Come See Me Speak!

For those in the Pittsburgh area, I’ll be speaking on April 12 at the Plum Borough Community Library. I’ll be discussing the heroines of pre-code films, those films made between 1930-1934, before the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code that dictated what could be shown onscreen. These films are sexy, funny, raucus, and often celebrate women behaving badly. Come to learn about the Hays Code and how Martin Quigley spoiled all the fun. We’ll celebrate such pre-code stars as Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Harlow, and Mae West.

Want a primer on pre-code heroines? Check out Natasha Lyonne’s article for Criterion here.

You’ll have a good time and leave with a list of films you’ll want to watch, many of which you can check out from the Carnegie Library system for free.

Hope to see you there!

*The event is free, but please register here if you plan on attending.

The Big Sleep (1946):  Who killed the chauffeur?

Opening credits of The Big Sleep (1946) showing showed profiles of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
Opening credits from The Big Sleep (1946)
The Big Sleep (1946) opening banner

In every romance novel, there’s a moment when all hope seems lost. 

For Bogie and Bacall, that time was the shooting of The Big Sleep.

Bogart’s wife Mayo sensed the threat Bacall posed and promised to stop drinking.  Bogart felt he owed his marriage one more try and broke things off with Bacall.  He moved in and out of his house with Mayo, leaving Bacall sick with despair as he yo-yoed between the two women.

The months he spent trying to give up Bacall were among the most wretched of his life.

Wracked with guilt and believing that leaving Mayo was a dereliction of duty (his first two divorces were mutual), Bogart went on a drinking binge that left him unable to film for days. 

Meanwhile, Howard Hawks and the screenwriters were having a hell of a time adapting Raymond Chandler’s complicated detective novel.  The restraints of the production code were impossible to meet with a story about a pornography ring and a nymphomaniac.  They wrote as they filmed, tearing out scenes and trying to condense Chandler’s plot into a two hour film.  Actors waited while Hawks rewrote scenes in the morning that were rehearsed and filmed the same afternoon.

And nobody—not even Raymond Chandler—knew who the hell killed the chauffeur.

When script girl Meta Carpenter noted this was, “a dangerous way to make a motion picture,” it was a hell of an understatement.

Weeks late and over budget, Hawks somehow brought The Big Sleep in for a landing in January 1945, but Warner Brothers prioritized releasing all their war films before World War II ended and the audience lost interest. 

While the original cut of The Big Sleep gathered dust, Bogart made his decision.  He could not walk away from the promise of a happy life with Betty Bacall.  He divorced Mayo, leaving her a generous settlement and in the care of her mother.  Mayo would die only six years later at 47 from the ill effects of a lifetime of excessive drinking.

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart on the set of The Big Sleep (1946)
On the set of The Big Sleep

Knowing it was time to fold, Howard Hawks sold Bacall’s contract to Warner Brothers.

Yet a year later when Warner Brothers decided to release the film, all involved knew that it needed more of the Bogart-Bacall sizzle.  Penny pinching Jack Warner uncharacteristically (and shrewdly, it turned out) authorized additional work on the film.

So the band got back together and shot fifteen minutes of classic Bogart and Bacall footage, including a scene loaded with sexual dialogue in which they compare one another to race horses.

You’ve got a touch of class,” Bogart (as Marlowe) tells her.  “But I don’t know how far you can go.”

A lot depends on who’s in the saddle,” she retorts with a grin.

To make room for the additional scenes, they cut thirteen minutes of exposition, and any chance that anyone could ever follow the plot of the film.

With such a chaotic backstory, The Big Sleep has no business being a classic.

But it is, proving the Bogie-Bacall chemistry from To Have and Have Not was no fluke.

Though he’s been played by many men (including Liam Neeson in the upcoming 2023 release Marlowe), ear tugging Humphrey Bogart will always be the quintessential Philip Marlowe.

The Big Sleep opens with General Sternwood hiring the private investigator to stop a bookseller named Arthur Geiger from blackmailing his younger daughter Carmen over unpaid gambling debts. 

Overnight, the case escalates—Marlowe breaks into Geiger’s house and finds Carmen out of her mind on drugs with an empty camera and Geiger’s body at her feet.  Marlowe takes Carmen home, makes time for some quick, sexy repartee with her sister Vivian (Bacall), then returns to the scene of the crime and finds Geiger’s body missing.

Bogart and Bacall, The Big Sleep (1946)

Oh, and Sternwood’s chauffeur was found dead when his limo crashed into the river.

Marlowe discovers what was in the camera when Vivian brings a new blackmail note demanding $5,000 for the negatives of compromising photographs of Carmen taken the night before.

It’s a thorny case, but Marlowe is up to the job.  Soon he’s tangling with Geiger’s gangster landlord Eddie Mars, Sternwood’s previous blackmailer Joe Brody, and Lash Canino who…well, I can’t exactly remember his role.

The Big Sleep’s thrills come from Marlowe figuring out the crime, even if we can’t. 

It’s a delicious film noir that has more sex and humor than hard boiled cynicism.  Every woman in the picture wants Marlowe, from Carmen who tried to, as Marlowe puts it, “sit on my lap while I was standing up” to the mousy bookseller played by a young Dorothy Malone.  She sheds her glasses, lets down her hair, and helps Marlowe wait out a rainy afternoon stakeout.

Dorothy Malone and Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep
Dorothy Malone, Humphrey Bogart

Even a female cab driver tells him he can call if he needs to use her again.

“Day and night?” Marlowe asks.

“Night’s better,” she says.  “I work during the day.”

Humphrey Bogart and Joy Barlow in the The Big Sleep (1946)
Bogart, Joy Barlow

Sure, the plot is impossible to follow.  But so what?

Bogart is double-crossed, beaten, and tied-up.  He throws punches, tosses around double entendres with beautiful women, smokes cigarettes, solves the case, and gets Bacall in the end.

Nobody cares who killed the chauffeur.

