They’re remembered as one of the great screen teams, and yet they only made — count ’em — 4 films together.
Quickly, can you name them? Ok, let’s take the movies in chronological order:
To Have and To Have Not (1944).
The movie is director Howard Hawks’ justifiably classic To Have and Have Not. As our Books-To-Movies maven, the late Larry Michie, pointed out, the movie used only a fragment of the Ernest Hemingway novel on which it is based. Here’s the plot as seen onscreen. Larry wrote:
Humphrey Bogart plays a charter boat captain named Steve who takes rich folks out fishing. He’s based in Martinique, and his all-purpose handyman and helper is none other than Walter Brennan, who is most assuredly an alcoholic, although played a bit more humorously than would be considered politically correct today.
Steve turns down the earnest good guy who wants to pay him to pick up and transport some Free French leaders (this being World War II, and the Germans being the bad guys). Steve refuses, but when his latest fishing customer stiffs him, he decides to take the job so he can pay his debts.
While Steve is mulling over his options in his favorite bar, he notes a pick-pocketing young woman, and sparks begin to fly. The young beauty, just out of her teens, is none other than Lauren Bacall, and man, does she make the screen come alive.
Her famous line inviting Steve to whistle if he needs anything – ‘You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? Just put your lips together and blow’ – must have kept a whole generation of men and boys awake at night. Women and girls, too, for that matter.
Bogie and Bacall , despite their age difference (he was 45, she just 20), began (a year after the movie came out) their celebrated 12-year marriage that ended with his death at age 57 of esophageal cancer in January, 1957.
The Big Sleep (1946).
Bogart introduces himself as Philip Marlowe, the Los Angeles-based private eye, in 1946’s The Big Sleep, based on Raymond Chandler’s 1939 novel. For our money, Bogie was much better served in the role of San Francisco detective Sam Spade (in 1941’s The Maltese Falcon based upon Dashiell Hammett’s novel.)
As film noir specialist Eddie Muller observes, Philip Marlowe was a more romanticized vision of the private eye. To Chandler, he was a hero, not just a professional. His code of honor was more rigid than Sam Spade’s, and unlike Hammett’s taciturn protagonists, Marlowe was inclined to erupt in florid soliloquy.
Anyone who has read a Chandler novel can attest to that.
The Big Sleep was also directed by Hawks, and coscripted by nobody less than novelist William Faulkner. The complex plot involves the usual doses of scandal, blackmail and, of course, murder. Bacall plays the sexy divorcee daughter of a wealthy man eager, ostensibly, to collect gambling debts. As usual, nothing on the surface appears to be what it really is. Bacall has some erotically charged scenes with Bogie, but the picture lacks any of the idealism framing Bogie’s character found in To Have and To Have Not.
A special treat: late Dorothy Malone (above) has a memorable bit part in this classic film noir as a bespectacled book store clerk who has a hard time hiding her lustful intentions re Bogart. The harried Bogie conveys the sense that given more time in a confusing plot, an interesting romance could have developed.
Dark Passage (1947).
This one is, perhaps, the least interesting of the Bogie-Bacall teamings. Directed by Delmer Daves and based upon a David Goodis novel, it tells the story of a San Quenton escapee, falsely accused of murder, who undergoes plastic surgery to hide his identity. He also comes across a San Francisco art student of independent means (Bacall) who mistrusts and then falls in love with our protagonists, from whose vantage poont the picture is photographed. If it sounds dicey, that’s because it is. To complicate matters, Bogie began losing his hair big time during shooting and wound up wearing a full-fledged wig.
And finally, Key Largo (1948).
This is a superb John Huston film for reasons that transcend the Bogie-Bacall pairing. He is excellent as the Army veteran visiting the Florida family of a military subordinate and friend, a World War II casualty who served under him in Europe. Bacall plays the grieving widow who, with her paraplegic father (Lionel Barrymore), runs a hotel in Key Largo. Edward G. Robinson is excellent as gangster Johnny Rocco, who invades the hotel — along with unsavory cohorts (including Thomas Gomez and Dan Seymour) — just as a hurricane blows in. One of our favorites, Marc Lawrence, puts in a colorful turn as Johnny Rocco’s gangster cohort.
Claire Trevor won an Oscar in the supporting actress category for her moving performance as a washed up night club singer, Gaye Dawn, reduced to a groveling song performance by sadistic gangster Robinson. It its one of the screen’s most pathetic moments. In all, Key Largo, the most entertaining of the Bogie-Bacall pairings.