Lauren Bacall

The Summer of Screwball

Screwballs went with the studio system. They came into their own 1933-1934, peaked late 30’s to early 40’s, but after the war and the end of the decade, lost their mojo. Most of the films I’ve profiled over this summer were made between 1934-1943, a decade long period when contract stars still did what they were told (with of course a few notable exceptions). Post-war, society had changed radically in a way those of us living through today’s wars on terrorist groups cannot understand. Not having lived through a full-scale world war, we cannot understand the level of involvement, and the aftermath. The time was vastly different, but we can understand that society and its needs and wants had fundamentally shifted. They were still shifting, in the direction we see today, but the 50’s and 60’s had no time for what was popular in the 30’s and 40’s. The 30’s slid into the 40’s, and screwballs with movie kings and queens were still popular, but post-war audiences were looking for different fare – that’s another post for another time (coming soon).


Screwballs still managed to exist within movie’s new rules in the 50’s and 60’s: evolving with tastes and limits. Monkey Business, made in 1952, featured Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers, beloed 30’s stars, as a middle-aged married couple. Grant is a scientist working on a youth serum. His boss is Charles Coburn, and Coburn’s secretary is Marilyn Monroe. One of Grant’s lab monkeys inadvertently mixes a serum that works – in the water cooler in the lab. Grant drinks it at the same time as he drinks his mixture of the serum, and becomes 20 years old again. He gets a new haircut, a loud suit, and a sports car. He takes Marilyn roller skating. He thinks that his serum has worked, and Rogers, his devoted wife refuses to let him test it on himself again, so she takes Grant’s serum, along with a cup of water from the water cooler. Her first act as a younger version of herself is to put a goldfish down Coburn’s pants.


Rogers and Grant acting like children, alternately together or one or the other is where the screwball comedy comes in. The two take a trip to the hotel where they honeymooned – while Rogers is young and Grant is not. She wants to dance all night, but when he makes a frustrated remark, she, thinking like a young bride, tosses him out, crying. In the morning, she is level-headed once more, but the damage she causes is pretty funny while it lasts. When the two accidentally take the serum (by adding water cooler water to their coffee) – they revert to 10-year-olds instead of 20-year-olds – chasing each other around and fighting with paint. Grant joins a group of kids playing cowboys and Indians and proposes scalping Rogers’ lawyer and former beau.


This film is distinct from its predecessors not so much in subject matter (which I will discuss in a minute), but in its self-awareness. Rogers’ heyday was in the 1930′s with Fred and solo in the 1940′s. By 1952, she was a “mature” actress (she was 41). Grant was similarly successful in the screwball era, often co-starring with Katharine Hepburn. Grant had been making movies steadily (more than one per year) since 1932, and in 1952, was about to attempt his first retirement (Grace Kelly and Alfred Hitchcock lured him out of it for 1955′s To Catch a Thief). Casting these two screwball stars as a middle-aged couple, and Grant as a scientist searching for a serum for eternal youth is something so very meta. It refers to itself, aware of the tradition it comes from, but is no longer a part of. Monkey Business became the tenth highest-grossing film of 1952. The Greatest Show on Earth and The Bad and the Beautiful topped that list. Let me tell you something about those two films. They are depressingThe Greatest Show on Earth (refer to earlier post for FULL details) suddenly derails, literally, into a violent train crash full of life-threatening injuries. The Bad and the Beautiful explores corruption and greed in Hollywood. Not exactly screwball material. Both Rogers and Grant had been off the top-grossing list themselves for a few years. Uniting these two in a self-referential tale was fit for the 1950′s – they knew where they’d come from, and they sort of missed it.


1959’s Some Like It Hot, directed by Billy Wilder, pushed screwball into somewhat risqué places – with the addition of cross-dressing men. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis (a comedy team worthy of Abbott and Costello status if I ever saw one) are down-on-their-luck musicians who witness the St Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, and go on the road with a band in order to hide from the gangsters who intend to wipe out the witnesses. The band is headed to sunny Florida – unfortunately, it’s a women’s band. But “Daphne” and “Josephine” are desperate to escape the gangsters. They meet Sugar (Marilyn Monroe), the band’s lead eye candy – er, singer – and both men fall for her. Sugar, though, declares she’s looking for a millionaire in Florida. In Florida, Joe ditches his Josephine disguise for one as Shell, Jr. – the heir of Shell Oil, who Sugar takes it upon herself to teach how to love. Jerry (Lemmon) as Daphne takes the opposite approach, unwittingly attracting Osgood (Joe E. Brown), an older millionaire with a habit for marrying and divorcing showgirls. He allows himself to be courted by Osgood – planning to live on the alimony from their divorce. Both plans are foiled when the gangsters show up for their annual “convention,” and recognize Joe and Jerry.


