- Bacall let rip at Aussie reporters
- Five great Bacall moments
- Obit: Bewitching actress
- Died of stroke, aged 89
- Movie session times
- Full movies coverage
Lauren Bacall was a conundrum. She came across as a kind of proto-feminist in her early movies and a stately, usually solitary, grand dame in her later ones, yet off-screen she was defined above all by the great romance of her life, long after it was over.
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Rachael Jones reports there is a sombre mood in Hollywood as movie fans mourn the loss of actress Lauren Bacall, just one day after actor Robin Williams passed away.
On-screen she played women who knew what they wanted and how to get it, women who were the equal of any man, who knew the power of their sexuality but refused to be defined by it or reduced to it.
But off-screen she was forever tethered to her role as one half of the greatest love affair Hollywood has ever known, Bogie and Bacall.
“My obit is going to be full of Bogart, I’m sure,” she once predicted, and she was right. She had other lovers (Frank Sinatra among them) and even another husband (actor Jason Robards, with whom she had a son, the actor Sam Robards), but long after his death in 1957 she continued to be linked – and, it must be said, willingly maintained the link – with Humphrey Bogart.
If she was both her own woman and forever someone else’s, this striking dichotomy was perhaps forged from the very beginning of her career.
Lauren Bacall was the creation of a director who wanted to craft the perfect woman, and who found in a young model spotted by his wife on a magazine cover just the raw material he needed.
Howard Hawks cast the then Betty Joan Perske in her first film role, opposite Bogart, in To Have And Have Not, adapted from a novel by Ernest Hemingway and released to great acclaim in 1944. She was just 18 at the time.
Hawks had “one ambition”, Bacall told Vanity Fair in 2011: “To find a girl and invent her, to create her as his perfect woman. He was my svengali, and I was to become, under his tutelage, this big star, and he would own me.”
Of course, Hawks never managed that, and you can see in her performance in that film exactly why. She is as tough as she is gorgeous, always in control except when she decides she’d rather not be.
In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, she startles Bogart’s character, Steve, by kissing him (crucially, she is standing, he sitting). “What did you do that for,” he asks.
“I’ve been wondering if I’d like it,” she replies.
“What’s the decision?”
“I don’t know yet,” she says, leaning in to kiss him again. “It’s even better when you help.” And then she walks away.
Bacall’s Slim was in some ways emblematic of the new emancipated woman emerging in a country whose menfolk were away in the killing fields of World War II. They were in control for the first time because they had to be, and they were discovering they rather liked it.
Bacall played variations on the theme of the sexually aware, smart-talking tough broad across her most successful early films, most of which she made with Bogart. Their chemistry in front of the camera was something to behold but, she later insisted, the fulfilment she found in her life with him came at the cost of her career.
She was happy being Bogart’s wife and the mother to the two children they had together, but, she said, “I think many directors never thought of me except as Bogie’s wife. That doesn’t lead to a great career, and I certainly did not fight for a career.”
The later roles perhaps give a hint of what might have been, as Bacall – increasingly lined and magisterial, that husky voice now more intimidating growl than erotic purr – put her magnificent presence at the service of both lighter and darker roles.
She stamped her ironic hauteur all over Murder On the Orient Express (1974). She came to own the domineering matriarch role, turning in a film-stealing performance in Barbra Streisand’s The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996). She was terrific in Jonathan Glazer’s Birth (2004), which starred Nicole Kidman (in her best performance yet) as a woman who believes a 10-year-old boy is the reincarnation of her dead husband.
She had worked with Kidman the year before, on Danish bad boy director Lars von Trier’s Dogville. Whatever passed between them, Bacall managed to stir up a minor storm at the Venice Film Festival in 2004 when she shot down a reporter who had the temerity to suggest that Kidman was a screen legend.
“She’s not a legend,” Bacall snapped. “She’s a beginner. What is this ‘legend’? She can’t be a legend at whatever age she is. She can’t be a legend, you have to be older.”
Bacall was 89 when she died of a stroke on Tuesday, and unquestionably she was a screen legend. Whatever her contradictions, no one will deny her right to be remembered that way.
Lauren Bacall: five great film moments
Slim in To Have and Have Not (Howard Hawks, 1944)
"You know you don't have to act with me, Steve. You don't have to say anything, and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow."
Vivian Rutledge in The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946)
(In an exchange in which she and the detective Philip Marlowe, played by Humphrey Bogart, are sizing each other up, using horseflesh metaphors.)
Marlowe: “You don't like to be rated yourself.”
Vivian: “I haven't met anyone yet that can do it. Any suggestions?”
Marlowe: “Well, I can't tell till I've seen you over a distance of ground. You've got a touch of class, but I don't know how, how far you can go.”
Vivian: “A lot depends on who's in the saddle.”
Nora Temple in Key Largo (John Huston, 1948)
"Charlie's a prince of the Seminole Nation. His ancestors go back to the gods. He sells sea shells by the sea shore."
Schatze Page in How To Marry A Millionaire (Jean Negulesco, 1953)
(Discussing the phenomenon of older men marrying younger women; Humphrey Bogart was 25 years her senior.)
"Look at Roosevelt, look at Churchill, look at that old fella, what's his name, in The African Queen."
Mrs Hubbard in Murder on the Orient Express (Sidney Lumet, 1974)
(As she is being questioned by Bianchi, the Italian director of the train line.)
Bianchi: “You mean you saw the man? You can identify the murderer?”
Mrs Hubbard: “I mean nothing of the kind. I mean there was a man in my compartment last night. It was pitch dark, of course, and my eyes were closed in terror...”
Bianchi: “Then how did you know it was a man?
Mrs Hubbard: “Because I've enjoyed very warm relations with both my husbands.”
Bianchi: “With your eyes closed?”
Mrs Hubbard: “That helped.”