The death of my old friend Lauren Bacall set me thinking of her first movie, To Have and Have not. She was 19 and Humphrey Bogart was 45. The became lovers and they married. The difference in their ages was hardly mentioned. That was in 1944 and they were happily married until Bogart died in 1957.
To Have and Have Not has one of those great movie lines. It comes when Bacall is leaving a room and turns to Bogart. “If you want me, whistle. You know how to whistle, dontcha, Steve, just put your lips together and blow.”
This line doesn’t come from Ernest Bogart Hemingway’s novel. In fact nothing in the film except the title comes from Hemingway.
The film script was written by Hemingway’s great rival, William Faulkner. I wonder if he abandoned Hemingway’s tale in order to annoy the great bearded bully. Perhaps he was simply following orders from the studio. But why should they buy a book only for its title?
(A few years later a very good movie, starring John Garfield, was made, under another title, of Hemingway’s book. It starred Patricia Neal, being extremely sexy singing “Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone.”)
I think of this because someone has been talking about making cinema out of my first crime novel, Death Dyed Blonde. I’ve got three others featuring the same ‘tec in the same town. I was told I would have a “franchise”.
This pleased me because my latest murder mystery, Murder in Arcady, could not be made into a movie. It is a farce but it is written with what critics call “a poetic sensibility” – that don’t film.
The dialogue ain’t bad but the best of the book is the storyteller being poetic; in a funny way, and using long and unusual words to amuse.
This is the very opposite of what reviews in the Guardian, the Spectator, and The Times Literary Supplement liked about me, which was the “unfussy, flattened style. Classic American crime fiction”.
At a great age, sitting in a corner of my bedroom in my 17th Century West Country cottage, in a tweed jacket and club tie, and with a fountain pen, I have been writing what pleases me. The lady who does my typing for me says it also pleases her.
After scribbling away for two or three hours (I don’t want to overdo it) I have been going out to sit in my garden in the shade thinking of sex: a silly business, also disgusting, which I have now at last reached an age and condition when I can put it behind me.
I have attempted in my latest book to make fun of romance. I do however get sex one favourable mention when a leading female character says, “I am not a slut but I thank the gods I am foul.”
Where is that from?
I can’t remember.
Why don’t I look it up?
I can’t be bothered.
Shakespeare is dragged into Murder in Arcady giving me the filthiest line in the book: the eye that weeps most when most pleased.
I go now into my garden. I wish someone would write a farce as good as Murder in Arcady to amuse me seated under the shade of the pear tree.