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Lauren Bacall: A Remarkable Presence and Career Remembered

Criticwire By Max O'Connell | Criticwire August 13, 2014 at 11:50AM

In celebration of her life and mourning her passing, here's a few collected thoughts on the Classic Hollywood icon.
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Lauren Bacall
Lauren Bacall

Many of Hollywood's best movies in the 1940s were dominated by Humphrey Bogart, and in most of his movies, no one was cooler or more ...except when he was paired with Lauren Bacall. When Bacall showed up in 1944's "To Have and Have Not," whether she was singing "How Little We Know" or teasing Bogart by telling him how to whistle, she became an instant star. A year later, she married Bogart, becoming Hollywood royalty, and she starred in three more films with him, "The Big Sleep," "Dark Passage, and "Key Largo." In each film, she displays remarkable self-assurance, as if she willed herself into movie stardom.

Bacall died on August 12 at 89, one of the last true stars of Hollywood's Golden Age (and the last remaining woman on AFI's list of greatest stars). She leaves behind a legacy of not just those great films with Bogart, but frothy comedies like "How to Marry a Millionaire" and "Designing Women," melodramas like Douglas Sirk's "Written on the Wind," and films by Robert Altman ("HealtH," "Ready to Wear"), Lars von Trier ("Dogville," "Manderlay") and Jonathan Glazer ("Birth"). She held her own and sometimes even outmatched stars like Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne and Gregory Peck.

She only received one Oscar nomination, a belated bit of recognition for 1996's "The Mirror Has Two Faces," which she was widely expected to win for. She lost in a surprise — and an "The English Patient" sweep — to Juliette Binoche, who acknowledged in her speech that she thought Bacall would win. Bacall got an Honorary Oscar in 2009, giving a speech that showed her grateful, funny and classy as ever.

Bacall's early performances show maturity beyond her years (she was only 20 when she starred in "To Have and Have Not," her first film). Many of her final films, like the von Trier and Glazer projects, show a willingness to take risks that would rival any young performer. In all of them, she was unmistakable and unforgettable.

Other thoughts from the web:

Peter Bradshaw, Guardian

Lauren Bacall had the star quality that was partly taught by the studios: the walk, the business with drinks and cigarettes, the crisp despatch of dialogue. But she also had a natural hauteur, a natural queenly sexiness. Watch her great movies today: To Have And To Have Not or The Big Sleep, and you find that allure is as strong as ever. Read more.


Dan Callahan, RogerEbert.com

Bacall walks with feline grace in “To Have and Have Not,” and part of what makes her so distinctive and touching in that movie is the just noticeable strain she is under to perform and act more than her age. She manages all of that with style, with aplomb, and the picture was a triumph for her, as was “The Big Sleep.” And then some! Her Slim in “To Have and Have Not” and particularly her Vivian Rutledge in “The Big Sleep” are flawless fantasy creations, all lush hair and pouting lip and smart, poking attitude. Bacall and Bogart in those movies make the lead-up to sex, the jabs and put-ons and badinage, seem just as much fun as the no-doubt satisfying sex itself. Read more.


Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

“Written on the Wind” (1956): Dorothy Malone's Oscar-winning supporting performance gets the spotlight here, but Bacall's role is equally challenging, holding the audience's empathy as her character drives a wedge between two lifelong friends: Robert Stack's rich, alcoholic oilman Kyle, who marries her; and Rock Hudson's soft-spoken, self-made man Mitch, who can't hide his feelings for her. Director Douglas Sirk rides a fine line between stylized and soapy, and Bacall strikes just the right balance. Read more.


Dana Stevens, Slate

She was the pure molten essence of a mid-20th-century movie star—if something that’s molten can somehow also be cool. Her beauty was classical, sculptural, a little remote, and all her life she carried herself not only with a dancer’s grace, but with a sly awareness of the power conferred on her by that sheer physical exquisiteness. But even at age 19 — playing opposite a 44-year-old Humphrey Bogart in Howard Hawks’ "To Have and Have Not," in what’s surely one of the most indelible screen debuts in Hollywood history—Lauren Bacall also clearly conveyed the sense of having the quickest mind in the room. Read more.


Bilge Ebiri, Vulture

Watching Bogart and Bacall opposite each other, you realize that she’s the harder character. She’s got grace, smarts, and sass, but also a toughness that he can’t quite reach. Bogart’s characters were hard-boiled, edging into crusty cynicism; the world is beyond hope for them. Bacall’s demeanor suggested a happier median, or at least a less hopeless one. Hey, I’ve figured a way through this mess, she seems to say. You can, too, tough guy. Read more.


Noel Murray, The Dissolve

After Bogart died in 1957, Bacall worked less, settling into a new phase of her career as a character actress and celebrity raconteur. Bacall could always be counted on to charm a talk show host or a documentary filmmaker with anecdotes about Bogie, or Hawks, or John Huston, or her close pal Katharine Hepburn. And Bacall made some adventurous choices as an actress, once she stepped away from leading roles. She worked with Robert Altman and Lars von Trier (both twice), and was always willing to take small parts in interesting films like "Misery" or "Birth" (or even as the voice of a witch in "Howl’s Moving Castle").

Read more.

Glenn Kenny, Some Came Running

Here's the thing with Lauren Bacall: she turned up on screen and there she was. Like Venus on that half-shell, she was fully formed and all that from frame one. It didn't matter if she could act or not. There she was. I mean, look at her. In her very first movie. There's a Warner Bros. cartoon from a couple years after this, "Bacall To Arms," that depicts a big goofy zoot-suited wolf reacting to Lauren on screen; my favorite part is when he silently flops over a seat in the row on front of him, emitting a soft, hapless "woof." Read more.

Alfred Soto, Humanizing the Vacuum

Moviegoers didn’t go to Bacall for conventional acting. Besides, conventional acting means giving a performance that entertains millions of people. During her peak in the war and postwar years she incarnated an idea of femininity that was halfway between Barbra Stanwyck’s street smarts and Dietrich’s projection of glamor but which women felt comfortable endorsing. Like Bacall herself, they’d spent their lives imitating whom they saw on screen and in the act of imitation finding themselves. What many of us would give to become the person we imagine ourselves to be. Read more.

Enid Nemy, The New York Times

She won Tonys for her starring roles in two musicals adapted from classic films: “Applause” (1970), based on “All About Eve,” and “Woman of the Year” (1981), based on the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn movie of the same name. Earlier she starred on Broadway in the comedies “Goodbye, Charlie” (1959) and “Cactus Flower” (1965). She also won a National Book Award in 1980 for the first of her two autobiographies, “Lauren Bacall: By Myself.” Though often called a legend, she did not care for the word. “It’s a title and category I am less than fond of,” she wrote in 1994 in “Now,” her second autobiography. “Aren’t legends dead?” Read more.

This article is related to: Lauren Bacall


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