Friday, August 30, 2019

The Bridge on the River Kwai

The Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean, 1957)
One of those legendary movies that I have had ample opportunities to watch but always chose to miss for one reason or another, despite having seen many of Lean's films. It's inexplicable how I've managed to miss it over a lifetime—it premiered two years after I was born. Perhaps it was the length of the thing, clocking in at 2 hours 41 minutes. For whatever reason, I had never watched the whole thing (but I had curiously seen the ending many, many times). The multi-Oscar winning blockbuster marks the point when David Lean became more recognized as an artist than merely a capable director. It is also the point where he became less of a British director than a director of international locales.
All I'd ever seen of The Bridge on the River Kwai
Lean was not Sam Spiegel's first choice for director of an adaptation of the Pierre Boulle novel (which Spiegel had picked up in an airport book-shop)—Spiegel first thought of Fred Zinnemann and William Wyler, Howard Hawks and John Ford, even Orson Welles—he also thought of Humphrey Bogart for the role of the commando Shears (to be later played by William Holden for a million dollar salary, after the next choice, Cary Grant, whose last film that wasn't a light comedy, Crisis directed by Richard Brooks, was a box-office flop).

For the role of the persevering, but ultimately deluded Col. Nicholson, Spiegel sought out Laurence Olivier, who opted, instead to direct and co-star with Marilyn Monroe in The Prince and the Showgirl. Spencer Tracy, Charles Laughton, Ronald Colman, James Mason, Noel Coward and Ray Milland were also considered before the final brilliant (and Oscar-winning) choice of Alec Guinness.
The film begins with the arrival of British POW's (to the whistled tune of "The Colonel Bogey March" to keep regimented time) at a Japanese work camp in Burma run by Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa). Saito informs the prisoners they will be assisting in the building of a railway bridge that will run weapons and supplies for the war effort between Bangkok and Rangoon. The ranking officer, Lt. Col. Nicholson quotes the Geneva Convention to Saito stating that officers are exempt from manual labor and the next day, resists the commands to go to the bridge-site. This awards Nicholson a slap across the face and the troops a day in the blistering Burmese sun...after being threatened with outright execution. 
For the veteran prisoners, like American Navy Commander Shears (William Holden)—a fixer who bribes the guards to avoid doing heavy labor—Nicholson is a bit too "regular army" for the situation and Shears continues in his efforts to escape the camp, despite Nicholson's command to his troops that no one escapes—Nicholson was commanded to surrender to the Japanese and considers escape attempts as against orders and treasonous. Shears will not entertain such distinctions; he's a prisoner of war. He plans another attempt to escape and is the only one of three to survive, washing up in a Siamese village, shot and barely alive from the ordeal. But, the village cares for him and supplies him with a canoe and after another long journey further down the river, he is picked up British forces in Ceylon.
Nicholson continues his by-the-book resistance to hard labor and Saito orders the senior officers confined and Nicholson locked up in a metal solitary shed for his defiance. For days, he bakes in the Burmese sun, surviving by the ministrations of the troop doctor, Clipton (James Donald), who is given permission to visit the prisoner only if he can persuade Nicholson to give in. Nicholson refuses.
This puts Saito in a bind. He has been tasked to build the militarily important transport bridge by a certain date, and if he cannot complete it in time, he will be forced to commit suicide for the dishonor. The Colonel must have Nicholson's men working on the bridge to ensure its completion, and so he tasks Nicholson to supervise the building of the bridge, which the Lt. Col. is all too willing to do, on the condition that it is built his way, meaning that the British will survey, design, engineer and construct the bridge. Both men get what they want—for Saito, it's the meeting of his goal, while for Nicholson, it will be occupational therapy for the men, possible better treatment, and a chance to show the Japanese the superiority of Western—and by that is meant occidental—thinking and productivity. And by that, he means that the British are more civilized than the Japanese. Whatever his high-minded ideals, the roots of the task are in prejudice.
The first half is a rough slog, split between the battle of wills between Guinness' Nicholson and Hayakawa's Saito. The atmosphere is oppressive and close-knit as Nicholson internalizes his defiance until it becomes something like compliance, while Shear's cynical American fights his way back to civilization, stripping away his veneer of crustiness along the way. One gets a good distillation of Stockholm Syndrome: Nicholson begins to see eye-to-eye with his captor, and Holden's defiance grows stronger the farther he gets from the camp.
The movie turns on its ear while re-tracing steps in the film's second half: Shears is convalescing in Ceylon, and enjoying it, but he is persuaded—it wouldn't be very British to say "blackmailed"—to retrace his steps and go back to the camp—the last thing he wants to do—in order to take out the bridge that, unbeknownst to him or British Special Forces, Nicholson and the prisoners are building to improve their conditions and to prove the vainglorious point that they are better than their captors—a point that might be better made if they attempted escape. But, by this time, Nicholson is so committed to the bridge that he doesn't even consider that he is aiding and abetting the Japanese war effort.
That point, out of captivity, is only too evident to the Special Forces commandos—Shears, Major Warden (Jack Hawkins), and Lt. Joyce (Geoffrey Horne), another is killed in the parachute drop—sent to destroy the bridge before it can become useful. They painfully make the trip with the help of Burmese natives, as Nicholson and his men re-double their efforts to meet the deadline for the bridge to be used for a train carrying soldiers and officials—the first true successful use of the bridge. For Nicholson, completion of the bridge is a personal triumph and a source of great pride.
So, imagine what he would think if he knew that his own government, his own Army, had been sent to destroy the thing. That is the tension that underscores the last half of the film and how agents from the same Army can come to cross-purposes in the madness of war. The foolhardiness comes full-circle as the mission to blow up the bridge comes to its conclusion. "Sides" and loyalties are blurred in the melee, as allies fight allies over an enemy bridge. Best intentions underline deaths and, after so much planning and work on both sides, it all comes down to a twist of Fate, as opposed to any deliberate act of sabotage or murder on the part of the combatants.
It's a masterful film under Lean's direction, though some may quibble about the length of the first part of the film—one has to light the fuse no matter its length—and once out of the camp area, Lean's freedom to shoot beautiful jungle vistas in all manner of light gives the film grace notes of beauty no matter how down, dirty and gritty the action on-screen gets. 
It's as if Lean is looking for anything to off-set the mixed loyalties and complexities of the plots of men knotted up in the situation. Those beauty shots and the quick cut-away reactions of the Burmese women to the deaths in the final scene are practically essential as some sort of respite from the quagmire that is played out in the shadow of that bridge, as if there has to be shown something natural and decent still remaining, despite all.
The Bridge on the River Kwai is paved with good intentions. Like all roads to Hell.

