Thursday, December 25, 2008

Outside-the-rotation movies blogging: The Big Sleep

I was never that big a fan of true noir or of Raymond Chandler: noir always struck me as Hollywood's inverted moralizing about a stratum of life that, in the '30s and '40s, it knew fuck-all about, and Chandler was, for sure, a Baroque stylist imitating--and, to be honest, perfecting--a formula pioneered by earlier writers. Chandler, the imitator, was the one who made a fortune out of the genre that Dashiell Hammett, an authentically tough man who really did know the worlds he depicted, had pioneered.

And, let's face it and though it pains me to say it, Bogart wasn't a great actor. For his time, he was an unusually real actor--when you put him up against the '30s leading men--though most of his great "performances" consisted of tics and twitches and hitchings-of-the-belt that were really remarkably formulaic. He was shorter and balder than they showed him in the films and his fight scenes were almost comically stilted (never more than in this outing).

But the thing that made Bogie stand out against the other "tough guys" of the era--and made the Ronald Reagans and John Waynes of the era look like the posturing pansies that they were--was, I think, the man's pure integrity. He played a number of different types of roles in his glory years--many more types than people tend to remember--but the iconic performances were of the bruised, battered men, mostly good but with a strong admixture of bad, who, when the chips were down, fought their conscience and never quit: Sam Spade of Maltese Falcon, Harry Morgan of To Have and Have Not, Frank McCloud of Key Largo (which contains the scenes, on board small boats, that probably show Bogart at his happiest in any film), and, of course, Rick in Casablanca.

That's what differentiated Bogie from Reagan or Wayne or, for that matter, so many other Hollywood players in the conservatizing Hollywood of the late '40s and early '50s. Elia Kazan, Walt Disney, that punk-ass bitch Reagan, Adolphe Menjou, and dozens of other Hollywood types who played or pretended to be "tough guys" when it didn't matter--when they were posturing in front of the cameras--strapped on the knee pads and gave Joe McCarthy, Roy Cohn, Richard Nixon, and the rest of the fascist witch-hunters on the House Un-American Affairs Committee every bit of falsified information they could find or make up.

Bogie didn't. John Huston didn't. Betty Bacall didn't. Pete Seeger didn't. They acted like Americans--like the Americans who stood up against Thomas Gage, Lord North, and George III in 1775--and told McCarthy, Nixon, and the rest of those opportunistic cowards to fuck off.

That's why I'll forgive him the bad "acting" and the stylized tics, in a way that I'd never forgive Reagan or Wayne or the rest of them--because the toughness of the characters Bogart played came from inside him.

Bogie was real.

No comments: