I have talked about the legend of Bogey and Bacall on this blog before, so I won’t necessarily go too far into it. Let me just say this one thing: Bacall was only nineteen years old when she did this, her first film ever let alone with Bogey while he was in his mid forties. Such a disparity would usually incite outrage and shame the couple into breaking up, but Bacall did not ever act like a nineteen year old. She had always been much wiser than her age. A prime example would be this film.
At first glance, I would not have taken Bacall to be much younger than twenty-five in this film. Her figure is dramatically highlighted by a waist baring gorgeous black dress and her hair covers up what baby fat was left on her face. But it is not her appearance that made me think she was about twenty-five. Rather it was the way she handled herself onscreen. Bogey can be a domineering presence on-screen. Many great actresses have been overshadowed by his easy and gruff persona including Bette Davis (The Petrified Forest) and I would say even Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca). By no fault of their own, Bogey just demands attention and earns it by all the marvelous acting he does. But Bacall does not disappear on the screen when forced to act next to Bogey. Maybe because Bogey was so incredibly smitten by her, but everything goes quiet on his face when next to her and all of his attention is wrapped up in what she is about to do on-screen. A good example of this type of scene is the first scene she appears in. There is no build up to her appearance at all, you just see her once in the hallway opening her door and then bam: she leans against a doorway and asks for a light. All action and tension seizes, the boys give over to the appearance of one of the most beautiful women in the world. She lights her cigarette, tosses the matches back to Bogey and leaves. However, the rest of the scene does not matter to the audience any more. I don’t care about these people who the manager of the restaurant want Bogey to take illegally on his boat. All I care about is getting back to Bacall. Happily she gets a lot of screen time.
Comparisons to Casablanca are inevitable. Both take place during WWII involving Bogey playing an American ex patriot who lives on an exotic yet occupied island. Both characters want to stay out of the conflict and both inevitably get pulled into helping the good side by pride alone. But I think that these films should be seen not in comparison to each other, but as compliments to each other. They interpret basically the same story in two very different ways. These two films would make an interesting mini marathon/drinking game. Every time Bogey lights a cigarette, take a sip and every time there is an iconic line you take a shot. You will not be sober by the end of it.