacall.  For sure her part wasn't as showy as the others but I suspect she was nervous herself because she was in the company of such accomplished actors.

Only a few opening shot were done in Florida.  Otherwise, the entire hotel, inside and out, was created on WB soundstages.  Bogart was not happy with location work and after what Huston had just put him through on the Mexican location of Treasure of the Sierra Madre, he was happy to be filming a few miles from his home.

Thirty-three years after the film's release, Bertie Higgins would have a hit song called Key Largo, referencing a love affair that was just like Bogie and Bacall.

If you haven't seen them and are interested in other postings on Mrs. Bogart, check out Betty at the Bookstore and Bacall.

Next posting:
A film noir icon

No comments:

Post a Comment