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Archive for the ‘Lauren Bacall’ Category

The Big Sleep

22 Dec

The Big Sleep — Directed by Howard Hawks. Private Eye Drama. A very rich family hires a private eye to keep them out of trouble and it lands him in plenty of trouble. 114 minutes Black and White 1944/46.

* * * *

I found this irritating this time round. When it first came out, I found it glossy and opaque. It still is those things, but this time I got tired of the revamp of the B&B sizzle from To Have And Have Not. The story is a rabbit chase of red herrings – bunnies and fish, yes – and you don’t know which ones you’re supposed to pay attention to. Is it the herrings of the plot, which is a series of rooms opening into one another that you traipse though wondering why you are there? Or is it the series of bunnies in side-rooms, in which Bacall slinks to and from Bogart in a negligee of lies? Of course, in films like this, everyone is lying, including the rooms. I found the B & B relationship a put up job: they never have a conversation; what they have is repartee. So, strictly speaking, there are no real people here. Moreover the film is deficient in its supporting players, none of whom have the interest of those from To Have And Have Not (to which this was a follow-up), with the single except of Elisha Cook Junior, who never fails, but appears in but one scene, and Dorothy Malone, gorgeous at age 19 making her film debut. Her one scene is a case in point of what happens throughout this picture. In the morning, Hawks would rewrite a scene to be shot, set it in the afternoon, and begin shooting at 4 PM. What he was doing was setting the story aside and developing “interesting scenes,” such as the bookshop one with Malone, which is amusing, and for which there is no real excuse. Made in 1944/45, the film was not released until 1946, and then reshot in order to enhance Bacall’s role in the proceedings, so we are given a bunch of scenes with her that place her in close allure with Bogart, while the story itself dawdles among the extras. This makes the whole thing even more hard to follow. Not that you’re supposed to follow it; all you’re supposed to do is follow not-following it, which makes you feel like some dumb kid dragged along by the collar. Bogart brings the same character to us that he brought us in The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and To Have And Have Not. Practice has made him perfect with this personage. He is not a very good actor, in some ways, and you can see it in the ear- rubbing Hawks assigned him to. It never works. It’s never motivated. It’s just an add-on. But at what he does, nobody does better, a calm, sensitive, smart, rueful, dogged, smart-mouth, with core-deep masculinity and a wrecked liver. His humor, especially, engages suddenly and rather lovingly, at the spectacle of human folly. In many ways he is an entirely responsive actor, good at badminton, aka stichomythia, and gifted with a monotone that cuts through steel. Louise Brooks accused him of having sacrificed his talent by becoming enamored of the movement of his own lips. Interesting, huh? I can’t say, but no one could have executed this material so well, so stringently, and with such unassailable dignity as Humphrey Bogart.

 

To Have and Have Not

20 Dec

To Have And Have Not — Directed by Howard Hawks. Drama. A man shifts loyalties from none to two. 100 minutes Black and White 1944.

* * * * *

Like a gold panther she moves slowly and deliberately through every scene, as though to move quickly would tip her hand. The humor that lies behind her calculation keeps her from being witchy, and Hawks presents her with the Walk-Around-Me scene which makes her sure she will not be possessive. But she will be loyal, and her becoming that is her arc here. Hawks or his wife Slim or the studio brought Bacall from modeling in New York and made of this girl with the unusually suggestive  good looks a star. When Hawks met her he told her to go off into a room for two weeks and practice lowering her voice, which she did. She came back a contralto. She was completely come-hither throughout and always keyed up. She  has a knowing eye and moves slowly at all times toward or away from her prey, much the same thing either way. She was something new in sexual effrontery. She was a teenager. It’s difficult to judge her skills as an actress here because she is so effective in everything she is confined to do. Like a very dangerous cat she is handled carefully. In just the same way it is difficult to judge Bogart, because here he is in a part well within his intense but narrow range, sardonic but truly humorous, taciturn, slow to anger, but terrifying when he does, and eyes gleaming with fear. When in danger he evinces perfect groundedness, a quick draw with a wisecrack,  and a superhuman aplomb. He’s perfect for the part. He performed many parts in film for which he was not particularly suited, especially after The War, but this is not one of them. The picture is a redaction of a Hemingway novel, via one of Hawks’ favorite screenwriters, William Faulkner. Bogart plays the owner of a for-rent fishing boat in Martinique, which is Vichy French during The War, and his character is established long before Bacall appears on the screen, in his relations with his drunken crewmember played by Walter Brennan, whom Hawks had used years before in Barbary Coast and would use often again. Brennan is brilliant in the execution of an imaginative parcel of tics and gimps, and is so screwy that we see that Bogart’s snideness does not exclude loyalty and courage in defense of Brennan and in defense of … loyalty and courage. It is not hard to follow the small story that ensues, although at times it is quite swallowed up by fascinating side-scenes between B & B. It is not about nostalgia as Casablanca is, but it resembles Casablanca in that it all takes place in a café; it involves the rescue of important anti-Nazi patriots, boasts, in Hoagy Carmichael, a seductive singer pianist, and even has the fine expatriate French actor Marcel Dalio, plus Bogey. A masterpiece of editing, beautifully lit and filmed by Sydney Hickox, for some reason it is impossible to not watch it. For, after all, what is this thing? Does one really care about any of these people and their ambitions? No. So why is it so engrossing? It is unanswerable. Its hold is a mystery. But what that means is that it hasn’t dated. Enjoy it once again.

 

 

Gone Dark

24 Mar

Gone Dark (aka The Limit) — directed by Lewin Webb — Crime Drama. An elderly woman is suspected by a drug-addicted policewoman of stashing a fortune in drugs and holds her at bay to find it. 83 minutes Color 2004.

**

Claire Forlani makes a disastrous mis-strategy in playing this part. It is a two-fold error. The first and dominant error is to play her as self-pitying, which means that, since she is always whiningly sorry for herself, one cannot pity her, and so one can never get behind her or exercise any patience on her behalf. Forlani is English, and the second error is to use a Lower East Side Italian accent for her, but never once to get behind the person behind the accent. This reduces her to grimacing and “using” her extraordinarily supple and sensual mouth for effect. Even had this error not been made by the principal actress, the film’s story is improbable in its execution, a fault that might have been remedied by strong narrative editing, but the editing is flaccid. As is the direction by a director who does not seem to know how to rehearse actors at all. We have the great Pete Postlethwaite great in all his scenes, yes, and we have superstar Lauren Bacall, who uses her Virgo cool to play a lady who does not suffer fools gladly, but who does suffer pistols gladly. She chooses to play her character Mae as a lady who sits back and contemplates how things shall unravel, which works, but the director might have given her an alternate or two. The film is entirely lacking in tension and conviction. Forlani describes it as a slice of life, but such a film cannot be that; it can only a highly charged artifact, made entertaining by its suspense, an ingredient the lack of which herein makes the cake fall flat.

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