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Film noir

"Fedora, Trench-Coat, Cigarette, and Gun" [by David Lehman]

Big SleepFrom The American Scholar July 17, 2021. Click here for the rest of this "Talking Pictures" post. Here's an excerpt:

Humphrey Bogart was far from your conventional heartthrob. Not blessed with the looks of a Cary Grant or Gregory Peck, he was reliably good as a hoodlum or bootlegger, a Cagney sidekick in flicks of the ’30s, or an unlucky truck driver playing second fiddle to George Raft in Raoul Walsh’s They Drive by Night (1940).

Not until he was 41 did Bogart become a leading man. In Walsh’s High Sierra, (1941), Bogart plays Roy Earle, nicknamed “Mad Dog,” an ex-con on the lam after a heist goes wrong. Roy dies on a mountaintop, but not before winning the love of Marie (Ida Lupino). Even Bosley Crowther, the film critic for The New York Times, with his astonishingly low batting average, had  good words for Lupino and Bogart: she was “impressive as the adoring moll,” and he displays “a perfection of hard-boiled vitality.” Then to confirm that, these concessions aside, Crowther was his usual self, he added, “As gangster pictures go—if they do—it’s a perfect epilogue.” The right word would have been prologue, as what followed was a whole new genre of crime and noir movies.

Bogart & BacallThe role of Sam Spade, the hard-boiled private eye in The Maltese Falcon (1941)—Dashiell Hammett’s novel adapted by John Huston in his directorial debut—made Bogart’s reputation and accounts for the image many of us have of him today. The tough guy who won’t let Mary Astor play him for a sap and outwits the wonderful Warner Brothers trio of Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Elisha Cook, Jr., is, as he points out, not “as crooked as I’m supposed to be,” even as he joins in the hunt for the legendary priceless black bird, which turns out to be a fake.

A wide-brimmed fedora and belted trench coat are as vital to Bogart as top hat, white tie, and tails are to Fred Astaire. A lighted cigarette dangles from Bogey’s lips. He is quick with a quip, and when this is pointed out to him as if it were a fault, he replies, “What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?” His voice conveys an aggressive world-weariness. It is difficult to impress him. He incorporates skepticism in the sound of his words. As he says in The Maltese Falcon, “The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.”

To read further, with commentary on Casablanca and The Big Sleep, link here. Photos are stils from The Big Sleep.  

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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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