Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Aragon On Bacall

I detest hearing people say that when a certain person dies, he or she was 'the last of their kind'.  When Elizabeth Taylor died, we were told she was 'the last of her kind', being 'The Last Movie Star'.  Same for Shirley Temple: 'the last of her kind' being 'The Last Child Star'.  There will always be 'movie stars', there will always be 'child stars'. 

Lauren Bacall similarly, was not 'the last of her kind': the sultry performer whose husky voice made many men whistle.  Bacall was someone who over her long career though, realized that one had to go beyond the image.  She was more than The Look: this extraordinary-looking being who made Bogie a man of her own (on and off the screen).

She was someone who could play comedy, like she did in Designing Woman or in her only Oscar-nominated performance in The Mirror Has Two FacesDesigning Woman in particular is interesting, in that she had to play this comedy at the same time as Humphrey Bogart, the true great love of her life despite their age difference, was dying. 

I think that if one looks at her early films (like To Have and Have Not, her first teaming with Bogart) or The Big Sleep (a film that, despite its reputation, no one appears to understand) there appears to be a hesitancy, a bit of unsureness in her performances.  I think she knew that she still needed to hone her craft (it should be remembered that in To Have and Have Not, she was just nineteen).  However, as time grew, she herself grew more confident, moving away from playing dames and into roles that required more than just her great face.

I remember Young Man With a Horn, where she starred with Doris Day and Kirk Douglas.  There was a vague hint of lesbianism in Bacall's part, unspoken of course, but it's a credit to her as an actress that she could suggest that while also suggesting a possessiveness to Douglas' character.  There was also the comedy How to Marry A Millionaire, where she was the brains behind the operation to help her and Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable land wealthy men.  Behind the bubbly exterior, there was a vague hint of cynicism behind her scheme, as if love were something that merely got in the way of a successful catch. 

Despite the years, Lauren Bacall never faded.  She was one of a handful of stars still living when the American Film Institute announced its 50 Greatest Stars (they can call their list 100 Years, 100 Stars, but with 25 men and 25 women, that still adds to 50).  Now there are only three left: Sophia Loren, Sydney Poitier, and her Young Man With a Horn co-star Douglas.  Despite being in only four films together (To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and Key Largo), they are still held to be among the greatest screen couplings in film history.

Bogie and Bacall.  The two just go together so naturally. 

I won't say that Lauren Bacall was 'the last of her kind', the sultry and seductive femme fatale.  She was not 'the last of her kind'.  However, Lauren Bacall was thoroughly unique, perhaps 'the Only One of her kind'.   That indeed is a great loss.

There will always be Movie Stars.  There will always be Child Stars.

There will never be another Lauren Bacall.


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