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.

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.

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.

The African Queen (1951):  A Rising Souffle

Visiting the African Queen as a kid with my grandparents…and yes, that is the actual Queen used in the film. It’s still on display for visitors in Key Largo, Florida.

Before they wed, Humphrey Bogart didn’t believe his marriage to Lauren “Betty” Bacall would last.  How could he?  They had two obstacles he felt would be insurmountable—their age gap and the fact that she was an actress.  Bogart had three failed marriages behind him that were destroyed in large part because of the career ambitions of his wives.

He loved her so much that he married her anyway, figuring himself a fool and hoping for five good years.

But Bogart was  wrong—it wasn’t only her fights with Jack Warner that kept Bacall mostly off the screen in those years—it was her devotion to being a wife first, mother second, and actress third.  

By the time filming began on The African Queen, they were six years in, had a two-year old son, and when Bogart signed up to film on location for six months in Africa and the United Kingdom, there was no question that Bacall was going with him. 

And so a quartet of legends packed up and headed for the Congo—leads Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, director John Huston, and Bacall, along for the ride.

Bacall, Bogart, Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn wrote an entire book filled with tales from the set—how she was violently ill and threw up between takes during an early scene when her character plays the piano.  How Bogart and Huston were never sick because they drank only liquor, no water.  Huston’s obsession with shooting an elephant.  How Bacall made herself useful—cooking, tending to minor wounds of the crew, and helping them write letters home.

Huston received a letter during filming, informing him that his daughter Angelica had been born back in the states.

Hepburn marveled at the love between Bogie and Bacall, who both became lifelong friends after their time making the Queen:

“[Bacall] and Bogie seemed to have the most enormous opinion of each other’s charms, and when they fought it was with the utter confidence of two cats locked deliciously in the same cage.”

Bacall and Bogart

The filming, as expected, was wrought with setbacks and problems.  Location films were extremely rare at the time, and only someone as ambitious and crazy as John Huston would’ve attempted such a thing.

Add to that the fact that no one was certain that audiences would want to watch a love story between a spinster in her mid-forties and a dirty, down on his luck river rat in his early fifties.

It was a gamble, but oh, how it paid off.

One of the best films ever made according to the American Film Institute, The African Queen opens at the dawn of World War I when the Germans burn down an African village, stranding British spinster missionary Rose Sayer (Hepburn).  She’s rescued by Charlie Allnut, a Canadian who delivers the mail in his old beat up boat The African Queen.

Hepburn, Bogart

Charlie intends to hide out from the Germans until the dust settles, and he tells Rose that the German steamship Louisa is blocking the British troops at the mouth of Lake Tanganyika.

Stalwart and naïve, Rose decides that they will find the Louisa and sink it with a torpedo that Charlie will DIY from material aboard the Queen.

Charlie thinks she’s nuts and tells her so, but she wears him down until he agrees to begin what can only be a suicide mission, figuring he can talk her out of it somewhere along the way.

And thus begins the adventure of a lifetime for two people who society had long ago tossed into the “loser” bucket.  Charlie and Rose face rapids, mosquitoes, leeches, and German sharpshooters in their hairbrained quest to sink the Louisa in service to the British empire.

Bogart, Hepburn

And poor Charlie has to face it sober after Rose pours all his gin overboard.

The film is adventurous, patriotic, romantic, and funnier than Huston and the screenwriters originally intended.  But the interplay between Bogart and Hepburn was magic, and Huston wisely went where the chemistry led him.

Shall I tell you if Charlie and Rose succeeded?

I shall not—it’s enough to know that they fall in love, and the rest you’ll have to find out for yourself.

The African Queen was nominated for four Oscars (Bogart, Hepburn, Huston, and the screenwriters) and after losing out for Casablanca, he finally won the Best Actor statue, his wife and biggest fan cheering loudest of all in the crowd.

Sources

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

Young Man With a Horn (1950):  Bacall Searches for the Spotlight

Doris Day, Kirk Douglas, and Lauren Bacall in Young Man with a Horn (1950)

By 1950, Jack Warner was no longer the undisputed king of the Warner Brother’s lot.  In the 1930’s and early 40’s, actors and actresses did as they were told.  Jack discovered them, signed them to long term contracts, and made them stars.

