Monday, September 1, 2014

Cinéma Inhabituel for September 1-15

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea 

STAR OF THE MONTH

Now that August is over, we’re back to having a Star of the Month. This month, the star is Melvyn Douglas, a solid actor whose steady presence has brightened up many a film. The thing that always surprises me about Douglas is just how long he’s been making films. I used to think of him as beginning around 1936, but his first movie was in 1931, and when we consider that his last picture, Ghost Story, was made in 1981, that adds up to a round 50 years in film. He has two evenings dedicated to him during the first half of the month.


September 3: Three excellent films are on tap. Start with Being There (1979) at 8:00 pm, a droll and sharp, allegorical satire on media-created personalities. Douglas is wealthy industrialist and presidential adviser Benjamin Rand. Then stick around at 10 pm for Mr. Blandings Build His Dream House (1948). Cary Grant and Myrna Loy are a couple whose search for the “perfect” house is fraught with one obstacle after another. Douglas is lawyer Bill Cole, a family friend. His job is to try to keep the costs of the house under control. Grant also suspects him of masking passes at his wife. It’s one of those nice low-key comedies Hollywood doesn’t make any longer. At midnight, we see another side of Douglas as Dr. Gustav Segert in MGM’s 1941 drama, A Woman’s Face. This is a remake of a 1938 Swedish film of the same name starring Ingrid Bergman as the facially-scarred leader of a criminal gang who goes straight when a blackmail victim pays her by arranging for a noted plastic surgeon to repair her face. In the MGM remake, Joan Crawford is in the Bergman part, and Douglas plays the plastic surgeon. George Cukor directs with a sensitive hand and Crawford s fine in the role, although it didn’t help her downward slide at the box office. But it is one to see.

September 10: The best pick of the night is at 8:00, with Ernst Lubitsch’s satire of communism, Ninotchka (1939). The tag line in advertisement for the film was “Garbo Laughs,” something moviegoers had never seen before. Garbo is perfect as the icy Ninotchka, sent by Moscow to Paris to check up on the doings of three comrade sent earlier to raise money for the Soviet government by selling the confiscated jewels of Russian aristocrat Grand Duchess Swana. When her lover, Count Leon d’Algout, discovers their mission, he sues to block the sale on behalf his client, who now lives in Paris. When the Count meets Ninotchka, he is fascinated by her and slowly begins to thaw her frosty exterior. She remains impassive and coldly stoical until a wonderful scene in a restaurant that I will not divulge lest I spoil the enjoyment of one who has not yet seen this classic. It would be Garbo’s last successful movie and she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance.

At midnight, it’s Irene Dunne in the amusing Theodora Goes Wild (1936). She is a church organist in a small, straight-laced Connecticut town who writes a racy best-selling novel, and is forced to live two lives: that of the author and of the townsperson. Never shall the two meet, lest her neighbors discover who that racy woman really is. Douglas is the illustrator of her book, a scion of a prominent New York family, and as he and Dunne fall in love, they also have to hide her true identity from his family as well. It’s one of the lesser known of the great ‘30s screwball comedies, and really should be better known. It’s fresh and funny, with both stars giving great performances. An odd bit of trivia: Columbia Studios, to whom Dunne was under contract, lined this up as her next film. She didn’t want to do it and took an impromptu vacation in Europe, thinking that when she returned, the studio would have cast someone else. But this was not the case and when Dunne balked upon her return, the studio threatened her with suspension. So she made the film, her first comedy, and it turned out to be one of her biggest hits.

Two other films bear mentioning. At 3:15 am is The Vampire Bat, from 1932. (More on that later in the “Psychotronic” section.) And at 4:30 am, it’s Garbo’s last film, Two-Headed Woman (1941), or “Garbo Laughs, But No One Gives A Rat’s Tail.” When World War II broke out, it meant the dissolution of MGM’s overseas business, which accounted for the vast majority of Garbo’s paying audience. So MGM placed her in this lame comedy playing a ski instructor who conducts a whirlwind romance and marriage with businessman Douglas. Going to meet him one afternoon at a restaurant, she spies him with his old flame (Constance Bennett), and before she can leave, she runs into her husband’s business partner. To cover herself, she explains that she is really the twin sister of her husband’s wife. It sinks from there, being about as funny as a sprained ankle. Critics hated it, audiences stayed away in droves, and Garbo made the studio happy when she decided to retire shortly thereafter.

THE PROJECTED IMAGE

This month, The Projected Image is all about the Jewish experience in Hollywood. Though it begins slowly, the festival really picks up steam around the middle of the month, with several outstanding films before sinking back into the morass.

September 2: Best Bets are The Jazz Singer (1927) at 8:00 pm, if only for historical value, as it isn’t anywhere near a good film; Hester Street at 11:45, a wonderful evocation of the Jewish immigrant experience in America with standout performances from Steven Keats, Carol Kane, and Doris Roberts, and Street Scene (1931) at 4:00 am, a wonderful slice of life in the New York City of its time. And check out the cast: Silvia Sidney, Beulah Bondi, David Landau, and Russell Hopton.


September 9: Two films really stand out this night. First up at 8:00 pm is Orson Welles’ directed The Stranger, with the star-director in fine form as an escaped Nazi war criminal hiding in a New England town until he’s exposed by federal agent Eddie G. Robinson in a wonderfully understated performance. Then check out Sidney Lumet’s 1965 drama, The Pawnbroker, starring Rod Steiger as a Harlem pawnbroker trying to adapt to his changing neighborhood while haunted by his days in a Nazi concentration camp. Steiger was justly nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his performance.

FRIDAY NIGHT SPOTLIGHT

It’s the Friday Night Spotlight all Cinephiles will look forward to seeing - a festival of classic Pre-Code films. Most of us have seen them all before, but they are fun to watch and watch again. My role in this column will be to point out the lesser shown of the lot, God knows they are all highly recommended. Unless noted otherwise, the vast majority of the films shown are from Warner Brothers, which lacking the gloss of MGM and Paramount, and the horror gimmick of Universal, more than made up for the deficit with these real horror stories.

September 5: Try a William Wellman double feature of Safe in Hell (1931) at 12:15 pm, followed by Frisco Jenny (1932) at 1:30. The former is a sleaze classic, with Dorothy Mackaill as a whore on the run from the law who makes the mistake of hiding out in Tortuga. Besides Mackaill, there are several other fine performances in the film, including Nina Mae McKinney (one of the screen’s true beauties) and Clarence Muse as Tortuga’s only decent residents, Ralf Harolde as the Client-From Hell, and Morgan Wallace as the sleazy jailer. They don’t make ‘em any better. Follow this up with Frisco Jenny, the story of a San Francisco madam who kills a blackmailer and is prosecuted for the crime by the district attorney. The twist? He doesn’t know he prosecuting his own mother. It benefits from star Ruth Chatterton, who is at the top of her form. She later stated that this was her favorite film. It’s definitely one to catch.


At 2:45 am is one that should be recorded unless you want to say up for it - Search for Beauty (Paramount, 1934). It’s the story of three con artists (Robert Armstrong, Jean Strange, and James Gleason) just out of stir and looking for a score. They find it by backing a magazine called “Health and Fitness,” purportedly dedicated to the subject matter of its title, but in reality an excuse for showing scantily-clad men and women. To front the scheme and lend an air of legitimacy, the trio recruits two former Olympic athletes (Buster Crabbe and Ida Lupino) as editors. It’s a comedy, it’s considered Pre-Code, it’s rarely shown, and therefore worth the time for a movie buff.

