Thursday, July 20, 2006

CHEMISTRY LESSON

Posted on Thu, Jul 20, 2006 at 4:00 AM

Bogie & Bacall: The Signature Collection
Studio: Warner Home Video
WorkNameSort: Bogie & Bacall: The Signature Collection

In 1943, 18-year-old Lauren Bacall appeared on the cover of Harper's Bazaar. The wife of director Howard Hawks showed it to him, and the rest is Hollywood history. The next year, Bacall starred in Hawks' To Have and Have Not. The year after that, she married her co-star, Humphrey Bogart, who was 46 at the time. Together, the couple made a total of four films, which, beginning July 25, will be available on DVD as Bogie & Bacall: The Signature Collection.

Taken together, they're a lesson in silver-screen chemistry. Start with To Have and Have Not. Loosely based on a Hemingway novel and co-written by William Faulkner, the film was planned as a follow-up to Casablanca, which had just been a hit for Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. But To Have and Have Not is and is not a knockoff. The similarities are there, but the film has its own particular vibe, largely thanks to the couple's understated ardor.

Bogart plays a fishing-boat captain in Martinique, while Bacall is a petty thief and sometime singer. Her reedy figure, hooded eyes and surprisingly deep voice match up with his boxer's stance, baggy peepers and sneering speech. They share a towering insolence and a lack of sentimentality: Realizing they're in love, they seem to be almost disappointed at how vulnerable they are. This is, by the way, the film in which Bacall utters that immortal line, 'You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.â?�

The Big Sleep (1946), another Hawks film with a Faulkner script, is based on a Raymond Chandler thriller. The plot is famously impossible to follow, but the dialogue and the couple are extremely entertaining anyway. A featurette included in the Signature Collection explains that an unreleased 1945 version of this film (also included) had key scenes reshot to emphasize Bacall's bad attitude.

The public got caught up in the Bogie/Bacall romance, just as people today are obsessed by Brangelina, and a cartoon included here, 'Bacall to Arms,â?� testifies to that: A movie within the cartoon entitled To Have ' To Have ' To Have ... stars 'Bogey Gocartâ?� and 'Laurie Bee Cool.â?� In another included cartoon, 'Slick Hare,â?� Bugs Bunny says to Elmer Fudd, 'You tell Bogie if he wants me, all he has to do is just whistle.â?�

In Dark Passage (1947), Bogart plays a falsely accused man who undergoes plastic surgery; Bacall is the woman who loves him. The film is an interesting, if vaguely macabre, experiment in which we don't see Bogart's face for an hour. Key Largo (1948) isn't as offbeat, but it's messagey and stagy. (Directed by John Huston, it's based on a Maxwell Anderson play.) Neither star has enough insolence in either film, but their gentleness with one another is touching.

No one can say exactly why the chemistry between these stars is so powerful in all their movies, but surely it has something to do with our intuitive understanding that they really need each other.

'What's wrong with you?â?� asks Bogart, just as The Big Sleep is ending. Right away, Bacall replies, 'Nuthin' you can't fix.â?�

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