Sunday, August 17, 2014

Don't Make a Scene: To Have and Have Not

The Story:  The "other" celebrity death this week stood in marked contrast to the other one. Betty Joan Perske, whose stage-name was Lauren Bacall, died last week one month shy of her 90th birthday. If we can mourn the succumbing to weakness, we should celebrate strength as represented by the tough, stalwart life of Betty Joan Perske Bogart Robards.

Betty Joan was 19 when the wife of Howard Hawks, Nancy Keith (known as "Slim") saw her on the cover of Harper's Bazaar (see below). Hawks was working on an adaptation of what he considered Ernest Hemingway's worst story "To Have and Have Not" and Hemingway agreeing with him, the two worked out an adaptation story, which was hammered into shape by Jules Furthman and William Faulkner (and re-written, constantly (as was his wont) by Hawks. Bogart was attached to star and Hawks had informed him "you are probably the most insolent man on the screen and I'm going to make the girl a little more insolent than you are." Then, Nancy brought him that Bazaar cover and Betty's die, and "the girl" was cast. Hawks was known for creating strong female characters in his films, but Lauren Bacall was something else. She was the equal to her male co-star and the two acknowledged it in their performances.  

The story is that Hawks made her go into the Hollywood hills and scream (or read lines at the top of her lungs depending on what story you hear) until her high voice frayed and husked into the feminine purr it became, a mature voice that carried authority from her first performance. "Slim" Keith developed her style and Hawks her attitude and screen persona.

And then there was Bogart. "I saw your screen test," he told her. "We're going to have a lot of fun together."  In that test, Bacall was nervous and her face and voice quivered in tension. To fight it, she lowered her head, chin to chest, and cast her eyes upward. It became "The Look," what Bacall would become known for. And in the first two weeks of filming To Have and Have Not, when Bogart and Bacall did most of their scenes together, it became apparent to everyone on-set that sparks were flying between the two. So much so that Hawks (who probably had romantic designs on Bacall as well) decided to chastise her (and Bogart), but finally acknowledged that whatever was happening was electrifying his movie. Bogart was 44. She was 19. Hollywood is full of fantasy May-December romances on-screen. But "Bogey and Baby" (as they became known) stuck. There was no fantasy. They married in 1945, made four films together, had two kids, and were together until Bogart's death from cancer in 1957. For the rest of her life, she was Bogey's wife—but not his widow. "Being a widow is not a profession," she told Michael Parkinson in an interview. She dated Sinatra. She married Jason Robards—it lasted eight years.

She died last week, Betty Joan Perske Bacall Bogart Robards, born in the Bronx of two Jewish emigrees, Natalie Weinstein-Bacal (Romanian) and William Perske (Polish). She was stalwart and true. Fiery and flinty. She persevered, almost defiantly. She stood up to some of the strongest men in Hollywood, and was a game collaborator with some of the strongest actors in the town. She could be soft and a battle-axe. She lived a lifetime, of both pain and joy, in the glare of the spotlight, and made it to the age of 89.

She was magnificent.

The Set-Up: Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) an independent fishing tour captain is having his independence challenged on several fronts, it being World War II and all.  Not friendly with the Vichy government in Martinique, he takes a job smuggling a French resistance activist aboard his boat. The reason he's doing it is rather contrary: he's looking to book passage for an American stuck on the island, one Marie Browning, (Bacall), whom he nick-names "Slim," and for whom a serious romance is starting to catch fire. He's basically doing a job he doesn't want to do to get rid of a girl he doesn't want to get rid of.

Hmmph.  Men!

The smuggling operation goes badly with the wounding of the patriot. Cutting the bullet out of his charge, Morgan stays with his "patient" and the man's wife (Dolores Moran) while he recuperates in a temporary hiding place. It is morning, and the sun has just come up on a short and troubled night.

Then Marie walks in.


