The other day, I’d been writing a scene where a vague (or, if you know it, not so vague) reference is made to a landmark 1941 “private eye” film. That I’d had been doing that is a large part of the reason the actor who’d starred in it was in my mind as I’d also written the other day about Kate Colby’s post. Yes, the jumble that often constitutes our human “thought processes.”
This morning I decided I’d have a quick look at YouTube to see what’s on there of that film. I couldn’t believe it. I found this gem: that Maltese Falcon film, cut to exactly 7 minutes’ length:
This extract does not do this Kate Colby post full justice. However, an extract of hers rarely does. Click over: she always makes us think, so it is worth reading in its entirety:
…I’ve spent several sleepless nights reading and re-reading the perfectly poetic prose of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. I’ve spent many an afternoon curled up in my windowsill with Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. I’ve spent countless evenings imagining myself a faceless extra, one of the glamorous flappers dancing in a party from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby…
…What if that one book is all I get from that author? What if the next is an utter disappointment, undeniable proof that my beloved novel is a fluke? What if I read a chapter, a paragraph, a sentence only to discover that the author I thought understood me at the deepest level is a hack, a con artist, who knows nothing of human nature?
And what if, when I am a published author, this happens to one of my readers?…
Of those authors, I know Fitzgerald best. The Great Gatsby is, by consensus of opinion nowadays, his “masterpiece.” Although his output over his career is uneven, he’s written much else that is satisfying.
Having finished the sequel’s story, to clear my head for a few days before plunging into revision, corrections, etc., I’ve decided on some, uh, relaxing reading:
That biography of Humphrey Bogart was a birthday present from my mother-in-law. She knows Bogart is my favo(u)rite actor. Technical assistance in making the purchase was provided by my wife: her mother barely knows what the internet is, much less how to use it. ;-)
About Bogart’s now by far best-known role, and his taking Hollywood by storm after over a decade of mostly second-rate (and often third-rate) parts, author Stefan Kanfer eloquently sums up on page 87:
….Rick Blaine was not just the fulcrum of a melodramatic movie. He was a symbol of the nation itself, at first wary and isolationist, then changing incrementally until he headed in the opposite direction. At the finale Rick Blaine had turned into a warrior. That was the way moviegoers, especially male moviegoers, saw themselves in 1943. That year they did the most unlikely, and unrepeatable thing in the history of American cinema. They made Casablanca a smash, which was not unexpected. But they also made the middle-aged, creased, scarred, lisping Humphrey Bogart into a superstar. No one expected that. Not even Humphrey Bogart. Especially not Humphrey Bogart.
From the profound to the decidedly less so. Here’s a distinctly lesser-known quote from Bogart himself, which appears on page 12. Years afterward, he recalled his own “lofty” eighteen year old’s motives for enlisting in the U.S. Navy in May 1918, during World War One:
The war was great stuff. Paris! French girls! Hot damn!
Hardly “Lafayette, we are here.” But that was how he saw the world in 1918. Clearly, by 1941, a more world-weary Bogart as Richard Blaine – having, as we know, previously fought in Spain and in Ethiopia for what had proven to be ultimately the losing sides (“and been well paid for it on both occasions,” as he also informed us) – was not nearly as easily wowed:
Yvonne: Where were you last night?
Rick: That’s so long ago, I don’t remember.
Yvonne: Will I see you tonight?
Rick: I never make plans that far ahead.
Which is how we will always see him. He is Bogart on film, playing “Humphrey Bogart” in a variety of roles. It’s difficult for us to imagine the perpetually “middle-aged, creased, scarred, lisping” superstar ever having been eighteen and so immature.
Have a good Sunday. Kanfer’s book is excellent. So, today, for me, it’s back to more Bogart. :-)
Mother-in-law: “No, no. Not him. I’m sure Catherine will know. I’ll ring Catherine.”
[Mother-in-law proceeds to call her sister.]
Mother-in-law: “Hello. How are you? We’re fine. Stop talking for a moment and listen. I’ll put you on the speaker. I have a question. Robert doesn’t know. He’s being useless. I thought all Americans knew all about Hollywood. Anyway, we’re trying to remember an actor from the 1950s. You must know him. What was his name? Tall? Blond? American?
Aunt Catherine [through the speaker phone]: “Van Johnson.”
Mother-in-law: “That’s him! Van Johnson!”
[Wife and father-in-law both erupt in laughter.]
Me: “Seriously? On that info?”
Yes, seriously. I’m still laughing too. Call it, “I can name that actor in, uh, three notes….”
The previous post on “Batman in Paris” got me thinking more about movies. Let’s have some more fun.
My affinity for Humphrey Bogart is one my wife doesn’t entirely share. She understands his appeal. But, she also likes to say, he’s not really her cup of tea.
Her favo(u)rite actor of the ’40s and ’50s is Cary Grant. I like Grant also. In fact, I think men grow to appreciate him more as we get older. We all should walk around wearing a tuxedo at home, shouldn’t we? Our women would love it! ;-)
Back to Bogart. Here are “five” of my Bogart “likes” from his “early-mid World War II” output. That coincides as well neatly with when he had risen to become a “leading man”:
1. Casablanca (1943):There is nothing I could write here that those far sharper and keener about films haven’t already. His weary American expatriate, Rick Blaine, who “returns to the fight,” is one of the classic figures in movie history. (I make a fictionalized reference to it in the book. Again slipped in something “below the radar” – although, this time, in a positive manner!)
2. The Maltese Falcon(1941): While not a “war film” (it was released pre-Pearl Harbor), it can’t be overlooked here: it was Bogart’s first “leading” role. Watched in 2014, some of the private eye and “mysterious woman” banter between Bogart and Mary Astor may seem a little dated. But remember they were the trailblazers, and this one helped lay the groundwork for much of the “cop” / “private eye” stuff we see routinely today.
3. Sahara (1943): Well-acted and compelling. In it, interestingly, while women are discussed regularly, being completely a battlefield film, there’s not a single woman character. Its underlying theme that the Western Allies’ national, religious and racial diversity constitutes a major source of strength (as opposed to the Nazi hatred of “difference”), remains inspiring today.
4. Passage to Marseille(1944) The closest to a “real” Casablanca sequel that there is. If you know Casablanca by heart, but have never seen this, try it. It’s not Casablanca, but it’s still a pretty darn good film in its own right.
5. Across the Pacific(1942): It is a bit patchy, but a weaker Bogart film is still a Bogart film. Once again there is Mary Astor, and once again some great lines. “Remember the girl you dreamed about when you were 19?” says Rick Leland (Bogart, of course). “She’s it.” (If I’m recalling it properly.)
You ask, how could I not include To Have and Have Not? I know, I know; but I decided to keep my list here to five, as well as to confine it to early-mid wartime. (Have was released in 1945.) I also wanted to mention a couple of films – Passage and Pacific – that may not be as widely known today.
How about a Tuesday laugh? In The Big Sleep, private eye Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) walks into what looks like an ordinary bookshop, but which he knows is really a front for criminal activity. Behaving like a book nerd, he asks the woman supposed salesperson:
Would you have a Ben Hur, 1860,. Third Edition, with the duplicated line on page one-sixteen?
By chance, I discovered yesterday that Passports has a date typo. I don’t know how the heck I missed it before now. I’m not saying here where it is exactly, but someone with an eagle eye and much better than average historical knowledge may spot it. (Otherwise, probably not. None of my proofreaders caught it, and that’s totally understandable: it is a pretty obscure fact.)
So if you’ve got the book already, or will soon buy it, until that date is amended…. you own a first edition collectible! ;-)