September 12: A day and night devoted to classic Pre-Code. Start at 6:00 am with The Naughty Flirt (1931) and discover young Myrna Loy running rings around star Alice White in the acting department. It’s a crime that Loy had to wait until 1934 to break through to stardom. Then take a peek at When Ladies Meet (MGM, 1933) at 8:30 am, a sophisticated, intelligent drama about two women (Loy and Ann Harding) in love with the same man. Also of great interest is For the Defense (WB, 1930), with William Powell and Kay Francis in her first starring role. Powell is a smooth-talking attorney with a marvelous acquittal record, and Francis is in love with him. When he dumps her, she takes up with Scott Kolk, gets roasted, and strikes a pedestrian, killing him. Kolk gallantly takes the rap and Francis seeks out Powell to defend him.

The evening begins at 6:30 with the film that put Jean Harlow on the superstar map: Red-Headed Woman (MGM, 1932). Penned by the great Anita Loos, Harlow plays the ultimate gold digger and home wrecker. This being a Pre-Code film - she gets away with it at the end. But the fun is in seeing her get away with it, and that’s what makes this movie so compelling.

Aside from a wonderful doubleheader from Ernst Lubitsch of the type of sophisticated comedy they don’t make any longer (more’s the pity): Design For Living (Paramount, 1933) at 9:30 pm, and Trouble in Paradise (Paramount, 1932) following at 11:15 pm. There’s the wickedly lurid The Story of Temple Drake Paramount, 1933) at the relatively safe hour of 2:30 am, with Miriam Hopkins as a Southern belle kidnapped by a vicious gang of bootleggers led by Jack LaRue. And do they mean business. Believe it or not, this is a screen adaptation of William Faulkner’s novel, Sanctuary. Watch for the performance of Jack LaRue as Trigger. He is mesmerizing.

OUT OF THE ORDINARY

September 8: It’s a night of Beatrice Lillie, a stage and film performer once dubbed “the funniest woman in the world.” Unfortunately she’s all but forgotten today, replaced by so-called comics with only 1 percent of her formidable talent. The night begins at 8:00 pm with the screening of one the great forgotten comedies, On Approval, from 1944. The film was praised by director Lindsay Anderson as “the funniest British light comedy ever,” quite a recommendation. At 9:30 follows Lillie’s great silent comedy, Exit Smiling, from 1926. The plot is simple - and devastating: a theatrical company’s survival hinges on the talents of its worst actress. After seeing this, Charlie Chaplin remarked that if there was such a thing as a “female Chaplin,” it was Beatrice Lillie.

At 11:00 pm is Thoroughly Modern Millie, a charming little film from 1967 starring Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore as two gold diggers during the Roaring Twenties. Lillie has a supporting role as a seemingly nice woman running a hotel for women, but who turns out to be a white slaver, with her eye on Moore’s character.

At 1:45 am is the Warner Brothers extravaganza, Show of Shows (1929), a relic from the early days of sound where everyone in it performs in sketches or sings - anything to prove that they have voices. Lillie is one of those who perform. Lastly, at 4:00 am, is the all-star Around the World in 80 Days (1956).

September 7: Airing at midnight is one of the great African-American films by one of America’s greatest directors. The film is Within Our Gates, from 1920, and it was written, produced and directed by Oscar Micheaux. The film’s complex plot tells the story of Sylvia Landry (Evelyn Preer), who travels to Boston to raise money for a poor Southern school for Black children where she teaches and the racism she runs into, both in the South and the North. There are various subplots about the life of Ms. Landry, and, as Leonard Maltin points out, strong scenes of lynching. Micheaux certainly does not waiver in depicting the tenor of the times for African-Americans. It’s a must for cinephiles and anyone else interested in the forgotten history of film in America, away from the glamour and glitz of Hollywood.


For those who like their agitprop served well, there’s Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 docudrama, The Battle of Algiers. Skillfully written and directed, it shows just how the French military won the battles against terrorism and lost the war to win hearts and minds. Shot in a style that evokes Italian Neo-Realism, Pontecorvo never lets up, never relaxes for a moment, to show us what the Algerian War was really like in his eyes. It was even shown in the Pentagon in 2004 to give folks there what it was like in Iraq. The parallels are striking. That’s the difference between this and the faux posturings of a Jean-Luc Godard in his 1972 atrocity, Tout va bien (Everything’s Great).

Following at the late hour of 4:15 am is the interesting Hands Over the City, from 1963). Rod Steiger is a corrupt developer who is exposed when one of his substandard buildings in Naples collapses. Director Francesco Rosi also follows the ensuing investigation into the tragedy, as the city council, corrupt themselves, are reluctant to take action. Record it - it’s one definitely worth the time.

September 9: The morning and afternoon are devoted to a mini-marathon of Aline MacMahon films. For those not yet up on this marvelous actress, check out our article here. Best Bets for the day include Silver Dollar (WB, 1932), with Eddie G. Robinson as a farmer who strikes it really rich out West. So the first thing he does in trade in his faithful wife (MacMahon) for a trophy model (Bebe Daniels). Then tune into The Mouthpiece (WB, 1932), at 9:15 am, a really first-rate tale of a rising star in the prosecutor’s office who discovers there’s more to be made on the defense side of the table. Warren William projects just the right amount of amorality needed for the role, and he receives terrific support from Sidney Fox as the innocent little stenographer from Kentucky Warren has his eye on, and MacMahon, in a familiar role as his long-suffering secretary who is in love with him. At 10:45, it’s the quirky Heat Lightning (WB, 1934), with MacMahon and Ann Dvorak as sisters running a motel-café-service station in the Mojave Desert whose day is turned upside down by the arrival of several unannounced guests, plus two bank robbers on the lam. It’s one of the last films released before the Production Code was strictly enforced. For a closer look, you can read our article on the film here. Finally, at 1:15 pm, it’s MacMahon in MGM’s Kind Lady (1935) as a woman who is blackmailed and held prisoner in her own home by Basil Rathbone and his colleagues.


September 14: Looking for a change of pace? Try Il Sorpasso (“The Easy Life,” 1963), a road picture, Italian Style. Roberto Mariani (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is a shy law student who meets Bruno Cortona (Vittorio Gassman), a 40-year old bon vivant, and the two go on a road trip through the Roman and Tuscan countryside. They will spend two days together and meet each other’s families, especially Bruno’s gorgeous teenage daughter, Lilly (Catherine Spaak). It’s both extremely funny and extremely touching, thanks to a wonderful script where the characters actually have three dimensions, and the firm hand of director Dino Risi. And check out the car Bruno is driving, a 1954 Lancia Aurelia B24 Spider - one of the classic cars of Italian cinema. Sports car fans should love this film.

