This was Humphrey Bogart Night, and the prime-time fare included “Casablanca” and “The Big Sleep,” featuring Raymond Chandler’s first Philip Marlowe and the vehicle that defined “film noir.”
I’ve seen both movies enough to anticipate scenes and even sometimes quote dialog, such as “…of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she has to walk into mine…” or “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and especially, “We’ll always have Paris.” Show me someone who can’t appreciate that last line and I’ll show you someone who hasn’t visited Paris.
Anyway, since I know the story and that Rick and Philip survive the Gestapo and underworld kingpins, these days I tend to notice more of the material culture depicted in these old films. One has to be, well, mature to appreciate and understand such films.
THE FIRST thing you notice is all the smoking, especially cigarettes, and most especially Bogart doing it; he rarely played a scene in either film without puffing on one those “coffin nails,” even when talking, which makes his cigarette wiggle up and down like a baton directing a band. Basically, in films cigars identified a character either as affluent or a thug, and pipes depicted thoughtfulness and solid citizenship.
As Marlowe, Bogart made a call on a pay telephone, and we had to wait while he dialed the number on a rotary wheel—if it had been long distance, we would have heard him place the call through an operator—a real live person who lived and worked in the same town, not in India or Timbuctu, that one could understand easily.
Again as Marlowe, Bogart explained that the police had fished a Packard out of the bay with the hand throttle pulled half out. What does this mean, and, for that matter, what is a Packard? No, it is not an early version of a printer made before Packard joined Hewlett in some silicon garage.
IN BOTH films, all the men wore hats, nearly all the time, even indoors. And the women—or at least Ingrid Bergman and Lauren Bacall—had long, wavy hair, smooth skin, and trim figures.
And do you know the best part, something that even Robert Osborne can’t pull off?
They are all forever young.
Archie P. McDonald is a professor of history and Community Liaison at Stephen F. Austin State University. His commentaries can be heard each Friday morning at 7:35 on Red River Radio, KDAQ 89.9 FM.