Saturday, January 30, 2010

It Depends...on the Favor



One of my favorite Humphrey Bogart movies is The Big Sleep, directed by Howard Hawks, co-written by William Faulkner, and based on the novel by Raymond Chandler. Reputedly, the plot became so convoluted that Hawks asked Chandler for help and even he couldn't figure who had committed one of the murders. No matter: The Big Sleep is terrific fun and even includes a scene in which Bogart goes undercover as a gay book collector.

The Big Sleep also includes the scene above, in which a 21-year old Dorothy Malone displays an impressive knowledge of rare books as she slinks around the Acme Book Store in a brazen seduction of Bogart's Phillip Marlowe. Watch as she sidles up to Marlowe and sizes up his sexual possibilities while describing the physical attributes of a suspect. Malone caps the scene by showing girlish embarrassment and vulnerability, nearly blushing as she pulls the store shade down in anticipation of the uncovering to come. She recovers quickly, suggestively wielding a pencil before removing her glasses and shaking loose her hair. This happens at Marlowe's request, though, and not his order.

It's a great bit, a frank display female erotic power that knocks even Humphrey Bogart off his guard. It's also an unusual scene for the typically hypermasculine Hawks, in that a young woman teases an older man while retaining the authority of sexual decision making. Perhaps Hawks had his own life in mind when filming this scene: He was 52 at the time, and married to 29-year old Slim Keith, with whom he had been involved since she was 21.

Dorothy Malone was in the early stages of a acting career that lasted for fifty years. She won the 1956 Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her performance as a self-destructive, promiscuous alcoholic in Written on the Wind. She's probably best known for her three-year run as Constance MacKenzie on the television soap opera Peyton Place. Retired, she lives in Dallas...

This creep should go to jail for a long time. Some on the extreme right will try to make a martyr out of him, but he's a garden variety psychopath who should be kept off the street...

Young love, first love, filled with true devotion...

Helix #2...

Newly exposed walls...

A weathered sky...

Obama in the lion's den...

The Onion remembers J. D. Salinger...

The No Fun League claims that it and it alone owns Who Dat. Who dey t'ink dey are, anyway?...

Parking lot jam, NOLA style:

6 comments:

Cowtown Pattie said...

I had forgotten about that scene in The Big Sleep. It always cracked me up that the cliche about a "girl with glasses" gets so cleverly intwined. Malone owns the scene.

Thanks!

K. said...

CP: Who knew that one day the girl with the glasses would run for vice-president?

I agree that Malone owns the scene. Lauren Bacall, who I find wooden and disengaged, is also in The Big Sleep. IMHO, Dorothy Malone packs more acting into this 3-minute scene than Bacall did in her entire career. But Bacall had Bogie and a regal presence, and so became Hollywood royalty. But for fifty years, Dorothy made a living acting, which is more than just about anyone else can say.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Great scene, and great summation of Dorothy Malone's abilities.

K. said...

The first time I saw this scene, I sat straight up. With some exceptions, post-war women characters in film became generally passive as the 40s, 50s, and early 60s wore on. But not the Acme Book Store clerk. It's tempting to argue that this figure is a modern character, but I wonder whether she actually looks back to Rosie the Riveter. In that sense, she provides an intriguing perspective on a direction that might have been taken but wasn't for at least another 20-30 years.

Renegade Eye said...

The best screenwriting, was in the 1940s. The McCarthy Era which came later, was hardest on writers. You see that if you compare the 40s to the 50s.

Beside Salinger and Zinn, also Scottish folk singer Alistair Hulett.

K. said...

I'm with you, Ren, although I would include the last half of the 30s as well. The 50s presented a interesting conundrum to screenwriters as they learned to mask themes and slip them by the thought police. Have you seen Gore Vidal explaining the gay subtext of Ben-Hur? It's in the excellent documentary The Celluloid Closet. Not to be missed.