Lauren Bacall as Vivian and Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe in The Big Sleep (1946)
The Big Sleep (1946) Verdict - Timeless - Watch It Tonight

Sources

  • Sperber, A.M. and Eric Lax.  Bogart.  1997.
  • Bacall, Lauren.  By Myself.  1978.
  • McCarthy, Todd.  Howard Hawks:  The Grey Fox of Hollywood.  1997.
Opening credits of The Big Sleep (1946) showing showed profiles of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall

To Have and Have Not (1944):  Tabula Rasa

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not (1944)
To Have and Have Not (1944) Opening Banner

Director Howard Hawks wanted to design his ideal woman for the screen.  He found his tabula rasa on the cover of the March 1943 edition of Harper’s Bazaar.  He flew the 18-year-old unknown model from New York to Hollywood and offered her an unusual deal—she wouldn’t work directly for a studio, but instead sign a personal contract with him.

Howard Hawks and Lauren Bacall, 1943

Before the ink was dry, he patterned her dress and manner after his wife Slim, a chic style icon who was named to the International Best Dressed Hall of Fame in 1944.  He arranged for singing lessons.  He taught her to control her naturally deep voice to ensure it never went shrill.

Slim Keith
Slim Keith, the template for Lauren Bacall.

Hawks personally supervised her screen test, patiently coaxing a performance out of the nervous newcomer that won her a role opposite Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not.

As script development progressed and filming began, Hawks continued to cultivate his protégé with an unusual amount of attention.  Onscreen, she would portray an insolent woman who was supremely self-assured.

Offscreen, he imagined her kneeling at his feet, looking up at him with grateful and adoring eyes. 

Maybe he’d sleep with her, maybe he wouldn’t.  He could decide that later. 

As a final touch, he discarded her given name “Betty” and added an “L” to her surname.

And that’s how Howard Hawks invented Lauren Bacall.

Lauren Bacall as Slim in To Have and Have Not (1944)

For the first three weeks of shooting, everything went according to plan.  Then one night after filming, Humphrey Bogart went into her trailer, put his hand under Bacall’s chin and kissed her.  He handed her a matchbook and asked her to write her phone number on it.

She did.

And just like that, the Svengali lost control of his Trilby.

At eighteen, she was ambitious but overwhelmed.  She loved the hype, but she never fully bought into it.  Unlike Howard Hawks, she never forgot that Lauren Bacall didn’t exist.  Perhaps that’s why until the day she died her friends still called her Betty.

The Lauren Bacall of Hawks’ imagination was in love with Howard Hawks.

But Betty wanted Bogie.

PART TWO:  Bogie & Bacall

In his hotel room on the island of Martinique during World War II, boatman Harry “Steve” Morgan (Bogart) looks up to find a woman leaning in his doorway.  Slim (Hawks named Bacall’s character after his wife) is wearing a checkered jacket with a long matching skirt and cinched handbag.

Looking right at him, she asks, “Anybody got a match?”

That’s how Steve met Slim, and how the world met Lauren Bacall.

Some have called To Have and Have Not a low-rent Casablanca, a critique with stinging accuracy.  Many of the same elements are there—Bogart playing an outwardly cynical loner who ultimately decides to “stick his neck out” for someone who needs help.  There’s a charming piano player (this time played by real life songwriter Hoagy Carmichael), a mysterious woman who catches Bogie’s eye (Bacall) and a tense atmosphere as the supporters of the Free France movement chafe under Vichy rule.

Audiences went nuts over the film.  It opened at the Hollywood Theater in Manhattan and ran for sixteen weeks, becoming one of the most successful openings in the theater’s history.  All around the country people were clamoring to watch Bogie fall in love with Bacall.

Bacall and Bogart
Bacall and Bogie, no cameras rolling…

There’s a magnetic pull between them; you can see it on the screen, and everyone could feel it on the set.  Today’s films are unrestrained by the production code or the sensibilities of modern audiences.  They’re racy and revealing. 

But they’re not sexier than Bacall slapping Bogie and telling him to shave in To Have and Have Not.  Or telling him, “You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve?  You just put your lips together and blow.”

In the film Slim loves Steve, but she doesn’t wilt like a flower in his presence.  She gives as she good as she gets and both Steve and the audience love her all the more for it.  And unlike Casablanca, the lovers stay together in the end. 

Melanie Novak sitting at her writing desk
If you doubt my love for this film, take note of the poster above my writing desk…

Bogart and Bacall had a ball making the film.  Bogart sent her flowers constantly, they held hands, and disappeared into trailers during breaks and came back with mussed clothes and hair.  They joked, they laughed, they teased one another. 

He called her his Baby, and when he phoned her in the middle of the night, she always picked up.

Howard Hawks fumed.  Bacall turned out not to be as malleable as he’d hoped.  He insisted she break it off with Bogart—he threatened to sell her contract to Poverty Row, where she’d be stuck making ‘B’ films that would ruin her career.  He told her that Bogart would forget about her when filming was over.

Hawks wasn’t the only one who felt Bacall was getting ahead of herself about a future with Bogart.  Though it was obvious Bogart was smitten with Bacall, her own mother was skeptical that a forty-five year old man would leave his six year marriage after a dalliance with his teenage leading lady.

If Bacall was wrong, she’d be heartbroken, humiliated, her promising career destroyed.

But I already told you this was a love story.

So you already know Betty wasn’t wrong about Bogie.

To Have and Have Not (1944) Verdict:  Timeless - Watch It Tonight

Sources

  • Sperber, A.M. and Eric Lax.  Bogart.  1997.
  • De La Hoz, Cindy.  Bogie & Bacall:  Love Lessons from a Legendary Romance.  2015.
  • Bacall, Lauren.  By Myself.  1978.
  • McCarthy, Todd.  Howard Hawks:  The Grey Fox of Hollywood.  1997. 

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not (19440

Casablanca (1942):  “No one ever loved me that much.”

Casablanca made Bogart; Bogart made Casablanca.”

Bogart, A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax

December, 1941.  Casablanca, Morocco. 

It’s a night like any other at Rick’s Café Américain.  Every table is filled with broke couples, wealthy couples, bank managers, pickpockets, pastry chefs, and thieves. 

As World War II rages on in Europe, those who can make their way to Vichy French-controlled Casablanca, where they hope to obtain passage to Lisbon and then America.

Some will wait for days, some will wait for years.

Some will die in Casablanca.

Rick Blaine, (Humphrey Bogart) the café’s mysterious American exile owner, provides liquor and gambling and music while they wait.

