Why I’ve Decided To Stop Bingeing The Crown

The first show I ever binged was Orange is the New Black.

Bingeing is watching several episodes (sometimes more than several) in one viewing session, and watching the entire season over a few days and perhaps the entire series in a few weeks.  I’ll also add that to me, bingeing refers specifically to a show that you’re watching for the first time.

Rewatching a few old Gilmore Girls episodes for the fifth time is not bingeing to me, as you’re revisiting an old show that you consumed in what used to be the normal manner—week by week.

But back to Orange is the New Black.  This might not have been the first show where Netflix dropped all the episodes at once, but it was the first show that really caught on.  Everyone was talking about it—and yet, we couldn’t say anything specific, because everyone was on a different stage of the journey.

We went from, “hey did you see last night’s episode, I can’t believe x happened” to “what episode are you on?”

If you weren’t on the same episode, the conversation stopped dead.

Prior to Orange is the New Black, the only bingeing I had ever done was watching five consecutive episodes of General Hospital when returning from a week long beach vacation. 

Those were sweet, sweet binges.  But then again, I often couldn’t watch all five in a row because I would be watching in July in a house with no air conditioning and the VCR would overheat after episode three.  I’d have to let it cool down or risk the tape in the VHS cassette melting and lose my precious Sonny and Brenda episodes forever. 

But back to Orange is the New Black.  At the time I was watching, I was obsessed.  I thought it was the best show I’d ever seen.  And the thrill of watching episode after episode of a brand new show!  To go from an episode cliffhanger right into the resolution in seconds.  I heard the theme song five times a day or more…the “skip intro” button hadn’t been invented yet, and I wouldn’t have used it if it had.

But here’s the thing.

After thinking it was the greatest season of television ever after season one, I lost interest almost overnight and abandoned it completely somewhere around season 3.  (Orange is the New Black went on for 7 seasons.)

I’d burned out on my binge.

The truth is, binge is not really the right word for the way I consumed this show, and others afterward.  I went on an Orange is the New Black bender.

And just like a drinking bender, I don’t remember a moment of it.

Seriously, I don’t remember a single individual scene from that show.  The show I once thought was the greatest show ever made!

I remember the characters and the actors who played them, but they’re not in my heart.

I tried to figure out exactly when I stopped watching by reading the episode descriptions on IMDB, but few of them registered with me at all.

As fun as it is in the moment, there’s something very unsatisfying about gorging on episode after episode.  There’s no time to let the plot develop, to let the action sink in.  I used to mull on an episode of a show for an entire week, anticipating the follow up.  The story was doled out to me in tiny bits, and this is the agony and the ecstasy of series television.

And yet I can’t stop bingeing.  It’s why I don’t keep ice cream in the house—I can’t have just a bowl, I’ll eat it until the box is gone.

That’s why I’m so hesitant to start a new TV series—even if its mediocre, I’ll keep watching episode after episode, not really enjoying the process but somehow unable to stop.

Please tell me I’m not the only one.

Which brings me back around to The Crown, which I discussed last week.  Now this is a show that I do love, but I think it is particularly unsuited to the binge.

It’s a slow moving show, packed with history and each episode would benefit greatly from a week to breathe.  A week to settle in my brain, and a week me for me to fact check all the historical elements shown, which is something I love to do when watching this type of show or film.

But instead, I stayed up late, and by the time I got to the end of the binge, I’d forgotten what I wanted to look up from the first episode.

And after season one, I’ve already forgotten what has happened.

I remember an African safari, a fog, and a pissed off Margaret who didn’t get to marry her love.

That’s it.

And so I’ve decided that I’m going to slow down The Crown.

I’m going to start back at the beginning, and watch one episode and one episode only on Sunday nights, just like an old school show with a schedule.  With 60 episodes, that will take me over a year (and they’ll be more by the time I get there.)

A year seems an incredibly long time to stretch out watching a show, but in the old days, four seasons would take four years.

So a year seems a good compromise.

Time to slow down.  Savor.  Remember.

The question is will I have the willpower to stop after one episode?

Only time will tell.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956):  Que Sera, Sera

James Stewart and Doris Day in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
James Stewart and Doris Day in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956):  Starring James Stewart and Doris Day.  Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) is not to be missed.

Director Alfred Hitchcock was in the prime of his career.  He had already made Rebecca (1940), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Notorious (1946), Strangers on a Train (1951), and Rear Window (1954).  Still to come were Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963.)