Thursday, August 29, 2019


Written at the time of the film's release...and back in the day when we all thought "emoluments" was some sort of hand-creme...

"That Was the Crook That Was"
"David vs. Go-lie-eth"

Well, it was hardly "An Epic Battle for the Truth" (as the movie's tag-line crows). It was more of a stunt put on by David Frost and Richard Nixon to jump-start their respective careers. I remember those interviews and the hoopla they generated. there was a lot of heat in the media about "checkbook journalism," and it was being kind to call it "journalism"—Frost's go-to question always was "What is your definition of love?"* It was, in fact, the news-equivalent of opening Al Capone's vault, or the Billy Jean King-Bobby Riggs tennis match.

But it did happen, quite a bit of the way Frost/Nixon scribe
Peter Morgan presents it. The legal wranglings, the rejection by the networks leading to syndication, the sponsorships by the new-tech "Weed-Eater" and Alpo dog food (Lorne Green was the spokesperson). I remember the stories of the exploding light, Nixon's remarks of Frost being his "Grand Inquisitor," even the "Did you do any fornicating?" line that (although it didn't occur right before taping as the movie would have you believe) Nixon threw at Frost when the cameras weren't running.

But there's enough difference to make it suspect. The interviews were not as packed with drama as the movie would have you believe (see the video below). They were quite benign affairs, and Nixon didn't betray any secrets that he didn't want to betray--the movie doesn't tell you that Nixon's deal included 20% of the royalties of the syndication, which made him Frost's partner in the enterprise, and the former president knew that throwing in some red meat would garnish more money for him.
The furthest afield that Morgan goes is the most interesting. The playwright/screen-writer invents a late-night phone-call between Nixon (Frank Langella—after a while you "buy" him, but his Nixon speaks like a dilettante) and Frost (Michael Sheen—his Frost is vocally perfect) before the final interview, the one involving Watergate. Frost, ill-prepared and feeling in over his head, is caught in a moment of self-doubt when Nixon, with a couple drinks in him, calls and has a heart-to-heart comparing Frost's history to his own—of being shunned by the privileged kids, the ones who got all the breaks. Finally, Nixon builds to a fevered pitch and becomes the ranting monster everyone imagines him to have been, yelling that "all those (expletives deleted) can choke!"
And this is the problem: that phone-call never happened.** It's an invention of Morgan's to transition Frost from defeated to fighting, and although it dramatically works, it's a cheat. The truth of the matter is that Nixon is never the monster that the dramatists and speculators want him to be—as threats to democracies go, he was a rather dull one, but, as with Secret Honor, the fictional Nixon, drunk, raving like a bitter lunatic, vengeful and self-pitying (which he was), but dramatically incapable of being Lear, just isn't good enough to square with the man who used his office like a club against his political enemies, and set up his own police force to carry out the dirty work that even J. Edgar Hoover disapproved of. One suspects The Queen isn't nearly as accurate a picture of Elizabeth II. Reality just isn't dramatic enough.
Still, it's a great cast with Kevin Bacon as Nixon's Chief of Staff, Matthew Macfadyen (blonde Beatle-wigged as Frost's producer), Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell as Frost's researchers, Toby Jones as a perfect Irving "Swifty" Lazar (Nixon's agent), and the original "Bad Seed" Patty McCormack plays a frail Pat Nixon.

It's certainly
Ron Howard's most subtle film in years—there's no evidence of the grand-standing direction that weakens a lot of his output, and his asides and cut-aways aren't distractions, but part of the fabric. He merely provides the arena, and lets the actors do their work. It shows just how good a director he is, when he's not trying to show how good a director he is.

Reality and Fiction: Frost and Nixon and "Frost/Nixon"

Some notes from 2019: If there was any real take-away from the Frost Nixon interview, it was the completely naked admission by Nixon that he thought that whatever he did as president could never be considered illegal. Nowadays, he looks like an amateur, but back in the day, hearing that statement you started hearing democracy and America dying.  One of the inspirations to separate from British rule (back in the day) was to get away from the concept that anything a King does is legal, no matter how despicable it might be. Thus, our government is set up with checks and balances and one of those is the court system, which can (yes, very well) determine if a president's actions are illegal or not. Nixon protected his concept of an Imperial Presidency by resigning rather than face prosecution. That would have set a precedent and Nixon was—after all—a good strategist and a lawyer. However, by saving his neck, he set us, as a nation, up for failure. He certainly violated his oath of office to "protect the Constitution" by doing so.

No President is above the law. Only Kings are.

If we buy into the concept of Presidents doing "no wrong," we are ignoring the intentions of the scholars and public men who came up with the concept of "The United States of America" in the first place.

And, at that point, our democracy is only for the powerful, not for the people.

You say you want a revolution, well, I'd love to see the plan.
* My favorite answer was Richard Burton's: "Love is staying up all night with a very sick child...or a very healthy adult." Barbara Walters' go-to question was "If you were a twee, what kind of twee would you be?"

** And Morgan does some obfuscating on the point: in the film, Nixon doesn't recall making the phone-call, although Frost assures him that he did.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Ready or Not (2019)

Wedding Night Blues (The Family That Plays Together...)
"Goddamnit, Emily, Aim for the Center of Gravity!"

There's an old-time comedian's joke as old as Joe Miller's Joke Book that goes "Marriage is a great institution...but who wants to live in an institution?"

For Grace (Samara Weaving, niece of Hugo—and probably the last time any one needs to mention it), marriage is an institution she's been looking forward to for a long time. She's fallen in love with Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien) and endured some relationship stipulations from his family, the Le Domas' of the Le Domas games manufacturing fame, who are "big on traditions." But, now, the big day has arrived and she has the usual wedding-day jitters, and as problematic as the family can be ("They just want to make sure you're not a gold-digging whore" says her intended), she's sure about Alex, who has become something of a black sheep of the family. Doesn't mean he won't one day inherit the Le Domas fortune, though, despite the fact that father Tony Le Domas (Henry Czerny) doesn't like her, that his wife (Andie McDowell) is oddly creepy, while Aunt Helene (Nicky Guadagni) isn't just oddly creepy, she's downright horrifying. Then, there's brother Daniel (Adam Brody), "the alcoholic brother who keeps hitting on (her)." For her, the only thing that matters is what Alex thinks, and for that, she's "proud to join your relatively fucked-up family."

