As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Weekend Double Feature: Bogie learns to stick his neck out

Posted by Hedwig on April 12, 2008

How much can you tell from people’s celebrity crushes? Not too much, I hope. For instance, I blogged before about liking brooding baddy Guy of Gisborne in the new BBC series about Robin Hood more than the title character, wondering what that said about me. Luckily, my friend Lani (who I’m visiting in Oslo right now) recently caught up with the show, and wholeheartedly agrees. She’s a little disturbed by her predilection too… but at least we’re not out there posting robin/guy slash fanvids on iTunes, right? Right?

Back to the topic at hand, my old-time movie star crushes aren’t exactly typical either. It’s not the dashing Errol Flynn (another Robin Hood), the dreamy Cary Grant, or the recently departed Charlton Heston that I drool over. Nope, instead, it’s Orson Welles I can’t resist, Claude Rains I root for in Notorious, and my favorite of them all, the movie star I find most attractive, is a short drunkard with a lisp called Humphrey DeForest Bogart.

He really was an unlikely romantic hero: cynical, tough, with an almost ridiculously high forehead and downward slanting eyebrows that, together with his drooping mouth, made him look perpetually depressed, or at the very least cranky. And in the two movies in this weekend’s double feature, Casablanca and To Have and Have Not, he starts out insisting that he doesn’t care for anybody, and doesn’t want to get involved with anyone, either. He’s Donne’s proverbial island, caring only about himself and his livelihood, and not about the second world war, which is spreading all around him.

“I stick my neck out for nobody”, he famously claims in Casablanca, and in To Have and Have Not, he flatly refuses to help the free French. He owns a bar in the former and a boat in the latter, but aside from that, the characters are fairly similar. Asked what his nationality is, he replies “I’m a drunkard” in one, “Eskimo” in the other. And many other details are also similar: there’s sympathetic piano players in both, Bogie’s in a French region in both, and in both films Bogie’s non-intervention policy (hm, wonder who he’s a metaphor for..) finally wavers because of a woman.

It’s in those women that we can find the biggest differences. Casablanca is quite possibly my favorite movie of all time, and it’s not about to be dethroned by the very uneven To Have and Have Not, but the only reason the character of Ilsa works at all is that she’s played by radiant beauty Ingrid Bergman. Otherwise? She’s simply not very interesting, more an abstract object of desire, a catalyst for Bogart, than a fully rounded person. She’s not an agent at any point, just reacts to the events around her, and in the end, she’s not even the one who chooses who she ends up with.

It’s not a weakness, per se. In fact, you could argue it’s what makes Casablanca such a classic romance: falling in love with Ingrid Bergman isn’t exactly hard. Giving her up for a good cause: now that’s remarkable.

Lauren Bacall’s Slim is an entirely different creature. To begin with, Ingrid Bergman is beauty made flesh, while Bacall is sex on legs. The Merry Melodies short “Bacall to arms” is included on my DVD, and in it, Bacall literally leaves flames behind when she walks, scorching the floor. You fall in love with Bergman and want to protect her, but Bacall inspires…different instincts. Yet in To Have and Have Not also, it’s the girl who gets Bogie to be involved: he takes the job he declined earlier to earn enough money to get her to go home…and then, of course, stubborn, willful Slim, who at first said she’d walk home if it wasn’t for all that water, decides to stay.

It’s too bad the rest of To Have and Have Not doesn’t quite live up to the electric scenes between Bogie and Bacall. Whereas every single minor role in Casablanca is memorable, here we have Walter Brennan doing his standard drunkard routine, a strange, throwaway love interest played by Dolores Moran, and some interchangeable resistance fighters. The piano player, “Cricket”, is ok, but he’s no Sam. And the plot is pretty much all over the place.

But who cares, really, when you’ve got Bacall asking for a light, elegantly leaning against a door post. When you have Bogie looking at her with that look, clearly falling for her both on and offscreen. When you have “You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and…blow”.

Casablanca and To Have and Have Not: two movies in which Bogie learns that he can’t always stand on the sidelines and fend for himself. Two movies that go together well as a representation of American’s ambivalence at the start of WWII. Two movies that show that contrary to what you might expect, Bogart is incredibly sexy, and credibly attractive to much younger and prettier girls. But two movies nonetheless as different as their leading ladies: one is all romance. The other? All sex.

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2 Responses to “Weekend Double Feature: Bogie learns to stick his neck out”

  1. Alison Flynn said

    Ah, two of my favorite movies of all time, and certainly my two top Bogie films. Fantastic double feature.

    I agree that To Have and Have Not has its flaws, whereas Casablanca is really a masterpiece. But the Bogart/Bacall scenes make it. And I also do enjoy the scenes with Cricket – Hoagy Carmichael playing and singing his own tunes is a treat.

    Great writeup.

  2. Paul C. said

    Fine choices for the weekend. I also love him in The Big Sleep, which is mostly about him reeling in the women. Watch it again sometime and tell me I’m wrong.

    Also, re: Notorious– Grant’s character is a bastard, so I can totally see why you’d be partial to Rains. He’s sensitive and genuinely shows love for Alicia rather than sublimating his love and manipulating her to his own ends.

    It’s comforting to hear that cool movie-loving women dig the offbeat guys instead of just the hunks and himbos. Heck, there’s a whole cabal of Peter Lorre lovers out there. Gives me hope, if only someone would cast me in a movie.

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