Hitchcock used the power garnered from his success to remake one of his own films, The Man Who Knew Too Much, which he’d made in 1934 in Britain before coming to Hollywood in 1940.

As Hitchcock astutely told François Truffaut, “Let’s say the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional.”

Hitchcock knew who he wanted as the leads—Jimmy Stewart, who he’d worked with twice before with great success, and Doris Day, whom he felt could be a great dramatic actress if given the right part.  Day was thrilled to be working with Hitchcock after deciding to go independent and not renew her contract with Warner Brothers.

James Stewart and Doris Day in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Hitch tells the story of husband and wife Ben (Stewart) and Jo (Day) McKenna, who are taking a holiday through French Morocco with their young son Hank.  Without spoiling the twists and turns of the plot, the innocent McKennas find themselves caught up in a nightmare when they are dragged into a plot to assassinate a foreign statesman.  Ben is a doctor, Jo a famous singer, and they know nothing of the plot.  But the assassins believe they do after an innocent conversation with a man who turns out to be a French Intelligent Agent.  To keep them quiet, the assassins kidnap Hank.

During the rest of the film, Jo and Ben struggle to find Hank and stop the assassination.  The film crests during a cinematically magnificent scene at the Royal Albert Concert Hall when Jo must decide whether or not to stop the assassination, knowing it may mean the death of her son.  In a signature Hitchcockian scene, the symphony plays and the screws tighten as the audience waits for the clash of cymbals that will cover the assassin’s bullet.

Hitchcock commissioned Jay Livingston and Ray Evans to write a song specifically for Doris Day to sing in the film, and they came up with “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).”  The film won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and became Day’s signature theme for the rest of her life.

The song plays a prominent role in the film, as a kidnapped Hank hears his mother singing it and knows she is near.

Day and Stewart are excellent as a husband and wife trying desperately to find their son.

Sometimes lost among Hitchcock’s many masterpieces, the film is top notch work by all involved and is a must-see for any suspense, Hitchcock, Stewart, or Day fan.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) Verdict:  Timeless-Watch It Tonight

Sources

  • Kaufman, David.  Doris Day:  The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door.  2008.
  • Eliot, Marc.  Jimmy Stewart:  A Biography.  2006.
  • Hitchcock/Truffaut.  1966.

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

How I Learned to Love The Crown

Matt Smith and Claire Foy as Prince Phillip and Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown

For six years, people have been telling me to watch The Crown.

If you don’t know, it’s the ongoing Netflix series chronicling the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II, who recently celebrated her Platinum Jubilee.

Actually, people don’t start out telling me to watch The Crown—they assume I already do.

I’ve always been obsessed with the British royals.  For a middle school assignment to write about someone you admired, I chose Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson.  (In my defense, this was before her divorce, her stint as a Weight Watchers spokesperson, and her strange co-dependent relationship with ex-husband Andrew.  And as for Andrew, the less said the better.)

When William and Kate married in 2011, I took the morning off work to watch the ceremony while eating biscuits and drinking coffee.  (I can’t do hot tea, even for Kate.) 

While my coworkers were always streaming March Madness basketball, in 2013 I had a browser window dedicated to the live stream camera waiting for William and Kate to come out and show the newly born Prince George off to the world.

In 2020, I revived this very blog after an extended hiatus to write about Megxit.

I devoured Sally Bedell Smith’s wonderful biography of the Queen, the royal I love most of all.

And yet I resisted watching The Crown.  I like movies better than television shows, which seem to go on long after the thrill is gone (I’m looking at you, Mrs. Maisel.)  And quite frankly, the more people tell me to watch a show, the less I want to watch it.  The irony of the fact that I write a weekly blog with the express purpose of convincing people to watch classic films is not lost on me.  My only defense is that I’m much more open to movie recommendations.  I’ll take a flyer on a two-hour film.  A TV show is a huge time commitment just because someone at the water cooler said it was must-see.  No Game of Thrones.  No Stranger Things.  Dodged the bullet that was Tiger King.

If I don’t stumble upon it myself, it feels like homework.

Years after everyone’s forgotten about a show is when I start watching.  That way, even if I’ve been spoiled I’ve forgotten about it. 

But this past weekend, I did it.  I started season one of The Crown.

So what changed?

The Palace Papers.

