From her first, unforgettable debut in 1944 in To Have and Have Not with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall was electric, beautiful and poised, and it was hard to believe she was only nineteen. She later said she was nervous and shaking, but you can’t tell in the movie. That is how she developed her trademark Look. She held her chin down and looked up to keep from shaking, but The Look became one of her trademarks, along with her deep, husky voice.
The Have and Have Not is also were she first met Humphrey Bogart. She was nineteen and he was 44 but they were crazy about each other and they were married in 1945 until his death in 1957. Theirs was probably the most famous romance in Hollywood during the time and they made four movies together: To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and Key Largo.
But although there was talk that she couldn’t carry a picture without Bogart in the film with her, she proved to be more than an actress in her own right, many people arguing that she only got better and acquired even great presence through the years: in movies, TV and on stage.
She is known, and and deservedly so, for her roles in such film noirs as The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not, where she plays the poised, almost a good version of a femme fatale, trading repartee with Bogart. The chemistry between them is marvelous. However, here are some examples of other roles that she also shone in.
Key Largo is a little bit different movie for both her and Bogart, partially because it is based on a play and because it is not a star performance for anyone but is more of an ensemble cast. It is about a group of people, including gangster Edward G. Robinson, who are trapped in a hotel during a hurricane in Florida. It is also different because she plays a much more quiet and slightly vulnerable role and there is none of their usual onscreen flirting between her and Bogart (they were married when they did this film). In the movie, they are two damaged souls who find peace together and their low-key performances are lovely and a nice contrast to the excellent, but by no means muted, performance of Robinson.
And she was not only good in noirs and dramas, but also had real comedic flair in movies like Designing Woman with Gregory Peck and How to Marry a Millionaire with Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. In the later film, the three girls are models determined to catch rich husbands. But of course they fall in love with poor men instead. Bacall has her eyes on the filthy rich William Powell (dapper and gracious as ever), but finds herself attracted to Cameron Mitchell.
Another movie I love her in is the 1974 Murder On the Orient Express, with Albert Finney as the famed detective Poirot. In a movie bursting at the seams with stars (Ingrid Bergman, Michael York, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave) she is one I remember most, the central dynamic character who has planned everything from the beginning. A great moment comes when Finney, as Poirot, turns around to encounter Bacall standing there, lightly holding up a dagger for him to look at. It is a wonderful entrance that she carries off brilliantly and is easily my favorite moment in the entire film and one of my favorite entrances into a scene, in any movie, too.
Lauren Bacall passed away yesterday, at 89, and is survived by her three children, Stephen Humphrey Bogart, Leslie Bogart and Sam Robards.
I think it is fitting to end this memory of Bacall with a clip from one of her movies, Dark Passage. It is the end of the film and Bogart’s character is waiting to see if her character has left America to join him in Peru. There is so much sweetness in how she is holding on to him as they dance off the screen.
The song playing in the background is “Too Marvelous for Words”