Tag Archives: Lauren Bacall

Claire Trevor: Queen of Film Noir

7 Jun

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Claire Trevor is no stranger to Noir Film fanatics like myself. From 1933 to 1938, Claire made 29 films in which she was the heroine.

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She was gorgeous but these still glamour shots don’t really do her beauty justice. That’s because Claire cannot be truly appreciated unless she is in motion. She had such a unique and affecting acting style that her static attraction cannot capture what she was like in the dynamic.

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What’s even more interesting is that Claire became MORE beautiful as she matured. Her work in the 30’s was as the prototypical bad girl but her work in the 1940’s was more character-based and thus gave her the chance to really spread her wings.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love the young Claire in DEAD END (1937) as Francey opposite Bogart and for which she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Her portrayal of a desperate woman forced into prostitution only to be rejected by her hood boyfriend as a result is intense and magnetic. But it would only foretell the heights her acting would reach later.

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My ideal Claire Trevor movies are MURDER, MY SWEET (1944), BORN TO KILL (1948) and last but certainly not least, KEY LARGO (1948) in which she played opposite Humphrey Bogart again, this time with his wife Lauren Bacall. The role of gun moll Gaye Dawn to Edward G. Robinson’s gangster Johnny Rocco finally won her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. You only need see the performance to understand what lengths Claire is willing to go to nail the role of a torch songstress-cum-alcoholic whose been kicked around a little too much.

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Claire said that the scene where Johnny Rocco forces her to sing unaccompanied for a much-needed libation was sprung on her at a moment’s notice by Director John Huston. Claire was horrified because she was unprepared but that’s exactly what Huston wanted. Her performance of a woman well passed her performance prime is haunting. It was easily the best performance in the movie, and when you’re talking a Noir full of heavy weights like Robinson, Bogart and Bacall – that is saying something!

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Claire eats the scenery in Key Largo every time she appears on screen. Her master of her craft and instrument are bar none. I only wish she was in the movie more, because her performance balances an otherwise sentimental and overly sanctimonious commentary on war, racism and a heavy-handed nod toward naturalism: nature taking a hand in wiping out an evil seed like Johnny Rocco is interesting as a metaphor but not so much in application. Claire, on the other hand, is the true force of nature in Key Largo and it would have been interesting to see her as a real threat for Bogart’s affections from the fawn-like, subdued Bacall. But alas, she was closer in age to Bogart than Bacall and we know how Hollywood is about casting mature love interests (i.e. they don’t like it).

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It’s interesting to watch Bogart and Trevor in DEAD END and then watch them in KEY LARGO. Both are acting greats, though Bogart is remembered and Claire largely forgotten. A true powerhouse, Claire retains the title of Queen of Film Noir even though Lisbeth Scott, Ellie Raines and Lana Turner each took their turn as the Noir ‘It’ Girl of the late ’30s and early ’40s. the difference is that Claire got better with every star turn, then every supporting role. She was a true craftswoman when it came to acting and she reinvested in every role regardless of how small.

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Once you get your fill of Bogart and Trevor, get a palate cleanser with Claire opposite Lawrence Tierney in BORN TO KILL. Tierney was a fucking lunatic in the Robert Wise directed Noir. His performance is lampoonish by today’s standards but Claire is right on the money as the equally-corrupt love interest who falls for a madman and tries in vain to save her family and herself in the end. Claire has a mature, smoldering sexuality that translates in motion on the silver screen. She is at the top of her game, even though the movie itself (other than Elisha Cook, Jr. who is equally brilliant) is dated.

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Claire is a class act no matter what vehicle she was put in – a race car or a clunker – she was able to make the most out of whatever material she was given. That’s why I consider Claire the thinking-man’s actress. Her instincts and talent translated so naturally to the screen that there have been very few whose beauty and acting chops made them what Claire Trevor was in her hey day: The Queen of Film Noir could hold her own against the best of them.

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Young or old, this man-killer is one of the greatest actresses of any Hollywood era. Do yourself a favor and check out TCM’s Summer of Darkness and learn more about the hugely talented and beautiful Claire Trevor. You won’t be sorry you did. And you may just fall in love with one of Hollywood’s greatest femme fatales – just don’t turn your back on her!

 

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Dorothy Malone: Smart and Sexy

9 Apr

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Dorothy Malone is one of the movie stars that had everything: beauty, brains and talent. The reason you may not have ever heard of her is because Dorothy never had a huge hit propelling her into the stratosphere of glamorous stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age. A contemporary of Garbo, Dietrich, Stanwyck and Crawford, Malone was just as stunning although never connected with star-making material the way the others did.