I all but kicked in the door of my local bookstore (okay, not true—I was there with my bookworm protégé  and trying to set a good example) to get a copy of Tina Brown’s latest chronicle of the royal gossip.  It picks up where she left off in 2008’s The Diana Chronicles.  In Brown’s inimitable style, she dishes on the longevity of Camilla, the steadfastness of Kate, and the inevitable and possibly unavoidable clash between Harry, Meghan, and the royal family.

I gobbled it up like a plate of Twinkies.

I read in every spare moment.  Brushing my teeth, drying my hair, waiting for coffee to brew.  My life was on hold until I reached the last page.

And when I looked up, I still wasn’t finished.  I needed more royals.

But I’ve read everything there was to read.

Which is how I find myself up at 3 in the morning binging season one of The Crown.

No regrets.

Time to clear my calendar and prepare for season two.

Made For Each Other (1939):  Carole Lombard Gets Serious

Carole Lombard wanted to get serious.  She was the undisputed Queen of the screwball comedy, but audiences were growing tired of the genre by the late thirties so she pivoted to stay relevant.

Plus, she wanted an Oscar.  Though she’d been previously nominated for her role as the zany Irene Bullock in My Man Godfrey (1936), she knew physical comediennes rarely won Academy Awards.

In Made For Each Other (1939), she starred opposite up and coming actor James Stewart.  At the time, Carole Lombard was the bigger star.  Though both were thirty years old during production, Lombard had been making talkies for 9 years (with some work in the silents before that), while Stewart was a mere 3 years into what would become a legendary career. 

Stewart plays Johnny Mason, a young lawyer who surprises his mother and boss when he impulsively marries Jane (Lombard), a woman he’s just met and fallen in love with, instead of the boss’ daughter.

Jane and Johnny embark on married life with all of its trials and tribulations—starting with a cancelled honeymoon when lawyer Johnny is called back to the office for an important case.  Jane tries to get along with her mother-in-law, whose disapproval and criticism are all the more stifling because Mrs. Mason lives with them.  And there’s never enough money, especially after the baby comes along.

And yet their problems are ultimately small, the normal ebb and flow of any young marriage.  In my favorite scene, Jane insists that Johnny ask his boss for a raise and promotion.  She wants more money, sure, but she’s mostly indignant that his boss doesn’t appreciate him enough.  While Johnny eats a drumstick of cold chicken, he practices standing up to his boss while Jane encourages him.

It’s sweet and funny (without being the least bit screwball), and endears both Jane and Johnny to us.

But after the light and airy first half, the film’s second half takes a dark turn.  Johnny and Jane have let their problems overwhelm them and are on a brink of a break-up the audience knows won’t stick.  But their arguing is interrupted when their baby becomes deathly ill.

All hope will be lost unless the baby receives a life-saving serum, but it will require a pilot to fly it to the hospital in a terrible storm.

Instead of tearing them apart, the terror of tragedy cements Johnny and Jane together.  Even Johnny’s mother can appreciate their love in this moment—as indeed she always could, her anger coming from her own widowed loneliness rather than any true dislike of Jane.

I’ll spoil the ending by saying the pilot arrives in time and the baby is saved. 

(The plot point around the serum, preposterous as it sounds, was actually based on an incident when producer David O. Selznick’s brother Myron became deathly ill and serum was flown in to save his life.)

Carole Lombard followed the film up with In Name Only (1939), another romantic drama, this one with Cary Grant.

Both are tender, lovely films that are well worth your time.  They didn’t get their due at the time because when audiences went to a Carole Lombard film they expected her to play the fool.  And they don’t get their due today because they’re lost in the sea of legendary films made in 1939, Hollywood’s greatest year.

After the lackluster box office receipts of both films, Lombard returned to comedy. 

Her roles in Made For Each Other and In Name Only, wonderful as they are, were not quite Academy Award worthy.  But she showed enough acting chops, that I’m convinced that if she’d lived (she died 3 years later in a plane crash at the age of 33), Carole Lombard would’ve found her way back into more dramatic roles and eventually won the Oscar she coveted.

As for James Stewart, he would get his first Oscar nomination in 1939, not for Made For Each Other, but another little film released that year called Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

You can watch Made For Each Other for free on You Tube.

Sources

  • Swindell, Larry.  Screwball:  The Life of Carole Lombard.  1975.
  • Eliot, Marc.  Jimmy Stewart:  A Biography.  2006.

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

Locked Out

Photo by Ashish via Pexels

Last week, we had the hottest day of the year so far.  The temperature was pushing ninety degrees, and the humidity was off the charts.  It was one of those days when the air conditioning had trouble keeping up, and my upstairs office was stuffy no matter what I did.

