To Have and Have Not

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To Have and Have Not (1944)

When Lauren Bacall first appears in Humphrey Bogart‘s hotel doorway in To Have and Have Not, one has to pause and question whether their characters are already familiar with each other. In truth, not even the actors themselves were very well acquainted as the stars started work on a project that would result in their marriage.

After seeing a screen test by Bacall, then 19, for the movie and the scene in which she questions whether the gentleman can whistle, Bogart tells the newcomer, “We’ll have a lot of fun together,” and fun they had. The couple fell in love during the making of the Ernest Hemingway novel-based movie. When Bogart’s wife at the time Mayo Methot would inquire where her husband was, the answer was “the cast”. The actor finally shrugged off the long-failed marriage with a Vegas divorce May 10, 1945. He married Bacall May 21. They would name their son after Bogie’s character in To Have and Have Not, whom Bacall’s character refers to as Steve.

The movie’s familiar plot lines harken back to the 1944 award winner, Casablanca.  In To Have and Have Not, Bogie’s American character does not own a nightclub on a French-ruled exotic locale, but instead lives at one. As a boat owner, he reluctantly agrees to help smuggle a man important to the French resistance during Germany’s occupation of the nation. That man happens to have a woman with him who is more important to have in tow than leave behind, for the mere reason that she helps drive his mission.

On the Caribbean isle of Martinique, Bogie’s Harry Morgan rents out his fishing boat and captain skills to anyone buying. We open on him, his alcoholic crew member Eddie (Walter Brennan) and the man (Walter Sande) who loses his fishing pole overboard and cancels the rest of the excursion. This Johnson now owes Harry for the rod and the week’s trip, some $800. The man says he must go to the bank the next morning to retrieve the cash.

Before that can happen, Harry is approached by the owner of the hotel/bar where he resides and is asked about aiding the French resistance effort by helping to move an important man between locales in the ocean. Harry refuses to get involved with such a politics. In walks Marie Browning (Bacall) looking for a match. This husky voiced gal whom Harry names Slim, later picks Johnson’s pocket. Not only did the man have the money to pay Harry but he also has a plane ticket that would have had him out of the country before the bank opened.

During a shootout that kills several members of the underground resistance, Johnson also catches a stray bullet. Harry takes what is owed from the wallet, but this prompts the authorities to question his connection to the rebels. The man’s passport and money are confiscated for the time being. Now looking to start a life with Slim, and annoyed at the police, Harry agrees to take up the well-paying, one-night voyage and manages to pick up and drop off Paul (Walter Molnar) and Helene De Bursac (Dolores Moran), but not before Paul is shot. The wounded man ends up in the hotel basement where Harry continues to help the rebels while conversations with Helene spark Slim’s jealousy. An end-of-the-movie gunpoint holdup will help the De Bursac’s free a man from Devil’s Island and allow Harry and Slim to take off to some other destination.

Unlike Casablanca, To Have and Have Not offers too easy an ending for my tastes. It sets up a scene that could lead to a shoot out, but fades to close leaving us to assume all works out well. Otherwise the story is intriguing and sexy, especially with the unique look of young Bacall at the helm. Part way through the picture, Slim picks up a job singing at the hotel bar and does so in the deepest, husky voice you will ever hear. It is far from an attractive singing voice, but it suits her sultry look. Some say the voice was dubbed by Andy Williams, but Bacall maintained it was her own.

Director Howard Hawks insisted that without Bogart’s help he could not have elicited the performance from Bacall that he did. He had the part created in a Marlene Dietrich-esque way because he thought the young model could become a new version of the seductress. “Not many actors would sit around and wait while a girl steals a scene,” Hawks said after filming. “But he fell in love with the girl and the girl with him, and that made it easy.”

  • To Have and Have Not is set for 8 p.m. ET July 21 on TCM.