Nobody’s happy, but at least they’re having a good time.

Rick keeps everyone at arm’s length, a cynic who treats his employees and customers decently, doesn’t kowtow to anyone, and “sticks his neck out for nobody.” 

Until Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) walks in and asks Sam to play, “As Time Goes By.”

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

She’s the woman who broke Rick’s heart, the lover who left him waiting at a train station the day the Germans marched into Paris.  The Germans wore gray.

Ilsa wore blue.

She’s on the arm of Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), the tireless leader of the underground resistance who inspired the world when he escaped from a concentration camp and will continue his work despite great personal danger.

And thus the stage is set for the greatest love triangle in Hollywood history—Ilsa Lund, torn between a sinner and a saint.

Paul Henreid, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart

A cruel twist of fate forced Isla from Rick in Paris—she learned her husband, the great Victor Laszlo, was alive, not killed in a concentration camp as she’d believed.  It’s an ever crueler twist that brings them back together—Rick possess the only two letters of transit in Casablanca, papers that would give the Laszlos passage to Lisbon, ensuring their safety and the continuance of Victor’s work.

There’s a less famous moment in the film that I love, a gesture so small you’ll miss it if you blink.  Victor tells Ilsa that Rick would not give him the letters of transit, not for the cause, and not for any price.

“Did he give you any reason?” Ilsa asks him.

“He suggested I ask you.”

“Ask me?”

“Yes, he said ask your wife.  I don’t know why he said that.”

Ilsa knows why.  She turns away from Victor, puts her hand on her neck, runs it through her hair, and smiles.  It’s not even a full smile, just a flicker of one that reveals her first subconscious thought.

Victor could die or be recaptured by the Germans without those letters.  The tide of the war could change with them.  While she will eventually rage at Rick to give her the letters, threaten to shoot him over them, her first instinct was to smile.

Because Rick is so jealous that he is willing to let the world burn out of spite.

What woman wouldn’t want to be wanted that much?

She admires and respects Victor.  But with Rick it is passion and desire.

We’ll never truly know who Ilsa would’ve chosen if she’d been free of the war, free of her prior commitment to Victor.  For Rick, it’s enough to know that Ilsa hadn’t made a chump of him when she left him at the railroad station. 

He might not have her now, but they’ll always have Paris.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

Casablanca exceeded everyone’s expectations, delighting wartime audiences, and winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, along with acting nominations for Bogart and Claude Rains.  It put Ingrid Bergman on the map.  It is number 2 on the American Film Institute’s List of 100 Greatest American Films, and its lines dominate the AFI’s List of 100 Greatest Quotes.

Humphrey Bogart was finally a romantic leading man.

Though his professional life was at its peak, things were falling apart at home.  His relationship with wife Mayo, while always volatile, had become dangerous and began interfering with his work.

“They were poison to one another,” actress Jane Bryan said.

A failed actress, Mayo was jealous of Bogart’s career.  She believed he was having an affair with Ingrid Bergman during Casablanca (he wasn’t) and began showing up on the set, “always looking like the wrath of God,” assistant director Lee Katz said.  “In fact, looking like somebody you wish would never darken your life.”

Things were so violent at home that Bogart had to learn his lines on the set.  One night he came home to find Mayo lying in wait, and she stabbed him in the back with a butcher knife.  During another incident, she set the house on fire and nearly burned it to the ground.

She was a woman with demons, haunted by alcohol and thwarted ambitions, a full-blown alcoholic on her way to killing herself with booze.

Still, Bogart soldiered on with the marriage.

In the first half of Casablanca, a young girl, Annina, asks Rick for advice. 

“M’sieur, you are a man.  If someone loved you very much, so that your happiness was the only thing in the world that she wanted and she did a bad thing to make certain of it, could you forgive her?”

“No one ever loved me that much,” Rick replies gruffly.

Rick was wrong, but it was true that no one had loved Bogart that much in 1942.

That was all about to change.

Next week, Bogart finally meets Bacall.

Anybody got a match?

Sources

  • Sperber, A.M. and Eric Lax.  Bogart.  1997.

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

The Maltese Falcon (1941):  “The stuff that dreams are made of”

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Humphrey Bogart in the Maltese Falcon (1941)
The Maltese Falcon (1941) Opening Banner

So what do you think happened next? 

After his fifth-billed role in The Petrified Forest, did Humphrey Bogart end his second marriage, shoot to stardom, and finally meet the love of his life?

Not so fast.

His second marriage did end.  Though his affair with actress Mayo Methot was the final straw, ultimately his second marriage ended for the same reason as his first—Bogart was a traditional man at heart, and he wanted to be the family breadwinner, and to have a family.  Mrs. Bogarts 1 and 2 were actresses—more successful than him at the time—who were not about to set aside their careers for love, marriage, and babies.

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade holding The Maltese Falcon

Bogart grew up in a cold and possibly abusive home.  His artist mother showed affection for nothing but her work, and his physician father slowly ruined his health by injecting himself with morphine meant for patients. 

But his parent’s marriage was a Norman Rockwell painting in comparison to his union with Mayo Methot, whom Bogart reluctantly married in 1938.  Their alcohol-fueled arguments were constant and often physical—they got into a shouting match so heated at their reception that they didn’t spend their wedding night together.  It didn’t take long for friends to start calling them the “Battling Bogarts.”

His career wasn’t going any better.  Everyone knew Bogart was a good actor, but he was at the bottom of a Warner Brothers leading man pecking order that included Paul Muni, James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, and George Raft.  And so Bogart spent the six years after Forest playing gangsters, crooks, and thieves who came to a bad end, often in ‘B’ pictures. 

By 1941, he’d passed the age of forty without a leading role.  He was balding and didn’t have traditional leading man good looks.  He seemed fated for life as a character actor.

Then came John Huston (last seen here coming to blows with Errol Flynn over Olivia de Havilland) and The Maltese Falcon.

For his directorial debut, Huston wanted to adapt the Dashiell Hammett detective novel The Maltese Falcon.

And he wanted Bogart as his hard-boiled private eye Sam Spade.

