No other Hollywood actress has attained the iconic status of Lauren Bacall. And no other ever will. To say she was one-of-a-kind only scratches the surface. The long, lean and lovely lady of Hollywood's golden years had a look, a style, an attitude and a sultriness like nothing we had ever seen before. When her vibrant light was extinguished at the age of 89 on August 12, she took with her one of our very last living connections to an era of filmmaking as unsurpassed as herself.
Though much can be said about her, what she had and what she did on the screen defies description or definition. To fully realize and appreciate her essence she must be seen. And the best way to see her is in three of the four films she made with her equally iconic husband Humphrey Bogart.
Bacall exploded onto the screen with her very first picture at the unbelievable age of 19. "To Have and Have Not" (1944), an even more entertaining reworking of "Casablanca", casts her as Marie, a stranded mystery woman in a bar in 1940 Martinique. Bogey is a charter boat captain named Harry who agrees to smuggle a resistance fighter. She calls him "Steve," he calls her "Slim" and together they make history.
Bacall exhibits a natural cool and maturity way beyond her youth. She enters with "Anybody got a match?" and enthralls us by lighting a cigarette, taking a drag and tossing back the matchbook before exiting. The indescribable way she says and does it gives birth to her legend. Later, she sashays toward Bogey with an impish smile and hips swiveling like nobody's business. Finally, she secures her immortality with one of the best known lines in all of film: "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow."
"The Big Sleep" came two years later and proved she was just as tough as Bogart. Her first scene with his literary private eye Philip Marlowe engages her in brilliant adversarial banter over a drink and his manners. Another classic bit sees her sitting atop his desk discreetly rubbing around her knee before he says "Go ahead and scratch." Within a convoluted plot with lots of gunplay and rat-a-tat-tat dialogue an unforgettable tough romance blooms.
"Key Largo" (1948) includes her in one of the most powerful casts ever assembled in one movie. She and Bogey are stuck in a hotel with a wheelchair bound Lionel Barrymore, a tragic Claire Trevor and nasty gangster Edward G. Robinson with a hurricane on the way. Bacall shows a softer and more down to earth side with her inimitable stylish grit smoldering underneath.