Besides the antics of Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis attempting to pour themselves into dresses and wigs, the gender-switching comedy is great. Nothing Wilder could have gotten away with in 1939, but in 1959 – audiences were ready. Wilder does throw in a disclaimer line that Joe says to Jerry: “But, you’re *not* a girl! You’re a *guy*, and, why would a guy wanna marry a guy?” Other than that, the movie is surprisingly progressive. It otherwise skirts transvestites and homosexuality – which here would be out of place. This isn’t The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which reveled in it. This was still 1959, and by skirting those issues, still taboo, Wilder was able to make a screwball, cross-dressing comedy. Wilder’s dialogue (written with frequent collaborator I.A.L. Diamond) and direction lay the basis for a smash – but Lemmon and Curtis’ timing put the topper on it. Both are deadpan deliverers and bring similar comedy styles, but play off of each other well. Unfortunately, I can’t quote you the best scene – it’s at the end – I know, I know, usually I don’t care about spoilers, but this scene is one you’ve got to see for yourself.

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Sex and the Single Girl is a 1964 screwball, also starring Tony Curtis. It co-stars Natalie Wood as a psychiatrist who writes a book about how single women should “deal with men.” Curtis, a reporter, sets out to prove that Wood doesn’t have firsthand knowledge of the topic she’s writing about. He pretends to be his married neighbor Frank (played by Henry Fonda), and starts seeing Wood as a psychiatrist. He tries (as Frank) to seduce her, but she knows he is married. She insists on meeting his wife, and Curtis produces two women, and then real Frank’s real wife, Sylvia (Lauren Bacall!) shows up. Curtis has his dirt, but has fallen in love with Wood instead.

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Bacall and Fonda are the “older” settled couple in this comedy, but they are amazing, appearing good-naturedly (knowing that their hey-day in Hollywood was 15 years ago) and their jokes almost steal the show. CLICK the image below for one example of their back-and-forth. (And go Lauren! She is so awesome in this movie.)

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The boundaries of comedy loosened – no more crossed skis here. But what was still making screwballs funny was the snappy dialogue and good screen teams.

If you haven’t had enough of screwball, here’s a few more of the classics to check out:

Twentieth Century (1934) Carole Lombard & John Barrymore, directed by Howard Hawks

Wife vs. Secretary (1936) Clark Gable, Jean Harlow & Myrna Loy

Nothing Sacred (1937) Carole Lombard & Frederic March

Bringing Up Baby (1938) Katherine Hepburn & Cary Grant, directed by Howard Hawks

Holiday (1938) Katherine Hepburn & Cary Grant, directed by George Cukor

I Love You Again (1940) Myrna Loy & William Powell

Ball of Fire (1941) Barbara Stanwyck & Gary Cooper, directed by Howard Hawks, screenplay by Billy Wilder

Young Man with a Horn (1950)

I love jazz. My dad will chalk it up to making me listen to smooth jazz on Sunday afternoons, which is partly true. I love the classic trumpet jazz of Miles Davis. 40’s jazz from old movies. Cole Porter, Anat Cohen, Billie Holiday, Brad Mehldau. So when there’s a great classic movie with a jazz score, I’m over the moon.

Young Man with a Horn was one such movie. With Lauren Bacall, it was naturally on my list of “eager to watch movies.” For some reason, I expected Young Man to be sappy, like a mixture of The Music Man and Gift of Love, but instead it was jazzy and dark. (My favorite qualities.) I got to wondering, who dubbed Kirk Douglas’ wonderful trumpet-playing? Hoagy Carmichael,obviously played his own piano, but there’s no way Douglas became a jazz prodigy overnight for the part.

In doing some research, I found that Douglas’ mentor, played by Juano Hernandez, was dubbed by Jimmy Zito and Douglas was dubbed by Harry James. Other jazz musicians Bumps Meyers, George Washington, Oscar Bradley, Rocky Robinson, and Zutty Singleton contributed to the soundtrack. Ray Heindorf, who was the composer and musical director for countless great films from the advent of sound in 1929 to 1972, including the 1954 A Star is Born and The Music Man (irony!), worked on Young Man as well.


What I also love is research. The amount of time it takes to do “research” on the internet is significantly less than it took before the internet. While classic films are not the #1 easiest topic to find on the internet, it’s not hard either. An hour browsing, and you feel pretty informed. An hour browsing (and for some reason sweating, blogging makes me very hot) for which actors in classic films featuring jazz were dubbed, and I found a bunch of uncredited composers and a few weird community boards. This is both interesting and unsettling. I am currently reading Hollywood Unknowns by Anthony Slide, a history of extras and bit players in classic films. Interesting to me in that these people were undocumented. No one knew or knows their names. It seems to be the same way with musicians, often very famous and talented musicians, dubbing stars in films: no one knows who they are. Studios kept rosters of musicians to call in to dub, just like they used to with extras. While finding all of these musicians is some serious archival work (which would be heavenly), I would like to offer a few of the tidbits I have found.


Young Man with a Horn has a fascinating creation story. Lauren Bacall in 1946 convinced Hal B. Wallis, a producer at Warners to see an old ADA classmate of hers, the nice Jewish boy Issur Demsky, known as Kirk Douglas, in a bit part in a stage play. Douglas was given a screen test, and cast as Barbara Stanwyck’s alcoholic, weak-willed husband in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. He was a sensation. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his third film role (Champion, 1949). In 1950, Bacall had married Bogie, and at his advice, was becoming more selective with her film career. One such selection was Young Man with a Horn with Douglas. Bacall and Douglas were thrilled to co-star together (so much so that Doris Day was jealous that they were already friends).

