Heathcliff: What do they know of Heaven or Hell, Cathy, who know nothing of life? Oh, they’re paying for you, Cathy. I’ll pray one prayer with them. I’ll repeat until my tongue stiffens. Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest so long as I live on! I killed you. Haunt me, then! Haunt your murderer! I know that ghosts have wandered on the Earth. Be with me always. Take any form, drive me mad, only do not leave me in this dark alone where I cannot find you. I cannot live without my life! I cannot die without my soul.
Charlie Allnut: How’d you like it?
Rose Sayer: Like it?
Charlie Allnut: White water rapids!
Rose Sayer: I never dreamed. . .
Charlie Allnut: I don’t blame you for being scared – not one bit. Nobody with good sense ain’t scared of white water. . .
Rose Sayer: I never dreamed that any mere physical experience could be so stimulating!
I really love this film. I have watched it many times. It’s one that gets richer each time you watch it. Often, you hear it dismissed, or at least introduced, as Bette Davis’s Gone With The Wind, but it is definitely more than just a consolation prize. This film represents a turning point in Davis’s career and it was after her phenomenal turn in this film that she became the superstar we now know and love. The film was nominated for five Academy Award, won two: Best Cinematography, Best Score, Best Supporting Actress Fay Bainter (won), Best Actress Bette Davis (won), Best Picture. The other films nominated for Best Picture that year were The Adventures of Robin Hood, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Boys Town, The Citadel, Four Daughters, La Grande Illusion, Pygmalion, Test Pilot, and winner You Can’t Take It With You. I have actually seen all of these films, and they are ALL fantastic.
I thought it would be fitting to start Noirvember with a discussion of John Huston’s iconic adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. Although film noir, a term coined in 1946 by French film critic Nino Frank, is often thought of as an post-war era in American cinema (many neo-noir and foreign films would later emulate these original films), this film has been cited as the first true American Film Noir. There’s a great debate about when the era starts and whether it counts as a genre (I don’t believe in genres period, so you can probably guess where I stand on that issue). A lot of the early crime films in the thirties and the silents made during German Expressionism all led to the style and topics seen in the noir films, but for me I think the films made during this era were distinctly full of post-war angst. That said, I’ll admit if The Maltese Falcon isn’t the first true noir, it’s definitely the premiere proto-noir. The film essentially launched Humphrey Bogart as a leading man, following his explosive earlier that year in Raoul Walsh’s High Sierra, in a performance that set the tone for all of noir’s anti-hero heroes to come. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, though it didn’t win any: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor Sydney Greenstreet and Best Picture. The other films nominated that year were: Blossoms in the Dust, Citizen Kane, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Hold Back the Dawn, The Little Foxes, One Foot in Heaven, Sergeant York (co-written by John Huston), Suspicion and winner How Green Was My Valley.
Tomorrow is the grand opening of the new Warner Bros. Theater at the Smithsonian Institute. In celebration of the opening the theater will be screening four films featuring Humphrey Bogart, arguably the studio’s must notable star: Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of Sierra Madre and The Big Sleep. Stephen Bogart, son of film legends Bogart and Lauren Bacall, will be on hand for the inaugural presentation of Casablanca. I was lucky enough to speak with him briefly this morning about the new theater, his father’s legacy and some of his thoughts on Hollywood today.