This three DVD set of films featuring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall is the cream rising to the top. Each film is fabulous by itself, and watched together over a short period of time will really give any film lover a sense of why so many people love Bogie and Bacall. It is also an excellent example of two great directors in their prime. Howard Hawks, who has never fully received the credit he deserves fo the many film masterpieces for which he was responsible, helmed two of these films, and John Huston directed the other. This DVD set includes both the first and last of the couple's films together.
First, we have Hawks' "The Big Sleep." It is one of the most unique adaptations of a detective novel ever brought to the screen. Watching this film is one of the true joys of being a film buff. This is extraordinary entertainment that grabs your attention quickly and keeps it until the final shot. It is exciting and engaging, and a favorite of all detective film fans.
Director Howard Hawks turned Raymond Chandler's most popular story into an absolutely mesmerizing celluloid masterpiece. Raymond Chandler's complex novel was adapted for the screen by William Faulkner. We may never know for sure who committed one of the murders in this blurry crime noir, but like all Hawks' films, it is so incredibly entertaining we really don't care. It is full of sharp dialog and dreamy images much like the aftereffects of a drinking binge.
The story itself moves at a terrific clip, and there is so much going on you might get lost if you blink. Humphry Bogart is Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, and from the moment he arrives to talk to General Sternwood and gets mixed up with his daughters this is a film classic. One would think with a young and sultry Bacall getting tangled up with Bogart in their first film together, they would be everything in this film; they are not, however, as Martha Vickers gives a performance that has you thinking about her in every scene, even when she isn't present. She steals every scene she is in and is one of the most memorable dolls in noir history.
Bacall portrays the General's sultry older daughter, Vivian, but it is the sexy and thumb sucking younger daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers) whom Marlowe meets first. She leaves an immediate impression on both the viewer and Marlowe: as he tells the General: "Yeah, we met. She tried to sit in my lap and I was standing up." The very sick Sternwood wants Marlowe to look into a little matter involving blackmail and his daughters.
As Marlowe follows the trail of gambling debts, he finds one body after another and tries to extricate the daughters from the mess. Marlowe and Vivian have a spark that gives him incentive to get the job done, but he may not be able to head off the rollercoaster headed for the little kitten Carmen, who may turn out to have some very large claws. Dorothy Malone has a brief but sexy role as a clerk who shares more than a drink with Marlowe.
Hawks filmed this as moody dream of dialog and images hard to forget. Bogart's Marlowe has his hands full trying to keep Carmen out of trouble. The sparks that begin to fly between he and Carmen's big sister, Vivian, is complicated by her involvement with some of the players for the other team. Trying to find a way to keep the fast rising body count from getting any higher, while keeping Vivian and her little sister Carmen in the clear, will take some dangerous turns for Marlowe.
Bacall has never been more beautiful or inviting than when she is slumped down in the seat of Bogart's car, just waiting for him to kiss her. You have to see this film to really appreciate it. No description could ever do it justice. You'll never see anything else like it in American cinema. A true noir classic, and one of Howard Hawks' masterpieces. A must see film for noir fans.
The same could be said of the second film in this collection directed by Howard Hawks, "To Have and Have Not." The summer of 1940 in Martinique as people began to choose sides is the setting for another Howard Hawks masterpiece. William Faulkner, who had adapted Raymond Chandler's complex novel for the director's other Bogart screen classic, "The Big Sleep," expanded a thin Hemingway story with writing partner Jules Furthman into another. This is sort of "Casablanca" with grit rather than gloss, and is just as enjoyable. "To Have and Have Not" does, in fact, outshine that film with its upbeat ending, and marks the real contrast between the two films, despite their similarities.
Bogart is Harry Morgan, trying to stay neutral about the local politics while he and his pal Eddie (Walter Brennan) take tourists ocean fishing in the waters of Martinique. His pal Frenchy (Marcel Dalio) wants him to use his boat to pick up a couple that will put him square in the middle of all that's going on both in Martinique and the rest of the world as the Germans make their move across the globe.