I was working from home, and around noon I decided to take a break.  The mail had arrived early, so I slipped on my worn out boat shoes and headed to the mailbox.  As I walked out, I automatically pulled the front door closed behind me to preserve the cool air. 

An instant after the door clicked shut, I was gripped by a panic.

“Oh no,” I thought.  Please let me be wrong.

I turned the knob, push the door, and the door didn’t open.

I’d locked myself out.

No keys, no phone.  And a meeting starting in 30 minutes.

My mind raced.  My car was in the driveway, with its remote garage door opener, but the car was locked and I didn’t have a key.  I knocked on a few doors, but none of my immediate neighbors were home.

I decided almost immediately that I’d walk to my parent’s house.  The good news was that they lived about 3 miles away.  The bad news was that the trip would include going down and then up a brutally steep hill, one along a busy highway.  And did I mention the heat?

The sun was high overhead and I began sweating almost immediately.  The sun was beating down on the back of my neck.  No hat, no sunscreen.  My flimsy shoes were not really up for the task, but the only other option was to wait for a neighbor to come home, which could be hours.

I set off.

Cars flew by me as I walked along the highway.  Coke bottles, beer cans, and other trash that I never noticed from the car littered the side of the road.

I was practically done-in when I reached the final ascent into my parent’s neighborhood.  I reached their house hot and thirsty.

Reader, they weren’t home.

I’m a bit embarrassed to say I never considered this possibility.  And of course, all their neighbors that I knew weren’t home either.

There was nothing to do but wait.  They had a shaded porch that protected me from the sun’s relentless heat.

The problem was thirst. 

After the walk, I needed water.  I could do without food, or air conditioning, but I was going to be absolutely miserable without water.

I couldn’t get into the house, but I knew where they hid a key to the garage.  There’s no way to enter the house from the garage, but there was a hose they use to water their garden.

I pushed my way in and searched for anything I could use as a cup.  Nothing.

Desperate, hot, and dehydrated, I turned on the water and drank from the hose like a dog.

The relief was intense.  Suitably revived, I laid down in the shade of the porch and took a nap.  In that heat, there was nothing else to do.

Eventually my parents came home, and gave me a ride back up to my house and I used their spare key to let myself in.

I logged back onto my computer just in time for yet another meeting.

“We missed you at the meeting earlier,” someone said.

“Oh,” I demurred.  “I had to step away for a moment.”

It was more or less the truth.

Designing Woman (1957):  Bacall After Bogart

Lauren Bacall, Gregory Peck

Lauren Bacall filmed Designing Woman while Humphrey Bogart was still alive, and when they both believed he would recover from his cancer.

It’s a lighthearted comedy, likely a welcome respite from the nightmare of Bogie’s illness and death.

Bacall and Gregory Peck play an opposites-attract couple who fall in love and try to stay that way when the honeymoon is over and real life intrudes.  Though not a musical, director Vincente Minnelli (Meet Me in St. Louis, An American in Paris) gives the film the light and bubbly tone of one, and throws in a few choreographed numbers to boot.

In a role originally developed for Grace Kelly (“She got the prince, I got the part” Bacall quipped), she plays Marilla Brown, a fashion designer who meets sportswriter Mike Hagen while on vacation in Beverly Hills.  They embark on a whirlwind romance and return to New York blissfully in love and knowing little about one another.

Mike assumes they’ll live in his cluttered shoebox bachelor pad and is stunned to learn she owns a luxurious penthouse. 

Laughs ensue as they discover further differences that mark them as completely incompatible but never diminish their love. 

The most memorable scene in the film is when Mike hosts his weekly poker night with his reporter friends on the same night Marilla has a group of her artistic friends over for a dramatic reading.  Each is incredulous over the other’s choice of food, friends, and activities.

Further trouble ensues when Marilla meets Mike’s former lover Lori Shannon and Mike pretends not to know her.  There’s no malice in Mike’s lie, he merely wishes to spare Marilla’s feelings.

There’s a mobster after Mike, a fashion show for Marilla, and Mike’s old boxer friend who sleeps with not one but two eyes open.

It’s a funny, sweet comedy that ends with a choreographed fight scene as mobsters attempt to kidnap Marilla and Mike rides to the rescue with mixed results.

By the time Designing Women was released, Bogart was gone.  Numb with grief, she went on a three week publicity tour for the film just two months after his death.