September 15: A 24-hour tribute to Lauren Bacall begins at 8:00 pm with the documentary, Private Screenings: Lauren Bacall. Made in 2005, it’s an entertaining look at the career of Bacall as she sits down with Robert Osborne and recalls the highs and lows of what was an extraordinary career by anyone’s standards. Then it’s on to the two films that made her in the eyes of the movie-going public: To Have and Have Not (WB, 1944) at 9:00 pm, and The Big Sleep(WB, 1946), at 11:00 pm. The tribute continues into the next day with such gems as Young Man With a Horn (WB, 1950) at 8:00 am, Dark Passage (WB, 1947) at 10:00 am, Key Largo (WB, 1948) at noon, Blood Alley (WB, 1955) at 2:00 pm, and Designing Woman (MGM, 1957) at 6:00 pm.

THE B HIVE

There are few things in cinema I love more than a B Western. And this month, TCM is airing four films by the iconic duo of Ken Maynard and Hoot Gibson. The movies are part of Monogram’s “Trail Blazers” series: two retired lawmen that can’t stay retired and become federal marshals: protecting everyone form Indian chiefs to railroad executives. Okay, so Hoot and Ken are a little past their prime. Who cares? All four films were produced in 1943 by Monogram, so we’re sure of their B pedigree.

We begin on September 6 at noon with Wild Horse Stampede. Hoot and Ken help an inexperienced sheriff (Bob Baker) prevent a crooked town boss (Ian Keith) and his gang from diverting a herd of horses badly needed by the army to protect the railroad from Indian attacks. On September 13, also at noon, Hoot and Ken star in The Law Rides Again. Here they’re out to catch crooked Indian agent John Hampton (Kenneth Hartlan), who has been using his position to steal from the tribes. In order to catch him, though, they need the help of captured outlaw Duke Dillon (Jack La Rue). Look for Western star Kenne Duncan as Sheriff Jeff. Duncan later worked for Ed Wood, Jr., appearing in Crossroads AvengerNight of the Ghouls, and The Sinister Urge.


September 4: Ozzie Nelson and Ruby Keeler together! Yes, it could only happen on Columbia’s Sweetheart of the Campus, which airs at 11:45 am. Edward Dmytryk directed this piece of fluff about a bandleader (Nelson) and his featured dancer (Keeler) who run afoul of university bluenose Kathleen Howard when they try to open a nightclub near the university campus. Harriet’s in there, too, as a professor’s daughter who falls for Ozzie. It’s also Keeler’s last movie. In 1964 the basic plot would be redone in MGM’s For Those Who Think Young, with James Darren, Pamela Tiffin, Bob Denver, and Woody Woodbury.

PSYCHOTRONICA

September 6: It’s a women-in-prison double feature beginning at 2:45 am with House of Women (1962). It’s followed by the venerable chicks-behind-bars feature, Caged (1950).

September 7: Go ape with this double feature consisting of the original Planet of the Apes (1968) at 8:00 pm, followed by the first of many sequels, Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), at 10:00 pm.

September 10: At 3:15 am, it’s Star of the Month Melvyn Douglas in his psychotronic classic, The Vampire Bat. Made in 1933 for Poverty Row studio, Majestic Pictures, Douglas plays Karl Brettschneider, police inspector for the European town of Klineschloss. The town has been plagued of late by a series of murders. Even more suspicious, the bodies were drained of blood and had puncture wounds on their necks. Karl doesn’t believe the vampire theory, but the villagers are sure the vampire is village idiot Herman Gleib (Dwight Frye), who loves bats so much that he keeps them in his jacket pockets. Also on hand are the town doctor, Otto Van Niemann (Lionel Atwill) and his lovely assistant, Ruth (Fay Wray), who is being romanced by Karl. For what it is, The Vampire Bat is not bad. It was shot on the same Universal lot where Frankenstein and The Old Dark House were filmed.

September 12: On a day and night of classic Pre-Code films, two classic horror films are among them. If you haven’t seen this before, do catch the 1932 Paramount version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (12:45 am) with an Oscar-winning performance by Frederic March as the drug-addled Doctor Jekyll. March split the Oscar that year with Wallace Beery, who won for the Kleenex-fest, The Champ. March would be the only actor winning the Best Actor statue for a horror film until 1992, when Anthony Hopkins won for The Silence of the Lambs.

At 3:45 am, it’s Tod Browning’s misfire for MGM, Freaks (1932). It’s a story of greed, murder, and revenge set in a circus using real circus freaks. The real freaks tended to drive audiences away, and the film ended up banned in many states and countries. It wasn’t until the 1960s that it surfaced once more, this time as the feature attraction in many a Midnight Movie program. There have been many knockoffs over the years, most with ghoulish makeup, but not one has managed to capture the humanity of these people as Browning did, using them instead merely as fodder to get people into the theaters. If there are any movie lovers out there who have not yet seen this, then by all means, use the “record” button on your VCR, DVR or TiVo.


September 13: Vincent Price headlines his own psychotronic double feature beginning at 2:00 am with Madhouse (1974). Price is Paul Toombes, famed horror star. On his way to England for a TV series, he has a breakdown. Suddenly, cast and crewmembers begin to die in ways characters did in Toombes’ old movies. Peter Cushing and Robert Quarry offer support in this disappointing film.

At 3:45 am, it’s Price in the film that established him as a horror star, House of Wax (1953). House of Wax is a remake of 1932’s The Mystery of the Wax Museum; only it was made in full Technicolor and was shown in 3-D to cash in on the craze that was sweeping Hollywood in its battle with television. By the way, look for Igor, the deaf mute assistant of Price’s mad Professor Henry Jarrod. It’s none other than Charles Buchinsky in one of his early roles. Don’t know who Charles Buchinsky is? Well, in 1955 he changed his name to Charles Bronson.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for September 1-7

TCM TiVo ALERT
For
September 1–September 7

DAVID'S BEST BETS:

BEING THERE (September 3, 8:00 pm): Peter Sellers was known for his versatility as an actor. He often played more than one character in films and could easily go from maniacal to subdued while always being interesting. Being There is one of Sellers' last films and his finest role. He is a simple-minded gardener in this 1979 film who learns everything from watching TV. One circumstance leads to another and Chance (Sellers) ends up being an adviser to the president of the United States with what he says interpreted to be brilliant advice. It is a clever, funny, heartwarming and beautiful. Melvyn Douglas as a wealthy businessman and adviser to the president is outstanding, and won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Sellers was nominated for Best Actor, losing to Dustin Hoffman (Kramer vs. Kramer). During his acceptance speech, Hoffman said he couldn't believe he beat Sellers; neither can I.

PLANET OF THE APES (September 7, 8:00 pm): Along with 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968's original Planet of the Apes is the greatest science-fiction film I've ever seen. Whenever it airs, I stop everything and watch it even though I've seen it at least 50 times and I own the entire DVD collection of the original five Apes films. Charlton Heston is among a group of astronauts who land on a strange planet and come across mute and not intelligent humans. They think they're going to run the place in a few weeks. It turns out the planet is actually controlled by talking apes. The interaction between Taylor (Heston) and three key apes - Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), Zira (Kim Hunter) and particularly Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) - are the keys to this movie. The ending is among the best you'll ever see. It turns out Taylor time traveled and landed on a post-apocalyptic Earth. So many of the lines are iconic, the makeup and costumes are incredible for its time (years ahead of its time), and the cinematography is amazing. 

