Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Lauren Bacall Blogathon

Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is hosting a blogathon where the subject is a Miss Betty Joan Perske, better known to moviegoers as Lauren Bacall. To celebrate what would've been her ninety-first birthday, I decided to talk about the four films she did with her first husband Humphrey Bogart. For reference, those films are:

(1944, dir. Howard Hawks)
(1946, dir. Howard Hawks)
(1947, dir. Delmar Daves)
(1948, dir. John Huston)
(More after the jump.)


The beginning of this four-film collaboration started with Howard Hawks' wife seeing Bacall (at the time a model) on the cover of Harper's Bazaar. She showed it to her husband and as a result, Hawks sought out and signed on Bacall for the film, marking her film debut in the process. As production wore on, Hawks expanded Bacall's role because he saw potential within the young woman from Brooklyn. (Boy, did he hit that nail on the head.)

Amusingly, even though Hawks expanded Bacall's part to take advantage of her budding chemistry with Bogart, he disapproved of the relationship itself. (Perhaps jealousy on Hawks' part?) Bogart was married at the time of filming (he was on his third marriage) and twenty-five years older than Bacall, but that didn't stop him from bonding with the rising star. He helped relieve any tensions Bacall had from making the film by coaching her and making jokes. As a result, Bacall’s career and the story of one of Hollywood’s most famous couples began.



By the time The Big Sleep was released, Bacall and Bogart had been married for over a year. And much like their last film, their relationship was emphasized for the sake of appeasing moviegoers. (To the point where many of Martha Vickers’ scenes were cut to enhance Bacall’s.) When filming began, however, their affair had begun to decline. She tried to act as if she was nothing more than a friend of Bogart’s; he in turn kept his distance emotionally from Bacall. (This lasted only a month.)

Much like To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep has its fair share of quick dialogue and double entendres. (Then again, both films were directed by Howard Hawks.) And even with bodies dropping every fifteen minutes (and no clear picture as to what the hell’s going on most of the time), the sparks just fly between Bacall and Bogart. Indeed, there’s a look in Bogart’s eyes during certain scenes with Bacall, that of a man who has met his ideal match. (By the end of filming, Bogart left and divorced his wife to be with Bacall.)



With Dark Passage, the scenes between Bacall and Bogart are decidedly more at ease than those in their last two films. (This was their first film together since becoming husband and wife.) The first third of the film lingers on Bacall during her scenes (it’s from Bogart’s point of view), which gives the film a more intimate feeling. The remainder of Dark Passage has them interacting like they’ve known each other for years (which, to be fair, they have).

Of the four films Bacall and Bogart did together, Dark Passage is the least-known of them, and it’s hard to see why. It’s a clever plot (it’s based on a novel by David Goodis), and it has a scene-stealing turn from Agnes Moorehead. And because of that final scene, I’d like to imagine that was also how Bacall and Bogart met in the hereafter.



Key Largo got lost in the shadow of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, another collaboration between John Huston and Humphrey Bogart released that year. That doesn’t mean it isn’t as good as the more famous film. Sure, this one’s more reliant on the plot than the scenes between the famous couple (not to mention Edward G. Robinson and Claire Trevor stealing scenes left and right) but hey, a good movie’s a good movie. (You certainly can’t go wrong with a film noir every now and again, can you?)

However, there’s a certain subtext in Key Largo that could make for uncomfortable viewing. Bacall’s role in the film is that of a young widow. Sure, harmless enough back in 1948 (it was after World War II, after all) but with Bogart’s heavy drinking and smoking being as legendary as his career, it was only a matter of time before he shuffled off this mortal coil. And in the early hours of January 14, 1957, Bacall became a widow (and the single mother of their two young children) at the age of 32. Though there is something comforting in knowing that they’re together again…


  1. Key Largo is my favorite of these four, but I like them all to varying degrees. Love that you highlight the collaborations between these two. They had such screen presence together!

  2. That was a nice survey of their collaborations. "Of the four films Bacall and Bogart did together, Dark Passage is the least-known of them, and it’s hard to see why." I agree. I'm prejudiced because I'm from San Francisco, but it a good movie.

  3. Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon. I loved reading your analysis of the four Bogie and Bacall collaborations. Very well done.

    I would also like to invite you to participate in my next blogathon. The link is below with more details

    1. Thank you, and my pleasure. :) And I'll be sure to check out your next blogathon.


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