Thursday, May 5, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Bogart ... Bette ... Britney ... Beyonce

"In A Lonely Place" — Humphrey Bogart as Dixon Steele.
by Liz Smith

Thursday's B List: Bogart ... Bette ... Britney ... Beyonce. 

"I WAS born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me."

That's Humphrey Bogart in director Nicholas Ray's great, and still-not-very-well-known film noir, 1950's "In A Lonely Place."

The noir genre would have a few more good years; this movie came as the last of these films — filled with troubled characters, betrayals, and neurosis were wrapping up — but Ray offers one of the best, with Bogart rarely better as a violent, messed-up Hollywood screenwriter implicated in murder. The luscious Gloria Grahame, no stranger to noir, is on hand as his sexy, sympathetic neighbor. (If you can, search out Grahame in Fritz Lang's "Human Desire." She's a pouting, sneering nuclear weapon, rigged to go off at any second.)
Grahame and Bogart — "In A Lonely Place."
Now, our friends at Criterion have put out a digital restoration of the movie, with all the requisite extras — vintage interviews, essays and a 1948 radio performance, based on the novel.

"In a Lonely Place" is part thriller, part melodrama, and keeps you guessing till the end — and even after the credits roll.

Bogart was an inventive and courageous actor, here in this movie, and in many others. He took no prisoners, even while maintaining the classic Bogart image. That he wasn't in any way conventionally good-looking, was actually a help, rather than a hindrance.

I caught "Casablanca" yet again on Turner Classic Movies. I think it's a perfect film, perfectly cast (down to the smallest role) and one, perhaps, that is best appreciated if you've lived a little, loved and lost, know what bitterness and forgiveness is. (Often I've heard people say, "I saw it when I was younger, and I didn't get the hype; a few years later, watching it again, I was overwhelmed.")

It is vastly impressive, the lengths Bogart, as Rick, went to, conveying his feelings for Ingrid Bergman, who'd left him standing in the rain, wearing his trademark trench coat, and a "Dear Rick" note.
Some actors might have thought it unseemly to show the kind of emotion Rick did, after Bergman/Ilsa walks back into his life and his café in Casablanca — drunk, head in his hands, weeping, crushed. It gets me every time — along with Bergman's magnificent scene demanding the infamous "letters of transit." (I'm still in awe at how she managed to control one tear rolling down her face, unleashed at the precise moment she says: "I thought you were out of my life, I thought I'd never see you again.")
By the way, speaking of Criterion and TCM, they have teamed up as partners in a new streaming film service. Criterion's president Peter Becker says that the collaboration will have "nothing but movies in mind ... carefully curated and always changing, it should be a cinema lover's dream."

"Nothing but movies in mind." What a blessing, and boy do we need it now!
STUFF LIKE That There!

On June 1st Bette Midler hosts her annual New York Restoration Project's Spring Picnic. This happens at the Morris-Jumel Mansion (65 Jumel Terrace, between 160th and 162nd Street.) Among those being honored are Richard Goss, of Home Depot and Marcus Samuelsson, chef, author and restaurateur (Red Rooster and Streetbird.)

The Mistress of Ceremonies will be none other than Sandra Bernhard, whose love of nature is well-known. To get in on this, visit or email
Oh, and in case something strikes you as familiar in the Morris-Jumel site, it is indeed the house where the astonishing landowner/real-estate mogul/socialite Eliza Jumel lived for many years. We wrote about her recent biography here ("The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel") and I continue to recommend it as fascinating 19th century history, and a tale of a forward-thinking woman, born in poverty, who accomplished more than most men could, under the same circumstances.
... ON May 22nd Britney Spears will receive the Millennium Award at the Billboard Music Awards, in Las Vegas. People tend to forget just how popular and influential Britney was — in the U.S. alone Spears has sold more than 70 million albums and singles. Currently, she — like so many before and to come — has set up residence in Vegas, with her "Britney: Piece of Me" show.
This concert has not only been called "The Best Show in Las Vegas" but also "Best Bachelorette Show." (I guess before the girls tie themselves down, Britney's extravaganza is a hot, last gasp at freedom. Why do I feel she probably has very attractive male back-up dancers, too?) Other performers at the awards ceremony include Justin Bieber, Nick Jonas, Demi Lovato, Shawn Mendes and The Go-Go's (Yes, the Go-Go's!)
While it seems unlikely that Britney will recover the white hot of her "Baby One More Time" fame, that's all to the good. She seems settled in, calmed down, and content. Reasonably content. It's like happiness. What's that anyway? For tix info go to
... FASHION guru Tim Gunn declares that Beyonce's gown at the Met Gala the other night was a "misstep." I don't know, from all the photos I've seen, Mrs. Jay-Z's get-up looked like something you might wear at another public event. Almost everybody else appeared just this side — and in some cases — just the other side — of grotesque. Perhaps the theme of the night, "Technology in Fashion" wasn't intended to make anybody look pretty. If so, the theme worked all too well.

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.