ED'S BEST BETS:

HITLER’S CHILDREN (September 4, 1:00 pm): There’s junk, and there’s junk, but this one is great junk. Bonita Granville is Anna, a German girl born in America. Tim Holt is Karl. He’s in love with Anna, but he’s also in the Hitler Youth. Guess what comes first? Anna, for her part, just doesn’t get the whole Nazi thing. Given a chance to be a good little Nazi and study at the University of Berlin, Anna denounces the system and the Fuehrer instead. It’s one thing to denounce the system, but the Fuehrer? You can guess what happens to Anna from here, but I will tell you there’s a great scene where she’s publicly flogged at a concentration camp. No surprise here, but this film was RKO’s biggest moneymaker for 1943.

SAFE IN HELL (September 5, 12:15 pm): This is one of the most adult of the Pre-Code films, and brutally frank to boot. Dorothy Mackaill is a whore in New Orleans who believes she’s killed one of her johns. So she hotfoots it to the island of Tortuga, where she can’t be extradited. Unfortunately, she’s stepped from the frying pan right into the fire, as Tortuga is a sanctuary for every kind of pervert imaginable. To say this is one of the seamiest movies ever made is a definite understatement. Leonard Maltin says it’s more astonishing than entertaining, but I disagree. This is great low-class fun, and Mackaill fits the part perfectly.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . OUR TOWN (September 2, 6:30 am)

ED: A. Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about life in the fictional New Hampshire town of Grover's Corners in the years 1900 through 1913 is one of the theater's best-loved examples of Americana. Producer Sol Lesser and director Sam Wood have turned it into a film, and a pretty good one at that. You see, it all depends on how you look at it. One thing is for sure - it can’t be taken at face value because it depicts an America that most likely never existed. In that respect it’s like the Hardy Family series. So we look at other aspects, such as the performances, the mise-en-scene, the art direction, the scoring, sound, and photography. The performances are superb, led by a young William Holden and Martha Scott, who came over from the Broadway production. The film also has a treasure-trove of excellent supporting actors, led by Guy Kibbee, Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi, Fay Bainter, and Stuart Erwin. It was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress (Scott). The score, by Aaron Copland, is memorable, and was also nominated, as was William Cameron Menzies for Art Direction. Wood is a competent, if unspectacular, director, whose job was to implement producer Lesser’s plan. A large part of that plan involves changing the end from tragic to happy. It’s 1940, and we’re pretty sure that World War II is only a matter of months away, so who needs a downer? Take it for what it is, enjoy the performances and revel in Holden, so young and full of life.

DAVID: D+. If corny, sappy, dated films about life in a small town that's about as authentic as a $3 bill is your thing, then Our Town is your movie. Only William Holden's performance and a nice musical score saves this film from being a complete bomb. But I'm not watching a movie for the musical score or to see a single actor do a good job. The play has probably been done by thousands of high schools nationwide during the past 75 years and I'm sure several of them are as "good" as this 1940 film. Among the most annoying aspects of this movie is Frank Craven, the narrator who tells us more than anyone could ever want to know about the good people of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, during the early years of the 20th century. There's nothing interesting about the film and the characters. It's as if the film's plot is intended to be boring, and the folksy message beats the viewer over the head repeatedly to the point you give up hope of being entertained. In the play, Martha Scott's character, Holden's wife, dies during childbirth. In this film, she starts to drift into death, sees her deceased loved ones, remembers some of her memories and recovers to deliver the baby. Simply put: it's a bad movie.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dinner and a Movie: Lucy

Seeing Lucy through the Alders

By Steve Herte

They say the first week back to work after a vacation is the worst. They're right. I was so relaxed I was making mistakes everywhere the first day. That was compounded by this ridiculous "hoteling" thing they have going on with moving the population from 110 West 44th Street into vacant cubicles in my building. I'll leave it at that. It took me a while to calm down from the excitement of my Turner Classic Movie Tour. It was great. That brings me to Friday. Well, you'll see. Enjoy!

Lucy (Universal, 2014) Director: Luc Besson. Writer: Luc Besson. Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Pilou Asbaek, Analeigh Tipton, Nicholas Phongpheth, Jan Oliver Schroeder, Luca Angeletti, Loic Brabant, Pierre Grammont, Pierre Poirot, Bertrand Quoniam, & Pascal Loison. Color, 89 minutes.

Does anyone remember the Outer Limits episode entitled “Sixth Finger?” It aired on October 14, 1963, and starred David McCallum as a scientist experimenting with speeding up evolution. He becomes super-intelligent and eventually evolves into pure intelligent energy.

Here’s Lucy. It’s 51 years later and it’s not about evolution per se but the net effect of gradually increasing the use of the human brain to its full capacity – essentially the same story. Gwyllim Griffiths (McCallum) grows a sixth finger and can play pieces Beethoven wrote but couldn’t play. Lucy (Johansson) attains 20% of her brain usage and learns Chinese overnight. The main difference (aside from the male/female lead) is that Gwillim willingly evolved and Lucy’s transformation was an accident.

Lucy’s introduction is as follows: “Life was given to us a billion years ago. This is what we’ve done with it.”

The film begins in China as Lucy meets her former boyfriend Richard (Asbaek) outside an office building and he tricks her into being handcuffed to a metal briefcase that must be delivered to Mr. Jang (Choi). Inside the briefcase are four bags full of blue crystals (reminded me of toilet freshener) intended to be smuggled out of China by three men and Lucy to Berlin, Paris, Rome, and wherever Lucy was going to be sent (that wasn’t clear), surgically implanted in their abdomens. The crystals comprise a new mind-altering drug called CPH4, which will sell for millions of dollars on the street. However, no one could predict that Lucy would refuse her captor’s sexual advances precipitating his knocking her to the ground and repeatedly kicking her belly and breaking the bag inside.


The drug has a different effect on women than on men and Lucy goes through a transformation which includes bringing back the revolving room effect we saw long ago in the Fred Astaire movie Royal Wedding (1951), and much later in Inception (2010). But Lucy doesn’t become a gruesome monster; instead she becomes more intelligent and revives Lara Croft (a role Scarlett was made for). She fights off her attackers and escapes.

Meanwhile, Professor Norman (Freeman) is giving a lecture on mankind and the percentage of brain usage increase from the primitive “Lucy” (Australopithecus – 7%) to today’s stage of evolution (10%), and posits what would happen if higher percentages were used. His lecture is accompanied by visual aids, and parallels the advances that current Lucy is making throughout the movie.

Lucy grows in power and returns to Mr. Jang, and after impaling his hands to his chair, she uses a Vulcan mind-meld to get the locations of the other three bags of CPH4. Then she notifies Paris Police Chief Pierre Del Rio (where did they get that name?), simultaneously sending photos of the three mules to his cell phone. He in turn notifies the airport security in Paris, Rome and Berlin. The three men are caught and brought to Paris. Ah, but Mr. Jang is not through. He learns where the three men are being kept and arrives there first. Two of the three bags are violently extracted before Lucy and Pierre arrive and Lucy extracts the third with her bare hands.

When she first calls Professor Norman she has to prove her abilities by not just being on the phone, but also on his television, computer screen and his radio. He gathers a group of his colleagues when she calls him a second time. As soon as he asks her where she is, she walks in the door. She again has to prove her strange powers – revealing the life secrets of one man by simply placing a hand on his shoulder. They liquefy the remaining bags of CPH4 and hook her up to them intravenously. It’s here that the special effects department pulls out all the stops. Lucy grows black tendrils that connect into all the computers in the room and goes time-traveling back to the Big Bang in stages. The bloodied and shocked Mr. Jang tries to sneak up on her with a gun to the shocked silence of the scientists and, just as he shoots, Lucy disappears.