Source: The Ultimate Bogart by Ernest W. Cunningham, TCM.com

Feature: My Momentary Celebrity Obsession–Ida Lupino

Ida Lupino

I stumbled upon Ida Lupino utterly by accident while enjoying Bogart’s They Drive By Night. I was instantly spellbound by this rather unorthodox-looking woman who commanded the screen so significantly. I find it surprising that film history has left the woman rather unremembered considering her supreme talent.

I also rather identify with Lupino. Despite going through the typical blonde phase every newcomer to Hollywood seemed to endure, the woman’s early triumphs were as a dark-haired, scrawny and dark eye-makeup-clad gal, not too far flung from my own physical specifications. Lupino proved that her small body in no way would hinder her ability to give big shows that beat down even the toughest men. Her voice was full of sass in these days, and boy is she a sight to see.

Unfortunately, she often viewed herself as a less desirable alternate to Bette Davis, having also worked at Warner Bros. and often taking the scraps Davis turned down. I do not really see any comparison between the two, however, besides that both often played strong women.

As her career progressed, Lupino aged well into more mature roles that showed little of that small woman of past prowess but still held the same talent always present. Despite her on-screen abilities, Lupino would actually become quite well established in directing television.  She also developed production companies to find talent rather than provide it herself.

Somehow Lupino managed to win no awards over her career of more than 60 acting roles, seven directed pictures, and dozens of television episodes and specials. Perhaps this adds to her obscurity in Hollywood history. One need only watch one of her roles in the 1940s to be taken by her obvious skill. It is a wonder the Academy and others did not see it as well.

Sahara

Ring a Ding Ding

Sahara (1943)

     It is not often other actors can stand up against the performances of Humphrey Bogart and come out on par, but in Sahara the entire cast manages to stand on level footing with the master. This flick was said to me Bogie’s favorite film and one can understand why. His superb performance and the fantastic story must have left droves of audiences feeling uplifted and patriotic as I did upon the credits’ rolling.

     Bogart is Sgt. Gunn who with “Waco” (Bruce Bennett) and Fred Clarkson (Lloyd Bridges) is in Libya in an American tank learning they must retreat to the south to avoid Nazi troops that have surrounded them. It is 1942 and the American soldiers are trying their hands at desert warfare by helping out their British allies. During the retreat, the men meet a stranded bunch of Brits and a Frenchman who agree to join them in their escape. Also en route are a Sudanese officer Tambul (Rex Ingram) who has an Italian prisoner by the name of Guiseppe, played by J. Carroll Naish. They too are taken along; although, Gunn at first plans to leave the prisoner behind in order to conserve water.

     The tank is attacked by a Nazi plane but the group shoots the aircraft down and take hostage the Nazi, Captain Schletow (Kurt Kreuger), who like a character in Lifeboat pretends to know no English. The troop detours toward one supposed well to retrieve water, but finds it dry. They head to another and here is where the remainder of the plot unfolds.

     The well is only dripping water at its bottom, so the men slowly gather as much water as they can before the source runs dry. The site also has a stone building offering great shelter and a decent cell for their two prisoners. By this point Guiseppe has become quite likeable and even insults the German by explaining that Mussolini is not the genius Hitler is. He cannot convince his people as thoroughly of the virtue of his plight. Guiseppe explains that he partakes in the Italian army only because, with a wife and child, it is unwise for him to resist. He has no scruples with the soldiers that hold him hostage.

     The group is in trouble, however, when two German scouts show up at the site to check out the water supply. Waiving white flags, they confer with the Ally soldiers and have information pried from them in exchange for water. Gunn opts to tell the men there is more water than they can handle and that if they bring back their full 300-man army, the men can have all the water the want in exchange for food. This draws that brigade as the American/British/French group sets up to ambush the highly dehydrated men.

     By the time Sahara concludes, we  have lost nearly all our soldiers. What I found surprising is that the movie manages to sneak in little get-to-know-me moments throughout the picture so that we feel an emotional connection by the time each dies. Whether it be the passing of a five-dollar bill between friends or talk of family or one’s home town, all minor messages get through to us so that the audience has personal knowledge of each, without interrupting the plot to explain to us who each person is.

