by STEVEN D. GREYDANUS | Source:
KEY LARGO: PICK
DARK PASSAGE: PICK
THE BIG SLEEP: PICK
TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT: PICK
All four Bogie & Bacall: Signature Collection
films include menace, gunplay, stylized violence and innuendo. Teens and up.
This week, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s four films together are available jointly in Bogie & Bacall: The Signature Collection
. Key Largo
, the couple’s last picture together, finds Bogie again reprising his Rick persona from Casablanca
as a cynical ex-soldier named Frank McCloud who eventually rises to the occasion. The threat here is not the Axis, but aging gangster Johnny Rocco (memorably played by Edward G. Robinson), whom McCloud discovers in the Florida Keys doing business from a hotel belonging to an old friend of McCloud’s.
Grippingly tense and claustrophobic, the film underscores the inaccessibility of the Keys — linked to the mainland by a single, far-flung causeway — and the unpredictable violence of the late summer hurricane season to accentuate the rising inner and outer conflict. Both McCloud and Rocco are men adrift in the post-war era; Rocco’s increasingly desperate flailing helps McCloud find the footing he needs to stand his ground. Dark Passage
is the weak link of the four films, an odd little curiosity in which Bogie plays an escaped prisoner wrongly convicted for killing his wife. He goes The Fugitive
one better by actually undergoing plastic surgery in order to disguise his identity and evade authorities while he tracks down the real killer with Bacall’s help. The weird thing is that the character’s post-surgery appearance is Bogie’s real face — which the movie sets up by not showing the protagonist’s face for more than half the film. Instead, for the first hour the film employs gimmicky point-of-view camerawork until after the bandages come off.
The fatal problem, of course, is that Bogie’s voice and face are so indelible that even without seeing him we picture his real face, and when the bandages come off the effect is that he hasn’t changed. Story-wise, Dark Passage
is notoriously farfetched and incoherent. In spite of its weaknesses, though, it manages to be reasonably entertaining, in part because of good performances from supporting players as well as the principals. It’s worth a look.
The gem of the collection is The Big Sleep
, Howard Hawks’ stylish noir adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel. The dialogue is hard-boiled and crackles with wit, the plot is fast-paced and nearly impenetrable and Bogey is coolly unflappable as Chandler hero Philip Marlowe. The case begins with Marlowe being hired by an elderly, well-to-do widower who is being blackmailed over the wayward behavior of the younger of his two lovely daughters (Bacall’s the older daughter).
The labyrinthine plot contains so many shady characters, twists, double-crosses and shootings that even with a scorecard it’s almost impossible to keep straight. Even the title makes no clear sense. But The Big Sleep is less about plot than about style, atmosphere, classic repartee — and Bogey and Bacall’s onscreen chemistry.
The couple’s first film together was To Have and Have Not
, Hawks’ more or less in-name-only adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s “worst novel” by way of Casablanca — and remained linked ever after both on and off the screen.
The film doesn’t have the elements that make Casablanca
immortal: lovers with a complex history, a noble sacrifice for a higher cause and one classic line after another. (This film’s “Was you ever bit by a dead bee?” doesn’t quite cut it, although Bacall’s “just whistle” line comes close.) But To Have and Have Not
holds up thanks to Hawks’ stylish storytelling and the fireworks between Bogie and Bacall.