Last night I finished a crash course in Bogey and Bacall. In the last couple weeks, I’ve watched two of the four films that the couple made together: The Big Sleep (1946) and To Have and Have Not (1944). Incidentally they were both directed by Howard Hawks, a legend of classic Hollywood.
Bogey and Bacall is an interesting love story because if it had happened to non-celebrities, it would probably just be creepy. For starters, Bacall was twenty-five years his junior, and he was married to another woman when they met on the set of To Have and Have Not. Oh, and Bacall was all of nineteen years old at the time. Yet something about their on-screen chemistry makes their romance seem only natural.
Maybe it’s the fact that Bacall’s physicality and behavior suggest maturity beyond her years. She certainly makes a case for husky-voiced women everywhere, and her characters in these movies can handle themselves. Would she want some immature, age-appropriate dude when she can have Humphrey freaking Bogart? Then again, her on-screen persona doesn’t necessarily equal who she was as a person. I can’t find this interview on the internet, so you’ll have to take my word for it. But I distinctly remember seeing an interview with Bacall, probably on TCM, where she talked about being startled by her first on-screen kiss with Bogey because she was so inexperienced.
Despite Bacall’s projected maturity, Bogey also makes them work by being not the most predatory of men. He embodies a different brand of wry masculinity, and his characters are often reluctant heroes. (See Rick Blaine in Casablanca, or Harry Morgan in To Have and Have Not, the plot of which bears a striking resemblance to Casablanca.) My favorite part of The Big Sleep are the repeated cracks about Bogart’s height, often from female characters.
I can’t say that either of these films blew my mind. If you’re looking for Bogart plus high-quality film, nothing beats Casablanca. But if you want to some Bogey and Bacall fireworks, I would recommend To Have and Have Not. Sometimes when Bogey smiles at her, you feel like you’re catching a glimpse of real-life emotion. Plus he wears an adorable captain’s hat for much of the film. (His character’s name is literally Captain Morgan.) And double-plus-bonus, he has a loveable drunken friend who the characters refer to as a “rummy.” If that’s not a sign of quality, I don’t know what is.
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