Huston surrounded Bogart with a winning cast starting with Mary Astor as the beautiful schemer who drags Sam into the whole mess.  Lee Patrick plays Sam’s faithful secretary, Peter Lorre a villain after the falcon, and veteran stage actor Sydney Greenstreet made his film debut at sixty-one years old as “Fat Man” Kasper Gutman.

Bogart, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Bogart, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet

The film begins when Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) hires Sam to follow a man she fears will kill her sister.  Sam’s partner Miles Arches takes the job and is shot dead on what should have been a routine tail.

Brigid’s story and her sister are a complete fabrication, and Sam is dragged into a web of thieves and murderers looking for the Maltese Falcon, a jeweled bird lost in the sixteenth century that would be worth untold riches if found.

Bogart’s Sam Spade is cynical, clever, and tough but not ruthless.  He’s got his own moral code—one that compels him to “do something” about his partner’s murder despite the fact that he never liked the guy and sometimes slept with his wife.

Peter Lorre, Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Peter Lorre, Bogart

The audience unravels the mystery along with Spade—we learn what he learns, as he learns it.  As with any good mystery, there are twists, turns, and double-crosses.

Spade falls in love—or at least lust—with Brigid, but that doesn’t prevent him from seeing her for the murderess she is.  In the film’s final act, the falcon is determined to be a fake—all the lying, cheating and killing was for naught.  Brigid—and the audience—assume that Spade will take her on as a lover for at least awhile, but Spade is hard-boiled and nobody’s fool.

Brigid murdered his partner, and the film closes on him as he turns her over to the police with obvious regret.

“What’s that?” a cop asks him, nodding to the fake Maltese Falcon that has caused all the trouble.

“The stuff that dreams are made of,” Spade tells him, slightly misquoting Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

And it was—for The Maltese Falcon is widely considered one of the greatest films of all time, listed at number 31 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films.  It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between Huston and Bogart that would have huge personal and professional dividends for both.

At 42, Humphrey Bogart had finally become a leading man.

And what of the love story with Lauren Bacall that I promised to tell you last week?

I am telling you.

For as the Bard also wrote, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

The Maltese Falcon Verdict - Timeless - Watch It Tonight

Sources

  • Sperber, A.M. and Eric Lax.  Bogart.  1997.
  • De La Hoz, Cindy.  Bogie & Bacall:  Love Lessons from a Legendary Romance.  2015.

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

The Petrified Forest (1936):  NO BOGART NO DEAL

Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, and Humphrey Bogart in The Petrified Forest (1936)
The Petrified Forest (1936) Opening Banner.  Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, and Humphrey Bogart.  Directed by Archie Mayo.

I want to tell you a love story.

There never was a match less destined for success—a monumental age gap, a jealous wife, and two people who had not grown up in homes with happy marriages.

He’d seen it all, done it all, and already had two divorces under his belt.  She was a teenager in her first film, so nervous she had to hold her chin down to disguise her trembling.

This is the story of Bogie & Bacall.

PART ONE:  Bogart Before Bacall

We begin in 1935, with a down-on-his luck Humphrey Bogart.  After thirteen years in show business, he was broke, drinking too much, grieving the death of his father and on the brink of his second divorce.

He’d had some small early successes on Broadway, then went to Hollywood and landed a dozen parts so small that no one at Warner Brothers remembered him.  He returned to New York and found Broadway gutted by the Depression.  Work was scarcer than ever.

His friend Robert Sherwood suggested him for the role of the gangster on the run in his new play The Petrified Forest, starring Leslie Howard.

Humphrey Bogart as Duke Mantee in the Petrified Forest (1936)
Humphrey Bogart as Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest

The play was a success, and Warner Brothers bought the rights.  They wanted Howard to reprise his stage role in the film, and cast Bette Davis as his leading lady. Howard was a star with serious clout in those days, and he insisted Bogart reprise his role as well. 

When Jack Warner dithered, Howard sent him a telegram saying, “NO BOGART NO DEAL” and the die was cast.

Bogart got fifth billing.  He was down to his last shot, and he knew it.

The Petrified Forest opens on a bar-b-que joint in the middle of the Arizona desert.  Gabrielle (Davis) works there with her father and grandfather.

Alan Squire (Leslie Howard) arrives dusty, broke, and looking for a meal.  He’s a well-traveled but world-weary writer and intellectual, and Gabrielle is instantly smitten.  She tells him of her desire to see France.

Bette Davis and Leslie Howard in The Petrified Forest (1936)
Bette Davis and Leslie Howard

The budding love story is interrupted when escaped convict Duke Mantee (Bogart) shows up at the diner demanding a place to hide for the night.

Bogart is ferocious in the role, a desperate man with haunted eyes.  None of his hostages doubt for a moment that he will kill them if they cross him, and yet he shows glimpses of humanity toward the grandfather, who is thrilled he will have a story to tell future customers about the time he was held up by the infamous Duke Mantee.

The Petrified Forest

It becomes clear during the standoff that the Arizona forest isn’t the only thing that is petrified—nearly all the characters long for the past or have effectively finished living.  Grandpa tells stories of the time he was shot by Billy the Kid.  Alan Squire believes time has passed him by, and Duke is bone weary of the world.

Only Gabrielle lives for the future—a future in France she will likely never see.

Alan carries a life insurance policy among his meager possessions, and he secretly changes the beneficiary to Gabrielle.  He asks Duke to kill him so that she can use the money to escape the Petrified Forest and live out her dreams in France.

At the end of the film, gunfire erupts and Duke does as Alan asked.  Gabrielle cradles Alan as he dies, unaware of his sacrifice as the credits roll.

The Petrified Forest garnered good reviews, and it’s a good if not great film that mostly holds up today.  Though it is really just a filmed version of the play, with no real touches to shape it into a movie.

Critics and audiences responded to Bogart—enough that Warner Brothers gave him a long term contract.  But one didn’t become a star in a fifth billed role.  Even with the contract, Bogart knew he was hanging onto the cliff of his career with a single finger.

His marriage wasn’t in much better shape.

And what was the future love of his life doing in 1936?

Lauren Bacall was at the Highland Manor Boarding School for Girls.

Their paths had not yet crossed.  The time was not yet right.

Both had some growing up to do first.

The Petrified Forest (1936) Verdict - Film Buffs Only

Sources

  • Sperber, A.M. and Eric Lax.  Bogart.  1997.