Bacall, who had done her own singing in To Have and Have Not and would go on to win two Tony Awards, did not sing in Young Man with a Horn. Doris Day’s character, Jo, was a nightclub singer (of the more up-and-up variety), and she was not dubbed. Hernandez and Douglas were dubbed by professional musicians. Harry James (dubbing Douglas) was famous as a bandleader (in the vein of Glenn Miller) who had given Frank Sinatra an early break. During the filming of Young Man, he was married to pin-up girl Betty Grable. The soundtrack to the film with James and Day topped the Billboard charts. Notoriously, James tried to seduce Day, despite being married to Grable, without success.

The film isn’t all happy-friendly jazz though. Douglas’ character Rick Martin is an abandoned, lonely child, who stumbling into a rescue mission, hears a choir of homeless men. He teaches himself to play the piano in an afternoon. He then stumbles into a nightclub where he meets Art Hazzard, jazz bandleader. Art takes Rick under his wing and teaches him the trumpet. Rick doesn’t want to do anything but play jazz, but to earn money, must play in low-key dance bands with Hogay Carmichael as “Smoke” Willoughby and Doris Day’s Jo Jordan. Rick and Smoke are tossed out of the dance band for playing jazz between sets. Rick floats to New York, where he reunites with aging Art. Jo, now successful, sets Rick up with another dance band job, and Rick moonlights at the Village club where Art plays nightly, holding onto his contract with the dance band by a thread. Jo introduces Rick to her friend Amy, a psychiatry student. Rick and Amy abandon all of their friends and get married. Their marriage is so destructive, it ends with Rick falling into a homeless, alcoholic stupor, before ending up in a sanitarium, gravely ill. As he hears the ambulance siren wailing, coming to take him to the hospital, he is inspired to try again for greatness on his trumpet. A bit of a sappy ending, but gut-wrenching until then. Douglas is known for playing somewhat menacing and corrupt characters, and his Rick has such single-minded focus, it is frightening and awesome (inspiring awe). Plus the soundtrack’s integral role in the film was not lost on the producers, and they hired the best. The mournful jazz is exactly right.


Next up: Montgomery Clift’s trumpet playing in From Here to Eternity

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Bogie and Bacall

When 43-year-old Humphrey Bogart first met 19-year-old Lauren Bacall, he was busy filming Passage to Marseille and being noble and not pretending a French accent. He took little notice of her. He passed her on the Warner Brothers lot a few weeks later and took a second look. “That’s your co-star,” Howard Hawks told him. The greatest love story in Hollywood had begun.

Bacall, originally Betty Bacal, was born in New York Cityand raised by her single mother, her grandmother, and a handful of uncles. She studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts before beginning her Broadway career as an usher. She also sold trade papers outside Sardi’s, just to meet producers. Meeting producers paid off with a few small and one large Broadway part, although the plays never did very well. To make money to contribute to the small family income, Betty began modeling in the fashion district. There she met Diana Vreeland, who photographed the young girl for Harper’s Bazaar. When one of Betty’s photos wound up the cover, Hollywood took notice. She had several offers for screen tests and contracts, including one from major studio Columbia, but decided to test for a personal contract with Howard Hawks. He brought her to Hollywoodand prepared her for the test. Hawks’ wife, Nancy, “Slim,” had seen the magazine cover and suggested young Betty to Hawks. He and his wife groomed her for weeks before her screen test. She passed with flying colors. Hawks gave her a role in his next film project, an adaptation of an Ernest Hemingway novel called To Have and Have Not. Originally, Dolores Moran was to have the sizable female lead, but with Betty on board, Hawks reduced Moran’s part, and increased Betty’s. Betty’s mother took a train to California, bought a car, rented an apartment, and Betty was settled.


Humphrey Bogart, known affectionately as “Bogie,” to wives and fans alike, was born on Christmas Day, 1899. “A last century man,” as he always referred to himself in terms of birth and manners. His father was a well-to-do doctor and his mother a famous children’s book illustrator. He grew up in New York City, on the Upper West Side. Kicked out of the prestigious Phillips Academy at age 18, Bogie joined the Navy, just in time for the Armistice of WWI. He ferried troops back from France, entertaining them on the way with impressions. Out of the Navy, he went to work as a clerk for his friend Brady’s father’s Broadway production office. From clerk he became a stage manager, and from stage manager, background. From background, he starting earning parts as the juvenile lead, usually the young, handsome man wooing the younger daughter in those society melodramas so popular in the 20’s and 30’s. He even made a few, now mostly forgotten, films in the early 30’s, including Love Affair (no relation to the Irene Dunne/Charles Boyer or Irene Dunne/Cary Grant films of the same name), in which he plays a dashing young pilot with a rich lady love. It wasn’t until 1936 and the Broadway production of The Petrified Forest, that Bogie caught the attention of Hollywood. He played the evil gangster, Duke Mantee, to Leslie Howard’s slightly angelic Alan Squier. As was the custom, Hollywood bought the rights to the play, to make it into a picture. Both Howard and Bogart were set to reprise their roles. The studio, which happened to be Warner Brothers, began rethinking casting unknown Bogart, but when Bogie heard about it, he telegraphed Howard, who telegraphed the studio. And Bogie played his most brilliant role. Mantee showed the usually juvenile romantic Bogart in another role, altogether different. Bogart proved his range. His performance is frightening and knock-out stunning for its simplicity and growling subtlety. From there, he was signed to a contract with Warner Brothers and cast as the second-in-command gangster who usually gets shot in Edward G. Robinson and George Raft films. Until 1941 and The Maltese Falcon. After Falcon and Casabalanca the next year, Bogie was strictly leading man material. He was talented, rugged, tough, and vulnerable, all at the same time.

