Wednesday, 13 August 2014
But a 70 year career is often reduced to four years and four films made at its very beginning is over simplistic (actually, usually only two or three - no one ever remembers "Dark Passage", sometimes probably not even "Key Largo"). As is to focus on her status as a fashion icon, on "The Look" or her looks (and by the way, she still looked amazing in her last public appearances). Bacall was much more interesting both off and on screen. I will focus on the second. This was a woman that worked both in Hollywood's Golden Age and in 21st Century arthouse. She was directed by Hawks, Minnelli and Sirk. But she was also directed by Lars von Trier and Jonathan Glazer.
And while an icon of Hollywood, she did surprisingly little film work during the Golden Age, just over a dozen films between 1944 and 1960. But she certainly knew how to pick them. In the early 1950s she played a lesbian in Curtiz's "Young Man with a Horn"(*), stealing the film from under Kirk Douglas and Doris Day's feet, and a romantic gold digger in the Cinemascope delight that is "How to Marry a Millionaire". As the decade moved on, she starrred in "Written in the Wind" for Sirk and "The Cobweb" and "Designing Woman" for Minnelli. The latter is one of her most memorable performances, in a opposites attract romantic comedy with Gregory Peck. She also played Elvira in a rarely seen TV adaptation of Noël Coward's "Blithe Spirit".
For the next couple of decades she worked on television and theatre and her film work was in waves, but included a supporting role in a guilty pleasure of mine ("Sex and the Single Girl"), the leading lady in John Wayne's last film and a scene stealing performance in "Murder in the Orient Express".
In 1996, she ran away with "The Mirror Has Two Faces", her only Oscar nomination (which she lost unexpectedly to Juliette Binoche). In 2009, she finally got an special achievement award - but then she got the limelight slightly stolen, as it was the first year where special Oscars were presented separately.
Yes, she taught Bogart how to whistle, but she did so much more than that.
(*) Until her death, "Young Man with a Horn" was likely to have been the oldest film with all leads still alive.