The 1940s: Noir, Gangsters, and Bogart/Bacall

The Falcon’s Flight 

As WWII winded down, a wave of pessimism captured the hearts and aims of Hollywood–manifested into the category known today as “film noir.” A link to Roger Ebert’s 10 Rules of Noir was posted previously here. The idea is easy enough to understand, but in my own terms:

How to Create a Noir (for self-reference and public information)

  1. Have the main character be a defensive cynic but secret softie (with the right woman). Basically, Humphrey Bogart. 
  2. Smoke lots of cigarettes. Think Mad Men amounts of consumption.
  3. Fedoras, pinstripes, smooth-talking. Flattering dresses, lipstick, gloves. Dark shadows.
  4. Themes of corruption and violence interlaced with will-they-won’t-they courting that can only be described as “unbearably sexy.”

So now the question is: What’s an example? The go-to model noir is The Maltese Falcon (1941), in which Humphrey Bogart stars as private eye Sam Spade. (See, he even sounds like a superhero.) And yes, there’s a gorgeous femme fatale in it.

Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon

I like the way you smoke, boy.

Other notables include:

  • Double Indemnity (1944): Barbara Stanwyck as arguably one of the best (evilest?) female characters in film history.
  • Mildred Pierce (1945): A “women’s” noir, meaning not so much fedora’d males and more wide-eyed Joan Crawford. (Also adapted into 2011 HBO series starring Kate Winslet.)
  • Gilda (1946): Let’s be honest, this movie is basically famous because of Rita Hayworth and her hair flip.

  • The Big Sleep (1946): Bacall and Bogart! Blackmail! Murder!
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946): Another erotic thriller from James M Cain.
  • The Killers (1946): Mainly because I love Ava Gardner.
  • (Notice a pattern of stunning leading ladies who immediately afterwards become Hollywood sensations?)

Bogie and Bacall 

On the topic of Humphrey Bogart, he is one-half of one of the most famous Hollywood couples. Sure, in 1943 (when they were filming their first movie, To Have and Have Not, together) Lauren Bacall was a 19-year-old model and Bogart a 44-year-old trapped in his 3rd dead-end marriage, but that didn’t stop their twelve-year marriage that lasted until the latter’s death. All in all, they made four films together: To Have and Have Not (1945), The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947), and Key Largo (1948). 

Humphrey Bogart was buried with a small, gold whistle once part of a charm bracelet he had given to Lauren Bacall before they married. It was inscribed with a quote from their first movie together: “If you want anything, just whistle.”

And now for some lovey-doveyness just in time for Valentine’s Day (ish) to cap off this post:

Slim darling, you came along and into my arms and into my heart and all the real true love I have is yours – and now I’m afraid you won’t understand and that you’ll become impatient and that I’ll lose you – but even if that happened, I wouldn’t stop loving you for you are my last love and all the rest of my life I shall love you and watch you and be ready to help you should you ever need help.

All the nice things I do each day would be so much sweeter and so much gayer if you were with me. I find myself saying a hundred times a day, ‘If Slim could only see that’ or ‘I wish Slim could hear this.’ I want to make a new life with you – I want all the friends I’ve lost to meet you and know you and love you as I do – and live again with you, for the past years have been terribly tough, damn near drove me crazy. You’ll soon be here, Baby, and when you come you’ll bring everything that’s important to me in this world with you. 

23 Responses to “The 1940s: Noir, Gangsters, and Bogart/Bacall”
  1. I love your blog! The multiple pictures allow the reader to visualize what you are describing. The perspective you took on your topic is very interesting and I enjoyed reading about the war movies and the similarities between them. I am not familiar with many of these movies but am excited to look into them now. I think yressed greatly you have ample research and look forward to the rest of your project!

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