Morgan is fending off getting involved just fine until his latest fishing customer gets knocked off by accident before he can pay up. Complicating things further for Morgan is a newcomer named Marie Browning (Lauren Bacall) who sort of attaches herself to him from the moment they meet. She has come from Brazil by way of Trinidad and ends up in Martinique only because she doesn't have money to go any further. They seem a perfect fit despite all the sparring between them; a point driven home by her response to Eddie's question about bees. The viewer knows at that moment that she and Harry are a match made in Hollywood heaven.
Brennan is just terrific as Harry's old pal in constant need of a drink to keep the shakes at bay. He thinks he's looking after Harry when in fact it's Harry who's looking after him. The trademark male world of Howard Hawks is much in evidence here, as Bogart's autonomy begins to crack only when he finds his match in Bacall. Like many of Hawks' characters, Morgan lives by his own code and his own rules, and only breaks them out of loyalty to someone else. Another Hawks trademark of the sizing up of people from the inside out is also much in evidence here. Bogart and Bacall never even speak the other's name in this film: she calls him "Steve" and he refers to her as "Slim" throughout the entire film.
When Harry finally agrees to pick up Frenchy's pals in the Resistance to earn enough money to get Slim home, he gets more than he bargained for in more ways than one. It convinces Slim to stay on because she now knows for sure that "Steve" is the right guy. She gets a job singing for the piano player at the Hotel Martinique, Cricket (Hoagy Charmichael). And after a patrol boat takes a potshot at one of his passengers, his very beautiful wife begins to warm up to Harry in a big hurry, causing a bit of jealousy on Slim's part. Doloros Moran is very nice and quite pretty as that wife, Hellene de Bursac.
There are a ton of great exchanges between Bacall and Bogart here, the most famous being the "just whistle" scene. There are many others equally as good, however, including an exchange about strings that has Bacall walking around Bogart, and a great line from Bacall about walking home if it weren't for all that water. It is this latter exchange, and one other about Slim's lack of a reaction when being slapped that Hawks uses to highlight the personal baggage both Harry and Marie are bringing to the table.
A young Bacall looks gorgeous in gowns by Milo Anderson, and Sid Hickox's photography gives the film a real feel of a tiny island with palm trees lining the streets. Bogart's Harry will eventually engage in the fight when he decides he likes the people on one side and doesn't like the people on the other side. It is very much both a Hawks and Bogart type moment, the personal moral code of the anti-hero coming fully into play.
This is a fun film with great characters, lots of atmosphere, and an ending the polar opposite of "Casablanca." The song "How Little We Know" from Hoagy Charmichael and Johnny Mercer never amounted to much compared to the more famous "As Time Goes By" from "Casablanca," but works nicely with the mood Hawks created for his second film with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. If you're looking for a big dose of Bogie and Bacall, and want the kind of ending "Casablanca" didn't have, then "To Have and Have Not" is a sure bet to please you. A fine film and a true screen classic.
Last but by no means least is the somber, "Key Largo." John Huston crafted this very fine film with the underlying theme of isolation from a play by Maxwell Anderson. The backdrop of a gangster taking over a hotel in the Florida Keys is filled with inner emotional depth rather than a lot of action, making this the most mature and realistic of romances Bogart and Bacall would have on screen.
Major Frank McCloud (Bogart) shows up at the Largo hotel in the Keys to see his war buddy's father and widow to give them some news about how George died a hero. McCloud himself is disillusioned from trying to save the world and has been drifting since the war in both a personal and literal sense.
Nora (Bacall) had been drifting before she met George and begins to feel this same connection to Frank as they talk about their lives since the war. There is a maturity here as Huston shows a deeper aspect to caring about someone instead of the fireworks of physical attraction. The themes of loneliness and isolation run through every aspect of this film.
Frank once again must decide whether to save the world when the Largo is taken over by fallen gangster Johnny Rocco (Robinson). Rocco was once big and despite his deportation back to Cuba by the United States government as an undesirable, plans to be big again. Frank had gone to war as an idealist, hoping to rid the world of gangsters like Rocco but now views it as a lost cause.