Famous last words...
The wedding comes off without a hitch, and it's a dream come true for Grace. An orphan, she's never been part of a family, even one such as this. Well, then again, there IS a hitch: to be truly accepted into the family, she must play a game on her wedding night, which Grace thinks is odd, but she's willing. "If it means your family will accept me, I will play the shit out of checkers."
Led into the substantial mansion's secret gaming room, the extended family is sat around a table, while patriarch Tony tells the story of great-grandfather Victor Le Domas, who made a wager with one Justin Le Bail, who promised him a great fortune, but on the stipulation that any person marrying into the family had to play a game to be chosen by a mysterious box—if they won the game, they would be welcomed to the family and they would all enjoy continued prosperity. That's what they tell Grace, anyway.
What they don't tell Grace is that if she chooses one particular game—"Hide and Seek"—she will be forced to play the game to the death—hers. If she is caught, she will be killed in a ritualistic sacrifice to Le Bail. If she wins, the entire family will suffer a painful and merciless death. Needless to say, the family is very interested in what the outcome of the drawing will be.

Guess what game Grace will be forced to play?
While Grace goes off to find a suitable hiding place where the family can't find her—she is, of course, at a disadvantage as she's the only one who doesn't know the layout of the house or the many secret doorways and passages in the vast mansion—the family arm themselves with ancient weapons to dispatch her, or at least subdue her, so that she can be sacrificed. New husband Alex is forced to stay in a room under guard, so that he can not lend assistance to his newly-wed wife.
Talk about a lousy wedding night. Grace thinks the whole thing is a dumb family tradition, but then, she's not clued in to the fact that the marriage could be viciously annulled at any moment whether by cross-bow, battle-axe, dueling pistol, musket, or bow and arrow. It is only when she comes across one of the servants (who all look like extras from a Robert Palmer video), dead in a case of mistaken identity that she begins to realize that the stakes are very high and that she might not survive it. She is given limited help by Alex, who is under tight family scrutiny, but she's in a white flowing wedding dress with heels in unfamiliar surroundings. The odds are never in her favor.
But, she is adaptable. Plus, she's plucky, and she has a fierce survival instinct. It also helps that the Le Domas family have handicaps—they're not the brightest of bulbs, they are victims of their own sense of doom, and they're rather privileged so the old weapons aren't exactly user-friendly. "The rich really are different." says a depressed Daniel. But, not different in a good way. It also doesn't help that daughter Emilie (Melanie Scrofano) is a coked-out bone-head who tries just a bit too hard and seems to have her best aim when it's directed to one of the servants. Good help is hard to find these days.
If you haven't guessed by now, the film, Ready or Not, is a comedy, but a horrific one. It's laughs are gruesome and grimacing, and only a couple steps less giddy than what you'd find in "The Addams Family." It's gimmicky, but not in the monstrous tradition, more in a comedy version of "The Most Dangerous Game" if the privileged hunters were just as full of themselves, but weren't so competent. Yes, the rich are different, and, these days, they're treated differently, not so much with respect, but with contempt. The Le Domas' (it just occurred to me that the name sounds like "dumb-asses") earned their money the old-fashioned way—they inherited it—and now, their main business is protecting themselves and their dumb-assets from dilution. So, add another hyphenate, this is a satire, as well.
It's something else, as well, but, any other hyphenate would contain spoilers, so we'll leave that one off. Suffice it to say that Weaving's Grace, after some initial whimpering, has an action hero's grit and ability to recover from some pretty scarring injuries, and she has no hesitation about tearing up her pristine wedding dress to make handy tourniquets or garroting material; she's too practical for a trousseau. She is a Bride-zilla with a registry at Cabela's, and as her dress gets more sullied and bloodied, she seems to get more determined to show she's not playing games. 
The directors, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, seem to take a wicked delight in keeping the thing paced quickly and keeping the tone somewhat bombastic. In fact, this feels like one of those giddy low-budget movies whose social message is buried six feet under a cackling sensibility, like Night of the Living Dead or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where the film-makers can't believe they're getting away with it. One is also reminded of the style of Tim Burton without the wobbly art-student design sense or eagerness to please with source pedigree.
Speaking of Burton, it's only a matter of time before he casts Weaving in one of his movies. She has the requisite out-sized porcelain doll's eyes—not unlike Barbara Steele's—that Burton favors as well as the determined stride that his female leads always seem to adapt. But, the Australian actor also has great comic timing, a loose, natural way with dialogue, which, combined with an unguarded buck-toothed smile (that reminds one of John Huston at his most malevolent) that is funny and endearing—you'd root for her even if her opponents weren't so comically incompetent and loathsome. 
Of course, that deck is stacked, she being the underdog, but Weaving's trooperish attitude in an unself-consciously de-glamming performance where she goes from pristine bridehood to looking like a BPA study is a giddy marvel, whatever side of the female empowerment argument you're on. She's great, and one hopes for better parts for her, rather than being perpetually type-cast as Margot Robbie's younger sister.
As gruesome as Ready or Not is, at least it has the good sense to not be too serious about it, taking the tack of that comedy staple, the "in-law" joke. You didn't know you'd be marrying them, too, despite all the warnings signs one sees in the preparation of nuptials. The film might be cathartic for brides made neurotic by "his" (or "her") family, given the universality of the problem. And the film is a fine example of that genre-blending rarity, the comedy-horror film, without skimping on either aspect.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Walking Kurosawa's Road: One Wonderful Sunday