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, and Humphrey Bogart in The Petrified Forest (1936)

Show Boat (1936):  Ferber’s Glamour Girl

Paul Robeson, Irene Dunne, Hattie McDaniel, Helen Morgan in Show Boast 1936
Paul Robeson, Irene Dunne, Hattie McDaniel, Helen Morgan
Show Boat 1936 Opening Banner

In 1924, Edna Ferber collaborated with George Kaufmann on one of their rare failures, a play called Minick that closed after only four months.  As Ferber recounts in her memoir A Peculiar Treasure, after a disappointing opening night, Ferber and her producer Winthrop Ames were doing a post mortem on what had gone wrong.  Winthrop joked that they should forget Broadway plays and instead perform on show boats.

“What’s a show boat?” Ferber asked, in no mood for jokes.

The question—and its answer—sent Ferber down a path that would electrify her, her readers, Broadway, and finally Hollywood.

Ferber learned that show boats were floating theaters that traveled through the American south from the 1860s to about the 1880s.  The cast and crew lived on the boat, and they docked at rural towns where hard-working and often poor people would come aboard to watch a show. 

Ferber fell in love with show boats and was stunned to discover there was very little written about life on show boats—no fiction, no memoirs, no recollections.

She threw herself into the task of researching a novel about life on a show boat.  As she writes in Treasure, “I was hot on the trail of show boats.  Here, I thought, was one of the most melodramatic and gorgeous bits of Americana that had ever come my way.  It was not only the theater—it was the theater plus the glamour of the wandering drifting life, the drama of the river towns, the mystery and terror of the Mississippi itself.”

She called the resulting novel Show Boat, and it told the story of Magnolia Hawks, a naïve young girl who grows up on The Cotton Blossom, her father’s show boat, and gets her chance to perform—against her mother’s strong objections—when the show’s leading lady has to abruptly leave the tour.

It was the eighth best-selling book of 1926.

The next year Florenz Ziegfeld produced a musical based on the novel, with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein.  Though she had no active role in the musical, Ferber loved it—as did the rest of America.  Kern and Hammerstein added more whimsy and fun to Ferber’s tale, while keeping the serious undertone of race relations.

As Ferber wrote approvingly, “Show Boat had been adopted by foster parents and was being educated to be a glamour girl.”

It ran for two years straight in New York and the original cast included Helen Morgan as Julie LaVerne and Charles Winninger as Cap’n Andy Hawks.  It played in London for ten months with Paul Robeson in the role of Joe.

In 1929, Irene Dunne was a thirty-one theater actress who was considering retiring (having never made a film) when she and her husband saw Show Boat.  As Dunne’s father (who died when she was very young) worked on steamships and Dunne had a childhood memory of floating down the Mississippi with him, she fell in love with the show and was determined to play Magnolia.  She eventually won the part for a road show version that ran for a record forty weeks all along the eastern coast.  The show put Dunne on the map and led to her first Hollywood film at the age of thirty-two.

At an age when many actresses had to start thinking about their post-film career, Irene Dunne was just getting started.

So in 1936 when Universal Pictures decided to pull out all the stops to make Show Boat—the most expensive film the studio had ever produced at the time—the film cast itself.  Dunne, now a bona fide movie star with an Oscar nomination under her belt for her role in Ferber’s 1931 film Cimarron, would play eighteen-year-old Magnolia.  Helen Morgan, Charles Winninger, and Paul Robeson would reprise their stage roles on screen.  Add in Allan Jones as Magnolia’s suitor Ravenal and Hattie McDaniel as Queenie, and the stage was set for greatness.

James Whale, who’s known then and now for horror films such as Frankenstein, was an unusual choice to direct. But the mix of his outsider view and the experienced actors made for a wonderful film.

Magnolia Hawks (Dunne) is the daughter of Cap’n Andy and Parthy Ann Hawks, owners of the Cotton Blossom Show Boat.  She falls in love with gambler Gaylord Ravenal.  Leading lady Julie LaVerne is discovered to be a half black woman passing as white.  As she’s married to a white man, they are committing a crime at the time, and are forced to leave the show, paving the way for Magnolia to take over the show.

There are moments of true magic—when Dunne performs a shuffle dance inspired by the black levee workers as Helen Morgan sings, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.”  Or a Romeo-and-Juliet inspired scene when Magnolia and Ravenal sing a duet from their windows, hers on top of his. 

And of course, Paul Robeson’s rendition of “Ol’ Man River” will make the hair on your arms stand up.

It’s no revelation to say that black actors in the 1930s were never given the chance to play fully fleshed out roles, and were instead relegated to roles as slaves, maids, and laborers.  But it’s a testament to the immense talent of both Robeson and Hattie McDaniel that they were able to do so much with so little, and Show Boat is no exception.

Ferber’s novel and the film deserve credit for the way they handle the illegal interracial marriage—the villain is the man who exposes Julie’s history out of spite, and not Julie and her husband.  Everyone on the Cotton Blossom is sick to see her go, Magnolia most of all.  Robeson’s Joe and McDaniel’s Queenie use nothing but their eyes to convey a weariness at the injustice of the world as they watch Julie marched out of polite society for having a “drop of negro blood.”

So much with so little.

Paul Robeson - 1936 - Show Boat
Paul Robeson

The film has romance, drama, whimsy, and melancholy.  There’s moments of great humor as well—Queenie and Joe’s bickering, and Dunne brings that slightly mocking laugher to Magnolia that she would later hone in screwball comedies like My Favorite Wife.  And the scene in which Cap’n Andy acts out the final scene onstage alone after an audience member shoots the villain is worth the price of admission.

The film has a happier ending than the novel, as any good glamour girl musical should.

The American Film Institute ranks it as the 24th best musical ever made, and “Ol’ Man River” as the 24th best movie song ever.

And don’t even think about watching the 1951 MGM remake.  Despite the addition of technicolor and Ava Gardner, this film just doesn’t hold a candle to the 1936 version.  In it’s conversion to a big-time MGM musical, it becomes bloated, overblown, and loses all its humor and charm.

Ava Gardner in Show Boat- 1951.
Not even Ava Gardner could save the 1951 MGM film version….

