Saturday, October 11, 2014

Oh, the Stories Bacall Could Have Told

"You know, you got to be careful of dead bees if you're goin' around barefooted, 'cause if you step on them they can sting you just as bad as if they was alive, especially if they was kind of mad when they got killed. I bet I been bit a hundred times that way."

Eddie (Walter Brennan)

There was an ... I don't know ... impertinence about Lauren Bacall in Howard Hawks' "To Have and Have Not," which was released 70 years ago today, that was very appealing.

She was 19 when the movie was filmed and pretty ... and making her big–screen debut opposite Humphrey Bogart in a movie directed by Howard Hawks. How could it be much better?

Bacall and Bogart later married and co–starred in three other movies together, each memorable in its own way, but "To Have and Have Not" was always the standard against which the others were judged.

There was an electricity between Bogart and Bacall that simply could not be duplicated completely in their other movies. Part of that may have been the story, but a lot of it, I think, was due to the chemistry between Bogart and Bacall as they began one of the most successful Hollywood relationships of all time. It practically crackled on the screen.

Like when Bacall told Bogart, "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. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow."

That line, by the way, is #34 on the American Film Institute's list of the Top 100 movie quotes of all time.

Lots of movie fans came to think of the character Bacall played as being Bacall herself. I guess that was — and still is — a fairly common misconception.

In fact, as I have heard it, Bacall's character was modeled in many ways after Hawks' wife, who was also known as "Slim," wore captivating dresses, had long blonde hair and a sultry voice and was perplexing.

Ernest Hemingway wrote the original story, but, beyond the title, there really were few similarities between the book and the movie.

I felt it was like a remake of "Casablanca" — perhaps better. Bogart played the same I–stick–my–neck–out–for–nobody kind of character. He wasn't running a night club this time; he was a fishing boat captain in the Caribbean who sometimes smuggled French Resistance fighters to the island of Martinique. His faithful sidekick wasn't Dooley Wilson playing the piano but alcohol–swilling Walter Brennan.

And he had a beautiful love interest — who was even younger than Ingrid Bergman had been. (Was she more beautiful? That's a matter of personal taste.)

Several members of the "Casablanca" cast were in "To Have and Have Not" — primarily minor characters, probably not readily recognizable to anyone who isn't familiar with "Casablanca." But they were there.

As I mentioned earlier, Dooley Wilson wasn't around to play the piano, but Hoagy Carmichael was there.

There's an old story that says Andy Williams, who would have been about 16 at the time, did the singing for Bacall, but it isn't true. It was confirmed that Williams and some female singers were brought in to audition to do the dubbing because of fears that Bacall wouldn't be able to handle it. But, apparently, those fears were overridden by the wish to have Bacall do her own singing.

And, while I will admit that she wasn't perfect, she wasn't bad, either.

I regret that she didn't live to see this anniversary, the 70th of her movie debut. It would have been great fun to hear the tales she had to tell.