The inability to write about the films of Akira Kurosawa to my satisfaction led me to to take a different path: start at the beginning, take each film in sequence, one after the other, and watch the progression of the man from film-maker to Master. I'm hoping I can write more intelligently and more knowledgeably about his work by, step by step, Walking Kurosawa's Road.

One Wonderful Sunday (aka 素晴らしき日曜日 Subarashiki Nichiyōbi)(1947) 35 yen. That's all that one young lovers, Yuzo and Masako (Isao Numasaki and Chieko Nakakita) have to spend on their weekly Tokyo sojourn, where they meet to spend time with each other and away from their humdrum jobs that don't pay much more than their rent money. It would be cause for celebration, but they are constantly surrounded by limitations and disappointments. For young lovers, 35 yen doesn't buy much of dreams.

It is the time of American occupation and Westernization is everywhere—in the fashion, in the music, and the kids are playing stick-ball in the street. Western classical music is playing at concerts (and director Kurosawa uses it on the soundtrack), and nightclubs have the same feel and aesthetic of ones in New York (upstairs, anyway).
But, times are hard. Yuzo and Masako have dreams. But, everything they encounter on this Sunday wakes them up to reality. They want to get married, but they can't because they can't afford to, but, on a whim, go house-shopping. A new building is nice but is far out of their price range. More affordable is a dingy interior apartment with no windows which the former tenant, who is glad to leave, doesn't even recommend. Masako tours the places with hope, but Yuzo becomes more discouraged, despite her efforts to cheer him up. 

He'll stay that way until they see a handful of kids playing stick-ball in the streets, the kids imitating their favorite players. Yuzo asks to take a turn batting, but a solid hit manages to crash into a bakery, smashing sweet rolls that the baker insists they buy—even if he offers a discount. They split the food between themselves and the kids, and head for the zoo, but the caged animals only depresses Yuzo and reminds him of his own situation. He has a brainstorm: an Army buddy of his has opened a snazzy nightclub-restaurant and Yuzo decides to take Masako to show off the place and maybe impress her—and maybe get a job there.
The owner won't even see him; Yuzo is consigned to a backroom which he shares with a black marketer, who tells him the owner won't even see him and probably will buy him off with a drink and maybe some cash. That's exactly what happens, but Yuzo is too proud to take the money. But, he doesn't get a job, either.
The two decide to go to a concert—Schubert's "Unfinished Symphony," significantly—they have just enough money to afford general seating tickets. But, while they're waiting in line, scalpers buy up all the cheaper general tickets, leaving only the more expensive seats...which they can't afford for both of them. Yuzo challenges the scalpers and gets beaten up for his outrage. The rage and humiliation he feels makes him want to break off the date and go back to his apartment. Masako follows him seeking to console him. But, Yuzo feels such a loss of face that he turns on Masako, asserting himself physically, which makes her feel betrayed and fearful and she runs out of the apartment, leaving Yuzo alone.
She eventually comes back and all Yuzo can do is apologize to her for his behavior. For him, it's all or nothing. But Masako's more nuanced approach to life sways him to go out with her again to have tea with their remaining funds. They can just afford it...until they get the bill. What they've ordered is more expensive and they can't afford it. Yuzo barters his coat to make the difference.
But, that experience inspires him. He fantasizes with Masako that they will start their own tea shop and restaurant, with good food "for the masses" with no hidden fees and quality. He has learned to take a bad experience and turn it into something positive, a trait that inspires a final act in which the rules of reality are broken, and, like Kurosawa does in the film, makes the most out of a situation that on the surface seems limiting, but by exploiting the potential and using the means available with imagination, turns into something that can only be described as "magical."
One Wonderful Sunday is a fine example of making the best of limited means. At the time before the film's production, Toho Studios had suffered from a walkout of its top actors who'd left to form their own production company. Toho began a search for new actors and, unsure of the box office potential of films without known stars, lowered the budgets of potential films to avoid risking disaster at the box office. Kurosawa, with his co-script-writer Keinosuki Uekusa, a childhood friend, took a page from the post-war Italian films (which would be called "neo-realist" once the scholars got hold of them) and filmed on location with hidden cameras and the simplest of stories with a small roster of characters. The limited means kept the film costs low along with the risks and allowed Toho to continue operating with contemporary, personal films.
Kurosawa always favored location work, using natural environments and incorporating it in the fabric of the story-telling, letting Nature inform and even comment on the story. Here, the two lovers are subject to rainstorms making them take cover, dousing their hopes, and the very wind becomes mystical in the finale.