I can think of no better place to end our discussion of Edna Ferber than Show Boat, the property that both made her the most money (through book sales, musical and film royalties) and the book she had the most fun writing.

I’ll quote one last time from Treasure before we turn the page on the great Edna Ferber:

“It doesn’t seem possible that anyone ever had so much sheer fun, gaiety, novelty, satisfaction and money out of the writing of any one piece of work as I have had out of Show Boat.”

And few movie review bloggers have ever had as much fun researching, watching, and writing about films than I have had with the work of Edna Ferber.

Show Boat 1936 Verdict - Timeless - Watch It Tonight

 Sources

  • Ferber, Edna.  A Peculiar Treasure.  1939.
  • Gehring, Wes D.  Irene Dunne:  First Lady of Hollywood.  2003.

Revisit The Films of Edna Ferber:

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

Come and Get It (1936):  Bad Adaptation, Great Film

Frances Farmer and Edward Arnold around the gambling table in Come and Get It (1936)
Come and Get It 1936 Opening Banner

Sandwiched between Cimarron and Saratoga Trunk, Edna Ferber wrote Come and Get It, a novel criticizing the American logging industry of the 1880’s and detailing what she called “the rape of America.”

By this Ferber meant the non-sustainable practices of cutting down trees without replanting, polluting rivers and streams, and using barely legal tactics to scoop up huge tracts of land.  (The same illegal tactics the robber barons used to steal the farm of Clint Maroon’s parents in Saratoga Trunk.) 

Thus, the provocative Come and Get It title refers to the trees—and the wealth—there for the taking in the lush and seemingly endless American forests.

Ferber sold the film rights to producer Samuel Goldwyn, extracting a promise that he would make a prestigious “issue” film that got to the heart of her story. 

Goldwyn had every intention of honoring this promise, until fate—and Howard Hawks—intervened.

Goldwyn assigned Hawks—never known for “issue” films—to direct Come and Get It, with the plan to keep a close eye and tight leash on the independent director who had a habit of bending source material to his version of the story.

During the filming of Come and Get It, Goldwyn was hospitalized due to problems with both his gall bladder and appendix.  While Goldwyn recuperated, Hawks began a wholesale rewrite of the script.  His film begins with thirty minutes of impressive footage showcasing how trees are felled and then sent down the river to the saw mill using dynamite and the flow of river water.

After that brief nod to the logging industry, Hawks introduces us to Barney Glasgow (Edward Arnold), a big, gregarious, and ambitious lumberjack.  He’s clutch in a barroom brawl (and we get to see a mighty one) but he’s also got big plans for his future.  He pitches a partnership to his boss based on a legally dubious plan to gobble up Wisconsin land for their logging operation.

Barney falls in love with Lotta Morgan (Frances Farmer), a beautiful barmaid he meets on the night of the aforementioned brawl.  He teases marriage, but in the end he throws her over to marry the boss’ daughter and secure his rise up the logging ladder.

Walter Brennan, Frances Farmer, and Edward Arnold in Come and Get It (1936)
Walter Brennan, Frances Farmer, Edward Arnold

Of her own novel, Ferber wrote many years later that it was, “about 70 per cent good.  In it I committed a serious error.  A little more than halfway through the book I killed the character called Barney Glasgow, and with his death the backbone of the book was broken.  He was the most vital and engaging person in the story.”

Howard Hawks didn’t make the same mistake.  He knew Barney Glasgow was the heart of the story, and he intended to keep the gregarious lumberjack turned magnate onscreen until the final frame.

We fast-forward a few decades to find Barney a rich and successful paper mill tycoon.  He butts heads with his son, who wants more sustainable logging practices, dotes on his daughter, and has a cordial if not loving relationship with his wife.

He has everything he’s ever wanted—except Lotta, the love of his life who (reluctantly) married his best friend (Walter Brennan) after he threw her over.

His life is upended when he meets the now-deceased Lotta’s daughter, also named Lotta (and also played by Frances Farmer), the spitting image the woman Barney loved all those years ago.

The rich and powerful Barney makes an absolute fool of himself in pursuit of young Lotta.  He gives her father a job in his company so that they can move closer to him.  He showers her with expensive clothes, buys her an apartment, pays for her education. 

He’s infatuated with now-Lotta, confusing her with the woman he once knew.  And confusing himself with the much younger man he once was.

Lotta is at first flattered, then increasingly alarmed and eventually repulsed by Barney’s attentions.  She fears retribution against her father if she outright rejects Barney.

Frances Farmer and Edward Arnold in Come and Get It (1936)
Frances Farmer, Edward Arnold

When she falls in love with Barney’s son Richard (Joel McCrea), the film has completely transformed from a critique of the logging industry into a highly entertaining yarn about an old man and his son being in love with the same woman that bears little resemblance to Ferber’s novel.

At this point of the film, I’m on the edge of my seat—how will Lotta manage this lecherous patron who has given her family so much?  What will Richard do when he finds out that his father has been making advances on the woman he hopes to marry?

What will Barney do when he realizes Lotta loves not him but his son?

Frances Farmer and Joel McCrea in Come and Get It 1936
Frances Farmer, Joel McCrea

It was about this time in the filming that Samuel Goldwyn recovered enough from his gastrointestinal issues that he first asked—then demanded when he met resistance—to see Hawks’ footage.

When he saw what Hawks had done to Ferber’s material, he blew a gasket.  Hawks felt that the second half of Ferber’s novel was “lousy,” and he’d made it into a good story for film.  They had a heated argument, and depending on who’s telling the story, Goldwyn either fired Hawks or Hawks quit. 

Either way, Hawks was off to RKO to make Bringing Up Baby with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, and Goldwyn was left with an unfinished picture.

Samuel Goldwyn called in William Wyler to finish directing the film.  William Wyler would go on to have a stellar career making prestige films, including Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Heiress (1949), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Roman Holiday (1953), and Ben-Hur (1959).  He would collect three Academy Awards for best directing and twelve nominations throughout his long career.

Had Wyler directed Come and Get It from the start, I’m certain he would’ve better captured the spirit of Ferber’s novel.  But I’m not sure he would’ve made a more entertaining film.

Regardless, Wyler was loathe to finish the work of another man, and only did so after Goldwyn threatened to sue him for breach of contract if he refused.  He ended the film but kept Hawks’ vision intact.

