The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

Having been awed by Bogart in Casablanca I was eager to see him in other films. So when The Maltese Falcon popped up on the schedule for the Harvard Exit, my girl friend and I made a date to see it. Ahead of time, I didn’t know what to expect, not having read any Dashiel Hammett stories or novels. In fact, I had not heard of Film Noir or even the phrase “hard-boiled.” (I did take a class on film at Seattle U, but it was more of film appreciation type class. It would touch a bit on the how tos so that you knew what you were looking at. Really it was a film critique class. And it talked about genres – westerns, sci-fi, comedy, etc.Film Noir included – but this must have been later).

Come time for the show, we were settled in our seats, the lights went down, and the Warner Bros. Logo and a fanfare announced the film. And the music score (Adolph Deutsch) ushered us into the mystery heralded in glorious black and white (and charcoal and pearly grays).

So we were thrown into the mystery of the Black Bird, all wrapped up in the events surrounding the murder of Sam Spade’s partner Miles Archer. We were confused along with our hero as odd characters, one by one came on the scene, all trying to enlist the detective’s help and thwart the others in the quest for the fabled bird. Would Sam figure out what was going on? Would we? Would his feelings for Brigid O’Shaughnessy find fulfillment? We cared. And we were surprised.

Some years afterwards I read one of the bios about the director of the film, John Huston. Huston himself wrote the screenplay. He said that he simply took the story that Hammett had written and translated it page for page to the screen. And in my reading and viewing of the two I can concur. It is unusual for a film taken from another source to end up reflecting it in all its little perfections. The norm for this situation eventuates in two artistic expressions with the same title, but with little similarity thereafter. As the expression goes, Huston nailed it.

The Maltese Falcon would join Casablanca and Lawrence of Arabia as seeds sewn in my psyche. Or in another analogy – they were germs that gave me Hollywood Fever.

Everybody Comes to the Harvard Exit

Everybody Comes to the Harvard Exit

The Boeing company, by association, also had another lasting impact on my life (and on lives of countless other moviegoers in Seattle). Two Boeing engineers, Jim Osteen and Art Bernstein left their day jobs in 1968 to take out a lease on a women’s club building on the First Hill, right above downtown Seattle, (and not far from Seattle University where I started college in the fall of 1970).

There was a five hundred seat auditorium in this building that was just perfect for a specialty movie house – for revivals (of the movie kind) and foreign fare. The lobby had a “homey” feel to it – a home out of the 20s that is. The centerpiece was a fireplace, a grand piano and sprinkled around the room were overstuffed chairs and divans. It was a nice place to wait for the next showing when you arrived early. And you always chose to arrive early.

Art was the talkative partner.  Before each performance he would walk down to the front of the auditorium. And after greeting us he would launch into a fun and informative talk about the evening’s entertainment – who the stars were – what they had done in this same period – production notes – how the film had come about – all the same types of topics that are included on DVDs these days as extras.

When he had finished, and called up to the projectionist to start the show, our appetites were fully whetted for an enjoyable evening. And I cannot remember ever being disappointed.

The first film that I remember seeing there was the extremely brief animated film by Marv Newland, “Bambi vs Godzilla.” I won’t describe it, no spoilers here. I would like to relate what feature it was playing with, but I do not recall. Most likely it was part of a festival of short films for there were a lot of those doing quite well back then – with many excellent ones contributed by the National Film Board of Canada.

There are many other “firsts” that I experienced at the Harvard Exit. But none more treasured than viewing for the first time Casablanca (I think we learned at this time from Art that it was based on a stage play -Everybody Comes to Rick’s).  A perfect script (rewritten for the screen by the Epstein brothers and Howard Koch), a perfect cast, and a perfect production.  And my introduction to the greatest MOVIE STAR among movie stars – Humphrey Bogart. His portrayal of Rick Blaine, the cynical ex-pat American running a night club in the Vichy French colony in North Africa is so spot on and so satisfying on so many levels.  Truly it has a deep resonance. One identifies with him in his struggle – trying to forget the love of his life, and coming to terms with it in the light of the bigger picture, as he moves from political apathy to  full engagement in the fight against evil.

In sum, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

(I just learned sadly that the Harvard Exit has closed its doors at the beginning of this month.)