The Big Sleep. Directed by Howard Hawks. This is certainly Bogart and Bacall’s finest film. The casting is terrific, right down to the uncredited actors like Sonia Darrin as Agnes Lowzier, Tommy Rafferty as Carol Lundgren and Joy Barlow as a taxi driver who flirts with Bogart. But among the main cast you get plenty of gems too: besides B & B, there’s the flirtatious bad girl Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone (love her as the nameless Acme Book Shop proprietress), Regis Toomey, Charles Waldron and Elisha Cook, Jr. Max Steiner’s score is beautiful, with a main theme that echoes the romance between Bogart and Bacall. The film was photographed by the underrated Sidney Hickox, who also shot White Heat and Them!, and edited by Christian Nyby, who later became famous for getting directorial credit for Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World. (Interestingly, both Hickox and Nyby shot and edited the first Bogart/Bacall/Hawks film, To Have and Have Not.) As a final note, I’d like to add that I have read the original Raymond Chandler, which is just as complicated as the film, but William Faulkner (yes, that William Faulkner!), Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman did a commendable job of adapting the book into a screenplay.
Great Expectations. Directed by David Lean. This film proves that Lean could do smaller-scale dramas just as well as his later epics. Although I have not yet read Great Expectations, I’m sure that Lean did the Dickens novel justice. I was impressed by Tony Wager and Jean Simmons, who played the younger versions of Pip and Estella. Simmons, of course, went on to have a great career of international renown, but Wager faded into obscurity and died at age 58 in 1990. The film is populated by great British actors, including John Mills and Valerie Hobson as the grown-up Pip and Estella, Finlay Currie as Abel Magwitch, Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham, a young Alec Guinness as Herbert Pocket and Edie Martin (who appeared in a few other Alec Guinness films) as Mrs. Whimple. The Oscar-winning cinematography by Guy Green – who later directed the dramas The Angry Silence, The Mark, Light in the Piazza, A Patch of Blue, A Walk in the Spring Rain and Once Is Not Enough – is appropriately moody and, at times, haunting.
Humoresque. Directed by Jean Negulesco. Of all the directors I discuss in this post, Negulesco is the only one who has not achieved lasting fame. He directed a number of memorable films, including The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), Johnny Belinda (1948), Road House (1948), Titanic (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), Daddy Long Legs (1955) and The Best of Everything (1959). This particular film, however, has an interesting place in film history for a number of reasons. It is the next film Joan Crawford made after her Oscar-winning turn in Mildred Pierce, and it was John Garfield’s third film released that year, after The Postman Rings Twice in May and Nobody Lives Forever (also directed by Negulesco) in November. Both Crawford and Garfield give searing performances. Oscar Levant deserved – no pun intended – an Oscar nomination for his supporting work, which bears the mark of his usual witty delivery but has even more dramatic heft and nuance to his character. The Oscar-nominated score by Franz Waxman has as its crown jewel his reinterpretation of Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” theme, featured in the climactic concert sequence at the end of the film. The beautiful black-and-white cinematography by Ernest Haller, particularly during that stunning segment, puts Crawford in a glowing light and adds to what is already one of her best performances.
A Matter of Life and Death. Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Watching a Powell and Pressburger film means watching two masters at work. David Niven, Roger Livesey, Marius Goring and Raymond Massey give great performances in this romantic fantasy. Livesey is an especial favorite of mine; I first saw him playing Laurence Olivier’s father in The Entertainer but later absolutely adored him in the earlier Powell and Pressburger classics “I Know Where I’m Going!” and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, the latter of which I wrote about in a previous post. His voice is plummy and melodic, lending warmth and dignity to any dialogue. As for Kim Hunter, although she’s cute and sympathetic in the film, her character – and acting – are nowhere near as good as other P&P characters played by Deborah Kerr and Wendy Hiller. (Hunter probably has them both beat for best lips, though.) I wish Pressburger had given Hunter’s character an ounce more spark.
Notorious. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. In a way Notorious is one of Hitchcock’s least romantic films, despite the sizzling chemistry between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. Their characters experience lust, not love – well, until near the end of the film, that is. Claude Rains, who received a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance, is his usual great self as Alexander Sebastian; the famous “moment of realization” look dawning on his face is one of a series of great visuals in the film. Speaking of visuals, the cinematography by Ted Tetzlaff is superb, as well as the editing by Theron Warth. Getting back to the acting, I must also mention Louis Calhern, who plays Bergman’s mentor, and Leopoldine Konstantin, who is bitter and domineering as Rains’ mother. As in all Hitchcock films, Notorious has a great script, this time by the legendary scribe Ben Hecht. My favorite line is of course when Grant says to Bergman: “Dry your eyes, baby, it’s out of character.” Classy, classic stuff.