     Naish deserves special recognition for his role as the Italian prisoner. The man was far from Italian (a New York native of Irish decent) but was great with accents. You would never know he was not a native speaker of the language, especially since he mingles actual Italian in with the accented English he speaks. The part, which as I already mentioned is quite an endearing one, earned Naish an Oscar nomination for supporting actor.

     Sahara was based on an “incident” in a Soviet movie “The Thirteen” and was filmed in the deserts of California. Two thousand tons of sand were hauled in to allow for loose sand, and shadows were painted on hills to make them stand out. Visually, one truly does think the all-male cast is in the middle of thousands of miles-worth of desert.

  • Sahara is set for 10 p.m. ET Aug. 17 on TCM.

Sources: Ben Mankiewicz, TCM.com

CAPA Summer Movie Series (Columbus, Ohio)

For those of you who live in central Ohio as I do, you will be glad to hear CAPA has posted its lineup for this year’s Summer Movie Series. I have seen a lot of these but am always willing to rewatch something if it’s on the big screen.

I’ll definitely be seeing Hitchcock’s Frenzy as I’ve been meaning to give that another chance. Other must sees if you haven’t already include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Grapes of Wrath, High Noon, Bringing Up Baby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Big Sleep.

Sadly, no Audrey Hepburn movie this year as there usually is. For those who have not experienced a favorite or classic movie on the big screen in a theater full of people who love the movie as much as you, it really is a memorable experience. I recommend it.

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

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Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)

     Although made in 1982, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid could be claimed as 50% classic film. The Steve Martin spoof on old detective dramas uses footage from about a dozen black-and-white movies spliced in with new footage. I first saw this movie in an Intro to Film course and fell in love. It’s full of Martin’s early stupid humor while also showing a real appreciation for old Hollywood.

     Martin is Detective Rigby Reardon, who is approached by Rachel Ward‘s Juliet Forrest to investigate the murder of her father, a scientist and cheese enthusiast. The plot that follows is inconsequential as it is as complex as The Big Sleep –clips of which are used throughout– and is neatly summed up by both the villain and Reardon at the end of the picture, ala The Thin Man and other mysteries.

     Rigby’s mentor is Marlowe, with whom the protagonist consults primarily via telephone, and who is played by Humphrey Bogart in segments from three of his films. The detective also pays visits to several familiar faces, such as Ray Milland in a snippet from The Lost Weekend, Bette Davis in Deception, Cary Grant in Suspicion, Ingrid Bergman in Notorious and Joan Crawford in Humoresque, among others. Martin also dresses in drag to attract the attention of Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity. The unsettling part is, from behind, there is little difference between Martin and Barbara Stanwyck from the original clips. Martin again dons a dress to masquerade as James Cagney’s mother from White Heat.

     Writers on the movie George Gipe, Director Carl Reiner and Martin developed the story based on the classic clips. The idea came from one designed by Martin that proposed the use of a classic movie clip. That concept transformed into doing an entire movie using such pieces. After watching old films and pulling particular over-the-shoulder shots and appealing dialogue, the writers then merely juxtaposed the dialogue until they came up with a suitable story. Some clips were clearly used just as an excuse to insert them and do not actually further the plot, but are funny nonetheless.

     Although the cinematographer consulted the filming styles from the old flicks, Martin avoided them altogether. He said he did not want to give a performance reflective of Bogart but something of his own. The result was great as I do not think Martin would have been as funny if he had taken himself more seriously.

     As someone who enjoys both Steve Martin humor and classic films, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is just the epitome of fun for me. I was not familiar with all of the movies featured therein, but I certainly enjoyed figuring out the ones I did know. Thankfully the end credits spell it out for the viewer.

