Thursday, August 14, 2014

LAUREN BACALL (1924-2014) - A Tribute
Bye, bye, Baby - The Look has left the building. When someone is nearly 90 years old, it's not exactly surprising to hear that they died, but it's still sad to lose Lauren Bacall - though, up in Movie Star Heaven, I'm sure that Humphrey Bogart is looking forward to having her company again. As for the rest of us, well, we still have her films.
The general outlines of her biography - young model makes her first movie with big star Humphrey Bogart and they live happily ever after together until his death - are pretty well known, so there's no need to go into the details again here. Little Betty Perske became Lauren Bacall in the time when Hollywood was still forming real, honest to goodness Stars, and goodness knows, they certainly created a hot celestial body with her. While I think she was somewhat limited as an actress, there's no denying that she had magnetism and Star Power to spare. Those eyes, that voice, that attitude - who could resist?

Such was her appeal that it's not much of a stretch to say that Lizabeth Scott started her career as a sort of Bacall knock-off. (A statement that is not in any way intended as a knock of Lizabeth Scott, mind you.) Both co-starred with Humphrey Bogart early in their careers, and both had bedroom eyes and distinctive husky voices - but only Bacall managed to achieve the status of being an A-List Star and Hollywood Legend.
To be sure, the films she made with Bogart are all infinitely watchable and enjoyable. I've seen them all multiple times, and have even made the pilgrimage to the very cool art deco house in San Francisco that her character in 1947's Dark Passage lived in.

But my absolute favorite Lauren Bacall film is a little obscure - in more ways than one. It's The Cobweb (1955), an all-star oddball that I still marvel at. I am not joking when I say the plot is all about the conflicts that erupt at a ritzy mental hospital over drapes. Richard Widmark is a psychiatrist, Gloria Grahame is an oversexed nut, and Oscar Levant is a neurotic nut. Trouble ahead! Bacall is the calm in the eye of the storm in a movie that is often over the top, totally inexplicable, and highly entertaining.

Still, no matter how long her career, or what other projects she was involved with, it's likely to be the films she made with Bogart that people remember the best. Much of the press about her passing has focused on the four films she made co-starring with Bogart - but they actually appeared in five films together. Yes, five. There are the four iconic ones, and then there is Two Guys from Milwaukee (1946), a Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan vehicle in which she is mentioned throughout, and then, at the end, she and Bogie make cameo appearances as themselves. (See video clip below.)

So long, Slim. You'll be missed, but very fondly remembered. 

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