You work with what you have, and Kurosawa in the finale has the two lovers reach a crisis point between hope and despair and as Kurosawa has exhausted every element—the two lovers, the empty orchestra shell they visit, and the bleak and lonely wind that blows through it—he turns to the last participant in the process, the audience, in much the same way as Peter Pan asks the audience of the theater-piece to clap to save the life of Tinkerbelle. That moment is a bit twee—it is for children's benefit, after all—but in Kurosawa's working, it is an act of desperation, as he moves the camera forward, isolating Masako as she turns to address the audience:
"Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause! Please find it in your hearts to cheer him one! Please! There are so many poor young lovers like us in this world. Please give us all a big hand. We're freezing in the cold winds of this world. Do it for poor young lovers everywhere. Please cheer us on. Please help us dream beautiful dreams. Please, a round of applause. Please. Please applaud. Please! All of you!"
Kurosawa was distressed that audiences in Japan did not clap. They did in France, though, when the film made its way to the City of Lovers, and the film ends with Schubert's sublime Symphony No. 8, considered the first of the "Romantic" symphonies, but has been hung with the mantle of "Unfinished." And on those notes, Kurosawa leaves the lovers with their story unresolved.

It's a beautiful film, small in scope, and with no pageantry at all, but full of risk and feeling and a certain amount of desperation both in its story and in its making.

I hope, given the opportunity, I would have applauded.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Don't Make a Scene (Redux): To Have and Have Not

It takes a lot of time to do the "Don't Make a Scene" feature that I put up every Sunday (all those screen-caps!), so while I'm preparing a bunch more, I'm going to take a break and re-post the ones that have gotten the most "hits," counting down from the 10th highest to the first. When I started compiling them, I was totally baffled by the results (enough that I'm considering posting a couple of my favorites that resonate a lot with me, once we're done with this). I would never have thought that these would be the most looked at, but here they are, as part of "Don't Make a Scene (Redux)."

The Story: Howard Hawks called it "three-corner dialog" (according to Frank Capra, who used the director's advice to write a similar scene in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), after the pool-shot that caroms the cue-ball off three banks to get around the obstacles and reach the point. In this intimate, though epic-length scene, the conversation spills into three rooms. Revolving around a drink that these two wharf-rats can't afford, it's just an excuse for them to get closer and find out a little more about each other—things like sensitive subjects and perfume and independence and bad women. Then there are the histories: hers is indeterminate, but it involves some abuse and manipulation issues; him, he's been down a road like this before. He thinks he might be just another of her marks, and she thinks he's one of those bitter men-who-hate-women.

But, what it really is, is an exploration of the Rules of Engagement. When you're a man and a woman you can do all the dancing you want, but at some point the music stops and you have to talk about whether you're going to separate corners, or be a-man-and-a-woman. And you can talk until you're blue in the face, but it all comes down to a little action. And who's going to fire the first shot. Hawks would do variations of this scene again and again, but with Bogart and Bacall, it seems fresh because she was new to the movies and he was falling head over heels for her. It was like one of those pool shots where two balls collide to hit a third and they stay together, fixed.