Source: Universal Studios

Dark Victory

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Dark Victory (1939)

     Bette Davis played a wide variety of parts, but I typically think of her in strong, sometimes ruthless, often bitchy roles. Dark Victory, however, puts Davis in a very sympathetic persona. I think this movie is generally listed among Davis’ best work. It ranks among her many Oscar nominations that failed to come to fruition and on the whole received a Best Picture nod. It was 1939, however, the magnificent year that featured Gone With the Wind; Goodbye, Mr. Chips; Love Affair; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Ninotchka.

 

      Nevertheless, Davis gives a grand performance as the young woman afflicted by a brain tumor. The film commences with Davis as Judy Traherne, a Long Island socialite, who essentially crashes her horse through a fence when the jump before her is blurred by double vision. Her headaches and dizzy spells lead her family doctor to drag her to brain surgeon Frederick Steele, played by George Brent. The man is attempting to leave town for Vermont within the hour when Judy arrives, but burns on her fingers and tests on the nerves of her hands convince the doctor to stay in town. He eventually informs the woman she has a brain tumor, so he operates. The mass is malignant and is sure to recur, so although Judy will seem fine, she has a mere 10 months to live. Her vision will fade just hours before her death but no other symptoms will present themselves.

     Although Frederick reveals this news to Judy’s best friend/secretary Ann, played by Geraldine Fitzgerald, the two agree not to tell Judy. By now, however, the dying woman is in love with her surgeon who seems to return the affection. They plan to move to Vermont, but on the day of the move Judy stumbles upon her case file, which is littered with doctor opinions declaring her case as “Prognosis: Negative”. Her anger leads her to drop Frederick, be angry with Ann and live her life in the most reckless manner possible, such as by getting boozed up before a horse jumping competition. She eventually resigns herself to her fate and decides not to finish her life so recklessly. She agrees to marry Frederick and they move to Vermont.

     Judy is meant to be 23 years old, and although Davis is fairly young (31), I do not think she ever really looked that age. Her clothes and manner are too sophisticated, however, her behavior bears fruit in that regard. At the outset of the film, Davis is so energetic –fast talking and moving– like a child. When conversing with Brent during their first scene together, Davis conveys the character’s agitation with this quick pace and by squeezing and twisting her hands in her lap. Later, Judy becomes thoroughly matured by the horrid destiny that awaits her. In Vermont, she behaves as a conservative, loving wife. She is much calmer and graceful.

     The final sequence when Judy’s vision fails and she prepares for the end is really a gut-wrenching experience. I think the reason Dark Victory grabs so many people is because of the utter bravery with which Judy takes on her end. Just thinking of those scenes now have me a bit choked up. She sends her husband away unaware of what’s happening because she wants him to be proud that she faced death on her own. She gives final hugs to her dogs and tells the housekeeper she does not want to be disturbed before laying in bed. Davis also does a great blind-woman performance. Although Judy is really good at hiding her malady from her husband (she moves from his dresser to suitcase repeatedly, packing clothes for him), Davis consistently has the blank, slightly downward stare typically associated with blind performances. That cannot be an easy task: portraying blindness while pretending to see.

     Brent, on the other hand, slightly disappoints in his performance. He seems to convey no emotions ever in the picture, which makes it difficult to surmise whether Frederick actually loves Judy or is just trying to make her happy before she dies. I have not paid much attention to Brent in the movies of his I have seen, but I feel like this might be a common complaint. He is quite handsome and can be romantic, but his performances otherwise do not thrill me. Davis and Brent started an affair during Dark Victory that allegedly lasted several years until, when asked by a reporter to name the most glamorous women in Hollywood, he provided a list absent his lover.

     I should mention that Humphrey Bogart also appears in Dark Victory as the horse trainer that cares for Judy’s favorite race horse. He affects a slightly Irish accent in what seems like a rather small role for the actor who had already appeared in 28 films. Ronald Reagan also participates as a perpetually drunk party friend. On a side note, I opted to use the Italian poster above for this post because it was pretty cool looking and I could not find an English-language one that was not a recent design. Besides, Italian movie posters are always cooler than the American counterpart.