The coming together of these two resulted in To Have and Have Not, written for the screen by William Faulkner, and including such infamous scenes as the match toss and the “just whistle.” The first scene Lauren Bacall (whose name was changed by Hawks to sound less Jewish) shot for the movie was one in which she was required to appear in a door frame, ask for a match, catch the pack Bogie tossed her, light her cigarette, and toss it back. She was so nervous; she was visibly shaking. Bogie took her aside, assured her it was alright, and they went back for a second take. This time, Bacall kept her head down and only moved her eyes up, to keep her shakes under control. The Look was born. She used it later in the film, when she leaves Steve’s (Bogie) room, turns back and says, “If you ever need anything just whistle. You do know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together… and blow.” Then she coyly disappears. Bogie obeys orders and smiles to himself. Bacall was just as scared and nervous filming that scene, and it has gone down in history as seductive, brilliant, and beautiful. Bacall was a good actress with good instincts, but what really helped on her first film was Bogie. He would joke with her, loosen her up. She appeared in another scene in a long skirt, a loop, and basically a bikini top. Bogie kidded her, and she felt less uncomfortable about her revealing wardrobe. According to her memoirs, one night, Bogie came to trailer to say good night as usual, but not as usual, bent down and kissed her on the lips. He was still married to Mayo Methot at the time, but he had fallen in love with Bacall. Soon the two were inseparable on set (except when Hawks was around). Hawks was cautious, because of Bogie’s marriage, and jealous because he felt Bacall was his discovery and his protégé. She was forbidden to see him. Her mother did not approve. Bacall didn’t care.

The next film for the three was The Big Sleep, an adaptation of a Raymond Chandler novel, in which Bacall received another beefed up part opposite Bogie. She was again mysterious and his equal in banter. But, tensions between Bogie and Hawks and Hawks and Bacall were high, as the romance was still on, and Bogie still not divorced. They wrapped filming in early 1945, and Bogie and Methot were officially divorced in May 1945. He married Bacall on Louis Bromfield’s farm in Ohio less than two weeks later, May 21, 1945.

The Big Sleep was less of a success than To Have and Have Not and Bacall’s sudden fame, but the pair made another film immediately after their marriage, Dark Passage. Following Dark Passage, they made one more movie together, Key Largo, although they didn’t plan for this to be their last pairing.

Bacall gave up location work in her own career to travel with Bogie, to Mexico, Africa, and Europe for his location shoots, and during their marriage, they had two children, Stephen (named after Bogie’s character’s nickname in To Have and Have Not) and Leslie, named after Leslie Howard, the man Bogie owed his career to. The Bogarts were very politically active, especially in the days of the HUAC hearings, and even led a group of actors to Washington to protest. Bacall became more politically active herself, campaigning for Democratic candidates, such as Adlai Stevenson. She made a few films in the 50’s, notably How to Marry a Millionaire, with Marilyn Monroe, in which she was able to showcase her considerable comic talent. Her career never hit another high so high as To Have and Have Not, but she worked sporadically, raised her children, and traveled with her husband. Bogie would say To Have and Have Not was his high as well, but almost all of his work with John Huston, which many consider to be his best, was yet to come. He filmed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The African Queen in intervening years, won the Academy Award for Best Actor, and formed his own production company, Santana (named after his racing yawl) Productions. Both he and Bacall fought Jack and Warner Brothers tooth and nail after their marriage, for better projects and better contracts, eventually leading to Bogie started his production company. While not a resounding success (see: Sirocco), at least it stayed afloat longer than Frank Capra’s Liberty Productions.

In 1956, Bogie, a lifelong smoker of unfiltered Chesterfields, was hospitalized and a malignant tumor removed from his esophagus. After his surgery, he recovered at home, but was not doing as well as expected. The doctors tried radiation. After the treatments, Bogie was constantly nauseous and continued to lose weight. Soon he was too weak to walk around much on his own. He had a wheelchair and was put in the dumbwaiter to go from the first floor of his house to the second floor. In 1956, Bacall made Designing Woman, a light romantic comedy with friend Gregory Peck, her only reprieve from caring for her husband. She said she cared for Bogie gladly, but after the strain, it was a relief to joke on the set before coming home. Bogie talked about plans for a new movie to co-star his wife, and she encouraged him to think about work. Work might inspire him to get strong again. Bogie celebrated his 58th birthday, but in January of 1957, began fading fast. On the morning of January 13, he said good-bye to his wife, “good-bye kid,” just as usual, as she went to pick up the kids from Sunday school. He was in a coma when she returned. He remained unconscious until the early hours of the morning of January 14 when he died. John Huston spoke at his funeral, when good friend Spencer Tracy was unable. Lauren Bacall put the gold whistle bracelet he had given her (in memory of the famous scene) in the urn with his ashes.