In the years after Bogart’s death, Bacall floundered in both her life and career.  She had a disastrous rebound relationship with Frank Sinatra, and an unsuccessful second marriage with Jason Robards that likely wouldn’t have happened at all but for her pregnancy.  She lost her mother and her beloved uncle Charlie who acted as a father figure. 

She fled California—her film career was all but dead, her friends had been Bogart’s friends, and Bogart was gone.  She couldn’t live in that once happy house without him.

She returned home—to New York City, and the stage.

Though her film career never recovered (despite an Academy Award-nominated performance many years later in 1996’s The Mirror Has Two Faces), Bacall embarked on a successful decades-long career in the theater. 

In was in the theater that she found happiness and satisfaction again.  And success.  Though the Oscar eluded her, she was perhaps more grateful to win two Best Actress Tony Awards for her work in Applause (1970) and Woman of the Year (1981).

The pity of the stage is that, unlike film, its great performances are lost to history. 

Lauren Bacall died in 2014, 115 years after the day Humphrey Bogart was born.  During the 115 years that one or both of them walked the earth, they shared only 13 years together.

Such a short time, but it couldn’t have been any longer.  If they’d met any earlier, she’d have been too young for a romance to blossom.  For Bogart, Bacall was a sweet ending—the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for a man who’d been so unlucky in love.

B&B on their wedding day

For Bacall, Bogart was the beginning.  She became a woman when she fell in love with him, and he set the standard for her love and work.

Casablanca was a wonderful romantic film, perhaps the finest ever made.  But when Humphrey Bogart found his Baby two years after completing the film, they one-upped Rick and Isla. 

At the end of Casablanca, Isla lets Rick talk her into leaving him so they can both do their part to help the war effort.

Admirable, yes.

But Bacall would’ve let the world burn to the ground before she left her Bogie on the tarmac.

As we turn the page on one of Hollywood’s greatest love stories, I’ll give Bacall the last word.  She writes in By Myself, “No one has ever written a romance better than we lived it.”

Sources

  • Sperber, A.M. and Eric Lax.  Bogart.  1997.
  • Bacall, Lauren.  By Myself.  1978.

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

Two Bookworms Walk into a Bookstore…

The term “bookworm” used to have a more negative connotation—the idea that the person in question wanted to hide from life through reading.  But now that everyone hides from life on their phones, “bookworms” have acquired some social cachet. 

But really, it’s a word needed to distinguish someone who is literate from one who is a reader.  A literate person reads all the time—the internet, e-mail, street signs, insurance forms.  They’re even known to read a book now and then, mostly to pass the time on a beach or when they’re on a long flight without Wi-Fi.  They choose what to read indiscriminately—from a pile that friends have given them, the front rack of the airport bookstore, or the author that was last featured on the latest morning show.

But a reader is someone different—a reader is always in the middle of at least one, often more, books.  Actively reading multiple books doesn’t stop them from thinking—nearly constantly—about other books they’d like to read.  Readers compulsively make lists of books they’ve read books and list of book they’d like to read.  Most readers spend what to non-readers would seem an inordinate amount of time honing systems about where they’ll acquire their books—from libraries, bookstores, or Amazon.

The most agonizing decision of any reader’s life is whether to spring for the hardback or wait for the paperback.  (The number of unread books on your shelves at home is normally not a determining factor.)

Readers understand what Erasmus meant when he wrote, “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”

My best friend’s ten-year old daughter Adrienne is a reader. 

So am I.

A few weeks ago when rain cancelled her soccer game and she didn’t have any birthday parties to go to, I picked her up and we spent the afternoon in bookstores.

Her eyes widened at the rows and rows of books.  She ran for titles she knew, books she’d read, and books she wanted to read.  She cross-checked her list, but soon discovered other titles she wanted to read that she’d forgotten to write down, and some through pure serendipity.

Our booklists….

“Do we have to hurry?” she asked me at one point.

“No,” I told her.  Bookstores are to be savored, not rushed.

She slowed down and started methodically looking through all the books.  She’d occasionally ask me to reach for a book from the top shelf.  She’d study it—the back, the flyleaf, and either add it to her stack or hand it back to me to re-shelve.  We talked about the books she loved and why she loved them—she shies away from love stories, prefers stories of kids bonding with animals.  I pulled down some of the books I loved when I was her age—Nancy Drew, Where the Red Fern Grows.  I told her about them—I wasn’t pushing them on her, it was just fun to remember and to talk books with someone who understood.

