Bogart and Bacall: Dynamite On and Off Screen




Hollywood is a place where facts and fairytales merge and entwine, where stories are either overly romanticized or scandalously exaggerated; things are very rarely told as they are. But in the case of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, it seems that no matter how hard the entertainment business tried to glamourize their story, it still held more magic than they could have ever imagined. For noir aficionados, Bogie is a bit of a legend, so it’s no wonder that for a long time, it was believed that his last words were, “I should have never switched from scotch to martinis.” As fitting as it sounds for a man that is almost synonymous with the private eye in film noir, his last words were far less noir-y but a lot more romantic. “See you, kid. Hurry back.” His last words were addressed to a woman that stabilized his troubled life and offered him all the love and fun he could have ever wanted.


Lauren Bacall was a model since the age of 16 and starred in a couple of failed plays until she was offered the role of Slim in Howard Hawk’s loose adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel, To Have and Have Not in 1944. It was love at first sight, but not only for Bogie, but for director Hawks as well. The two men fought for her until Jack Warner settled the dispute and filming continued. A bitter Howard Hawks used to say long afterwards that Bogart fell in love with the character she played, and that Bacall had to keep playing it for the rest of her life. Due to the age difference, Bogie being 44 and Bacall 19, their relationship was at first one of mentor-student but quickly developed into a secret love affair as Bogie sought to free himself of his highly turbulent relationship with Mayo Methot and concluded in Bogie’s 4th marriage in 1945.


While the majority of his roles are ones of tough guys, private detectives and very masculine men, Bogie was something else with Bacall. “All the nice things I do each day would be so much sweeter and so much gayer if you were with me. I find myself saying a hundred times a day, ‘If Slim could only see that’ or ‘I wish Slim could hear this’. I want to make a new life with you — I want all the friends I’ve lost to meet you and know you and love you as I do — and live again with you, for the past years have been terribly tough, damn near drove me crazy. You’ll soon be here, Baby, and when you come, you’ll bring everything that’s important to me in this world with you.” He wrote her in one of his many letters, expressing love for the woman he would stay with until his untimely death in 1957. Lauren Bacall, while talking about their marriage many years after his death, said, “As I glanced at Bogie, I saw tears streaming down his face. His ‘I do’ was strong and clear.” Hard to believe this is the same man who played Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.


While it is so much fun to keep talking about one of Hollywood’s very rare successful love affairs, we are here to talk noir, and talk noir we shall. The couple first met on the set of To Have and Have Not (Hawks, ’44), and went on to make three other noirs: The Big Sleep (Hawks, ’46), Dark Passage (Daves, ’47) and Key Largo (Huston, ’48). Let’s take a closer look, kid.

To Have and Have Not (Howard Hawks, 1944)

In a fishing trip, Howard Hawks tried to convince his friend Mr. Ernest Hemingway that he could make a film out of his worst novel, To Have and Have Not, and a reluctant Hemingway hesitatingly accepted and worked with Hawks on the script for the remainder of the trip. The script was nothing close to finished, and Hawks hired a couple of writers afterwards to work on it, and finally went with Novel prize-winning author William Faulkner in 1944. While the preparations for the film were bumpy and complicated, the filming process was anything but that. Bacall, whose first appearance on screen was on that film, later described Hawks’ filming method as “brilliantly creative.” The freedom and comfort director Howard Hawks granted his actors, coupled with the affection and tutoring Bogie offered, allowed Lauren Bacall to give one hell of a performance, one that launched a career that would span decades.
The plot revolved around fisher Harry Morgan and a young American drifter by the name of Marie (or Slim) as they get tangled up with the French resistance in the colony of Martinique. While most reviews for the film were positive, the negative ones criticized it as being a remake of the massively successful Casablanca (Curtiz, ’42), but while the plots may be similar in many aspects, To Have and Have Not contains many unique elements that set it apart from the classic film and earn it the title of noir.
Bogart and Bacall’s chemistry in To Have and Have Not was off the charts. From the moment she walks into his room and asks for a light very indifferently, their encounters are filled with expertly crafted subtle sexuality, thanks to Hawks’ incredible directing and the fire ignited between the two stars at the time of filming. Bacall’s singing numbers just serve to intensify the film’s alluring aura and offer a much welcome change from the film’s (and the entire industry at that time, as a matter of fact) feeble attempts at politics.