HARRY Why'd you ever come along with him on a trip like this? 
Mme.DE BASAAC I loved him. Wanted to be with him. 
HARRY That's a reason. BURSAC There's another reason. They told me to come. Our people did. BURSAC They said, they said no man was much good if he left someone behind in France for the Germans to find and hold.
HARRY Makes sense. BURSAC I told them that I'd only be in the way. BURSAC That I could do no good. That I was afraid. BURSAC But the worst of it is it's been so hard for him to have me along. Because I've made him that way too. Now he's afraid. 
 HARRY Well, he didn't invent it. BURSAC Invent what? 
HARRY Being afraid. BURSAC Thanks, Mr. Morgan. 
HARRY Well, the fever is gone. BURSAC Do- 
HARRY I'm no doctor, but he looks good to me. 
HARRY If he wakes up give him another one of these pills. BURSAC Mr. Morgan. BURSAC Mr. Morgan -I- BURSAC -I- 
HARRY You're not going to faint again? BURSAC No. I'm just having a hard time trying to say something. 
HARRY Go ahead, say it. I'm not going to bite you. BURSAC Well, if it hadn't been for you, Paul might have- BURSAC I'm sorry for the way I've acted. 
HARRY Oh, you're not sorry at all. You're just sorry you made a fool of yourself. BURSAC I have haven't I? 
HARRY Uh-huh. BURSAC You don't make me angry when you say that. BURSAC I don't think I'll ever be angry again with anything you say. 
HARRY Another screwy dame. 
HARRY Now how can you- 
MARIE Morning. 
MARIE I hate to break this up but I brought some breakfast. BURSAC Morning. 
MARIE How's your patient? 
HARRY Oh, he'll be all- 
MARIE Or haven't you looked lately? 
HARRY He'll be all right. 
HARRY I'll be back this evening. If you need me before then be sure and call me. BURSAC I will. 
MARIE Yes, and I hope you have everything you need here. The eggs may be a little hard boiled- BURSAC That's all right. I like them that way. 
MARIE You're lucky. 
MARIE Isn't she? 
HARRY I'm gonna get some sleep. I'll see you later. 
MARIE Thanks. 
HARRY What do you want? 
MARIE I could use a match. 
MARIE Thanks. Now I need a cigarette. 
MARIE Here, I can do that. 
HARRY Look. 
MARIE Oh, come on let me help. 
HARRY Look, when I get ready to take my shoes off, I'll take them off myself. 
MARIE All right. 
MARIE Want something to eat? 
MARIE Just a little breakfast. 
HARRY All I want to do is get some sleep. 
MARIE It's a good idea. 
MARIE I can help you there. 
HARRY Hey, now where are you going? 
MARIE I'm going to fix you a nice hot bath. It'll make you sleep better. 
HARRY Look, Junior. I don't want you to take my shoes off, I don't want you to get me any breakfast,
HARRY I don't want you to draw me a nice hot bath. I don't want you to - 
MARIE Isn't there anything I can do Steve? 
HARRY Yes, get the- 
MARIE You know Mr. Morgan, you don't make me angry when you say that. 
MARIE I don't think I'll ever be angry again... 
MARIE anything you say. 
MARIE How am I doing, Steve? Does it work the second time?
HARRY You've been wanting to do something for me, haven't you?
MARIE Mm-hmm. 
HARRY "Mm-hmm."
HARRY Walk around me. 
HARRY Go ahead, walk around me. 
HARRY Clear around. 
HARRY Did you find anything? 
MARIE No, Steve. There are no strings tied to you. 
MARIE Not yet. 
MARIE Oh, I liked that. 
MARIE Except for the beard. 
MARIE Why don't you shave and... 
MARIE ...and we'll try it again. 
HARRY Later, Frenchy. 
FRENCHY No, Harry, wait. Renard Inspector is down stairs. You'd better come down. 
HARRY I can't do that. I got to get a shave. 
FRENCHY He's got Eddie. 
HARRY He's what-
FRENCHY Eddie. He's giving him drinks and asking him questions. 
HARRY I was afraid of that. 
HARRY Good thing you didn't get me in that tub. 
MARIE Look out for those strings, Steve. 
MARIE You're liable to trip and break your neck. 
FRENCHY Strings, I didn't see any strings. 
MARIE They just don't show, Frenchy.

Pictures by Sidney Hickox and Howard Hawks

To Have and Have Not
is available on DVD from Warner Home Video.
If Heaven exists, this is what I imagine it is for these two souls

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