The story goes (and there's always a story with Hawks), the project started when the director made a bet with Ernest Hemingway that he could make a good movie out of Papa's worst story—which they agreed was "To Have and Have Not."* It was Hawks' first time directing Bogart and the director knew that he was going to have to find a love interest that Bogart wouldn't over-shadow. "You're the most insolent man in the movies," Hawks told Bogart. "But I'm going to find you a girl more insolent than you are!" Hawks' pick for the role was Betty Joan Perske, a 19 year-old model that the director's wife, Slim, had mentioned seeing on the cover of Harper's Bazaar, and her audition piece was this scene, which so wowed the Warner brass that Hawks asked William Faulkner to put it in his script.

You know the legend. Betty Joan, who used her mother's maiden name—"Bacall"—for the basis of her screen name, worried she'd lose the part over her high voice, went up to the Hollywood Hills and screamed repeatedly scarring her larynx, giving her a husky, sultry voice (there's even a medical condition called "Bogart-Bacall Syndrome"). And that the two (he, at 45, she, at 19) fell in love on set, and were married until Bogie's death in 1957.

At his funeral, she put in his coffin a token.

A gold whistle.

The Set-up: Steve Morgan (Humphrey Bogart), runs a fishing charter business out of Martinique, and he's just stopped Marie (though everyone knows her as "Slim") Browning (Lauren Bacall) from lifting his current client's wallet. Things get complicated with some bullets, and they end up together at the police department, a little roughed up and a lot broke. So that the two can enjoy a night-cap after the evening's festivities, "Slim" spies a pigeon in a bar and starts the process of fleecing him. Steve, smiling, decides he'd rather go back to his room than watch. Later, there's a knock on the door.