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My first exposure to Dorothy was when she played the sexy, brassy ACME Book Store girl to Humphrey Bogart’s Phillip Marlowe in THE BIG SLEEP (1946). Check her out in a star-making performance that is brief but intense. Dorothy had all the sexuality of a major star and was a stunner in her brief interlude with Bogey.

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It would take decades for Dorothy to work her way up the Hollywood ladder, steadily getting more work and bigger, splashier roles. From her roots in B-Movies she was able to parlay her beauty and acting chops into an Oscar Winning Performance in WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956) a melodrama starring Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall and Robert Stack. Her scenery-eating performance earned her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, largely because she turned herself from a buxom brunette into a buxom blonde!

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Malone’s next big break came on the small screen in TV’s prime time soap opera PEYTON PLACE (1964-1968) when she played the lead role of Constance MacKenzie. Her star-turn was cut short however when she had to have major surgery for blood clots on her lungs and was off the air for two years. Malone came back, but her role was diminished because of Mia Farrow’s meteoric rise to fame. Dorothy ended up suing 20th Century Fox for $1.6 million over breach of contract when she was fired from the show – and the parties settled out of court.

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Malone chose to raise a family and concentrate on her private life in the 70’s and 80’s but she made one more memorable star-turn in the salacious and decadent BASIC INSTINCT (1992) playing Sharon Stone’s friend and fellow murderer. Again, it was a small role but one that Dorothy made memorable – just like she had with Bogart nearly 50 years before. Dorothy even passed up playing the matron in TV’s DALLAS, choosing instead to go back to her private life and living comfortably in Texas. I’m happy to say the beauty with brains is still with us today, celebrating her 90th birthday in 2015.

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Dorothy Malone may never have become a household name like some of the stars she played opposite, but she holds a place in Hollywood’s sky full of stars. And next time you’re in Tinseltown, check out her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 1718 Vine. She was a beauty for the ages and one to remember for never, ever giving up on her dreams of stardom.

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A cheesecake shot from Dorothy’s heyday as a platinum blonde.

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Even though I prefer her as her natural, brunette self!

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And one more random glamor shot from a bygone era.

Lauren Bacall: To Have and Have Not

17 Aug

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In the wake of Lauren Bacall’s passing this week it dawned on me that I have never written about her before or the fact that I grew up watching her and her forever leading man, one Humphrey Bogart. I’ve been a Bogart fanatic ever since I can remember. The guy remains my favorite male actor simply because he was the coolest of them all. I watched (or at least tried to) watch everything he had ever done – from Professor X (truly bizarre) to IN A LONELY PLACE (1950) the darkest noir he ever starred in and was incidentally about an unstable screenwriter (an oxymoron if there ever was one). But I digress, this is about Bogart’s greatest Leading Lady both on and off-screen: the ever-underrated Ms. Bacall.

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Lauren’s angles were legendary from the start. She was the personification of a cat in human female form. She watched you like a cat ready to pounce on its prey and it was that cat-like quality that brought her to the attention of Bogart when they were casting TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944). Of all the co-stars Bogart would ever have, Bacall was the closest in cool factor to the man who starred in the first noir, THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) and became the cinema icon he is today. Of course, I will always love Mary Astor who starred opposite him in that most excellent of Noirs as the prototypical femme fatale, Brigid O’Shaughnessy. But whereas Mary played cool cats – Lauren WAS a cool cat playing a human.

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Lauren was 19 when she met Bogart (who was 44) on the set of To Have And Have Not and they married not long after the film was completed. They were married until Bogart’s death in 1957 at the too-young age of 57. Yet in those thirteen years I have no doubt that Bogart was his happiest because he had found his soul mate in Bacall. And Lauren, the adoring wife that she was – curtailed her career to support Bogey as well as raise their two children. However, when she did appear on screen it was opposite Bogart in three of their greatest movies – THE BIG SLEEP (1946), DARK PASSAGE (1947) and the classic KEY LARGO (1948).

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Watching The Big Sleep is watching Bacall come into her own opposite Bogart. She’s as tough as they come, which is to say it’s only a matter of time before her steely-exterior begins to buckle and melt in time to let Bogart in by the end of the movie. Their rapport is so full of energy and sexual chemistry that it transcends the often impossible plot-line. Bacall earned her stripes in The Big Sleep and made her into a legitimate star in her own right. No longer was she the 19 year old ingenue but a woman who could play complex characters opposite a giant of the cinema. I heartily recommend everyone watch The Big Sleep with an eye towards catching Bacall’s understated delivery as a very bad rich girl. A role that has rightly become a cinematic archetype in the subsequent decades.

