Friday, October 2, 2009

Sam Spade Incarnate

We introduced the Amster to Humphrey Bogart last night. She gets a great smile on her face when she sees that Movie Night will be in black-and-white. I'm not sure exactly what it signifies, but it sure is nice to look at.

Does she think that it means the movie is really old? Last week we saw The Adventures of Robin Hood in gorgeous Technicolor; it predates last night's flick by 3 years. That era before the studios and the movie theaters were separated into two different revenue streams produced stunning films in both black-and-white and color. (Will CGI and films with actors be the next dividing line? You'll have to read the Cuters' blogs 70 years from now for that answer. )

Maybe she, like me, loves the texture of those shades-of-gray films. Every once in a while I wonder about the color of the gowns by Orry-Kelly (who was Cary Grant's roommate in NYC in the early 20th century) but mostly I give myself over to the shadows. The diaphanous curtain in Bogie's bedroom is one of my favorite characters in the movie. It's as powerful as all the other characters are.... all except Bogie, of course. He's in every scene*.

Dashiell Hammett writes Sam Spade as a real tough nut. Watching the movie last night, I was struck by how young Bogart looked, and by how easily his character slipped into rage. Linus Larrabee, Charlie Allnut, Harry Morgan (aka Steve, for no apparent reason) even Philip Marlowe -- they all have a softer side. Fred C. Dobbs and Duke Mantee are crazy as loons. Sam Spade is sui generis. He's there for himself, and his edge is razor sharp.

On the other hand, Effie likes him, and that's a real recommendation. And all that self-assurance isn't cockiness. It's his truth. And for the first time last night I saw what Lauren Bacall saw; Bogart was really hot.

Having been warned not to worry about the plot line, Amster got into the swing of things right away. Draped over the world's-most-comfortable-upholstered-swivel-chair, she was only confused once - when Sam Spade left the dingus with the parcel check clerk at the bus station. The whole concept of leaving something for the long term in a large public space was new to her. Now we have self-storage units.

Her question got me looking at the film in yet another new way. It really is old. 68 years old to be precise. 68 years before I was born, James Garfield was the President of the United States. That's a long time. The telephones, the cars, the phone booths (does anyone under the age of 30 even know what a phone booth is?) are artifacts of another time, but the story is as fresh as ripped from the headlines Law and Order. Hammett would have liked James Lee Burke and Walter Mosley, and would have understood Dave Robicheaux and Hack Hammond and Easy Rawlins as well as he did Sam Spade.

Can you tell I like this movie? That I've seen this movie many many many times? That one time I sat down and really and truly tried to keep track of the plot and, for a few minutes, I actually thought I had it? And have you noticed that I've not mentioned the name of this film?

Well, where would you start someone on Humphrey Bogart?

We chose The Maltese Falcon.

* For those of you, like TBG, who would argue this point, I would say that what you're thinking of is a shot not a scene.

1 comment:

  1. To be fair, between "Sam Spade" and "the Dingus" the movie in question should be pretty obvious.

    And while Maltese Falcon might be a better Bogie starting point, Casablanca is easily the better movie and imho the best starting point to get people to trust "old movies" as a genre.

    Dem's my two cents


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