This classic of American cinema, actually made during the war and
released in 1946, got a whole nation of young men affecting Bogey
mannerisms, raising their eyebrows or showing their teeth while
grimacing, and especially pulling on their earlobes while deep in
thought, a smoking cigarette dangling between their lips. It was the
genius of Howard Hawks, who directed, to do everything possible to make
Humphrey Bogart a matinée idol, including having Lauren Bacall slump
down in the car seat so as not to tower over him. With this movie a new
kind of cinematic hero was created, the existential PI, a seemingly
ordinary looking guy gifted with street smarts and easy courage,
admired by men, and adored by women.
Hawks fashioned this, part of the Bogart legend, with a noire script
penned by William Faulkner, et al., adapted from Raymond Chandler's
first novel, that sparkled with spiffy lines, intriguing characters,
danger and a not entirely serious attention to plot detail. Hawks
surrounded Bogey with admiring dames, beginning with the sexy Martha
Vickers who tries to jump into his lap while he's still standing (as
Marlowe tells General Sternwood), and ending with the incomparable
Lauren Bacall, looking beguiling, beautiful and mysteriously seductive.
In fact, every female in the cast wants to get her hands on Bogey,
including a quick and easy Dorothy Malone, bored in her specs while
clerking at a book store. Hawks also employed some very fine character
actors, most notably Elisa Cook Jr., and Bob Steele, the former as
always, the little guy crook, (Harry Jones), and the latter, as often
seen in westerns, the mindless heavy with a gun (Canino). Charles
Waldron played the world-weary general and Charles D. Brown was the
I was reminded somehow of the old Charlie Chan movies with the dark,
mysterious, ornately-decorated interiors heavily carpeted and studded
with ethnic statuettes, especially the house on Laverne Terrace that
Bogey keeps coming back to, and the glass-paned doors and
glass-separated cubicals of his office and others. The atmospheric L.A.
created here has been much admired and imitated, cf., Chinatown (1974)
and L.A. Confidential (1997), two very superior movies that continued
In comparing this to the book, I have to say it's a little on the
white-washed side, and not as clearly drawn--'confused' some have said.
Of course liberties were taken with Chandler's novel to make it
romantic. Chandler's novel emphasizes cynicism, and romance takes a
back seat to manliness and loyalty to the client. An especially
striking difference is in the character of General Sternwood's younger
daughter, Carmen. She is vividly drawn in the book as something of
monster, a degenerate sex kitten who would try and do just about
anything. She is twice encountered butt naked by Marlowe, once in his
bed. Being the sterling guy he is, he turns her away. (Right. I could
do that.) Another difference is in all the sleazy details about the
low-life underworld of Los Angeles that are omitted or glossed over in
the film, including Geiger's homosexuality and his gay house guest,
Carol Lundgren. (Of course there was a code in those days.) Bacall's
character in the movie is actually a fusion of Vivian and Mona Mars
from the book, made nice for movie fans. In the book, Marlowe kisses
Vivian, but turns down her invitation for more intimate contact. In the
movie, of course, there is no way Bogart is going to say 'no' to
Bacall. In the book Marlowe seems to prefer whiskey to women.
Most of the sharp dialogue comes right from Chandler's novel, including
Bogart's grinning line, 'Such a lot of guns around town, and so few
brains.' Interesting is the little joke on Bogart in the opening scene.
In the novel, Chandler's hero is greeted by the purring Carmen with the
words, 'Tall, aren't you?' Well, the one thing Bogey ain't is tall, and
so in the movie Carmen says, 'You're not very tall, are you?' Bogart
comes back with, 'I try to be.' In the novel, Marlowe says, 'I didn't
mean to be.'
By the way, the film features Bacall singing a forties tune and looking
mighty good doing it.
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