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As happens in many a Hollywood Studio era film (as well as every other facet of life) DARK PASSAGE was a mess from the start. Bacall mentions in one of her interviews that the script was, well, crap and incomplete when she and Bogart started filming. But even with sub-par material nobody cares because hey, it’s Bogart & Bacall. That and the title are worth a viewing…maybe with some fresh popped corn on a dark and stormy night. And maybe it will get you in the mood for a double-feature. Rather, the main event and essential-viewing for any Bacall retrospective: the astoundingly powerful Key Largo.

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Wow, is Key Largo good. Great, in fact. With a supporting cast of legends such as Lionel Barrymore and Edward G. Robinson, not to mention directed by John Huston (reteamed with his Maltese Falcon leading man) Key Largo has something for every classic movie watcher. And what makes me giddy every time I watch this movie is watching Bogart and Bacall fall in love all over again. She the respectable and grieving widow of a fallen soldier opposite Bogart’s disillusioned WWII hero who rises to the occasion one more time to wipe out the world of villians like Robinson’s Rocko. Every time I watch this it’s obvious that every role has been cast by a professional actor at the top of their game – not the least of which is Ms. Bacall. Again, her acting is understated but no less intense than the combustible sexuality she portrayed in To Have and Have Not. Only this time she is more mature, more self-assured with the womanly-sensuality of a soul that has loved and lost — and slowly opening herself up to love again. It is a wonderful performance by a wonderfully beautiful actress who is learning her craft and excelling with every role. I love falling for Bacall in Key Largo. The hurricane hitting landfall in the movie is obviously a metaphor for the conflict occurring between the characters (and the opposing idealogies they represent in post-WWII America). Less obvious is the transition it marks which was occurring in cinema at that time. For me, this was the last movie Bogart would star in as a realistic love-interest. Don’t get me wrong, he was still knocking it out of the park opposite Katherine Hepburn in THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951). But in Key Largo BACALL is the eye of the storm – the emotional center of the movie and a modern heroine who can stand on her own for what she believes in.

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Lauren Bacall would come fully out of Bogart’s shadow in films, TV and especially the theater after his passing in 1957. She was the embodiment of class and brass balls – a woman as famous for her intelligence (she was a political activist in addition to a fashion icon) as she was her movie-star looks. And what endeared her to millions was her stalwart loyalty to the legacy of Bogart himself. After all, she was a strong woman who was respected for her integrity and prowess off-screen as much as on – something Bogart was known for as well. The two really were kindred spirits in this world. Just like I know they are now, together again in the next. Bogart & Bacall in Heaven. Now that’s a movie I’d run out and see any day.

Lizabeth Scott: Ultimate Femme Fatale

11 Nov

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Lizabeth Scott is simply one of the most unusual and glamorous stars of Hollywood. Her timing was impeccable because her smoky sensuality and husky voice came at the exact moment film noir was establishing itself as the dominant genre in post World War II America. She started out on Broadway as a sub for Tallulah Bankhead in a play called “The Skin of Our Teeth” though Lizabeth never got to shine because Tallulah never got sick.

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Instead, Lizabeth (she dropped the “e” to be different) was noticed by film scouts who brought her to the attention of producer Hal Wallis.  Wallis was the genius who brought us “Casablanca” and he saw talent in the young (Lizabeth was 20) would-be screen siren. Lizabeth tested at Warner Bros. and it was a disaster but Wallis still liked her look enough to bring her with him to Paramount Pictures when he left Warner Bros. – he and Jack Warner having had a bitter falling out over Warner “stealing” the Best Picture Oscar from Wallis for Casablanca. Wallis would remember this the rest of his career and wasn’t going to let anyone take his new starlet out from under him.

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Wallis dubbed Lizabeth “The Threat” and made her over into a femme fatale and perfect foil for some of the screen’s greatest leading men. Arguably the greatest was Humphrey Bogart, whose wife Lauren Bacall and Lizabeth had similar character traits in common. Lizabeth and Bogie got to work together in the noir classic “Dead Reckoning” and Lizabeth held her own against the formidable screen presence of Bogart. She was able to be charming at the same time rip smart-aleck lines right after another. Her portrayal of world-weary, potentially dangerous women on the outside of polite society looking-in was an instant favorite of movie goers. She suspected everyone of having an angle – as did a new generation of world-war-weary Americans. She was in good company from the start.