I did successfully talk her into buying Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries, but otherwise I let her pick her own books.

She had a stack bigger than the money her mother had given her, so we found a corner in the back, sat on the floor and spread out all the books.  I’d intended to give her enough money to buy all the books, but I changed my mind as I watched her separate them into three piles—definitely, maybe, and put back.  I decided to let this process play out—part of the ritual of the bookstore is knowing you can’t have them all, and deciding which to leave for next time.

She tallied up the cost in her head, and we reshelved the ones she was going to leave for next time.

Then we got hot chocolate.

Then we headed over to the adult book section and repeated the whole process.

We both left with a stack of books we called our “summer reading program” and when I dropped her off, she held up each book to her mother like it was a trophy.

That night, two happy bookworms retreated to their beds and cracked open brand new stories.

I can’t wait to hear about what she reads next.

The Caine Mutiny (1954): Bogart’s Final Masterpiece

At their wedding in 1945, Humphrey Bogart gave Lauren “Betty” Bacall a bracelet with a small gold whistle, a nod to their famous scene in To Have and Have Not (1944), when her character teaches his how to whistle.

Bogart had come a long way from his early, desperate, drunken days in Hollywood.  He had a beautiful young wife who adored him, an Oscar, and his career success showed no sign of waning.  He even had two children, long after he’d given up on the possibility of fatherhood.

He was running on all cylinders when he signed on for the infamous role of Lieutenant Commander Captain Philip Francis Queeg in Columbia’s adaptation of Herman Wouk’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Caine Mutiny.

It’s one of his most recognized and remembered roles, a character very different from Rick Blaine, Sam Spade, or Philip Marlowe.

The film focuses on a trio of officers—experienced shipman executive officer Lt. Steve Maryk (Van Johnson), newly minted Ensign Willie Keith (Robert Francis) on his first voyage, and jovial Lt. Tom Keefer (Fred MacMurray).

Queeg enforces Navy regulation to the letter—berating sailors for untucked uniforms and a cluttered deck.  While much of the crew chafes under the restrictions, at first Maryk takes them stoically, Keith is impressed, and Keefer rolls his eyes and makes cutting if funny comments about the commander.

Things change when Queeg is distracted during a training exercise and ignores the helmsman’s warnings.  The Caine ends up cutting a tow rope. 

It’s a serious mistake, the blame is squarely on Queeg, and instead of taking responsibility, he covers it up.

Suddenly, his dictatorial style takes on a sinister edge.

Keefer immediately stirs the pot, insisting Queeg is unbalanced and must be replaced.  Despite his private worries, Maryk tells Keefer to speak no more of replacing him.

The penalty for mutiny is death.

Queeg becomes increasingly unhinged, his paranoia reaching a crescendo when he goes berserk over strawberries missing from the mess hall, interviewing the crew for hours and searching everyone’s quarters.

The Strawberry Investigation

During a typhoon, Captain Queeg loses all sense of control and panics, giving the crew instructions that will surely kill them all.  Back against the wall and believing he has no choice, Maryk invokes Article 184 and takes control of the ship away from Queeg.

The mutiny is complete.

But this is no adventure film, like Mutiny on the Bounty—Maryk and Keith (who supported Maryk) are not celebrated as heroes, and do not sail away to a life of ease on a remote island.  They return to face the charge of mutiny.

It’s not going their way—until Queeg himself testifies.

Bogart plays the extended court scene masterfully—his Queeg rolls two steel balls around in his hand as he breaks down on the stand, his paranoia eventually on full view for all to see.

The tribunal has no choice but to find the men not guilty of mutiny, but dishonor stains them—their commander was clearly sick, so why didn’t they try to help him rather than mock him and stand aside while he made mistakes?

Watching the film, one gets the uncomfortable feeling that the Navy would’ve preferred the ship to sink than the officers to believe they knew better than the captain.  Wars are won by following orders, not using your head.

The film is excellent in every way—a portrait of cowardice, bravery, and breakdown in war.  Though the words are never used, Queeg is clearly suffering from what we would today called post-traumatic stress disorder.  He is not a monster whose downfall should be celebrated, but a once-brave man destroyed by war to be pitied.

The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards.  Bogart was nominated for Best Actor for the third time, losing to Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront.

The Caine Mutiny was the second highest grossing film of 1954.

Bogart was on top of the world.

But it was all about to come crashing down.