Their love story began on a movie set and made, what would have been a mediocre movie, a great one. Their combined talent and chemistry was something on-screen couples had been trying to replicated and continue to try. They fell in love on-screen, and that is preserved on film. Bogie had three tumultuous marriages to actresses before marrying Bacall. Bacall was abandoned by her father as a young child. He was older, and she was younger. He became her “husband, teacher, and best friend.” He taught her the ropes in Hollywood, and she proved herself a loyal and humorous wife. While Mayo threw bottles at his head, Bacall took care of him. She devoted herself to being his wife, and he devoted himself to being a good husband and companion. They were so good to each other and so perfect together. His love notes to her, which she quotes in her memoir, are those a young, tough boy struggling to put his deep feelings into words. It is simply beautiful, in an industry where good marriages and happy couples are too rare. To me, this is the greatest love story to come out of Hollywood because their relationship brought out different sides of both of them, as well as their best qualities. Bogie was protective and gentle (unlike his usual somewhat gruff persona), while Bacall was strong and took care of him (as opposed to the typical Hollywood woman-in-distress). They were (are) both so talented, and it is wonderful to have their courtship preserved.

Directors Named Howard: Hawks and Hughes

Notable for their distinct personalities, these two men who share a first name, were actually rather similar. (Although don’t tell them.)

Howard Hawks attended Throop Polytechnic Institute (later Cal Tech) and Cornell to study engineering and flew during World War I. Howard Hughes was born in Texas and after earning himself a reputation as a tinker, building a radio transmitter and in essence, a motorcycle, he too attended Cal Tech. After early engineering interests, both broke into Hollywood. Hawks worked as a production assistant and then producer in the 1920’s. He also directed two-reel comedies. Hughes burst onto the scene in the 1930’s, producing Hawks’ first important directorial work, 1932’s Scarface. This was the first, but not the last, time their paths literally crossed.

Hawks became known as a starmaker and eclectic director. He directed important films in almost every genre imaginable, from westerns to screwballs to film noirs. He “discovered” some of the studio eras most famous faces, including Montgomery Clift, Marilyn Monroe, and Lauren Bacall (although credit for that goes to his second wife Nancy “Slim” Gross), giving each of them their first big shots. Montgomery Clift, a young Method actor, he cast opposite John Wayne in Red River, Monroe opposite Ginger Rogers and Cary Grant in a very small but distinctive role in Monkey Business and later Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and at the advice of his wife, who saw Lauren Bacall on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, brought her to Hollywood and groomed her for her star turn in To Have and Have Not. These stars represents Hawks’ ultimate yearning to create and to control: he built, or tried to build, their personas and to control their careers.

Much has been made in critical circles of nicknaming in Hawks’ films. Some critics claim it stems from his days in the Army Air Corps, and his desire to create a bond, a close-knit family. Others claim it stems from his auteur-like tendencies and need for control. Bacall is especially indicative of this second position. Hawks’ second wife, Nancy Gross, whom he nicknamed Slim, saw the 19-year-old girl on the cover of a magazine, and Hawks brought her to Hollywood. Once there, he changed the name of young Betty Bacal, coached on her on everything from her appearance to her diction, kept her from the press and especially male actors, and re-wrote the part of Marie in William Faulkner’s adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not for her. In her memoir, Bacall describes agonizing weeks of waiting and screen tests and hair and wardrobe tests before she even saw a script. She describes driving into the hills and reading aloud, on the advice of Hawks. But it was something more than advice. Hawks was shaping her. Her first portraits were taken at Hawks home, with Bacall wearing Nancy’s clothes. Nancy also took Bacall under her wing, teaching her how to walk, talk, dress, and carry herself. Bacall’s new character in To Have and Have Not was loosely based on Nancy, and was even given Hawks’ nickname for his wife, “Slim.” The politics of Slim receiving this name in the film points to another interesting aspect of Hawks auteurism.

Slim, whose name is Marie, is a tough, mysterious sort of girl who squares off with Humphrey Bogart’s Harry Morgan, the rough and rugged reluctant hero Bogie was so good at. Morgan nicknames Marie, and she fires back by calling him “Steve.” In her first appearance, she appears in the doorway and asks, “Anybody got a match?” Bogie, intrigued already, tosses her a pack, which she deftly catches, lights a cigarette, and without taking the cigarette from her mouth and in one motion, tosses it back, and says, “Thanks.” She disappears. Slim is one of the first women on screen virtually equal to a man.  Hawks was delighted to have found a woman as “insolent” as screen as Bogie. She nicknames him as he does her, she tosses the matches right back. She doesn’t take anything lying down. An earlier Hawks film, Only Angels Have Wings, starring Cary Grant (a Hawks and Hughes favorite) and Jean Arthur, shows the early stages of this new male-female relationship. Arthur, a girl adrift, stops in at a cantina in South America, and holds her own against several rough and tumble pilots starved for female attention. She even blows away the local jazz band by daring them to keep up with her piano skills. Only when she meets the Boss does she revert back to the submissive female. It’s a noticeable shift to her begging to stay and crying and pleading with Grant to forgive her, from the confident woman who virtually swaggered into the cantina earlier. But, the Arthur we see in the first half of the movie was the precursor to the match-tossing Slim, and other Hawks women.