Except for being extremely violent and gory, does it sound like “Sixth Finger”? Lucy is one hour and 29 minutes of special effects glory but not much else. Freeman does more acting in 30 seconds of silence than the rest of the cast does throughout. The soundtrack is negligible to non-existent, and the story; it was what it was. From the start you don’t really care about any one of the characters, which eliminates suspense, and many of the scenes are predictable. The dialogue (with the exception of anything Freeman says) is pedestrian, and well, who cares? It’s not what we’re here for. There is some real science in it and some good theory but generally, it’s an imaginative visual roller coaster.

Parents, be cautious. Those whose children are not familiar with violence or who are affected by the sight of blood should avoid this film. With the exception of special effects, Lucy will not be nominated for any awards in my opinion.

Rating: 2½ out of 5 Martini glasses.


Alder
157 2nd Avenue (10th Street)New York

When I was choosing a restaurant I went to Alder’s website and the dull greyness of the photo depicting the exterior attracted my attention for its sheer drabness. The menu seemed to have a preponderance of sausage dishes. Could I have stumbled on a German restaurant? No, it’s billed as “American.” I knew it would be an adventure.


On arriving at the corner of 10th Street and 2nd Avenue I could not see the name Alder anywhere. I actually walked by it once before checking the address. Finally, I saw it in red lettering above the door of a still nameless (at least from my point of view) bistro with a sidewalk café (not grey at all) graced by bright yellow umbrellas and a cool green wall enclosure. I walked to the unpainted wood door, which was recessed from the front wall and noticed to my left, written vertically, the name Alder. I entered and met the two young women at the Captain’s Station and they confirmed my reservation. I was led to a table near the back of this cozy (only 56 seats), dark, room with cream-colored walls and dim aluminum swags and faux open beam ceiling.

Soon Aaron, my waiter, appeared and greeted me. He took my water preference and presented the food menu and the drinks/wine list. The drink menu was printed on a simple folded piece of paper with the wines on the reverse side. Due to the darkness I could not read what was in any of the drinks and had to call Aaron over to read them for me. I chose Alder’s version of the Suffering Bastard (a drink I remember from long ago at the Hawaii Kai restaurant), which they call “Suffering Fools” – a very tasty and slightly spicy mixture of Bourbon, Juniper, Ginger and Honey. It was intriguing and delicious and was garnished with a thin length-wise slice of cucumber.

The food menu was a single page rubber-banded to a plank of wood. The entries were in a small brown type on a parchment background with their descriptions below them in tiny type (completely unreadable). Thanks to Aaron, I learned that they were organized simply from small-sized portion to large and didn’t have any standard categories and he again assisted me in putting together a three-course meal.

The wine list was slightly easier to read, being on white paper but the font was still thin. I asked Aaron why they were categorized "White Wines Made by Women” and “Red Wines Made by Women.” He told me that Chef Wylie Dufresne likes to have a theme to his wine list. OK, I think I like him for that. We went through the red wine list and I settled on the 2009 Maysara “Jamsheed” Pinot Noir from McMinnville, Oregon. Aaron left to put in my order.

When I finished my cocktail a smashing blonde asked me if I wanted another (she reminded me of the character Wendy Winters in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour). Getting quick control of myself, I told her that I had ordered wine and mentioned how beautiful her long curly hair was. She thanked me and left.

Another server brought my first course, Pigs in a Blanket – six pieces of Chinese sausage wrapped tightly in a crunchy coating and sitting at various angles in jalapeno mustard on a slab of slate with a sweet chili sauce – definitely not my mother’s recipe. They were smoky, spicy and sweet at the same time and the coating was more like a pretzel crust than Poppin' Fresh dough. I enjoyed them and noticed several other tables ordering them.

The Pinot Noir had just enough body to compliment the first course and was a pleasing garnet color and had only a light nose. It did not overpower my second course, squash blossoms – stuffed with succotash and molé cream cheese and coated with a firm, but light crunchy shell in a chili relish. Again, this dish was not like any other serving of squash blossoms I’ve had before. Though the hardness of the coating was a surprise, it was wonderful and kept the contents hot and flavorful. A slab of slate was once again the serving dish for this course.

I had to complement the restaurant staff. I didn’t say I was a slow eater and yet there was plenty of time between courses to savor both the dish and the wine. The main course, rabbit sausage, was sliced in a beautiful white bowl on gribiche (a mayonnaise/egg sauce), baby asparagus and egg yolk with delicate bonito flakes (dried shavings of fish sliced from aged pieces of bonito, a kind of tuna) sprinkled on top and waving gently (as if alive) in the slightest breeze. The artistic appeal of the dish was entrancing and the smoky aroma emanating from the bowl was bewitching. And the taste was amazing: smoky, gamy and only slightly spicy. It didn’t look like that large a dish to me, and I contemplated adding a course, but as I finished it I realized that I needed room for dessert.

Aaron came to my rescue once more to help with reading and I chose the most unusual root beer pudding served in a stemmed glass with light cream on top. Aaron said it was a signature dish for Alder and I had to admit I had never had its like before. It was delightful. I didn’t order coffee as I was already in a great mood. The next thing I know Aaron brought me a glass of what I can only describe as Sparkling Rosé. It was a deep pink color and the perfect topper for a lovely meal.

Alder has been in business for a year and a half and describes itself as a Gastro-pub. That explains everything, the innovative recipes, the novel cocktail and the dressed-down décor. Even though there were no tablecloths or cushions on the chairs, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

In Memoriam: Lauren Bacall

By Ed Garea

It’s a scene every cinephile has seen at least 100 times and can quote by heart, perhaps the most iconic scene in Hollywood history. It’s from To Have and Have Not, Howard Hawks’ light-hearted 1944 take-off on the previous year’s hit, Casablanca. Lauren Bacall’s character, Slim, a woman of total mystery, is visiting Humphrey Bogart’s character, a hard-boiled charter-boat captain she calls Steve, in his hotel room. During the course of their encounter, she kisses him. “What did you do that for?” asks Steve. “I’ve been wondering if I’d like it,” she answers. Steve gives her a quizzical look, “What’s the decision?” “I don’t know yet,” she says, and she kisses him again.

It’s even better when you help,” she tells him.

As she prepares to leave the hotel room, she turns toward Steve. “You know, you don’t have to act with me, Steve,” she says. “You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” With that she leaves. Bogart, with the expression of someone who just can’t believe his luck, thinks it over for a minute. Then he whistles to no one in particular, except maybe we in the audience.


And with that we have just grasped the essence of the allure of Lauren Bacall and why she became a star. She was Cool before there was such a thing as Cool. Known for her striking looks and husky, sultry voice, the result of a two-pack-a-day habit, she was the embodiment of the independent woman, a role she played in one form or another until her brand of sass died out in the ‘50s, replaced by the icy aloofness of Grace Kelly and the needy, borderline trashiness of Marilyn Monroe and her seemingly uncountable imitators.