It started as a cough that wouldn’t go away.

By the time he made The Barfoot Contessa (1954) with Ava Gardner, the coughing was constant and frequently interrupted filming.  Often the take used was the only one where Bogie wasn’t coughing.

In 1956, Bogart and Bacall were scheduled to make Melville Goodwin, U.S.A, their first film together since Key Largo (1948).

Instead, Bogart finally went to the doctor and the diagnosis was grim—esophageal cancer.

In their eleven years of marriage, the young Betty had always looked to Bogie for strength.  He was her lover, her husband, her teacher.  He had shown her what Hollywood and life were all about. 

Now it was time for him to lean on her.

She nursed him through a brutal surgery and radiation.  When he wouldn’t eat, she tried to tempt him with all his favorite foods.  She kept a tight schedule around how many people could visit and for how long—she wanted his friends to see him, but wanted him to gain his strength.

As his illness ate him down to the bone, friends would gasp in shock at the sight of him.  Bacall would admonish them to keep hold of themselves and not upset Bogie.

Bacall took note of who came.

And who didn’t.

Despite the decades of fights and bitterness, Jack Warner came.

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy came every night at the end, and cemented a lifelong friendship with Bacall.

As Joe Hyams writes of Bacall during this time:

“She was exemplary.  The way she handled his illness, the way she handled the press, the way she handled herself, and the way she handled her children.  I thought she was just great—very gallant, very gutsy, a very warm person.  If I were dying I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

Humphrey Bogart died in the early hours of January 14, 1957.  He died in his and Bacall’s bed, and Bacall was wearing the robe she’d worn in their film Dark Passage when she found him.

He was 57.

Betty Bacall asked John Huston to deliver the eulogy, the last lines of which were, “He is quite irreplaceable.  There will never be another like him.”

Bogart was cremated.  Before his ashes were interred in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Betty put the golden whistle he’d given her in the urn.

She was a widow at 32.

Sources

  • Sperber, A.M. and Eric Lax.  Bogart.  1997.
  • Bacall, Lauren.  By Myself.  1978.
  • Server, Lee.  Ava Gardner:  Love Is Nothing.  2006.

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

The Push Button Start & Its Discontents

My nemesis…

On New Year’s Eve, I purchased my first Honda Accord.  Shopping for a car in the midst of the Great Global Supply Chain Issues is a very simple process. 

(Side Note:  As someone who has worked in supply chain for my entire career, it’s very funny to hear people bandying about the words “supply chain.”  Before this, most people basically said “huh?” and changed the subject when I brought up what I do at parties.  But now you know that if you ever want to buy something with a computer chip in it again, you better be nice to me and my kind.)

But back to the car.  At the Honda Dealer, there were only three Accords available—all slightly used, all looking brand new.  My choices were the red one, the white one, or the black one.

I chose the black one.

See—simple.

I couldn’t be happier with this car—except for the Push Button Start.

I’ve been driving for nearly 25 years.  I’ve entered a car, slide the key into the ignition and turned it on at least 10,000 times without issue. 

No more.

Now I enter the car, press the break with my foot and push the button.

I can’t get used to this.

Where do I put my keys?  (For those who haven’t had the pleasure of this non-advancement, the key needs to be in proximity of the car or it won’t start.) 

Do I put the keys in my purse?  Then I won’t forget them, but if I need to get into my house (which I often do after getting out of the car) then I have to dig around to find them.  I also need them to lock the doors after I get out of the car.

Do I put them in the cupholder?  This keeps them handy when I’m getting out, but I have forgotten them multiple times.  Yes, the car chirps at you when this happens, but it’s still annoying.

You know a great place for car keys?  The ignition. 

You always know where they are, they’re close at hand, and you can’t put the car in park without removing them.

Oh, yes.

For those of you who think I’m just whining (admittedly, I am), I have discovered through personal experience that you can turn off the ignition, open the door, and start to get out of the car WHEN IT IS STILL IN DRIVE.

What could go wrong?

But the last straw came yesterday morning.  I got into the car, pushed the button, and a new warning light came on – “KEY FOB BATTERY LOW.”

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Just when I was starting to make my peace with the Push Button Start, I find out that I need to replace the battery in my key. 

So I spent yesterday afternoon looking up You Tube videos of how to take my key apart and find the battery.  Then I figured out what battery I needed, and drove all over town (hoping the car would start every time) until I finally found the required batteries at CVS. 