In the final moments of the film, father and son get into a physical altercation over Lotta.  She breaks them apart, begging Richard to stop hitting his father, and calling Barney, “just an old man.”

The words land harder than any punch he’s ever taken.  He suddenly sees himself through Lotta’s eyes—not a legitimate rival for her affection, but a pathetic old pervert.

His ambition has brought him money, wealth, and power.  But it never brought him either Lotta, and it can’t preserve his youth.

Wyler never counted Come and Get It as one of his films; he’d completed only 14 days of shooting vs. Hawks’ 42.  He fought against Goldwyn’s desire to remove Hawks’ name completely from the film.  Wyler insisted they share screen credit (though he would have preferred his name left off entirely) and insisted Hawks’ name come first.

Come and Get It is an unjustly forgotten film; perhaps because of the two directors, perhaps because the stars aren’t as well remembered today.  And although it doesn’t tell Ferber’s story, it does tell a good one.  Hawks wasn’t one to moralize, but he knew how to keep an audience’s attention.  Watching Barney throw over one Lotta only to leer at another is a fascinating study of human behavior.

It’s got a quick pace, a good cast, and Edward Arnold nails his part as Barney Glasgow.  Perhaps due to Wyler, the somewhat zany story comes to a poignant end.

For future Jeopardy players, take note that Walter Brennan won the first ever Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Swan, Barney’s best friend and young Lotta’s father.

And what did Ferber think of this fast and loose adaptation?

Across two memoirs, she never once mentions the film.  She had no problem praising or criticizing the films made of her books, so we’ll all just have to draw our own conclusions regarding her silence.

Come and Get It Verdict:  Give It A shot

Sources

  • Ferber, Edna.  A Peculiar Treasure.  1939.
  • Madsen, Axel. William Wyler:  The Authorized Biography.  2015.

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

Frances Farmer and Edward Arnold around the gambling table in Come and Get It 1936.

Saratoga Trunk (1945):  “Two Impecunious Rascals”

1945's Saratoga Trunk opening banner

For years, Edna Ferber tried to convinced George Kaufman to write a play with her about:

“Two impecunious rascals, a man and a woman, both bearing a grudge against the world.  Meeting by accident.  Combining forces, without sentiment, without love, without marriage, to fight and defeat a horde of moneyed rascals in a ruthless world against a ruthless background.  Saratoga.”

-Edna Ferber, A Peculiar Treasure

But Kaufman had no interest in the play, and Ferber shelved the idea, for two main reasons: (1) she didn’t want to write a play alone, and (2) though she knew the man in her story would be a Texan, she couldn’t quite get a mental image of the woman.

She was in Texas researching a novel that was going nowhere (and would itself be shelved for a dozen years before reemerging as Giant) when her friend and fellow Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Louis Bromfield telegrammed her to meet him in New Orleans.  She’d never been to New Orleans before, and after a few days in The Big Easy, she could finally see her heroine clearly in her mind’s eye—Clio Dulaine, beautiful, young, and bold.  Paris-raised but returning to the city of her birth to exact revenge.

The resulting novel, Saratoga Trunk, was another critical and commercial success, garnering favorable reviews and was one of the top ten best-selling novels of 1941.

Speculation about who would play the leads in the inevitable film began immediately.  Clifton Fadiman wrote in his New Yorker review that Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper were shoo-ins for the lead roles.

He was half-right, as Gary Cooper was the choice for Texan Clint Maroon.

But the role of Clio went not to Dietrich, nor Olivia de Havilland*, who desperately wanted it, but to Ingrid Bergman, fresh off filming For Whom the Bell Tolls with Cooper.

The result?

Ferber herself (never afraid to criticize adaptations of her films) called it, “a rather dashing motion picture.”

Dashing indeed.

Like the novel, the film opens with the arrival of Clio Dulaine in New Orleans.  Years ago, her mother was the subject of scandal, the kept mistress of the rich and powerful Nicholas Dulaine.  Clio’s mother shot him when he left her, though it was an accident as he intervened when she was trying to commit suicide over her heartbreak.

Ingrid Bergman walking down the street as Clio Dulaine in Saratoga Trunk (1945)
Bergman

The Dulaine family paid Clio’s mother to go to France and never return.

After her mother’s death, Clio arrives in America determined to first make life very uncomfortable for the Dulaines, and eventually marry a rich man so she can live in comfort. 

She will never be a fool for love—that was her mother’s mistake.

Clio, the spitting image of her mother, conspicuously parades around New Orleans, delighting in the attention and ire she draws from the Dulaine family.  She also attracts the attention of Texan Clint Maroon, a stranger passing through in a ten gallon white hat and big leather boots.

The attraction is instant, mutual, and all consuming.

Gary Cooper as Clint Maroon in Saratoga Trunk.
Cooper

But Maroon is exactly the kind of man Clio can’t marry—he’s poor, scraping by on what he wins at the races and poker games.  And Maroon isn’t looking to permanently hitch his wagon to a woman who in many ways is still a girl—both cunning and naïve, calculating and occasionally hysterical.

Maroon has his own agenda—he wants revenge against the railroad barons who cheated his parents out of their land.

And yet he can’t bring himself to leave for Saratoga, New York—summer home of the east’s richest railroad barons—until he convinces Clio to go with him.

They’ll work together to achieve their dual aims—he will fleece the men at the poker table, and she’ll snag a rich husband.

Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman as Clint Maroon and Clio Dulaine in 1945's Saratoga Trunk.
Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper

She sets her sights on Bartholomew Van Steed, a rich but feckless man tied to his mother’s apron strings.  Clio easily charms and manipulates him until he’s on the brink of marriage, driving Clint mad with jealousy.

But she cannot—and will not—marry a man without money.

Van Steed owns what was a mostly worthless railroad line outside of Saratoga.  But as the eastern cities build up, the line is poised to become a trunk line—a main artery—and make the owner rich.  But Van Steed’s competitors are using dirty tactics to steal the line from him.

He doesn’t know how to fight.

But Clint does.

Shall I spoil the ending for you reader?

Let’s just say that about the time Clio decides that love trumps money, Clint decides that if Clio will only marry a man with money, then he will get truckloads of it.

