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6 Must-See Lauren Bacall Movies

6 Must-See Lauren Bacall Movies

6 Must-See Lauren Bacall Movies

Bacall was a Hollywood legend, known for playing gutsy women, who'll live on in her terrific films.

The iconic actress — who really does deserve that overused adjective — went to movie star heaven Tuesday, but she will be with us forever in her films, in which she often played strong, confident, totally kick-ass women. She claimed she sometimes lacked that confidence in real life, but she certainly made a good show of it on-screen. In her long career she worked with directors spanning from Howard Hawks to John Huston to Robert Altman to Lars von Trier, but our favorites are her classics from the 1940s and ’50s. Here are six you should definitely see — or see again.

6.     Designing Woman (1957)

This delightful comedy has Bacall as a fashion designer in a tempestuous marriage with sportswriter Gregory Peck. After their whirlwind romance, they find they have little in common, and she’s insanely jealous of an actress he was once involved with, but love ultimately triumphs — she even helps him battle organized crime figures who don’t like his exposés of their involvement in pro sports.

5.     How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

OK, this doesn’t exactly promote female independence, but hey, it was 1953, and seeking a wealthy husband was the thing to do. Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, and Betty Grable use their beauty and wits in pursuit of sugar daddies, only to find love interferes with their plans as they meet a selection of what Bacall calls “characters from Characterville.” Meanwhile they demonstrate that they can actually take care of themselves pretty well, plus they look gorgeous in Technicolor in a wide array of ’50s fashions.


4.     Key Largo (1948)

Bacall’s fourth and last film with Bogart (they were planning a fifth when he became terminally ill with cancer) takes place on the titular Florida island, where the inhabitants of a hotel are held hostage by vicious gangster Edward G. Robinson during a hurricane. Bacall plays a WWII widow who operates the hotel with father-in-law Lionel Barrymore; Bogie is a pal of her late husband. He ends up battling Robinson, but she does a great job of standing up to the mobster on her own. John Huston, a great friend of the couple, directed.



3.     Dark Passage (1947)

This is the least famous of Bacall’s four films with Bogart, but it’s well worth viewing. Bogie plays a man wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, and Bacall is a sympathetic artist who seeks to clear him. Their chemistry is as dazzling as ever, and also breathtaking are the San Francisco location shots of the art deco apartment house where Bacall’s character lives. (The building still stands, so you can go see it in the City by the Bay.) Additional pleasure comes from Agnes Moorehead in a bitchy supporting role. Watch out for the curtains!


2.     The Big Sleep (1946)

Bacall’s second film for Hawks and second teaming with Bogie is even better than the first. She plays a wealthy divorcée trying to save her nymphomaniac sister from a blackmailer, and in the process she gets involved with private eye Philip Marlowe (Bogart) in more ways than one. The screenplay, cowritten by William Faulkner (as was the To Have and Have Not script; he was a pal of Hawks), takes a few liberties with Raymond Chandler’s novel, but we can’t complain. It offers a complicated mystery, plenty of sexual tension between Bogie and Bacall, and lots of witty lines (“Ain’t she been weaned yet?” Marlowe asks about the thumb-sucking sister). Film noir at its best.


1.     To Have and Have Not (1944)

Bacall’s film debut cast her as Marie “Slim” Browning, a sexy, resourceful young woman who’d been knocked around a bit but always bounced back. The innocent and, by her own estimation, naïve 19-year-old actress wondered how she could “convey experience, worldliness, and knowledge of men,” but Howard Hawks’s direction and her innate talent helped her bring if off, and she became a star overnight. Her classic “you know how to whistle” scene with future husband Humphrey Bogart is but one of the many pleasures of this film — watch also for her banter with Walter Brennan about being stung by a dead bee, and her singing to Hoagy Carmichael’s accompaniment.




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Trudy Ring