And how did they repay his generosity?

By fighting him every step of the way. 

James Cagney fought for more money and shorter contracts in the 1930s.  Bette Davis raged at Jack and took him to court in the mid-1930s for allegedly damaging her career with subpar roles (she lost).  Barbara Stanwyck refused to sign long term contracts to retain her ability to negotiate salary and choose her own roles.  Olivia de Havilland cut his knees out from under him when her 1944 court case against Warner’s resulted in the De Havilland Decision, which invalidated the studio practice of tacking suspensions onto the end of an actor’s contract.

Jack Warner had taken and thrown his fair share of punches in the name of business.

But Lauren Bacall proved a particularly thorny problem.

She refused to play parts that she felt weren’t any good and would damage her career. 

After their initial six years, Olivia de Havilland had made 23 films, Cagney 26, and Bette Davis a staggering 35, many of them bad roles Warner forced them to play.

In the same time period, Bacall had made only eight films.

Buying her contract from Howard Hawks had been expensive, and Jack wasn’t getting his money’s worth.  Warner thought Bacall was an ingrate, unwilling to pay her dues as her predecessors had done.

She wasn’t an ingrate—the studio system was crumbling, and Bacall took advantage of the walls her predecessors had knocked down.  She wouldn’t take bad roles—she’d wait out Jack Warner if she had to.

Jack had to proceed with caution, for Warner Brothers needed its top star Humphrey Bogart more than he needed them.  Bogart had not forgotten all the years Jack had strong-armed him into roles he didn’t want, played hardball over money, or generally disrespected Bogart (as he did all his actors.)

“Thank god I had Bogie,” Bacall wrote in her autobiography of the husband who had her back every step of the way.

She hadn’t made a hit movie without Bogart by her side onscreen.  No one was sure she could.

Young Man with a Horn does nothing to answer the question. 

Though Bacall got second billing, the film belongs to Kirk Douglas and Doris Day.  Douglas plays Rick Martin, an orphaned boy who finds salvation playing the trumpet.  Rick has trouble keeping friends, and often gets fired from his jobs for playing jazz instead of sticking to the big band script.

Douglas, Day

Playing jazz is the single animating force of his life.  Doris Day plays Jo Jordan, a singer who meets and cares for Rick.  Though there’s no doubt she loves him, Jo knows that Rick is married to no one but his trumpet.  The film utilizes Day’s talent and allows her to showcase her voice on several extended numbers.

We’re well into the film before Bacall’s character Amy arrives on the scene, an eccentric woman whose beauty and direct manner captivate Rick.  Amy is a compulsive dilettante, constantly looking for something that can capture her attention for more than a few months. 

Douglas, Bacall

They quickly realize their impulsive marriage was a mistake.  Her fascination for his love of the trumpet sours to jealousy when she cannot find her own creative outlet.  Rick neglects his friends and jazz playing for Amy and eventually resents her for it.

Rick has to hit rock bottom as a person before he finds his way to the top as a famous jazz musician. 

Today, the film is probably of most interest to Douglas or jazz aficionados.  Bacall is serviceable in the role but quite frankly, not given enough to do.

Not long after, Bogie and Bacall decided that, come hell or high water, she’d get out from under Jack Warner’s thumb. 

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.

Key Largo (1948):  Bogart & Bacall & Huston

Bogart and Bacall in Key Largo

Key Largo (1948)

Key Largo was made on the heels of Treasure of the Sierra Madre and in the shadow of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) Hollywood hearings.  HUAC was a committee put together in the United States House of Representatives to investigate organizations and individuals suspected of being communists.

Hollywood was under suspicion for making films during World War II that, in hindsight, could be seen as pro-Soviet propaganda.  In fact, some of these films were made at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s request to help soften American attitudes toward the Soviet Union, as FDR knew that the Soviets would be vital allies in winning the war.

But the war was over, FDR was dead, and the cold war had frozen out the better angels of the committee’s nature.  Ten Hollywood screenwriters and directors who refused to answer the committee’s question as to whether or not they were communists were held in contempt of court and spent a year in jail.