If that wasn’t enough, she went and married the King of Cool himself, Bogart. They became the storybook Hollywood couple. In her memoirs she said “No one has ever written a romance better than we lived it.” She called him Bogie and he called her Slim. She gave him a son, Stephen, named for Bogie’s character in To Have and Have Not, and a daughter, Leslie, named for Leslie Howard. Betty cut back on movie offers to be closer to her young family. It was heaven on Earth . . . while it lasted. Alas, it all came to an end in 1957 when Bogie passed away from cancer of the esophagus at the age of 57. Betty went into a professional and deeply personal tailspin.

Slowly she fought to re-establish herself as an actress, returning to Broadway, where she had not been since 1942. It took awhile, but good stage roles finally came her way and she made the most of them. A second marriage in 1961 to actor Jason Robards, Jr. ended in divorce in 1969, largely due to his alcoholism.

As the Bogart legend began to take off in the ‘60s, she was embraced by the public as his wife and leading lady, yet she felt trapped by it all, seeing herself as defined only as the Widow Bogart. She wanted to be known for her own accomplishments in the arts, but in interviews, she resigned herself to the inevitable. One can’t fight one’s history.

The road to becoming Lauren Bacall was not an easy one. She was born Betty Joan Perske in Brooklyn on Sept. 16, 1924, the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Poland and Romania, William and Natalie Perske. Her parents divorced when she was six years old; she would have no contact with her father after that. Her mother moved to Manhattan, adopting the second half of her maiden name, Weinstein-Bacal. So Betty Joan Perske became Betty Joan Bacal.

Her mother’s family was close-knit, but not an affluent one. Finances were always a problem as she grew up. Through the generosity of her Uncle Charlie, she was able to attend the Highland Manor School for Girls in Tarrytown, N.Y., graduating from grade school at age 11. She attended Julia Richman High School in Manhattan and studied acting at the New York School of the Theater.

She graduated from Julia Richman in 1940 and became a full-time student at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she met fellow student, and first crush, Kirk Douglas. However, she was forced to leave after the first year because her family could no longer afford the tuition. A scholarship was out of the question: the Academy did not offer scholarships to women at that time.

With no other prospects she turned to modeling, landing jobs with David Crystal, a Seventh Avenue dress manufacturer, and Sam Friedlander, who made evening gowns. It was 1941, she was 16, and the jobs, when they came, paid little. During lunch hours she stood outside Sardi’s, hawking Actor’s Cue, a casting tip sheet, and hoping to catch the eye of producers. She also worked as an usher at Broadway theaters, and became a hostess at the newly-opened Stage Door Canteen.

Her efforts eventually landed her a walk-on part in a Broadway play called Johnny 2 x 4. Though it paid only $15 a week and closed in eight weeks, it was a beginning. Meanwhile, her job as an usher led her to make the acquaintance of Paul Lukas, who would serve as an informal mentor, with his advice proving crucial to her career development.

Later that year, producer Max Gordon cast her in Franklin Street, a comedy directed by George S. Kaufman. The play had a hard time catching on with the public and closed out of town for what was called “retinkering.” It would be her last time onstage for 17 years.

Returing to New York, a friend introduced her to Nicolas de Gunzburg, an editor at Harper’s Bazaar. He invited her to come to his office the next morning and took her to meet Diana Vreeland, the fashion editor. Vreeland spotted her talent and photogenic potential, and asked her to return the next day to meet the photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe. She took test shots, and a few days later Vreeland called with a job offer. It paid $10 an hour, a substantial sum in those days.

During this time Betty added an extra “L” to her last name to avoid the constant errors in pronunciation. She worked steadily for Vreeland, appearing in a number of advertisements. But it was a full-page, color picture of her standing in front of a window with the words “American Red Cross Blood Donor Service” on it - a poster of a besuited, independent woman caught up in the war effort. Lit rather provocatively and noirishly, the picture caught the eye of Columbia Studios, David O. Selznick, and Howard Hughes, each of whom sent inquiries. But it was a woman she had never met, Nancy “Slim” Hawks, which led to the offer she couldn’t refuse. Slim showed the picture to husband Hawks, who immediately spotted a connection between the young model and his wife. Hawks and partner Charlie Feldman offered to sign her to a seven-year, personal contract. Betty accepted, and, at the age of 18, left for Los Angeles by train with her mother. She would start at the princely sum of $124 per week.

Hawks became a surrogate father and she in turn allowed him to live out his fantasy of becoming a Svengali, taking a kid from nowhere and molding her into a superstar. He renamed her “Lauren,” to add a little glam, as ”Betty” was too friendly. He also had her work on deepening her voice (he disliked women screeching), sitting in her car up on Mulholland Drive reading The Robe aloud by the hour, and the aforementioned two-pack-a-day cigarette habit. She was also on call as a protégé at parties, so Hawks could show her off to various studio heads and the like, all the while searching for the perfect vehicle to launch her film career.

He finally found it in his adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not. Hawks planned the film to be a wittier take on Casablanca, and, as with all his adaptations, the only resemblance between the original and the adaptation was the title. Hawks created a character for Bacall, a woman of mystery named Marie Browning. From scant clues provided in one of the original drafts of the screenplay, it seems that Slim is a kept woman whose sugar daddy was killed by stray gunfire during a police raid at the hotel where they were staying. However, in the final cut, Hawks dispensed with explanations - they weren’t necessary. We first meet her when she picks the pocket of an obnoxious client (Walter Sande) of the story’s main character, charter ship owner Harry Morgan (Bogart). She quickly develops a flirtatious relationship with Morgan. He calls her “Slim” (Hawks honoring his wife), and she calls him “Steve.” He buys her an airline ticket to take her off the island, but she stays around to be with him.

To Have and Have Not is set on the Caribbean island of Martinique. The original location was to have been Cuba, but the Cuban government complained to Washington, which, in turn, informed Jack Warner. Besides, Martinique was more mysterious and romantic. Controlled by Vichy, it had the natural parallels to Casablanca. The leader of the Resistance approaches Steve to smuggle in an important figure, but he refuses. However, needing the money, Morgan agrees and soon incurs the wrath of the police. Therein hangs the plot.

When Bacall was informed who her co-star would be, she was less than thrilled. Bogart did nothing for the young Betty Bacall. In her memoirs she told of her mother and sister taking her to see Casablanca when it opened in New York. Although they all loved it, Rosalie was gaga over Bogart, proclaiming him to be sexy. Bacall didn’t share her sister’s enthusiasm; her idea of the ideal man was Leslie Howard or Cary Grant. That opinion was soon to change. As she said in her memoir, By Myself: “She thought he was sexy. I thought she was crazy . . . So much for my judgment at the time.”

When she finally met Bogart, she found him to be warm, funny, and supportive of a nervous young actress just embarking on her career. Bacall was so nervous at first that her head shook. To combat the shaking she tilted her chin downward to steady herself. She then looked up with her eyes toward the camera. The result was electrifying. When the film was previewed, audiences were enraptured. Bacall was both provocative and preposterous. If an older actress had delivered those lines about knowing how to whistle, audiences might have broken out into laughter. But when a young woman, trying to convince everyone in the room that she’s worldly, speaks them, the same lines evoke silent admiration. Hawks took advantage of the way she tilted her head, dubbing her as “The Look” in publicity.