Source: Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine

The Big Sleep

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The Big Sleep (1946)

     Despite sitting on my shelf since 2006, The Big Sleep finally made its move to the DVD player. My failure to watch the flick is no knock to the story or Bogie and Bacall, but more a reflection of my tendency to prioritize the less-permanent DVR-saved movies than those in DVD form.

     Being the second pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and the one during the long production of which the two would wed, The Big Sleep drips with couple’s fiery chemistry. The two first met in early 1944 as they prepared to co-star in To Have and Have Not. At age 44, Bogart was 25 years Bacall’s senior and married to a rather destructive Mayo Methot. The two fell in love over the fewer than three months spent on the set of their first film, but it is not until later that year that Bogart would leave Methot, coinciding with the start of shooting on The Big Sleep.

     The film originally wrapped production in January 1945, at which point Bogart is already telling the press he will marry Bacall, but the divorce does not go through until May. Eleven days later, Bacall becomes the next Mrs. Bogart and Warner Bros. decides to shoot additional footage for The Big Sleep in January 1946 that would play up the romance between the two characters. At last, the film releases to rave reviews in August that year.

      Based on a Raymond Chandler novel, and with a screenplay writing team that includes William Faulkner, The Big Sleep weaves a menacingly complex yarn that follows private detective Phillip Marlowe. What begins as a look at a blackmail attempt against the daughter of an old millionaire results in a far deeper mess of trouble and at least three murders. The story line is impossibly complex, and the primary hurdle for me was keeping all the character names straight. Try as I did to follow what was occurring, I ultimately gave up and just enjoyed the ride, which is precisely as The Big Sleep is meant to be approached. The addition of Bogie-Bacall reshoots resulted in the subtraction of other footage that supposedly helps to better explain the plot.

     When watching The Big Sleep, what is important is not who killed whom but rather the style, the drama, the feel and, of course, the relationship between Bogart and Bacall. Playing her typical tough-woman role, Bacall provides a gritty and easy match to Bogart’s grizzly private dick. Curiously, women throughout this film are emphasized as being wildly attracted to the Marlowe character, which seems contrary to Bogart’s actual looks. I’m not sure I understand the emphasis here unless it came from the novel.

     The Big Sleep is one of those standby classics that everyone must see, and is a great example of both Bogart and Bacall’s work. For those who cannot stand not knowing just what went on, I’ll borrow an analysis from author Ernest W. Cunningham (SPOILER):

Soldier-of-fortune Shawn Regan (a major character never seen in the film) is hired by wealthy General… Sternwood (Charles Waldron). Sternwood has two beautiful daughters with “corrupt blood”: sexy, spoiled Carmen (Martha Vickers) and the cool, insolent Vivian (Lauren Bacall). Continue reading

While the City Sleeps

Dullsville

While the City Sleeps (1956)

     I suppose I recorded While the City Sleeps because it has Ida Lupino in it. I discovered that little dynamo in They Drive by Night with Humphrey Bogart, but I nearly did not recognize her in this film. What I remembered and so identified with in my first Lupino viewing was a scrawny, dark-featured woman with a certain uniqueness to her speech,  but what I found in While the City Sleeps was a curvy vixen with a lightness to her look and what seemed to be a completely different voice and persona, but maybe that’s acting.
     I must say although Lupino gave a great performance in While the City Sleeps I preferred the look I had come to know opposite Bogart and in some crummy musical TCM must have mislabeled as three-star quality.

Lupino in "They Drive by Night"

     Putting those feelings aside, I was incorrectly delighted with While the City Sleeps when the opening credits revealed not only was Dana Andrews also in the cast, but so was George Sanders and Vincent Price. Jackpot! Battle of the Talls, I thought (Price takes the prize, by the way).

