Tag Archives: Lauren Bacall

The Big Sleep (1946, Howard Hawks)

A lot goes unspoken in The Big Sleep. It’s very much set in a wartime Los Angeles, but there’s never much said about wartime conditions or Los Angeles. When private detective Humphrey Bogart goes around the city, investigating, he’s only ever encountering women (beautiful women at that, because director Hawks’s Los Angeles is solely populated with beautiful women who find Bogart enchanting). Sure, book shop purveying is a reasonable career for Sonia Darrin and Dorothy Malone, but then there’s Joy Barlow as Bogart’s cabbie confidant. Barlow’s definitely taking a traditional male job (cab driver) and role (cab driver confidant to detective). She just happens to find Bogart irresistible.

There’s also a lot of texture in Bogart’s banter with copper Regis Toomey; particular phrases and observations referencing wartime conditions. There’s no mention of the war, there’s no mention of the home front, but it’s there.

Of course, Big Sleep doesn’t just not talk about its texture, it also doesn’t talk about… you know, the solution to the mystery. Or even what mystery is what. Rich, sick old man Charles Waldron (in a wonderful performance) hires Bogart to pay off some guy blackmailing one of his daughters. Martha Vickers and Lauren Bacall are the daughters. Vickers is the one getting blackmailed; she’s younger, Bacall’s protective. So Bacall intercedes with Bogart.

The reason Big Sleep doesn’t worry about its exposition is because it’s got Bogart and Bacall. Their first scene together, while energetic, is nothing compared to where the film’s going to get them. The first scene has them talking over one another, constantly interrupting thoughts and dialogue, frustrating each other. It’s a competition without a clear goal–Bacall wants to know what Waldron gave Bogart to do, but Bogart isn’t going to say and maybe Bacall thinks he’s going to crack, maybe she doesn’t. They irritate each other. It’s marvelous.

In their third scene, Bacall’s got to scratch an itch in her nylons and–it just occurred to me–maybe it’s a metaphor for their relationship at that point.

But more on them in a bit. First, Bogart’s got to investigate–leading him to fetching booksellers Darrin and Malone, then on to blackmailer Louis Jean Heydt (who’s not on screen yet, he’s just been mentioned in dialogue and Bogart tracks someone to his residence–Big Sleep doesn’t slow down at all, you’ve got to keep up–when Bogart sits and thinks things through, he doesn’t share what he’s thinking). Eventually there’s a murder and a coverup and Bogart trying to protect Vickers.

There’s a lot of movement in the first act. It also establishes what will become some of the film’s familiar settings. There’s some exterior shooting, but a lot of the outdoor shots are on sound stages and they’re gloriously done. Beautiful photography from Sidney Hickox, great direction from Hawks (throughout, but also moving around those settings). The physical personality of The Big Sleep is deliberate and thoughtful, even if it’s not the draw of the film. Big Sleep is a bunch of expertly done background to its stars’ romance.

Because, pretty soon, Bacall’s pushed her way back into Bogart’s investigation. Even though he doesn’t know why and she isn’t really explaining why, at least not honestly. They’re adversarial but dispassionately. They’re far more passionate about the rapport they’ve discovered. Turns out Bacall’s got a gambling problem too, just with a different gambling establishment than Vickers. John Ridgely runs Bacall’s favorite spot and Bogart finds himself contending not just with Ridgely, but with his thugs too. They want him off the case he’s not investigating.

Although Bogart’s not officially investigating this case no one wants him on (because Waldron didn’t hire him for it), Bogart’s still actually doing it. And is aware he’s doing it. He’s interested and concerned. He’s sympathetic without ever being a sap, which eventually leads to some great quiet moments in Bogart’s performance. His run in with junior league tough guy Elisha Cook Jr. is affecting, for instance, and his constant attempts at fending off Vickers are nice. There’s a lot going on concurrently in Big Sleep, so much with the mysteries–there are the two murders in the first night of the present action, plus two suspected murders before the film begins–but also with the various players (not just murder suspects, but blackmailers and gamblers and then the sisters). Toomey’s police presence is omnipresent when established but always a little out of focus. He doesn’t bother Bogart too much, just enough to remind everyone he exists.

But none of that background–the story–is as important as Bogart and Bacall. Bacall’s character arc has her melting but she never loses the demeanor as she becomes more fragile. And Bogart doesn’t become more protective as she softens either. They’re enthralling throughout–not so much separately because Bacall’s never alone–but as the film progresses, their rapport and relationship take the spotlight off the action and never give it back. Not even during shootouts.