Their relationship developed slowly. They became fast friends and the crew could see chemistry developing. One night, according to Bacall, after the day’s filming was finished, Bogart stood behind Bacall in her dresser as she brushed her hair. Suddenly he lifted her chin up and kissed her. Real life transcended their characters and Bacall knew she was in love.


There were two obstacles to their happiness. One was Hawks, who quickly caught on to what was happening. Jealous (he was intent on having her himself), he warned her not to risk ending her career just as it began. He also threatened to send her to Monogram Studios, sure death for a young actress on the rise. When she told Bogart later, he calmed her by pointing out that Hawks had too much invested to ship her to Monogram. He was proved correct when Hawks next cast the two in The Big Sleep. Hawks and the studio basked in the success of To Have and Have Not, and there was no way they would allow the private romance to derail further business, especially when they could build on said rumored romance to stir ticket sales.

The other obstacle was more daunting: Mayo Methot. She was Bogart’s third wife and his most tempestuous relationship. Known about town as “the Battling Bogarts,” they endured many a physical confrontation, usually brought on and fueled by large quantities of alcohol. The difference between the two was that while Bogart liked to drink, Mayo was a full-blown drunk whose worst side came out when loaded. She was not only dangerous, but also potentially lethal - once stabbing Bogart in the back during one of their fights. Bogie and Betty had to take care not to arouse Mayo, who, at any rate, was always suspicious of her husband.

During the filming of The Big Sleep Bogart told Bacall that he was giving Mayo one last chance. She had agreed to sober up, and it was the decent thing to do. Bacall was devastated. Their off-screen relationship affected the on-screen relationship as their innuendo took on new meaning. Bogart also began to miss days on the set. He was drunk, depressed, trying to save his marriage. He finally walked out on Mayo after coming home one day to find her liquored up and on the warpath. He took an apartment at the fabled Garden of Allah and began divorce proceedings. As his divorce wore on, the lovesick Bogey wired Bacall, “Please fence me in Baby - the world’s too big out there and I don’t like it without you.” When he was finally granted the divorce from Mayo, he and Bacall were married on May 21, 1945, at Malabar Farm in Lucas, Ohio, the home of Bogart’s close friend, writer Louis Bromfield. Bogie wept freely as he saw his bride walk up the aisle. He was 45; she was 20.

After their honeymoon it was back to work at Warner’s. Hawks had acknowledged defeat by selling her contract to Warner Bros. Bacall’s next assignment was the 1945 thriller, Confidential Agent, with Charles Boyer and Peter Lorre. Herman Shumlin was the director, and unlike Hawks, offered no guidance to the fledgling actress. The result was a performance that came off cold, not cool, without the zing of her Hawksian characters. “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing,” she said in her memoir. “I was a novice.”


What helped her at the time was that while The Big Sleep had finished before Confidential Agent, it wasn’t released until the next year, 1946, due to changes and reshoots Hawks made to expand Bacall’s character. It also helped that her next two movies, Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948) were shot with Bogart as her co-star, though in both movies, the sassy Bacall was nowhere to be seen, replaced by a more self-effacing and low-key Bacall. She was beginning to wind down her movie career to concentrate on her marriage and start a family. And, in keeping with the Warner’s tradition, she was eventually suspended 12 times by the studio for rejecting scripts.

One other thing Bacall took time off for was politics. The Bogarts were among 500 Hollywood personalities to sign a petition protesting what they termed as the House Committee on Un-American Activities’ attempt “to smear the motion picture industry.” They flew to Washington as part of a group known as the Committee for the First Amendment, which also included Danny Kaye, Gene Kelly, John Garfield, Ira Gershwin, and Jane Wyatt. Later, bowing to studio pressure, Bogart stated publicly that he believed the Washington trip was “ill-advised.”

The new Mrs. Bogart’s son, Stephen (named for Bogart’s character in To Have and Have Not), was born on January 6, 1949. Daughter Leslie (named for Leslie Howard) followed in August 23, 1952. Still under contract to Warner Bros., Betty cranked out two films in 1950. The first, Young Man With a Horn, co-starred Kirk Douglas and Doris Day. The second, Bright Leaf, co-starred Gary Cooper. Both were considered decent films, but both fared badly at the box office. It wasn’t until 1953 that she had a box-office hit, playing the gold-digging Schatze Page in Jean Negulesco’s How to Marry a Millionaire, along with Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe.

She also remained active in politics, supporting Adlai Stevenson for president in 1952 and 1956. Back on the domestic front, she helped her husband host informal parties at their home in the Holmby Hills section of Los Angeles, sometimes as frequently as five times a week. She accompanied her husband to various film locations, and also ruled as den mother for what became known as the Hollywood Rat Pack. According to legend, the group got its name from Lauren Bacall after seeing Bogart and his friends return from a night in Las Vegas. “You look like a goddamn rat pack,” she said, and the name stuck.
Tired of suspensions from turning down crappy roles, Bacall bought out her contract with Warner’s. But it didn’t pay off the way she hoped, for all she got was a role in Douglas Sirk’s overrated soaper, Written on the Wind (1956), an unbilled cameo in Jed Harris and Rod Serling’s Patterns (1956), and a career girl who impulsively marries Gregory Peck in the passable Designing Woman (1957). Fortunately, there were other avenues to travel.

In the early ‘50s, the Bogarts began starring in radio dramas., such as the adventure series Bold Venture (in part based on To Have and Have Not). They expanded this in the mid-1950s to include television, starring with Henry Fonda in a live television version of The Petrified Forest, the 1936 film that starred Bogart, Bette Davis and Howard. Bogart reprised his role as Duke Mantee, while Bacall played Davis’s idealistic waitress, and Fonda played the dreamy Howard role. In 1956 Bacall co-starred with Noel Coward in a television production of his Blithe Spirit

In 1956, Warner Bros. had bought the rights to John P. Marquand’s novel, Melville Goodwin, U.S.A., a love story about a military man and a journalist based on Claire Boothe Luce. The studio pitched the idea to the Bogarts to star. Their last film together was Key Largo in 1948. The couple accepted, but even before pre-production planning began, Bogart told his wife that he’d had lunch with Greer Garson. Greer said she didn’t like his cough and insisted he go to see her personal physician, Dr. Maynard Brandsma, an internist at the Beverly Hills Clinic.

Brandsma examined Bogart and found an inflamed esophagus. Upon further testing, cancer was discovered. Bacall decided to put her career on hold to nurse her husband back to health and provide the children with an anchor during the troubled times. In By Myself, Bacall takes us through the painful details of Bogie’s demise and ultimate death. She notes his weight loss and his inability to eat solid food, the odor of decay in their bedroom and on his lips, the dumbwaiter he used to go from his room on the second floor to the first floor when guests arrived, and the never-ending hope they both had in a recovery until the doctors finally confessed to Bacall that everything they tried to eliminate the cancer had failed. She also described wearing the old robe she had worn in Dark Passage on the night he died in their bed, the sack in which Forest Lawn crematorium took Bogie’s lifeless body away, and how she tried to hide it from the children.


At Bogie’s funeral she displayed a model of his beloved boat, the Santana. She found keeping the real one too painful and, after a last trip during which she cleaned out his personal effects, she sold it. In trying to recover from her husband’s death, she fell into a relationship with Frank Sinatra that nearly bloomed into marriage; that is, until Frank got wind their engagement was leaked to the press and, blaming Bacall, cut her off cold. It turned out that Swifty Lazar had spilled the beans, but their relationship was over, and Bacall, in her memoirs, counts it as a blessing.