Curious as to what would’ve happened if the battery had gone truly dead, I looked it up on the Car and Driver website, where they assured me:

Keyless ignition systems allow you to start your engine even when your key fob’s battery is dead. The easiest way to unlock your car in such cases is to contact your manufacturer through their emergency service center. You can reach out to your carmaker via a phone call or on the brand’s mobile app.

I pity the poor Honda Customer Service representative who answers if I ever have to make such a call.

Readers, with Push Button Starts—am I alone here?

Is this really an improvement?

Anyone?

How to Marry a Millionaire (1953):  “Look at that old fella what’s his name..”

Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe

While Humphrey Bogart’s career soared, Lauren Bacall’s flatlined.  Her final Warner Brother’s film, Bright Leaf with Gary Cooper, opened on July 1, 1950 to mediocre reviews and a tepid box office.

Twelve days later Jack Warner finally gave Bacall her wish, and released her from her contract for $50,000 that would be paid out as a percentage of her earnings from future films with other studios.

She was only 25, with the world at her feet.

But a stumbling block had arisen in her career that was bigger even than Jack Warner.  As she writers in her memoir By Myself, “A funny thing happened to my career the first few years of being Mrs. Bogart.  Funny—peculiar.  Everyone thought I was terrific personally, but they stopped thinking of me as an actress.  I was Bogie’s wife, gave great dinners, parties, but work was passed over.”

It was an accurate assessment but also a bit unfair—Bacall herself continually put her duties as a wife and mother ahead of movie-making.  It was no wonder the scripts stopped coming.

In the three years after she cut ties with Warner, she had a second child (a daughter, named Leslie after Bogart’s friend and mentor Leslie Howard), went to Africa with Bogart, and turned down scripts that would separate her from him.

It’s a recipe for a good marriage and a happy life.

But not for a career in Hollywood.

She didn’t work for three years.

In 1953, she received a script for How to Marry a Millionaire, a comedy co-starring Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable.

Millionaire would give her a chance to test her comedic chops, something she’d long desired.  But Bogart was slated to travel to Italy to film Beat the Devil.

Bacall writes, “I wanted to go with him, but I would have to make Millionaire or forget my career all together…  [Bogie] was very good about it—Millionaire was the best part I’d had in years.”

It was their first separation in eight years of marriage.

How to Marry a Millionaire tells the story of three beautiful young women who plot to marry rich husbands.  Schatze Paige (Bacall) is the brains behind the operation, a cynical divorcee who won’t make the mistake of marrying a poor man for love again.

She convinces her friends Pola (Monroe) and Loco (Grable) to pool their money to rent an expensively furnished penthouse, on the theory that acting and looking rich will put them in contact with more millionaire men.  As time goes on, Schatze sells off the furniture to bankroll their lifestyle (and tells anyone who asks it’s being cleaned.)

Pola is blind as a bat without her glasses, which she refuses to wear around men as she thinks they make her unattractive.  She continually walks into walls and has no idea who she’s speaking to.  Loco is able to lure any man into lending her money for groceries and carrying them up to the penthouse, but overall she’s not too bright.

The three scheme their way into snagging three prospects, but Pola’s is a gambling swindler, and Loco’s is married.  Only Schatze chooses well, the old but kindly J.D. Hanley (William Powell, in his sixties).  He’s so kind that he feels it would be selfish to marry Schatze, given their age difference. 

In desperation, Schatze tries to convince him that older men are wonderful, practically winking at the audience when she insists, “Look at Roosevelt, look at Churchill, look at that old fella what’s his name in The African Queen.”

In the end, of course, all three women fall in love with poor but perfect men.  In the case of Loco, a forest ranger she mistook for a lumber tycoon.  For Pola, a man who also wears glasses and still thinks she’s beautiful when she wears hers.

And Schatze?  Well, on her wedding day, she switches out grooms from the rich J.D. to the gas pump operator who’s been pursuing her despite her attempts to brush him off.

And guess what?

Turns out he was a millionaire all along.

The film was a great success, the 5th highest grossing film of 1953, higher than Marilyn Monroe’s other hit that year, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Though Marilyn Monroe always had a way of drawing your eyes to her, How to Marry a Millionaire is Bacall’s film.

She finally proved to herself—and the world—that she could play comedy, and more importantly, make a hit without Bogart.

Sources

  • Sperber, A.M. and Eric Lax.  Bogart.  1997.
  • Bacall, Lauren.  By Myself.  1978.

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