Was you ever stung by a dead bee? Their sting can’t possibly be as piquant as 19-year-old Lauren Bacall in this classic. Humphrey Bogart would agree. It was Bacall’s first film and the beginning of a “beautiful friendship.” Their on-screen charisma here is both impossibly cute and sweltering (the latter due to Bacall’s sultry acting).
Walter Brennan can’t stop talking about dead bees (or stop talking in general). His performance is magnificent. The sub-plot involving Brennan’s character Eddie and Bogart’s Capt. Morgan (rum, anyone?) is truly touching. Bogart plays the tough-yet-compassionate friend to the old alcoholic Eddie. It is an underdog story and we are glad to see someone looking after the unfortunate Eddie. It is significant that the novel upon which this film is loosely based was written by Hemingway, yet Eddie seems to bear a slight resemblance to Lennie from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. To round out the American literature lesson, William Faulkner is credited as one of the two screenwriters.
Of additional note (no pun intended) is the acting, singing, and playing of Hoagy Carmichael. There are such fantastic musical moments herein. One wonders whether Tom Waits was inspired by the songs from this film (and by Carmichael in general). We must also remember that Ian Fleming envisioned 007 as looking like Carmichael. His presence in this film adds immensely to the whole.
The direction of Howard Hawks is stunning, though deftly “invisible.” We believe the events are actually happening. Though it is Hollywood through and through, there might be a case made for Hawks’ own neorealism at this time when Rossellini was about to release the seminal Roma città aperta (the epitome of cinematic veritas).