She was becoming disenchanted with Hollywood, noting that “Film is not a woman’s medium,” and that “If you weren’t the hottest kid in town, men stayed away from you.”  It was probably this disenchantment that led her back to the Broadway stage. In 1959, she starred in the George Axelrod comedy, Goodbye Charlie, playing a womanizer who is killed and returned from the grave as a woman. It only lasted for 109 performances, but her next parts would all be in hits.

Meanwhile, she met, and married, actor Jason Robards, Jr. While the union produced her third child, Sam, it ultimately failed due to Robards’ drinking. While Bogart could be a heavy drinker, there was a difference: Robards was a full-blown alcoholic, Bogart was not. Bacall, a non-drinker herself, was astounded at what alcohol did to her husband. When sober, Jason was fast, quick-witted, fun to be around, the loving parent. But, under the influence, he became surly, abusive, and neglectful of his children, leaving it to his wife to fill both parenting roles. Bacall, for her part, took time off to raise Sam. She also became a regular on the salon circuit between New York and Washington. Before she met Robards, Bacall moved to New York, purchasing a large apartment at the Dakota on Central Park West. This would be her home for the rest of her life.

As Sam got older, and to put space between her and Jason, Bacall took a lead role in Abe Burrows’ 1965 play, Cactus Flower, playing the prim assistant to a womanizing dentist played by Barry Nelson. Cactus Flower, based on the French play, Fleur de cactus by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy, was a huge hit, eventually playing for almost three years and 1,234 performances - ironically at the same theater where Bacall ushered in the early ‘40s. When I.A.L. Diamond adapted it into a movie, Bacall was overlooked in favor of Ingrid Bergman, who won a Golden Globe in the part.

As for Hollywood, Bacall appeared in only three films during the ‘60s. Shock Treatment (1963), Sex and the Single Girl (1964), with Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis, and Paul Newman’s semi-noir, Harper (1966).

She divorced Robards in 1969 after learning he was having an affair. She notes in By Myself that the marriage was dead long before the discovery, and that the years allowed her to become less dependent on the men in her life.

In 1970, she returned to Broadway in the hit musical Applause, an adaptation of the 1950 film classic, All About Eve, with Bacall as the aging diva, Margo Channing, a role made famous by Bette Davis. Although she wasn’t much of a singer, the role was a perfect fit. It was also another hit, opening at New York’s Palace Theater and running for 896 performances. She won the 1970 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. When Bacall’s contract was up in 1971, she bowed out and, in an ironic note, was replaced by Anne Baxter, who had played Eve Harrington in the original film. Bacall would go on to play in the London production of the show and star in a 1973 TV-movie adaptation, using the London cast.


In 1981, she won another Tony for starring in the musical adaptation of the 1942 Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn classic, Woman of the Year. It opened at the Palace Theater and ran for 770 performances.

Her film work in the ‘70s, like the ‘60s, was sparse. She appeared as Mrs. Hubbard, one of many suspects, in the all-star Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and played the landlady in John Wayne’s last film, The Shootist (1976).

It turned out that her best work in the ‘70s was in a completely new field. Her 1978 memoir, Lauren Bacall: By Myself was a best seller and in 1980, won a National Book Award for Biography and Autobiography.

The 1980s were a mixed bag as far as Bacall’s film appearances went. She began with Robert Altman’s uneven ensemble piece, HealtH, in 1980. She then starred in the critical and financial bomb, The Fan (1981). She also appeared in the star-studded Appointment With Death (1988), with Peter Ustinov as Agatha Christie’s master detective, Hercule Poirot. Despite good reviews, it performed poorly at the box office.

She also returned to her first love, the stage, in 1985, as Harold Pinter directed her in the first London production of Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth. The ‘90s - and her late ‘60s - arrived, and Bacall continued to work. As she said in By Myself, “My goal in life has always been to work. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I had nothing to do but wander.”

To be honest, Bacall also needed the money. Although Bogart left a decent estate when he died, the government glommed over half. Maintaining an apartment at the Dakota and a house in the Hamptons costs real money, lots of it. Which is why, as age broadened her features, she restyled herself with the help of a trainer and a make-up artist. She also found time to pen a second volume of memoirs, titled Now, in 1994.

In 1990, Bacall had a small role as pulp fiction writer James Caan’s supportive agent in Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery. She spent most of the ‘90s appearing in guest roles on television or in TV movies. As for theatrically released films, she had a minor role in Robert Altman’s all-star Pret-a-Porter(1994), and a really great role in Barbra Streisand’s The Mirror Has Two Faces (1997), where she played Streisand’s narcissistic, yet vulnerable, mother. It was perfect casting and Bacall was nothing short of brilliant. The role brought her an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress. 


Having won the Golden Globe and the Screen Actor’s Guild awards for Best Supporting Actress, the smart money was on her to win. But astonishingly, the Oscar went to Juliette Binoche for her part in The English Patient. I’ll never forget the look on Bacall’s face when Binoche was announced as the winner. I was dumbfounded. Hollywood had the chance to do the right thing and award an Oscar to a legend that blew away critics and public alike in her role. It wasn’t as if it were charity, giving an award to someone who had clearly seen better days. Bacall’s nomination in 1997 was her first, despite some 40-odd years of superb performances. It’s been put forward that Miramax Films, which produced The English Patient, campaigned heavily for their movie. However, consider some of the other travesties in Oscar’s history. Simply put, Bacall was screwed out of the award. Even Binoche was astonished by her victory.

However, Bacall was tougher than people supposed. The year before, she was given the Cesar, the French equivalent of the Oscar, for her lifetime body of work. Two years prior she was presented with the Commadeur des Arts et Lettres by the Minister of Culture, Jacques Toubon. Shortly after the Oscars, Bacall was selected as a Kennedy Center Honors recipient. In 1999, the American Film Institute voted her one of the 25 most significant female movie stars in history. As for the Academy, it took them until 2009 to present Bacall with a statue for “lifetime achievement.”

It was also during the ‘90s that Bacall began using her distinctive voice in television commercials and cartoons, doing everything from being a spokesperson for the Tuesday Morning discount chain to producing a line of jewelry with the Weinman Brothers Inc. to using her voice to hawk High Point coffee and Fancy Feast cat food.

As the new century dawned, her taste in films changed. No longer looking to secure parts in commercial movies, she instead looked to independent films. She appeared in two films for Danish director Lars von Trier, Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005), Birth (2004) for Jonathan Glazer (2004), and The Walker, for Paul Schrader (2007).

She also did a cameo in The Sopranos (2006) as herself, and is mugged by a masked man, who later turns out to be Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli), mugs her. Her last listed credit was in 2014 as the voice of Evelyn in the cartoon Family Guy.

Bacall passed away on August 12, 2014, in her home at the Dakota from a stroke. She was 89 years old. Sons Stephen Bogart and Sam Robards, daughter Leslie Bogart, and six grandchildren survive her. 

If she had lived, she would be doing what she loved best – working.

TCM will honor the legacy of Lauren Bacall with 24 hours of her films beginning on September 15 at 8 pm.