I think I'm a week early on this one, but I don't care. I have been enjoying my dive into the 40's so much this year that every time I actually finish one of these Blind Spot entries I'm dying to start on the next one. Case in point, I finished up this entry (To Have and Have Not) over the weekend and immediately started watching Brief Encounter and had to stop myself about five minutes in because I have to wait! I can't watch that now! If I watch it now I'll want to write about it immediately, and it's still June!
Anyways, if you haven't been keeping up with my personal entries in this series, you can read up on my thoughts on The Shop Around the Corner, Penny Serenade, Sergeant York (which we just discussed in last week's edition of Twice a Best Actor, so please check that out too), Shadow of a Doubt and La Belle et la Bete. The 40's are quickly becoming one of my favorite decades for film.
Well, I guess it's about time that we get into this review!
Humphrey Bogart was practically the King of the 40’s film noir. Ok, he wasn’t practically, he just was. His long face (literal) and his broad shoulders, hat tipped forward, growl in his speech, eyes cast downward yet piercing through your intentions; all of these facets creating this mold to forever epitomize what it means to anchor a noir. He found his niche, and he perfected it over years and years of basically regurgitating it. I don’t want this to sound like a negative thing (although it really is like a contradiction of sorts) but the fact remains that Bogart knew what worked for him and he went for it every time. He had moments towards the end of his career where he branched out a bit, especially in his final (and finest) performance, ‘The Harder They Fall’, but as a rule we always know what to expect from Bogart.
He doesn’t surprise or disappoint here.
Of course, this isn’t merely a review of Bogart, who plays captain of a boat for hire on the island of Martinique. The basic plot of the film follows Bogart’s character, Harry Morgan, as he gets roped into some political affairs when he is convinced by a friend to pick up some French freedom fighters that are on the run from the German police. This makes some serious problems for Harry, especially once interrogations start and tempers begin to flare, even within his own circle of friends. His newfound love interest, Marie, is quickly becoming attached, but her jealous eyes rove from Harry to the pretty young wife of an injured member of the resistance. Still, it is the police that pose the largest threat, holding Harry’s passport and money hostage in exchange for information he refuses to give up.
There is a lot here I really admired. First, the whole atmosphere created by director Howard Hawks, cinematographer Sidney Hickox and composer Franz Waxman is incredible. It is so palpable and just oozing with this sweaty, lusty composure. Even in the black and white lighting, it all feels so alive. From the smoky bars to the foggy seaside to the dense basement; it is so thick with character.
This also marked the film debut of Lauren Bacall, who became such a siren on screen, and her deliberately paced performance here proves why. She just smolders. Every scene is elevated by her magnetic presence. The way that she slinks her body from one side of the room to another reminded me a great deal of Kristin Scott Thomas, an actress whom I love dearly. Walter Brennan was also so wonderful here, playing the drunk sidekick with such charisma and comic timing. He added a nice tonal layer to the whole exercise. And of course Bogart was as reliable as always.
But there were a few things that I felt really detracted from the film. First, some of the pacing was off. Some of the unimportant scenes lingered too long, and while I loved the eyes that Bacall made while singing, those scenes lasted too long and took us out of the feel of the film. I also rather loathed the depiction of the German police, especially Sheldon Leonard’s annunciated performance. It was cringe worthy, to be honest. It would have been forgivable had he not had so many scenes, but the more he talked the more I wanted to throw things at my television. The ending was also so briskly executed that it almost came and went without much of an impact, which surprised me.
BAM, everything is resolved and the day has been saved.
And yet I’m still a fan. It was a really enjoyable film that offered some great moments (yes, the infamous ‘whistling’ scene is fantastic) and really proved to be a nice night with a classic.
Honestly, next month can't come soon enough!