Ida Lupino in "While the City Sleeps"

     Unfortunately, this film, although having the backing of  fantastic director Fritz Lang, was a bit sloppy in its plot. Not only does the narrative cover the search for the “Lipstick Killer” by one reporter, but also details a battle between three newspaper bigwigs as they seek to impress the new boss (Price) who recently inherited the firm and is dangling an “executive director” position before their noses. Add into that some complex romances among married but mostly unmarried individuals, and one is not sure to what exactly he is supposed to pay attention.

     Being a reporter, While the City Sleeps affords me the opportunity to whine about how important, impressive, and all around cool reporters used to be. Today one is lucky to find a job in print journalism let alone see a movie with a plot strictly centered on a gent in the field. Journalists played central roles in so many films from the bygone era to the point I will not bother to list those that come to mind, for there are too many. In While the City Sleeps, Andrews’ character is such a well-reputed reporter that he is granted access to witness interrogation, confessions etc. In this flick it is Andrews’ reporter who chases down the murderer and captures him. Fat chance of that happening today (or probably in real life at any point). I can only imagine what it must be like to work in a well reputed field. A gal can dream.

     TCM gave this movie a 4.5 star rating leaving me to wonder what I am missing. Perhaps it is the performances that make this movie great, but the plot offers too great a stumbling block for me. Divide this into two or three films and I could stomach it, but as is, my mind is wandering…

Feature: Shopping Spree

     I am going to diverge from the usual review post to share the stack of classic movie DVDs I purchased today. It should be known at the outset that I essentially refuse to buy a DVD unless its $10 or less, which is why most of my lot these days comes in the pre-viewed form from places such as today’s vendor: Half Price Books. Oh, what would I do without that place! Now to find a place for them all.

The Petrified Forest (1936)

First up is 1936’s The Petrified Forest. This was Humphrey Bogart‘s screen debut in which he played the same role as he did in the stage version. Bogie, born in 1899, did extensive theatre work before heading to Hollywood, which in part explains why he never really looked young in movies. Leslie Howard and Bette Davis also star in this flick, and I understand Davis was a bit of terror on the set, having just begun her bitch stage. This is a fantastic story about a diner, a fugitive and the desert. I’d give this either a Ring a Ding Ding or a Wowza!

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Next in line is Mrs. Miniver with Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. This is my favorite of Garson’s work in movies I’ve seen so far. It is a touching story of an English family during World War II. The flick won Best Picture for 1942 and rightfully so. As she deals with family members in the military, a home partially destroyed during an air raid and an enemy soldier visiting her home, Mrs. Miniver provides the backbone for stabilizing all that is going wrong around her. I’m going to agree with the Academy on this one and give it my first Wowza!

Beat the Devil (1954)

In Beat the Devil a band of con artists go after a bogus uranium mine. The cast includes Bogart, a blonde Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollobrigida, whose name I always associate with her lusty chest  more than anything else. I honestly don’t remember much of this film other than I thought it was good. It is written by Truman Capote , which is usually promising, and directed by John Huston, a plus for any adventure picture. The best my memory can do for me is to suggest a midline rating of Gasser.

East of Eden (1955)

East of Eden was the first James Dean movie I ever saw, and I was instantly caught by his talent. The Academy nominated him for Best Actor for this one. I find it hard to sum up the quality of Dean’s acting other than to say it is breathtaking and haunting. His emotions always seem to come off so raw. In East of Eden he, as usual, is a somewhat ostracized character trying to gain the approval of his father (isn’t he always trying to gain someone’s approval?) This one’s a really enjoyable, emotional piece, so I’ll have to go with Wowza!

Penny Serenade (1941)

Finally we come to Penny Serenade.  I’m pretty certain I have not seen this one, but I could not resist the pairing of Irene Dunne and Cary Grant. The two make a great comic pairing (see My Favorite Wife) but this one appears to be a drama. I like the two enough to want to see how they pull off a story about a couple who endure hardships and find themselves nearing divorce.

Sources: Bette and Joan: A Divine Feud, The Ultimate Bogart by Ernest W. Cunningham.

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