The Look ... and Lonely

Taking in my usual high quotient of late '40's flicks, I've run into the redoubtable team of Bogie and Bacall twice this week
– re-screening (yet again) two of my favorites, 1947's romantic noir, Dark Passage (spoken of, in Relative Esoterica, here), and the following year's gangster drama, Key Largo (discussed, in RE, here). Perhaps with solitariness – volitional or circumstantial – on the brain, I've found myself thinking about what struck me through these closely held viewings of the two films: Dubbed, upon her introduction to the world at large, "The Look" for her cool, in-control, eyes-at-half-mast gaze, Bacall, in her cinematic aspect, is a loner – and this is one of the chief reasons why she paired so exquisitely in celluloid with quintessential lone wolf Bogart. Yes, opposites, we know, attract – both each other in the real world and, projecting themselves from the make-believe of the silver screen, audiences. The same, though, can be said for sames.

In Dark Passage, when Bogart's escaped convict Vincent Parry, asks Bacall's artist-heiress Irene Jansen, "Don't you get lonely up here, all by yourself?" she – desirable and desired – responds, "I was born lonely, I guess." Through the actress' delivery, the character, clearly, is both resignedly lonely and at once naturally and preferentially a loner. Irene Jansen, despite the dissimilarity between her circumstances and Parry's (both those on display in the present and those we must imagine for the past leading to his incarceration), is just the right girl to come to the aid of a fleeing, emotionally beaten man who, for a chatty cabbie's benefit, comments on his own dislike for talk with a dry, matter-of-fact "Yup, that's why I don't have many friends." Irene and Vincent are star-crossed lovers – and loners.

In Key Largo, Captain Frank McLeod and Nora Temple are both just meeting and – through their connection, the now dead George Temple, Nora's husband and Frank's army buddy and underling well-acquainted. Seeing the quiet, hard-working young woman's current situation – companion to and caretaker for her father-in-law and proprietess of an island hotel, with no man in sight – Frank (echoing Vincent Parry) inquires "You're never lonely?" and Nora offers a slight and ambiguous shake of the head. Sketching her past, she follows with, "George tell you, I met him at a USO dance. He was lonesome, and he wanted company. I was working in a defense plant; I knew lots of people, but I was lonesome, too." Like Irene Jansen, Nora is both separated by her nature from the hordes and in need of the understanding of one person. Frank, another in a long line of Bogart rugged individualists, venturing that now, the War over, he might take to the sea as a "hand on a fishing boat," declares, "Life on land's become too complicated for my taste." Though Nora explains her sense of place and rootedness with "Now, I'm like one of these mangroves" and Frank, conversely, is, at this time, feeling footloose, having had enough of pre-War and War ties, roots and responsibilities, they are alike: lonesome loners. In a nice, twins-over-as-well-as-under-the-skin touch, they even wear matching white button-down shirts through the entire film.

Bacall, almost immediately iconic upon her mid-'40's slink to fame, was the perfect female counterpart to the great Bogart. The two, individually, were cool; as a screen team, bringing to mind the lyrics of the beautiful, noiresque "Alone Together," they were cooler.

Alone Together
Music by Arthur Schwartz, Words by Howard Dietz

Alone together, above the crowd;
Beyond the world, we're not too proud –
To cling together;
We're strong as long as we're together.

Alone together, the blinding rain,
The starless night were not in vain –
For we're together.
And what is there to fear together?

Our love is as deep as the sea;
Our love is as great as a love can be.

And we can weather the great unknown
If we're alone together.