Why Did Humphrey Bogart Cross the Street?

This is a small thing, but it happened in a time when we were content to hang on the marvel of moving photography. In 1946, without undue fuss or fraud, the medium could record actual things and say, look, this happened. That’s what we were up for then, the appearance of a changing now. Even if it was just being on a street in Los Angeles and waiting for the afternoon to subside.  A man comes out of one bookstore and looks across the street at another: was this the heyday of American civilization? The street is moderately busy, passersby et cetera, and there is subdued Max Steiner music in the air, alert or wary, call it background italic, as if in 1946 such readiness was as detectable as smoke in the city‘s crisp fragrance. In a dark suit and a fedora, the man walks across the street. He seems headed for this other bookstore. But as he comes to the far sidewalk he passes a fire hydrant, and then, without a need in the world, but as if he has an inner life we’ll never know, he pats the top of the hydrant and moves on. If you want a glimpse of how good we were then, and what it meant to us — the movie thing — you could find worse than this. I forgot to tell you: there is a roll of thunder as the scene unwinds. It could be from out by Pasadena, but getting closer. No, this is not a disaster film about weather, or an earthquake splitting the street. But in a film called The Big Sleep you may wonder in the back of your mind whether some sleeper is stirring. It’s in that back of his mind that a man could think about

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