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But Lizabeth was quickly typecast as the femme fatale of noir. She made 20 films in her time in Tinseltown and more than 80-percent of them were classic noir scenarios. Except for her very last performance in 1957, when she starred opposite a young Elvis Presley in the curious “Loving You”. Curious because the King actually had screen chemistry with the Queen of Noir in a technicolor musical and one of his first of 27 Presley movies. Off-screen, the two became great friends and stayed in touch even after Lizabeth retired from films. In fact, Lizabeth was a singer herself and would release the eponymous “Lizabeth” which, true to its name, was full of torch-songs as well as light-hearted love ballads.

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The thing I love most about Lizabeth was truly how different she was to any other actress that came before, or after, her time in the spotlight. She projected a character that had seen the dark side of life, one that had survived in spite of the lousy hand she’d been dealt. The kind of alley cat that had been kicked around and never wanted to trust anyone or get hurt, again. Yet in spite of it all, she would fall in love again and again. Sometimes the guy was on the level, sometimes not and Lizabeth’s characters would take their lumps and move on. This classic noir archetype existed before Lizabeth but she brought it into vogue – the vamp with a heart – and made it her own signature style. It’s as distinctive as her voice and her angular, often smiling in spite of the pain visage. Many actresses would imitate this style later but few would come close to Lisabeth’s signature persona.

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It astounds me that Lizabeth hasn’t received more acclaim for her work in noir. The great actress is still with us (she was born in 1922 so you do the math) and I think that the new generation of neo-noir directors (i.e. Rian Johnson, Brian Helgeland, etc.) would want to cast this living legend even if just for a cameo – in their films. Or, maybe they’ve tried and Lizabeth has rebuffed their advances like her character did in so many of those inspiring, femme fatale roles she created. She’s truly like Garbo in this way – she does want to be left alone. Still, I would give my eye teeth to sit down and talk with such a classy, under-appreciated original like Lizabeth. It would be a privilege and an honor to sit across the table from the actress who starred opposite so many golden age movie stars. And probably more than a little intimidating, too.

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A classic publicity shot of the up-n-coming star during her heyday in the California sun.

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One of the few shots of Lizabeth smiling…right before she devours you!

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That’s more like it. The Queen of the Femme Fatales in classic evening gear. The cigarette is smoldering and so is her glare.

Kathleen Turner: Scorching Body Heat

20 May

Kathleen Turner was one of the hottest leading ladies to ever grace the silver screen. Her debut movie role in Body Heat (1981) is right up there with some of the greatest femme fatales from the 40’s and 50’s. But what Lauren Bacall, Barbara Stanwyck and Mary Astor left up to the audiences imaginations, Kathleen literally exposed in glamorous, steamy and saturated color. Her portrayal of a calculating wife ensnaring a lawyer into murdering her husband is incendiary. The sex scenes between Kathleen and co-star Bill Hurt are some of the hottest of any era. Kathleen left nothing to the imagination and we are forever in her debt.

I’m a huge fan of Body Heat. Lawrence Kasdan’s directorial debut is a master class in building suspense. The neo-noir storyline owes much to Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944) starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. Both films draw inspiration from the pot-boiler detective genre of a wife and lover who plot her husband’s murder. Both have crackling dialogue and explosive chemistry between their two beautiful leads. And by virtue of the fact that Kasdan’s Heat came after Wilder’s Indemnity, he could pull out all the stops on the lurid tale. However, Kasdan’s real ace was the casting of a then virtually unknown Kathleen Turner.

You can tell Turner gave everything she had to the role and more. Trained in the theater, her performance is incredibly-timed. She skillfully seduces the audience along with Hurt, sucking you in with the kind of sensuality and screen-siren skill-set reminiscent of Greta Garbo in Mata Hari (1931), or Jane Greer in Out of the Past (1944). Her unabashed sexuality dominates whenever she is on-screen. And thank god, she’s in almost every scene for the first hour of the movie.

The difference with Turner’s femme fatale is the complete lack of a conscience. So convincing, so complete is her deception that you can’t help but admire her ambition and drive, even while she’s eating you alive. That’s the true test of an actress playing a vamp: deep down on some primal level, you want to be vanquished by her. That’s what makes the outcome so delightfully inevitable in film noir. Kasdan’s Body Heat plays like many pre-code Hollywood movies, where the woman gets away with murder. Kathleen was born with a body and mind to play such a role – and her giving herself completely to the role made her a star overnight.