Everything’s good in Big Sleep. Vickers is exceptional, Ridgely’s good, Waldron, Malone’s fun, Charles D. Brown is a hoot as the butler (spoiler: he didn’t do it). Great script from William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman; the dialogue’s better, but only because of Bacall and Bogart, otherwise the plotting would be the winner. Hawks’s direction is spectacular. It starts strong and just keeps getting better, never losing any of the deliberate texture (implied or active).

Good score from Max Steiner (very familiar, incidentally, if you know his King Kong one) with some very nice moves once it gets romantic. Christian Nyby’s editing is excellent as well.

The Big Sleep is phenomenal; Hawks, Bogart, and Bacall make something singular here.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Hawks; screenplay by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman, based on a story story by Raymond Chandler; director of photography, Sidney Hickox; edited by Christian Nyby; music by Max Steiner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Philip Marlowe), Lauren Bacall (Vivian Rutledge), John Ridgely (Eddie Mars), Martha Vickers (Carmen Sternwood), Charles Waldron (General Sternwood), Regis Toomey (Chief Inspector Bernie Ohls), Sonia Darrin (Agnes Lozelle), Louis Jean Heydt (Joe Brody), Dorothy Malone (Acme Book Shop Proprietress), Bob Steele (Lash Canino), Elisha Cook Jr. (Harry Jones), Charles D. Brown (Norris – the Butler).


lauren-blogathon

THIS POST IS PART OF THE SECOND LAUREN BACALL BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.


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Key Largo (1948, John Huston)

Key Largo is a grand affair. Humphrey Bogart versus Edward G. Robinson with Lauren Bacall and Claire Trevor in the wings. Not to mention Lionel Barrymore. The film plays beautifully. Director Huston and co-screenwriter Richard Brooks give Bogart and Bacall some lovely, ever so gentle; Bogart’s a vet, Bacall’s the widow of one of his friends from the service. Huston–with some absolutely gorgeous photography from Karl Freund–shoots their scenes together carefully. Bacall’s always primed, but her enthusiasm is reserved (which ends up being one of the film’s problems).

Robinson’s a gangster hiding out in Barrymore and Bacall’s hotel (Barrymore’s her father-in-law). Trevor’s his moll and he’s got a whole gang of lackeys. Best of the lackeys are Thomas Gomez and Harry Lewis. Gomez gets a bunch of dialogue in the first act, when Robinson’s hiding off-screen, and Lewis is sort of comic relief. He’s still dangerous–more than the other goons–but there’s an aloofness to him.

Bogart’s good, Robinson’s great, Trevor’s amazing, Barrymore’s good, Bacall’s good. Barrymore just gets a Lionel Barrymore role. He’s a wise sage and gets some great scenes where he’s yelling at Robinson, who has to take it because Barrymore’s in a wheelchair. Bacall doesn’t get a lot to do and, oddly enough, neither does Bogart.

Huston and Brooks give Bogart a somewhat unexpected redemptive hero arc, which is already uphill because Bogart’s persona for the character doesn’t match it and–more importantly–they never definitively establish. It’s all based on one tense scene (Key Largo is full of them) and Huston isn’t able to sell the sequence. He gets distracted by his actors and their performances and he concentrates on accentuating those performances, not keeping the movie in check.

Once Robinson shows up and the aforementioned tense scene with the unsold Bogart sequence plays out, Robinson becomes the lead of the picture. Bogart, who opens the film, becomes background. Top-billed Bogart’s subplot doesn’t even take precedence over fifth-billed Trevor’s. Why? Because Trevor’s got an amazing performance to give and Huston enables it at the expense of a more cohesive whole, which is both good and bad. Key Largo could’ve been better, but Trevor couldn’t have been. Like I said, she’s amazing.

And, without malice, she takes the film away from Bacall in the female lead department. Trevor’s so strong, once she and Robinson have their scenes, it feels like Bogart and Bacall are only around to have brought the story to Trevor and Robinson. It’s all an elaborate frame. But it isn’t, of course, because Huston and Brooks don’t try too hard with the script. Key Largo is a thriller, not just because it’s moody and full of intrigue, but because Huston’s going for thrills. He’s exciting the viewer.

He just happens to have some great actors performing these thrill-inducing scenes.

Bacall gets short-changed the most. She has the least character–when, inarguably, she should have the most (she is falling for her dead husband’s commanding officer while she runs her father-in-law’s business). Bogart doesn’t get much either but he does get the expertly done action finale. Great editing from Rudi Fehr.

