Faced with the specter of a three-day weekend, but late-summer heat still too oppressive to venture out in, I enjoyed a little classic-movie marathon. I mention this here because while it’s not a read-to-reels post, all three movies are based on books (or a play). The collection gathers The Big Sleep, Dial M for Murder, and The Postman Always Rings Twice. (It also includes The Maltese Falcon, but I’ve seen it a few times already.) Reader Cyberkitten mentioned that he would be hard-pressed to choose a favorite from among these three, and having watched them I now sympathize. They’re all exceptionally well done.
I began with The Big Sleep, which continues a trend of Humphrey Bogart movies for me. This wasn’t like the rest, though, as they (Across the Pacific, Passage to Marseilles, Action in the North Atlantic) were all WW2 movies. The Big Sleep was actually filmed and finished before World War 2 was over, but its release was delayed to make room for a few war movies to air. Instead, it’s another detective mystery like The Maltese Falcon. Bogart is employed by an elderly general to find out who is blackmailing him, and to pay the money if need be. When the blackmailer is mysteriously murdered — lots of murder in this movie — Bogart realizes there’s more to the story, especially when everyone (including the general’s family) insists he drop the issue. The plot is very complicated, but Lauren Bacall is amazing at being Bogart’s slightly antagonistic client-love interest. Her hautiness is matched only Bogarts’ utter refusal to take anyone’s nonsense seriously. (One of their better scenes here:
Dial M for Murder featured the direction of Alfred Hitchcock, who has never failed to deliver a gripping tale. M for Murder immediately introduces the reader to a confident seller of sports equipment, Tony Wendice. Though he seems to dote on his beautiful blonde wife (Grace Kelly!), nevertheless Wendice plans to do her in. In years past, while he was traveling the world playing tennis, she was having a little dalliance with an American criminal novelist. His revenge? To arrange for her murder, via blackmail of a morally dubious classmate, and to use the novelist as his alibi. The perfect crime, but when it goes awry he seems achieve an even greater revenge by quick thinking — but the devil is in the details! Part of the fun is that several important characters are concealing key information from not only the murder-mastermind, but the viewer. The novelist character adds a certain flair. The ending, when Wendice closes a door and recognizes that something profound has happened, has a marvelous touch of class.
Lastly, I finished the weekend out with The Postman Always Rings Twice, which featured neither familiar acting nor direction. The story begins with a hitchhiker arriving at a roadside cafe and deciding to put in a little work there. The owner is a happy-albeit-doddering old fellow, Nick, who is married to another beautiful blonde who enters rooms one hip at a time. I knew right away she was trouble, and soon enough she and the hitchhiker have fallen in love and have decided to use Nick’s frequent bouts of drunken stupor to arrange for a fatal accident. Their first attempt fails, but the second try succeeds…albeit with unwanted results, and soon the two are fighting each other as well as resisting justice — justice that the movie’s end supplies, with an artful level of tragedy.
If I had to choose a favorite, I would select Dial M for Murder; as masterfully performed as Bogart and Bacall’s roles were, M for Murder’s deceptively straightforward plot won me completely.