The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946)

 In the few months after the end of World War II, the public was fascinated with Bogie and Bacall’s relationship and starving for more, so much so that a number of scenes from their second film, The Big Sleep, were reshot to focus on their chemistry, highlight it and make it the main selling point of the film. The Big Sleep is a 1946 film noir directed by Howard Hawks, with a script by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman, based on a novel by the same name by author Raymond Chandler, an author who is perhaps the biggest literary influence on the movie genre and matched only by Dashiell Hammett.
The plot of The Big Sleep is so overly complicated and gets even more so as the story progresses that not even Hawks or Chandler could explain certain events in the story. Author Raymond Chandler once said, “they sent me a wire asking me, and damnit I didn’t know either.” I will say though that it is about private detective Philip Marlowe, the protagonist in most of Chandler’s work, attempting to resolve a simple blackmail case and finding out that it holds many dark secrets that escalate even to murder. While the story may prove hard to follow at certain segments, it is still gripping and exciting enough not to ruin a film that is emblematic of the film noir genre.
After the failure of Confidential Agent (Shumlin, 1945), Lauren Bacall needed another role to really highlight what she could portray so well, the femme fatale. In The Big Sleep, she is dangerous and warm, hostile and caring, emitting a tense aura of restrained sexuality and enticement. While the Hollywood censorship laws of that time forced the producers to radically alter the character of Vivian and even remove certain segments (as well as any mention of homosexuality, which is a significant part of the original source material), Bacall still gave one of the best performances of her career and gave birth to one of the most remembered femme fatale’s of the genre. “What’s wrong with you?” Bogart’s character asks her, and she replies with a lethally seductive look, “Nothing you can’t fix.” Credits roll. Perfect.

Dark Passage (Delmer Daves, 1947)

“Together again in danger as violent as their love!” the poster for the third film starring Bogie and Bacall together, Dark Passage, announces, and there couldn’t be a more fitting description of this picture. Dark Passage may not be the best film the couple made together, and it is definitely not the most famous, but there’s nothing quite like it in the medium of noir. The film owns a large part of its singularity to the camera work in the first half of the film: shot from the perspective of the protagonist, his face or body are never shown, we see the world through his eyes up till the turning point of the story. It feels like a game from the 90s video game series Tex Murphy, which should naturally be a subject for this column in the near future.
The plot of the film revolves around escaped prisoner Vincent Parry seeking to clear his name of false accusations while aided by Irene Jansen and a number of other characters and starts doing so by getting plastic surgery to shake off the cops searching for him. As mentioned before, up until the point where the plastic surgery, the entire film is shown through the protagonist’s eyes, to create a feeling of paranoia and impending doom, but once the surgery is over, we see the face of Bogie, ready to continue his quest and clear his name.
The plot is nothing special, and neither is anything else about the film, but it is still a highly enjoyable film, putting the couple into roles the public wanted out of them and making sure they delivered. The setting of San Francisco here is utilized beautifully to showcase nightlife where noir stories usually take place. The San Francisco of Dark Passage is as dangerous as the crooks it shelters and offers no safety for the innocent Vincent and Irene, who seek refuge in Peru after the whole ordeal is finished. The final scene shows Bogart’s character at a bar in front of the sea waiting for Bacall’s character, smiling as she enters the room and once again, sating the public’s hungry appetite for more Bogie-Bacall goodness.

Key Largo (John Huston, 1948)

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s final appearance together on screen, Key Largo may be the best film they made. Directed by John Huston, a director that arguably spawned the entire film noir genre with his 1941 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, and loosely based on a 1939 play by Maxwell Anderson, Key Largo tells the story of an ex-soldier who visits his old war buddy’s widow and father in the small California island of Key Largo, only to get stuck with them, and a group of vigilantes, because of a violent storm.      
In Key Largo, the public was very much disappointed in the lack of any romantic energy between Bogie and Bacall, but that was remedied by an intricate plot and one of the most interesting and fun villains of the genre. The film’s plot may appear to be simple to the casual viewer, but it is very heavy thematically, discussing morality, politics and the notion of good and evil. Shot beautifully and masterfully to showcase the paranoia and feeling of being trapped and helpless, as the characters of the story, both good and evil, are put against nature and locked in a hotel until the storm passes and allows them to continue their little play of hero and villain.

Comments

  1. Bogart and Bacall actually made a fifth film The Petrified Forest for Producers Showcase which was Bogart's only T.V.movie

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    Replies
    1. I am aware of that, but I didn't wish to include it for the fact that it is a TV film.

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