Marie Browning: Hello.
Steve Morgan: Come on in.
Marie (She smiles): You're sore, aren't you?
Steve: Why should I be?
Marie: I didn't behave very well, did I?
Steve: You did all right. You got the bottle, didn't you?
Marie: You are sore, aren't you?
Steve: Get this straight. I don't give...
Marie: I know. You don't give a whoop what I do. But when I do it you get sore. After all, you told me to, you know.
Steve: I told you?
Marie: You said go ahead, didn't you?
Steve: That's right. I guess I did. You were pretty good at it, too.
Marie: Thanks. Would you rather I wouldn't?
Steve: Wouldn't what?
Marie: Do things like that.
Steve: Why ask me?
Marie: I'd like to know.
Steve: Of all the screwy...
Marie: All right. I won't do it anymore.
Steve: I didn't ask...
Marie: I know you didn't. Don't worry. I'm not giving up anything I care about. It's like shooting fish in a barrel, anyway.
Marie: Men like that. They're all a bunch of... I'm a fine one to talk. The pot calling the kettle.
Steve: How long have you been away from home?
Marie: This is about the time for it, isn't it?
Steve: Time for what?
Marie: The story of my life. Where do you want me to begin?
Steve: I got a pretty fair idea already.
Marie: Who told you?
Steve: You did. That slap in the face you took.
Marie: What about it?
Steve: You hardly blinked an eye. It takes a lot of practice to do that. Steve: Yeah, I know a lot about you, Slim.
Marie: The next time I get slapped I better do something about it. (Irritated, she gets up off the couch, and heads for the door)
Steve: You forgot your drink.
Marie: I don't want it!
Steve: Who's sore now?
Marie: I am!
(Slim slams the door on her way out, and Morgan jumps at the sound.)
(Feeling bad about it, he takes the bottle and crosses the hallway to her room and gently knocks on the door)
Marie: Who is it?
Steve: It's me.
Marie: The door's unlocked.
Steve: You forgot your bottle.
Marie: I said I didn't want it.
Steve: You are sore, aren't you? I asked you a question. You didn't answer me. I said you're sore, aren't you?
Marie: Look, I'm tired and I want to get some sleep.
Steve: That's not a bad idea. What made you so mad?
Marie: I've been mad ever since I met you.
Steve: Most people are.
Marie: One look and you decided just what you wanted to think about me. You were... What's the use?
Steve: Go ahead. Keep on going.
Marie: You don't know me, Steve. It doesn't work. I brought that bottle up here to make you feel cheap. That didn't work either.
Marie: Instead, I'm the one who feels cheap. I've never felt that way before. I wanted...
Marie: I thought that maybe... Go on. Get out of here before I make a complete fool of myself.
Steve: How long have you been away from home?
Marie: It's none of y... About six months.
Steve: Going back?
Marie: How?
Steve: What are you gonna do here?
Marie: I don't know. Get a job, maybe.
Steve: Jobs are hard to get. I don't think you'd like it here anyway.
(Morgan sniffs her perfume bottle)
Marie: Remind you of somebody, Steve?
Steve: This is brand new to me. I like it. Would you go back if you could?
Marie: I'd walk... if it wasn't for all that water.
(Morgan puts his hand on her chin, about to kiss her. There's a moment, and he pulls away, thinking the better of it. He hands her the perfume bottle and clasps her hand instead)
Steve: Quit worrying, kid. You'll get back all right. (He exits)
(DISSOLVE to later in the evening. Morgan, screwdriver in hand, is working on a reel. There's a knock on the door. He crosses to open it. It's Slim.)
Steve: What the...?
Marie: Here's that bottle again.