Hawks molded and created these characters and relationships by discovering his own stars and “dictating” casting. His close eye and insistence on power in casting allowed him to manipulate relationships and on-screen pairing to suit his needs. He is compared to Hitchcock with his obsessive control as a director, just with a wider scope in type of films he directed. Hawks was controlling, even forbidding Lauren Bacall to see her co-star, Humphrey Bogart, off or on set except for while filming, after the two struck up a romance. He wanted to be in control of the actors and actresses he created, and by manipulating the male-female relationships on-screen, for a little while, he was able to do so.

Hawks was invited by George Stevens, Jr. to speak at the AFI’s directing seminars, in which he expressed his desire and need for control. He “mis-remembered” a few choice details of the Bogie-Bacall saga, and he exalted in the amount of creative control he received and hands-off treatment from studio execs. Hawks off-handedly spoke about building a car that won “Indianapolis” and raising horses for twenty years; swaggering even in 1970. He controlled his own image, one of the tough guy, just as tightly as the characters’ on screen.

Twisting male-female relationships was also a hallmark of Hughes’. Hughes often did it in real life as well. He was married twice and carried on relationships with many of Hollywood’s leading ladies, including an extended affair with Katharine Hepburn, during which time he revitalized her career. Hughes began as a film director and producer, producing such films as Hawks’ Scarface, Hell’s Angels, The Outlaw, and His Kind of Woman. In 1948, he bought RKO Radio Pictures and promptly dismissed most of the staff. The executives quit and the rest he drove out. Hughes was a micromanager, often appearing at the end of filming and ordering re-shoots. He favored Robert Mitchum, RKO’s star who had just been arrested on marijuana possession, which did not help the studio’s reputation. He was not so much a face at the studio, as he became the famous Vegas recluse his is known as during this time. He lived in a penthouse in a Vegas hotel, leaving to make dangerous flights in his beloved planes. In addition to being a micromanager, it is believed he had OCD, as sources report he separated his peas by size with a special fork, among other habits. Hughes became a recluse to contain and control his environment, as much an auteur as Hawks. Hughes’ production style was not as hands-on as Hawks, but Hughes was just as obsessed with creation and control.

Hughes found an outlet in aviation, forming his own company, flying dangerous and record-breaking flights, and participating in the design of new aircraft. He was able to satisfy his need to create and control here, rather than in pictures, where press agents and starlets were a constant distraction and detriment. Hughes’ relationships with stars were often highly publicized, notably with Ava Gardner. His relationship with Katharine Hepburn was much more discreet, although he funded her Broadway run of The Philadelphia Story, a script written for her to gain back the popularity she had lost with Sylvia Scarlett. When Hepburn wanted to make the film version of The Philadelphia Story, Hughes was a silent partner, which provided her with the money and clout to turn down numerous offers from studios to buy the property for a star other than Hepburn. She insisted that she star and George Cukor direct, and with Hughes behind her, she got what she wanted. She lost the Oscar (which she expected to win), but gained back her popularity. Without this stepping stone, she never would have been put on a set with Spencer Tracy, who originally turned down the Jimmy Stewart role in The Philadelphia Story because Hepburn was such a box office risk. Hughes and Hepburn were a good match because Hughes had the power to help her, and she was the kind of woman to humor him in his eccentricities. Other women, young women mostly, caused tumultuous affairs with Hughes.

Hughes’ involvement in Hepburn’s career, his OCD, and his reclusiveness were power-plays on his part to gain back control in a world he saw as out of his control. He was known to hop into hi plane at a moment’s notice and jet down to Mexico, simply for the thrill of it.

For their warped view, and often treatment, of women, Hawks and Hughes were still pioneers of the putting a new image of women on film. Bacall in To Have and Have Not, under Hawks constant guidance, gave as good as she got, and Hepburn, with the financial support of Hughes, was able to take back her career from the box-office-minded studio heads. The two men’s obsessive need for control was detrimental to personal relationships, driving Hughes to seclusion and Hawks to three disastrous, affair-ridden marriages, but it allowed them to excel in creating, whether it be in aviation or film.

PTSD on Film: Humphrey Bogart’s Ex-GIs

Humphrey Bogart was born at the tail-end of 1899, a “last-century man,” as he always called himself, and joined the Navy in 1918 when he was kicked out of prep school. 1918 saw the end of the fighting in Europe, and Bogie missed WWI. He was shipped to Europe and ran troop transport ships back and forth, ferrying soldiers home. His natural talent entertained the troops with impressions on the voyages. By 1941, when America entered WWII, Bogie was turning 42 and was on his way to stardom in Hollywood. The Navy wouldn’t take him back, so Bogie and his then-wife, actress Mayo Methot traveled to Africa and Italy entertaining troops. Bogie and Mayo were known as the “Battling Bogarts,” mostly because of Mayo’s penchant for drinking, cursing, and throwing furniture at her husband, but Bogie always said that their months overseas were the best times of their marriage. They traveled for extended periods of time, longer than most other actors, staying on cots, and witnessing the effects of the war on America’s GIs.

