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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In Memoriam: Lauren Bacall, 1924-2014

The New York Times reports on the death of screen legend Lauren Bacall at age 89:
Her voice comes at you low and flat, wildly insinuating, electric and lingering. In another age, Lauren Bacall’s voice might have been called mannish. When she opened her mouth in To Have and Have Not — taking a long drag on a cigarette while locking Humphrey Bogart in her gaze — she staked a claim on the screen and made an immortal Hollywood debut. But in 1944 at the exquisitely tender age of 19, she was also projecting an indelible screen persona: that of the tough, quick-witted American woman who could fight the good fight alongside her man.

[Film critic Parker Tyler] pinpointed an androgynous quality in Ms. Bacall that helped distinguish her debut and made it such a playful gloss on the classic femme fatale: “Her Hepburnesque Garbotoon, clearly confirmed in her subsequent pictures, equals Dietrich travestied by a boyish voice.” Like Garbo and Dietrich, two other goddesses that Tyler invoked, Ms. Bacall’s on-screen presence in To Have and Have Not draws on both feminine and masculine qualities that suggest an excitingly capable woman. Guided by [director Howard] Hawks, Ms. Bacall calmed her trembling chin, gave Bogart a sexy little slap and filled out her character with so much personality that she transcended her third billing (after Walter Brennan) to become an erotic emblem of American wit and war-ready grit.

It’s been said of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers that he gave her class while she gave him sex. There’s another calculus in the Bogart and Bacall pairing. Ingrid Bergman may have warmed Bogart up in Casablanca, but it was Ms. Bacall who lit him on fire. She later complained about being in his shadow; in truth, each burnished the other’s legend, as all four of the movies they made together prove. She made some good ones without Bogart, who died in 1957, including the fizzy How to Marry a Millionaire. But after the 1940s, as pneumatic blondes blew up and gender roles were re-established, she didn’t often find the film roles that suited her cool, steady gaze. The movies couldn’t see it, but she was born to go quip to quip, curled lip to lip, with a man.

Bacall in a famous pose - risqué for the time - atop a piano with then-Vice President Harry Truman in February 1945 at the National Press Club Canteen for servicemen in Washington, D. C.


Tim said...

She was, quite simply, one of the greats.

Russ Manley said...

Indeed she was.

SK VB said...


The "you know how to whistle ..." scene in THaHN gets all the attention, but for my money the scene in the bar where she sings "How Little We Know" -- accompanied by Hoagie Carmichael no less -- is one of her most stunning performances.


It's said that Bogart fell in love with her during the shooting of that scene. I believe it -- I know I fell for her just watching it.

Russ Manley said...

Stunning indeed - thanks for the link. It's been years since I saw the whole movie, so it's nice to be reminded.

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