When a great film artiste passes away they leave us a legacy for generations to come where the ‘silver screen’ will forever reveal the beauty of an actress not just her looks but also her talent. We, the voyeuristic public can forever view periods of a person’s stardom. In the case of Lauren Bacall we can witness her from a 19 year old playing opposite her future husband right through to later films which included two directed by Lars von Trier Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005), appearing opposite Nicole Kidman in Birth (2004) and Walker in 2007. Although she will probably be remembered best for appearances as the leading lady playing strong mature heroines in four film noirs playing opposite Humphrey Bogart, To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946) Key Largo (1948) and of course the romantic noir Dark Passage in 1947.
Directed and written by Delmer Davis and based on a story by David Goodis this murder mystery tells the story of a man who escapes from prison, Vincent Perry (Humphrey Bogart) who has been unjustly convicted of murdering his wife and wants to clear his name. Assisted by Irene Jansen (Bacall) Perry has plastic surgery to change his appearance which will enable his to carry out his search for the real killer but not before his best friend George is also murdered which the authorities think is also down to Vincent Perry.
|That recognisable pose from Bogart.|
A great deal of this film was shot on location in San Francisco, California but the film is made more interesting from the fact you don’t actually see Bogart’s face until sixty minutes into the film which was not well received by the studio! Using what is called subjective or first person camera work where we see every thing through the eyes of Perry for as least a third of the film, he also gives the of-camera narration establishing the plot. Like many film noirs the movie includes many eccentric characters like cab driver Sam played by Tom Andréa, Houseley Stevenson is the plastic surgeon Dr Coles, while the actress Agnes Moorehead play Irene’s friend Madge. Incidentally it did not do well when it was first released and is certainly a film of its time, more of a good solid movie rather than a great film with Bogart a little disappointing as Perry but well worth seeing just for Bacall, who is excellent.
From Lauren Bacall’s very first appearance on screen you know you’re in the presence of a special actress, one with what we used to call bearing and of course one with immense class. The smile, how she smokes her cigarette, the simple raising of one eyebrow along with other facial expressions all say more than words. She was a woman that ‘carries herself’ without effort on and off screen.
First spotted by Howard Hawks wife Nancy when she was a model appearing on the cover of Harpers Bazaar. Hawks obviously thought there was something there because he gave her an audition for the lead in To Have and Have Not opposite one of the biggest stars of the day Humphrey Bogart where her role as ‘Slim’ Browning made her an instant star. It was while they were working on this movie that the pair fell in love getting married in 1945, Bacall was 20 and Bogart 25 years her senior but they remained married until Bogart’s death from cancer in 1957.
Bacall was always her own woman carefully choosing films that she wanted to appear in and turning down those she did not, this led to her getting a bad reputation, but helped in the long run to end the rather oppressive studio system. Along with Bogart she travelled to Washington in 1947 to support fellow artists appearing before the House of Un-American Activities Committee for their political beliefs. Bogart was ostracised by his fellow artists when he distanced himself from this worthwhile cause because of his fear of negative publicity. (Not such a tough guy after all!)
There aren’t many of the original Hollywood stars still left. All of course most would be in there 80’s and many would be in there 90’s for example Kirk Douglas (97), Olivia De Havilland (98), Maureen O’Hara (94) and not forgetting Doris Day (90).
Times have certainly changed, films have changed but as I said previously we are fortunate that we can go back in time and view feature films from varying periods in cinematic history and I would suggest that these early film noir's from the late forties that Lauren Bacall made with Bogart are probable the ones that will be revisited the most. She will never be replaced, they don’t make her type of actress any more – Lauren Bacall may you forever rest in peace.