- From the S&S archives: To Have and Have Not – the review, the trailer
- From the S&S archives: Notes on The Big Sleep, 30 years after
- Howard Hawks: Slim and the silver fox
It’s been said before when an old Hollywood actor has died that we’ve lost another link with the golden age of the American studio system. But those links are so very, very few now, and it seemed almost surreal – until the news of her death on 12 August – that one of the era’s brightest stars, Lauren Bacall, could even still be with us.
We said goodbye to the other luminaries associated with her indelible early films, To Have and Have Not (1945) and The Big Sleep (1946), many decades ago. Their director, Howard Hawks, passed in 1977; Bacall’s co-star, and then husband, Humphrey Bogart, died from cancer in 1957. Both casts and crews belonged to another age, and those two magical movies breathe a different air from anything you’ll currently find in cinemas.
But Bacall was only 19 when Hawks cast her in the first, a Martinique-set melodrama adapted from Hemingway, and her survival until the age of 89 provided a treasurable link between that world and ours. She’d been spotted as a model on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar by Hawks’ wife Slim, and made one of film history’s great acting debuts as the dogtooth-suit-wearing adventurer who tells Bogart’s fisherman to put his lips together and blow.
The one-two shot of this and The Big Sleep, an immortal film noir derived from Raymond Chandler’s novel, was a difficult act to follow. Arguably no other director used Bacall’s sultry, insolent verve like Hawks did. Watch the final scene of To Have and Have Not, with Marie’s (Bacall) sassy sashay of the hips to Hoagy Carmichael’s piano playing, or any one of the ping-pong innuendo exchanges between Bogart and Bacall in The Big Sleep and you’ll be reminded how special that Bogart-Bacall-Hawks feeling could be.
Yet her subsequent career yielded a more than usual number of valuable films – a stream that continued into the past decade. Key Largo (1948), again with Bogart, is an evocative thriller set in the Florida Keys. Young Man with a Horn (1950) is an underrated jazz drama, co-starring Kirk Douglas. How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) is an early CinemaScope extravaganza, in which she appeared alongside Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable. Written on the Wind (1956) is one of the most florid and unforgettable of Douglas Sirk’s 1950s melodramas. North West Frontier (1959) is an old-fashioned but entertaining train adventure in Raj-era India. The Shootist (1976) is an elegiac farewell to the old west, and also to one of its great mythologisers: her ageing co-star John Wayne.
Then, in recent years, Lars von Trier cast her in the first two parts of his stylised, stage-set America trilogy, Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005); Jonathan Glazer cast her alongside Nicole Kidman as a New York socialite in the brilliant Birth (2004); and her inimitably husky voice can be heard on the English-language dubs of Studio Ghibli’s Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) and the French animation Ernest and Celestine (2014).
The Bogart Estate announced her death with a tweet in the early hours of 13 August.