John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, and Lauren Bacall (among others) started the Committee for the First Amendment, a group that strongly and publicly opposed HUAC on the grounds that it violated the first amendment.  They went to Hollywood to protest the hearings, but were ultimately painted in the press as sympathetic to communists (at best) and Reds themselves (at worst.)

When the bad press threatened to ruin Bogart’s career (he was by far the most prominent and public face on the committee) he backed down and issued a public apology for his role in protesting.

In the wake of the hearings, John Huston wrote Key Largo in an ill-tempered fervor.  He refashioned Maxwell Anderson’s play of the same name into a tense film about a man who finds his lost ideals and convictions. 

Bogart, Huston, and Bacall on the set of Key Largo

Bogart plays Major Frank McCloud, a man who’s been drifting since the end of World War II.  He’s looking for work, but makes a detour to Hotel Largo to visit the father James (Lionel Barrymore) and widow Nora (Lauren Bacall) of a young man who died heroically under his command.

James and Nora run Hotel Largo, and it’s immediately apparent that all is not well.  Despite being closed for the blisteringly hot off season, the hotel is filled with a small group of menacing characters who are ostensibly there to fish.

In a role that echoes back to Rick Blaine in Casablanca, Frank insists he doesn’t want any trouble.  But when a hurricane hits Key Largo and traps the lot of them together, trouble finds him.

Frank immediately recognizes the leader of the group as notorious exiled gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson).

The film crackles with tension, and Robinson is superb as the vicious Rocco.  He laughs when the wheelchair bound James is so enraged that he tries to get out of his chair and falls to the ground.  He whispers sexual innuendos to Nora so foul that she spits in his face.  She’s nearly killed for her disrespect until Frank intervenes.

But Frank is no hero—when Rocco gives him a pistol and challenges him to a duel, Frank begs off.  Rocco calls him a coward, and Frank sniffs that killing Rocco isn’t worth dying for.

There were sparks between Frank and Nora early on, but in this moment it’s clear she fears that Rocco is right and Frank is a coward.

It’s not so much courage that Frank lacks, but conviction.  Weary of war, he no longer believes in the ideals of his country.

Robinson, Bogart, L. Barrymore, Bacall

But he has a line of humanity, and Rocco crosses it in the film’s best and most remembered scene.  Claire Trevor (in a role that made her a shoo-in to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress) plays Gaye Dawn, Rocco’s girlfriend who has been ravaged by alcohol, time, and life with a vicious killer.

She’s pathetic, a falling-down drunk who can barely get through an hour—much less a day—without a drink.

Rocco’s disgusted by what she’s become and refuses her a drink.  Her hands shake and she begs him.  Rocco tells her he’ll give her a drink if she sings, as she was once a young and beautiful lounge singer.  Obviously embarrassed, Gayle sings for the group.  It’s uncomfortable and humiliating as she sings off-key and without accompaniment to the group while a hurricane rages outside.

When it’s over, Rocco refuses to give her a drink because she was so terrible.  It’s a move of pure cruelty.

Frank—who would not stick his neck out to rid the world of Rocco, finds his courage and gives Gayle a drink, knowing it may cost him his life.  Rocco doesn’t shoot him, but slaps him across the face.

Frank doesn’t react, as he has guns trained on him, but it’s clear that he’s found his sense of right and wrong and that he will prevail over the thugs in the end.

Nearly 75 years later, Key Largo has lost none of its punch.

Huston, Bogart, and Bacall were on a roll.

Key Largo (1948)

Sources

  • Sperber, A.M. and Eric Lax.  Bogart.  1997.
  • Meyers, Jeffrey.  John Huston:  Courage and Art.  2011.
  • 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.

Dark Passage (1947):  Happiness Against All Odds

Dark Passage (1947) poster featuring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
Dark Passage (1947)

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were married on April 21, 1945 at Malabar Farm in Ohio.  The farm was owned by Bogart’s friend and Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Louis Bromfield, who served as best man.  (And was last seen on this blog convincing Edna Ferber to come to New Orleans, which would give her the inspiration to finish Saratoga Trunk.)

The wars with Germany, Japan, and Mayo were over.