Kathleen Turner went on to do largely comedic roles (Steve Martin’s Man With Two Brains would be her very next role), Romancing the Stone being the best of them. Her fresh and natural good looks made her a wonderful, photogenic screen presence, but I think it was her intelligence that made her smoking hot. The fire in her eyes in every role she took on radiated a fierceness only the greatest screen siren’s possessed. It was this quality that put her in the pantheon next to Garbo, Stanwyck and Crawford.

So, some hot and sweaty summer night rent or buy Body Heat, turn off the light and turn on the fan for the glowing, wicked warmth of Kathleen Turner’s first and hands-down best performance. You won’t be able to take your eyes off Kathleen for one burning hot second. And you’ll want to smoke a cigarette after, because both Kathleen’s character and nicotine are equally addictive, hot and dangerous to your health.

Charlotte Rampling: The Sisterhood of the Sexy Lanky Stare

29 Feb

Ever notice how some actresses remind you of others, in earlier generations? Sometimes I would even, in a confused, fugue state, mistake one for the other. That’s the case with Charlotte Rampling, Lauren Bacall, Rachel Ward, Jacqueline Bisset, Jaclyn Smith. All of them are beautiful, lean and ultra-sexy women. Out of context, one tall, lean and sexy brunette flashing on the screen can take the place of another. That’s when you have to take another, really good look and see what all these beautiful women have in common. I call it the Sisterhood of the Sexy-Lanky Stare.

Lauren Bacall is the original Sexy-Lanky Starer. At nineteen, she stared opposite the already legendary Humphrey Bogart, her future husband, in Hemingway’s TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and stared him down right along with millions of adoring fans. The secret to the stare was keeping her chin slightly down and looking straight on in a fiery, intense glare that melted anything in it’s path. The truth is, the cat-like lanky Lauren was so intimidated in her first movie role that she kept her chin down to stop from shaking! Thus the sexy-lanky stare was born.

Jacqueline Bisset is one of the most gorgeous woman ever to grace the screen, no doubt. She perfected her sexy-lanky stare in BULLITT opposite the almost equally photogenic Steve McQueen. Jacqueline was young and unabashedly sexual in her girlfriend role and even hotter than the Mustang McQueen drove all over the streets of San Francisco. The wonderful thing about Jackie was that she was as sexy smiling as she was leering at you, which gave her a quality of accessibility that Lauren didn’t possess. When Lauren smiled on screen, it was often prelude to a scathing, snarling rebuke. Jacqueline was more 70’s soft-focus, oh-my-god is this beautiful woman about to take her clothes off in front of me sexy, with a smile that said it’s okay, no one is home but the two of us.

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Charlotte Rampling is what I consider the full-incarnation of the Sexy-Lanky-Stare and the most highly-evolved we have ever seen. She had the Lauren Bacall stare down, only more so. She had the Bacall and Bisset Lanky, long and lean sexy body down, too. Only Charlotte didn’t have a problem with taking it all off and often. In her heyday, Charlotte was the epitome of a femme fatale who may or may not practice a catch and release philosophy. God knows, however, if she got you in her tractor-beam sight-lines – you were in for whatever ride she decided to take you on. Charlotte was fierce-sexy. She had the lips, the eyes, the straight hips and the length of bone that screamed high-class lady you don’t stand a chance with, unless she wants you to. That’s why I vote Charlotte as the penultimate Sexy Lanky Starer. And she looks as absolutely fantastic today as she did back in the 70’s and early 80’s. More please, Charlotte.

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And not to be missed are Rachel Ward and Jaclyn Smith. Both Brunettes are absolutely gorgeous in their own right. Each had the stare, the lankiness and the sex-appeal to hold their own with their sisters. They lacked, however, the story material to make these goddess elements combine and sustain on the screen for very long. See, a Sexy-Lanky-Stare needs a really good story and everything it comes with to make it immortal. Everything from the lighting, to the costumes (or, lack thereof) to the cinematography must be top-notch to capture and immortalize these screen goddesses and project them at full power. That’s why Lauren, Jacqueline and Charlotte will always be the Holy Trinity of the Sexy Lanky Stare Sisterhood. Oh, and an honorary member of the sisterhood is Vicki McCarty-Iovine, better known as Playboy Playmate for September, 1979. Vicki had the whole Sexy Lanky Stare thing going on and more, or should I say less – for a very impressionable adolescent boy to fall in love with. Unfortunately, her only film role was a minor one opposite Willem Defoe in Streets of Fire. That movie’s siren was another brunette was the unforgettable Diane Lane – which I will save for a whole other blog, my friends.