In 1943, Bogie played Jean Matrac, a Free French pilot in Passage to Marseille. The movie was highly controversial because of the scene in which innocent Germans are gunned down by the French crew, but the movie was an important one for Bogie. He played an active soldier, and he was introduced to his future wife on the set. Howard Hawks brought Lauren Bacall by for a visit to the set, as they were set to star together in To Have and Have Not. Bogie and Bacall fell in love on a different set, of To Have and Have Not, and as film critics have noted, she became his partner-in-crime on screen and in real-life. Bogie and Mayo divorced, and Bogie and Bacall were married soon after. Their next movie was The Big Sleep, in which Bacall played a mysterious blonde, who ultimately ended up on Bogie’s side.


1947’s Dead Reckoning saw Bogie paired with Lizabeth Scott as his blonde bombshell, instead of Bacall. The role was originally intended for Rita Hayworth, but she was already working on The Lady From Shanghai (with husband Orson Welles). Scott was no Bacall. The New York Times called her “expressionless,” and her performance was a poor knock-off of Bogart’s better leading ladies, Bacall and Mary Astor. The plot line was similar to The Maltese Falcon, but without the cast. Scott played the two-timing Mary Astor role, but dressed almost identically to Bacall in The Big Sleep. But, I digress. Dead Reckoning was more notable for Bogie’s portrayal of a WWII paratrooper who goes in search of his partner, after he disappears on the eve of receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Murdock stumbles into a church and begins to tell his story to a paratrooper turned priest, narrating the events of the past few days. Johnny and Captain Rip Murdock (Bogie) are pulled out of a French hospital where they are recovering, and rushed to Washington. Johnny makes a break for it when he learns about the medal, and Murdock takes off after him. He discovers his beloved Johnny changed his name and joined up, after being convicted of murder a nightclub singer’s husband. Murdock gets tangled up with the nightclub owner, the singer, the cops, and a heavy before shooting his way out. The singer (Scott) lures him into her trap, and when she wonders why Murdock has gone along for the wild ride, he explains, “When a guy’s pal is killed, he ought to do something about it.”

His sense of loyalty to his army buddy surpasses any feelings for a girl, and he puts his own life in danger from every side for his friend. Bogie’s ex-paratrooper, who insists on never being called Captain, pushes his friend to accept the Medal. Neither know whey they’re being rushed to Washington until they’re halfway there, and Murdock is thrilled. He recommended his friend, and is proud to be with him. But, when Johnny disappears and Murdock takes off, he begins denying all military connections. He avoids giving out personal information, partly out of self-preservation, but anytime anyone finds out he was in the war, he refuses to let them address him as Captain, often getting defensive. “How do you know about that? Well, skip the ‘Captain.’” His war experiences have bonded him to Johnny, but ripped him from actual experience.


His denial of his rank, his pressure on Johnny to take the medal, and his distrust of human interaction all point to the effect of his war experiences. He tells Coral aka Dusty aka Mike that he doesn’t trust women, even her, and earlier he had declared himself hooked after hearing her sing. Like Mary Astor’s Bridgit before her, Coral may have hooked Bogie, but he wasn’t putting his guard down. Here he is even more cautious, especially as the plot becomes more complicated and who really killed who gets even murkier. The only thing Rip knows for sure is that Johnny is dead, and as he says, “I always get even, Lieutenant.”

The Lieutenant he is referring to is a police detective by the name of Kinkaid, who he butts heads with over information. Rip pumps the Lieutenant for information on a body, later discovered to be Johnny’s and manages to ditch the Lieutenant as a tail multiple times. A captain is a higher rank than a lieutenant, and it is significant that the policeman ranks below Rip. Kinkaid dogs Rip, and Rip’s post-war mentality comes out in full-force in his dealings with the Lieutenant. With Martinelli, a nightclub owner and shady businessman, Rip’s behavior is less pointed and more relaxed, but with Kinkaid, his guard is higher. Kinkaid’s pursuit drives Rip into the church, which begins the story. Normally, police are “good guys,” the ones the hero calls in to arrest the bad guys, but Rip’s behavior makes the police suspicious of him and alienates him from them. He, in particular, creates this distance between himself and the police because of their association with rank and by a stretch and a chase, the military. The pursuit and the Lieutenant’s title both remind Rip of his war experiences and put him on high alert, which in turn, makes the Lieutenant push Rip even harder. The police become for him what the Germans were in the war.

After setting Martinelli’s office on fire and being shot (although only once, surprisingly), Rip is hospitalized and vindicated by the police. He has turned in the murderer and the suppressed gun, and Lieutenant Kinkaid stands by his bedside. Rip gets a call from General Steele in Washington, and Kinkaid is surprised to learn Rip is a captain. “I’m out of uniform, you don’t have to salute,” Rip says drily. Kinkaid looks at him agog. Rip had earlier made a crack about Kinkaid being promoted to police captain if he would only listen to Rip.