Key Largo is expertly made, beautifully acted. It’s great entertainment.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Huston; screenplay by Richard Brooks and Huston, based on the play by Maxwell Anderson; director of photography, Karl Freund; edited by Rudi Fehr; music by Max Steiner; produced by Jerry Wald; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Frank McCloud), Edward G. Robinson (Rocco), Lauren Bacall (Nora), Lionel Barrymore (James Temple), Claire Trevor (Gaye Dawn), Thomas Gomez (Curly), Harry Lewis (Toots), Dan Seymour (Angel), William Haade (Feeney), Monte Blue (Sheriff Ben Wade), John Rodney (Deputy Clyde Sawyer) and Marc Lawrence (Ziggy).


lauren-blogathon

THIS POST IS PART OF THE LAUREN BACALL BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.


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Murder on the Orient Express (1974, Sidney Lumet)

There are two significant problems with Murder on the Orient Express. Unfortunately, both of them are aspects of the film’s genre. Well, one of them is an aspect of the genre and the other is related to the film’s extremely high quality acting. So, neither of them are “problems” in the traditional sense.

First, the solution. The solution scene in Orient Express is one of Lumet’s fantastic long sequences of filmmaking. However, it’s a narratively unsound scene. How to talk about it without “spoiling.” The solution sequence does not offer the characters anything, the people who are experiencing the film’s events, just the viewer. Yes, it has to be done because it’s a mystery, but it doesn’t make any sense.

Second is less about genre and more about the film itself. Murder on the Orient Express has one of the finest casts ever assembled–and many of them give these sublime, luminescent performances. The standouts are John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, Colin Blakely, Rachel Roberts, Anthony Perkins and Ingrid Bergman. Albert Finney is great in the lead–I grew up thinking this performance was indicative of the rest of his work–with Lauren Bacall being a great comedic foil.

The best story for the characters these actors create is not, however, the one in the film. There’s a scene where everyone gets a moment together and it’s transcendent. I had tears in my eyes (Richard Rodney Bennett’s music probably helped).

It’s the best film this story could be; it’s technically marvelous.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Paul Dehn, based on the novel by Agatha Christie; director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Anne V. Coates; music by Richard Rodney Bennett; production designer, Tony Walton; produced by John Brabourne; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Albert Finney (Hercule Poirot), Lauren Bacall (Mrs. Hubbard), Martin Balsam (Bianchi), Ingrid Bergman (Greta), Jacqueline Bisset (Countess Andrenyi), Jean-Pierre Cassel (Pierre), Sean Connery (Colonel Arbuthnot), John Gielgud (Beddoes), Wendy Hiller (Princess Dragomiroff), Anthony Perkins (McQueen), Vanessa Redgrave (Mary Debenham), Rachel Roberts (Hildegarde), Richard Widmark (Ratchett), Michael York (Count Andrenyi), Colin Blakely (Hardman) and George Coulouris (Doctor).


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Misery (1990, Rob Reiner)

So back in 1990, ignorant, bigoted book burning fundamentalist Christian psychopath women were screen villains on par with Norman Bates (by some accounts). Now they’re presidential candidates.

Misery actually owes quite a bit, in its third act, to Psycho. Reiner is no Hitchcock and he doesn’t try to be. His success, directing the film, has more to do with actors than with mood. William Goldman’s script does all the thriller stuff itself, which isn’t to say Reiner doesn’t do a fine job… he just isn’t the one responsible for it being so creepy.

See, for all the praise Kathy Bates gets… James Caan holds the movie together. She’s just playing the psycho–a far less sympathetic one than Norman Bates–whereas Caan is playing the victim. Sonny Corleone is scared of her, the audience will be too.

In fact, Caan’s got Misery‘s only sublime moment (and one of Reiner’s best as a director), sort of saving the film at the very end. Or at least making it something special.

Speaking of Psycho… I almost forgot the music. Marc Shaiman’s score owes quite a bit to Herrmann; it’s definitely the most obviously influenced feature.

Misery is pretty unique–remove the context and you’ve basically got Caan graphically beating some woman to death. With the Meathead directing.

Nice cameo from Lauren Bacall, but it’s all about Richard Farnsworth and Frances Sternhagen’s bickering, aged Nick and Nora. There was definite spin-off potential for those two.

Far more impressive than I was expecting.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Reiner; screenplay by William Goldman, based on the novel by Stephen King; director of photography, Barry Sonnenfeld; edited by Robert Leighton; music by Marc Shaiman; production designer, Norman Garwood; produced by Reiner and Andrew Scheinman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring James Caan (Paul Sheldon), Kathy Bates (Annie Wilkes), Richard Farnsworth (Buster), Frances Sternhagen (Virginia) and Lauren Bacall (Marcia Sindell).


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