National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Video Picks & Passes

BY STEVEN D. GREYDANUS

July 23 - August 5, 2006 Issue | Posted 7/23/06 at 10:00 AM

 

Key Largo: PICK


(1947)



Dark
Passage: PICK


(1947)



The Big
Sleep: PICK


(1946)



To Have
and Have Not: PICK


(1946)




Content
advisory
:


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.