But as Nora keeps telling Frank, your head may say one thing but your whole life says another. As the tension of being held hostage as a hurricane approaches the sweltering Keys builds, Frank slowly begins to go with his whole life rather than his head, breaking his own personal isolation from the fight he gave up. The turning point comes when Rocco humiliates his former girlfriend Gay Dawn by making her sing for a drink and then refuses to give her one when she comes across.
Claire Trevor gives a great performance as a girl much like Nora who got hooked up with the wrong guy and became a lush. She will have her own turning point when she slips Frank a gun before he takes Rocco and his pals back to Cuba. Lionel Barrymore gives a good performance also as George's disabled father, holding on to his son's memory and his beliefs.
A great score by Max Steiner complements the lonely mood of this film perfectly. Bacall is terrific as she waits for Frank to return against the odds, so she can open up the shutters of her loneliness and let the light in once more. This is a somber and mature film that deserves to be viewed more than once. Bogart and Bacall fans will love this film but find more here than just Bogie and Bacall. A minor masterpiece and one you need to own.
All three of these films are just fabulous in their own ways, and are indeed screen classics. This set of films is for romantics, and no one is more romantic than noir lovers. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall are the image of a noir couple in the minds of many moviegoers, and they will find a lot to love here with these three magnificent films.
1944's TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT is an interesting adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel. The film takes the main character, Harry Morgan played by Humphrey Bogart, and resets it into WWII in French Martinique where Bogart and his sidekick Walter Brennan get involved smuggling refugees to freedom. TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT was directed by Howard Hawks. It also teams Bogart with Lauren Bacall and there are endless snippets of very interesting dialogue and banter. Since Martinique was under the control of the Vichy government, Nazi henchmen are lurking about. It is an interesting film and great piece of film noir set in the Caribbean.
1948's KEY LARGO directed by John Huston is one of my favorite film noir classics. The element of reality and intimacy between the characters makes me return to this film time and time again. Humphrey Bogart is ex-Major Frank McCloud and he travels to Key Largo to a hotel where the family of George Temple, a friend from the Army who had served under him and was killed in the Italian campaign in WWII reside. Lauren Bacall plays George Temple's widow and Temple's father is the wheelchair bound Lionel Barrymore. Eventually other guests awaiting the arrival of gangster Johnny Rocco played by Edward G. Robinson take them hostage all while a hurricane approaches them.
What is important here is tension that builds and perhaps the lethargy in Humphrey Bogart's character and performance that builds in some sort of odd psychological battle that cuts to the bone and heart armed with witty dialogue. This is a great film. It is film noir, but it has a somewhat different look to it. The darkness is within its characters' yearnings and needs, their faults and weaknesses. On the outside it is bright and looming as the storm approaches, but to what end. It is a time of reflection.
1946's THE BIG SLEEP directed by Howard Hawks is interesting to watch and equally interesting for its complexity. Many viewers have found it easy to become lost and confused by the film's surplus of dubious characters falling in and out of shadows and some just falling dead as a doornail. Visually, there is a certain allure to all this. After all this is a film noir classic.
THE BIG SLEEP is based on the Raymond Chandler novel and I am starting to get confused already. Is this another case of style over substance? Not exactly because Humphrey Bogart is Philip Marlowe and we all know by now that he is a hardboiled, hard drinking, chain smoking and tough talking private detective. I love this stuff.
Basically, Philip Marlowe gets involved in a case, after he takes on a new client General Sternwood. That turns out to be more than meets the eye and more than Marlowe bargained for. Mrs. Vivian Rutledge in the form of Lauren Bacall is General Sternwood's daughter who informs Marlowe that he father had another motive for hiring him. It all begins there. I recommend that you just enjoy this really agreeable and engrossing film noir classic. And no noir classic from Warner Brothers would be complete without a Max Steiner score. I just had to throw that bit in.
KEY LARGO is my favorite of the 3 films. There is something very stoic about Humphrey Bogart's performance. He is a bit introverted and enigmatic. WWII had been over a couple of years when this film was made. There is a sense of reflection here. Humphrey Bogart's Major Frank McCloud is a civilian now. He seems like a haunted man, yet once again he must rise to the occasion.