Steve (smiling): It's getting to be quite a problem, isn't it? You want a drink?
Marie: No.
Steve: I thought you were tired and going to bed.
Marie: I know. I thought so, too. You gave me something to think about. You said you might be able to help me.
Steve: That's right.
Marie: But how can you do that if... Are you gonna take that job with those men that were up here with Frenchy?
Steve: Yeah, if I can find what's left of them.
Marie: I flew over Devil's Island. It doesn't look like a high-class resort.
Steve: That's what I heard.
Marie: I don't want to be the cause...
Steve: Don't get the idea I'm doing this just to help you. I need money, too.
Marie: Won't Frenchy help you out without you having to do that?
Steve: I don't want his help.
Marie: Don't do it, will you, Steve?
Steve: Look, didn't you ask me...
Marie: Don't do it.
Steve: Why don't you take this bottle and go to bed?
Marie: Here. Can you can use this? (She pulls some bills out of her robe)
Steve: I thought you said you were broke.
Steve: You're good. You're awful good.
Steve: "I'd walk home if it wasn't for all that water." (He goes back to work)
Marie: Who was the girl, Steve?
Steve: Who was what girl?
Marie: The one who left you with such a high opinion of women. She must have been quite a gal. You think I lied to you about this, don't you? It just happens there's about $30 here. Not enough for boat fare or any other kind of fare. Just enough to be able to say "no" if I feel like it. And you can have it if you want it.
Steve: I'm sorry, Slim. But I still say you're awful good and I wouldn't...
Marie: I forgot. You wouldn't take anything from anybody, would you?
Steve: That's right.
Marie: You know, Steve, you're not very hard to figure. Only at times. Sometimes I know exactly what you're going to say. Most of the time.
Marie: The other times...The other times you're just a stinker.
(She sits on his lap and kisses him)
Steve: What did you do that for?
Marie: I've been wondering whether I'd like it.
Steve: What's the decision?
Marie: I don't know yet.
(They kiss again. This time, his hands reach up to her neck, steadying her)
Marie: It's even better when you help.
Marie: Sure you won't change your mind about this? This belongs to me, and so do my lips. I don't see any difference.
Steve: I do.
Marie: O-kay.
Marie: You know you don't have to act with me, Steve. You don't have to say anything and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing.
Marie: Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow. (She exits)
(Morgan looks after her, slightly stunned. He puts his lips together and blows...a two-note whistle "Woo-hoo." He laughs and goes back to his work)
To Have and Have Not

Words by: William Faulkner and Jules Furthman (and Howard Hawks, but probably not Ernest Hemingway)

Pictures by: Sidney Hickox and Howard Hawks

To Have and Have Not
is available on DVD from Warner Brothers Home Video.

* Yeah, it's (in the word of the movie) "a stinker". The book has the bit with the luck-less fisherman that Harry charters around and gets stiffed by. Harry does take a job smuggling revolutionaries—but they're far less benign and more lethal. There's a "Marie" there—but it's Harry's long-suffering native wife, the mother of his three kids. Then, after Hemingway disposes of Harry and his story, he starts creating vignettes about the "got-rocks" in the area—the "To-Have's," I suppose. It's a lackluster book with a constant stream of racism and I was glad to be finished with it. Hawks's film is a silk purse compared to the book's sow's ear.