Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Lauren Bacall Blogathon: More Than The Perfect Woman

On September 14-16, In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood is hosting The Lauren Bacall Blogathon. For reasons I won't go into here, I can't post on the day of, so instead I offer up this early post as my way of encouraging you to please make a note on your calendars and check out the blogathon.

At the heart of every Howard Hawks action movie is the concept of the professional doing his job, and doing it well, despite the imminent threat of death, an idealized code of conduct Hemingway called "grace under pressure." We're all going to die sooner or later, Hawks seems to be saying, can't we at least do it with a bit of dignity and honor and laughter and good company?

That, above all, I think, is at the core of what is known as "a Hawksian woman," one who can laugh and provide good company in the face of death.

Whatever else a Howard Hawks drama is about, usually a woman meets a man and grows up enough to prove worthy of him and his cadre of professional associates (what one might loosely think of his family).

His comedies, in contrast, are about a man proving worthy enough of a woman to start a family (through marriage).

To Have and Have Not, so far as I can remember, is the one Hawks movie that takes that comedy formulation — the man proving worthy of the woman — and applies it to a dramatic situation. Do you know To Have and Have Not? In it, Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) has retreated from the messy political world into a cocoon of isolationism so complete he's willing to ignore the fascists in charge of the local government even as they are shooting his clients and making his life and the lives of his friends miserable.

Into that mix comes Marie "Slim" Browning (Lauren Bacall in her first film role), teaching him how to whistle and forcing him to realize that no matter how much he thinks he's successfully avoided sticking his neck out, his neck is out there, on the block, along with the necks of his "family" (Eddie, Frenchy, Cricket and, finally, Slim herself).

Whether he likes it or not, the Cause is his and he can either fight for it or go down the tubes anyway. So he fights, and in so doing, becomes worthy of Lauren Bacall, the toughest of tough young broads ever to grace the screen.

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