“He was a changed man with her,” according to actor Sam Jaffe.  “He was very happy.”

Instead of drunken brawls and cutting words, Bogart and Bacall settled into a life of domestic bliss.  They spent time with friends, on his boat, and ate dinner in the living room on tv trays.

Both would describe these as the happiest years of their lives.

Bogart, now the world’s most bankable star (thanks in no small part to his onscreen chemistry with Bacall) negotiated a contract with Warner Brothers that made him the highest paid actor in 1946.

In 1947, Bogie and Bacall teamed up onscreen for the third time in Dark Passage, the least known of their eventual four films together.  Aside from the additional footage shot for The Big Sleep, it was their first time working together as husband and wife.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall on the set of Dark Passage (1947)
The Bogarts on set

Bogart plays Vincent Parry, a San Quentin inmate convicted of killing his wife.  The film opens as he escapes from prison by hiding in an oil drum on the back of a truck.  With a full-scale manhunt on, he’s surely to be caught, until a young woman (Bacall) picks him up on the side of the road and hides him under a blanket in the backseat of her car.

It’s a great stroke of luck (the first of two) for Parry, as the woman is Irene Jansen, the only woman in San Francisco who believes he is innocent.  (She went to his trial every day; turns out her own father was wrongly convicted in a similar case.)

But I’m burying the lede—during this entire sequence, the audience doesn’t see Bogart’s face.  In fact, we see everything from his point of view.  It was a brand new gimmick at the time, one that required a special hand-held camera.  We see the world through Vincent Parry’s eyes for the first third of the film.

There’s a pragmatic reason for this—the second stroke of luck for Parry is that a cab driver who picks him up is the only man in San Francisco who believes him.  Said cab driver just happens to know a plastic surgeon who changes the faces of criminals for a fee.

I know, I know.  These two coincidences—Irene just happening upon him during his escape, and the cabbie knowing the plastic surgeon—are beyond belief.  Despite being wrongfully imprisoned for murdering his wife, Vincent Parry is just about the luckiest guy in San Francisco.

But if you can swallow these (and really, if we can watch The Big Sleep without worrying about who killed the chauffeur than surely we can overlook Parry’s guardian angels) then Dark Passage is an entertaining film noir.

When the camera finally pulls back from Parry’s point of view, we see his head wrapped in bandages after his surgery.  Irene tends to his wounds and hides him from the police.  Only using his eyes, Bogart has no problem conveying the growing love Parry feels for Irene. 

If a convict looked at me like Bogie looked at Bacall, I’d hide him in my bedroom too.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in Dark Passage (1947)

About halfway through the film, Irene takes the bandages off and gets her first look at Parry’s new face.

As the cops, and Irene’s vicious and nosy neighbor (a wonderful supporting turn by Agnes Moorehead) close in, Irene and Vincent try in vain to prove his innocence and elude capture.

I’m skipping over some lovely little plot twists to allow you to discover them for yourself.  But in the end, the heat is too hot, and Vincent is forced to leave town.

Vincent heads to Peru, and entreats Irene to come to him after a few years have passed and the heat is off him.  They’ll meet in a little bar along the coast.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in Dark Passage (1947)

In the final scene, we see Vincent in that bar, waiting.  He knows it’s crazy, he knows she won’t come.  We don’t know how long he’s been waiting, how many nights he’s sat alone in that bar waiting for Irene to walk through the door.  He probably curses himself a fool every time and promises to give up tomorrow.

But the next night he’s there.  And when he looks up, he sees her.

She’s standing in the restaurant, holding her purse and smiling at him.  Their eyes lock and they might as well be the only two in the world.  She crosses the room to him, he stands, and without a word they dance as the film fades to black.

Of all their films, I’ve always thought this moment perfectly encapsulated their love story.  Bogart, waiting, thinking love would never come.  Then suddenly looking up to find it right in front of him.  And Bacall, who, with the confidence of youth, brushed aside the obstacles and never wavered as she went to him.

Whether we’re talking about Vincent and Irene, or Bogie and Bacall, happiness looks good on them.

Dark Passage (1947) Verdict:  Give It A Shot

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.

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

Dark Passage (1947) poster featuring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall

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

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)