Bogart’s performance as the careful and almost paranoid Rip is a good piece of acting. The script tries very hard to be witty to cover up the confusing plot, but Bogie adds an extra layer to his usual film noir character. Up until now, he has played detectives more often than not, but playing an ex-GI was a first. Bogie saw the soldiers in Italy, saw what the conditions they lived in, and while he didn’t fight or jump out of any planes, he had some first-hand experience. He manages not to tip Rip into paranoid territory, because that would just be overplaying it. Rip displays PTSD symptoms, before anyone diagnosed them as PTSD. His mistrust, his instincts to withdraw, and his unflagging pursuit of justice, a medal for a dead man, can all be directly related to war experiences.


Bogie’s other GI character was also on a mission, although it should have been a less dangerous one. In Key Largo (1947), Bogie and Bacall are teamed again with John Huston directing. Bogie is Frank McCloud, an ex-GI visiting his dead buddy’s widow and ailing father. He insists that his buddy, Temple, was a hero in Italy, but Nora, the widow, sees through Frank and figures out that Frank was the real hero in Italy. Again Bogie plays an officer protecting his inferior soldier, treating the dead man with more than respect.

Frank’s mission, to pay his respects, is less direct and more meandering than Rip’s. When asked his address, Frank replies, “None.” He has drifted from job to job, dissatisfied since returning from the war. He claims he fought to make the world better, for a world where men didn’t need to fight each other, but when confronted by the gangster Johnny Rocco, Frank decides not to pull the trigger. It’s a good decision too, because the gun wasn’t loaded. Rocco holds Nora, Mr. Temple (played by Lionel Barrymore, who only ten years before played the darling Mr. Kringelein in Grand Hotel, but was wheelchair bound and ill at the time of filming Key Largo), and Frank hostage in the Temples’ hotel while he completes his smuggling operation. Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) takes constant jabs at Frank and Frank’s ideals. Frank decides that “one more Rocco isn’t worth it [to die for].” But Frank did think it was worth it when he went to war. He states that he went to war to rid the world of Roccos, but he feels that he has failed. When Rocco whispers dirty words into Nora’s ear and forces his kiss on her, Frank is enraged. But, his rage doesn’t erupt into violence because he still feels that the Roccos of the world have won. Frank’s fight is gone, disillusioned by the war’s aftermath.


Frank’s mental attitude is related not necessarily to what he saw in Italy, but to what he saw when he returned. PTSD is more directly related to a traumatic event, and Frank’s condition is an anxiety disorder brought on by disillusionment and depression. The depression Frank experiences is a reaction to the world he returns to after the war. His shattered ideals, drifting from job to job, inability to attach to other people, and inaction, even in the face of danger, are indicative of that depression. He articulates it to Rocco, who only laughs.

Nora, on the other hand, is not inactive. When Rocco tries to force himself on her, she spits in his face. She pushes Frank to fight back against Rocco. Rocco’s old girlfriend (a boozy and brilliant Claire Trevor) also helps galvanize Frank into action by pick-pocketing the gun that was actually loaded from Rocco and slipping it to Frank. But, without Nora, Frank would not have used the gun. Not only because he wants to get back to Nora, but because Nora basically tells Frank that she’s got his number. She reveals that she knows Frank lied about her late husband, and she tells Frank who he is. Frank has lost sight of his convictions in his depression, but Nora, perceptive and having pulled herself out of her own depression, is able to show Frank again. Nora admits that she was a drifter and a loner, but when she met Temple, she got “roots,” as she says. She is able to help Frank find his stability again and cure his aimlessness. No longer aimless and with the goal of getting back to Nora and getting Rocco out of the way, Frank can now act. The final scene takes place on a boat, appropriate because Bogie loved the ocean. The boat in the picture is even named the Santana, after Bogie’s racing yawl.

Bogie’s performances as ex-GIs are often overlooked because the two films overall are not the best he appeared in. Although the Bogie-Huston team would become unstoppable (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen), Key Largo faltered. NYT called the story “overcrowded” and complained of the “excess talking,” but did praise Huston’s cinematography and the entire cast’s acting. It was a “quiet” film and flew under the radar more so than Bogie’s other pictures released around the same time. Dead Reckoning is usually skipped over entirely because Bogie was concentrating on his new wife and not the sub-par film he was put in on a loan-out to Columbia. He had gone on strike against Warner Brothers again and again, but finally agreed to make Dead Reckoning for Columbia. Neither were smashes at the box office, but Bogie brought something to the post-war-GI mentality that was often hushed up at the time. His paranoia, hyper-vigilience, and emotional detachment in Dead Reckoning illustrate one side of PTSD, and Frank’s disillusionment, detachment, and depression show another side. In the late 1940′s and early 1950′s, America was portrayed as in a golden age on film, and Bogie played real men, honestly, affected by the war.

New York Times review of Dead Reckoning from 1947

New York Times review of Key Largo from 1948