And he’ll use his wits, his fists, and the Saratoga trunk line to fight for it Texas style.

Saratoga Trunk is my favorite of Edna Ferber’s novels, and the film captures the mystery of New Orleans, the romance in the air, and the irresistible pleasure of watching two rascals fall in love despite their best efforts to prevent it.


*Note: By 1945, Olivia de Havilland was deep into her Hollywood blacklist period after suing Warner Brothers regarding her contract.  But “Saratoga Trunk” was filmed in 1943, when de Havilland was still working for Warner Brothers (though about to launch her famous suit.)  Though the film was finished in 1943, Warner Brothers didn’t release it until after World War II ended.  During that time audiences preferred films about the war. 

Saratoga Trunk (1945) Verdict:  Give It A Shot

Sources

  • Ferber, Edna.  A Peculiar Treasure.  1939.
  • Behlmer, Rudy.  Inside Warner Bros (1935-1951).  1985.
  • Ferber, Edna.  Saratoga Trunk.  1969 reprint.

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

So Big (1932):  “Epic of American Womanhood”

Barbara Stanwyck riding in a wagon as Selina Peake De Jong in So Big, 1932.
Barbara Stanwyck
So Big 1932 movie opening banner

Few novels have ever been as successful as Edna Ferber’s 1924 epic novel So Big.  The story of Selina Peake De Jong, a woman who triumphed over widowhood, sexism, and the unforgiving midwestern soil captured the hearts of critics and audiences.

It was the first novel to both win the Pulitzer Prize and be the best-selling novel of the year.1  This is a feat so rare and impressive that only three additional novels have achieved it—Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth (1931), and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind (1936.)

For those of you keeping score at home, Ferber’s novels Cimarron and So Big were both the top selling novel of the year.  From 1918-2017, only 14 authors have the distinction of writing more than one best selling book of the year. 

Who’s on that list with Ferber?  Zane Grey, Sinclair Lewis, Stephen King, Jean M. Auel, and John Grisham.

Who isn’t?  Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Joyce Carol Oates, and John Updike.

(To be clear, my point is not to disparage these writers.  I love them all.  It is merely to point out that Ferber’s fall from the public consciousness is truly inexplicable.)

So Big tells the life story of Selina Peake, a young woman whose life is upended when her adored gambling father is shot dead and penniless.  Well-educated but broke, Selina takes a job in a rural farm town outside Chicago.  She’s a fish out of water, a delicate beauty who appreciates art, poetry, and beauty in a town filled with Dutch immigrants in a fight to the death with their farms, trying to wring just enough of out the land to survive.

No one understands her but little Roelf Pool, a young boy who longs to escape farm life and become an artist.  He’s the only one who doesn’t laugh when Selina says the cabbage fields are beautiful, and she takes him under her wing.

Quote from Edna Ferber's novel So Big

Selina falls in love with a local farmer, marries, and becomes widowed shortly thereafter, left with a young son and a farm full of land that can’t seem to grow anything.  Against all odds and the town’s predictions, Selina makes a success of the farm, making enough money to send her son Dirk to college.

Years later, when Selina is old and withered from a hard life of farming, Roelf Pool returns after many years away, having made it as a successful artist.  Selina notes the contrast between him and her own son, who is embarrassed of his mother’s farm, carrying on with a married woman, and working a job he hates for the money and trappings instead of pursuing his dream of becoming an architect.

She’s proud of Roelf but disappointed in her own son.

In 1932, William A. Wellman directed a remake of the original silent film version of So Big.  Barbara Stanwyck, queen of the tough girls who grit it out, starred as Selina.  George Brent starred as a grown Roelf Pool, and one Bette Davis starred as Dallas O’Mara, a young painter whom both Roelf and Dirk fall in love.

It is the only time in sixty years that Stanwyck and Davis shared the screen.

Hardie Albright and Bette Davis is So Big (1932)
Hardie Albright, Bette Davis

I was determined to watch this film, despite the difficulty in obtaining a copy—nothing at the library, nothing on Amazon Prime, YouTube had a single grainy clip.  I ended up buying a homemade disc on eBay from someone who had recorded if off Turner Classic Movies.

With Ferber’s most prestigious novel as source material, a director who would go onto win an Academy Award for writing the original A Star is Born, and two of the best actresses to ever live, this film had to be a winner.

Yet watching So Big is like drinking flat champagne—all the elements are there but there’s just no fizz.

Ferber, who assessed her films with clear eyes, wrote, “Two motion pictures—a silent one and a talkie—were made of the novel.  Both seemed to me very bad indeed.”2

A third version was filmed in 1953 with Jane Wyman, but Ferber likely felt—as most do—that it was strike three.

There’s a reason it’s so difficult to find a copy.

There’s no doubt that So Big is a difficult novel to film, and it may have been beyond the capabilities of Hollywood in 1932.  Selina ages from a young girl to an old woman, and while the story has some cinematic moments, much of it is a meditation on what makes a good life.

Barbara Stanwyck riding in a wagon with Dickie Moore in So Big
Barbara Stanwyck, Dickie Moore

Stanwyck was only twenty-five and had not grown into the actress she would become.  I’d love to see what Stanwyck would’ve done with the role in her prime.  But perhaps she would’ve been miscast for the role by the time she’d found her stride, for her specialty was a gritty woman shot through with cynicism and defiance.  One who knew the way life worked and was determined to take what she could get.

Selina Peake De Jong, by contrast, was as gritty as they come, but never lost her idealism throughout her long, hard life.  After toiling in the soil for decades, she still thought cabbages were beautiful.  She wanted her son to quit his high paying job and pursue his dreams.

Stanwyck would’ve told him not to be a sap.

And Bette Davis’ role is so underdeveloped that she leaves no mark on the film.

I’ve discussed 113 films for this blog.  So Big is the one I’d most like to see remade in 2022.  Hollywood’s taken three swings at it and never hit the ball out of the infield.

I think there’s a great film in the pages of Ferber’s masterpiece.

But no one’s made it yet.

Sources

  1. Annotated Podcast. Episode 18:  Edna Ferber.  Dec 6, 2018.
  2. Ferber, Edna.  A Peculiar Treasure.  1939.

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.