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I've been wanting to ask this question of movie buffs for a long time: was Lauren Bacall a good actor? I'm normally not too critical about such things. I've never found her very convincing in her films. I just noted that "She was named the 20th-greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema by the American Film Institute and received an Academy Honorary Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2009 for recognition of her contribution to the Golden Age of motion pictures."

That means that I'm in the minority. I guess I feel that being with Bogey gave her a big advantage. However, acting with him put her to a disadvantage IMO because he was terrific. And in pieces of fluff like How to Marry a Millionaire, she seems to be just walking through the film.

So how wrong am I?

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58 minutes ago, RoyCook said:

I've been wanting to ask this question of movie buffs for a long time: was Lauren Bacall a good actor? I'm normally not too critical about such things. I've never found her very convincing in her films. I just noted that "She was named the 20th-greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema by the American Film Institute and received an Academy Honorary Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2009 for recognition of her contribution to the Golden Age of motion pictures."

That means that I'm in the minority. I guess I feel that being with Bogey gave her a big advantage. However, acting with him put her to a disadvantage IMO because he was terrific. And in pieces of fluff like How to Marry a Millionaire, she seems to be just walking through the film.

So how wrong am I?

I'm glad you started this discussion.

I met Lauren Bacall at a private luncheon when I was in college. This was in the mid-1990s. She was promoting her book Now which I think was her second autobiography. She was very engaging and there was a Q&A session after the meal that focused on her life with Bogart then on her life after his death. She had good anecdotes about different costars and directors. She was very knowledgeable.

But like you, I considered her more a "personality" or "star" instead of a real legitimate actress. Even though she had certainly proved herself with roles on stage and television, when her film career experienced lulls.

Anyway, in 2006 or 2007, I had watched THE SHOOTIST for the first time on TCM. I was focusing more on it being John Wayne's last movie and wasn't really paying attention to her work in it. Though I certainly must have been absorbing what I watched as it did register and make an impression on me later, in hindsight. After watching THE SHOOTIST, I became friends with the son of Glendon Swarthout whose novella was the basis for THE SHOOTIST. Miles Swarthout told me some interesting stories about being on the set and how Bacall acted with Duke when the cameras weren't rolling. 

A publisher was about to re-release Glendon's novella in paperback form with a new foreward written by Miles. Glendon was no longer living but Miles was doing publicity for it. He said the movie was still popular in Europe where the publisher expected the book to sell like hotcakes. Miles saw the book and the film as a way of keeping his father's memory and legacy alive.

I bought a copy of the book which included Miles' foreward/introduction. He autographed it for me. I had promised him I would read it as soon as I could. I waited a while until I had free time and then devoted two or three weekends to it. It's a wonderful piece of literature but Glendon Swarthout was definitely better at writing male characters. The female character that Lauren Bacall plays in the movie is very underdeveloped in the book. I found this a bit surprising. As I carefully read the novella I could see where Bacall had obviously filled in the gaps to create a much more vivid and memorable character. I told Miles about this. After I finished the novella and watched the film again, I discovered myself now watching it for Bacall's performance just as much as I was watching it for Wayne's performance.

It was clear to me how meticulous she was in fleshing out the character. She had a gift for bringing certain types of women to life on screen. She was a skilled performer. A lot of people don't realize just how skilled she was.

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28 minutes ago, RoyCook said:

I've been wanting to ask this question of movie buffs for a long time: was Lauren Bacall a good actor? I'm normally not too critical about such things. I've never found her very convincing in her films. I just noted that "She was named the 20th-greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema by the American Film Institute and received an Academy Honorary Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2009 for recognition of her contribution to the Golden Age of motion pictures."

That means that I'm in the minority. I guess I feel that being with Bogey gave her a big advantage. However, acting with him put her to a disadvantage IMO because he was terrific. And in pieces of fluff like How to Marry a Millionaire, she seems to be just walking through the film.

So how wrong am I?

As an actor in movies I would agree that Bacall was only so-so.    But I heard that on the stage she excelled.    Theater critics where generally very positive.  But as TB alludes was this mainly because of her star quality,  personality  and strong off-screen persona?      I have no clue since I never saw her on the stage.     

 

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1 hour ago, txfilmfan said:

She was one of those people who could command a stage, and she won 2 Tonys as a result.

I think, for me, her best performance was in the otherwise mediocre Barbra Streisand vehicle from the 90s, The Mirror Has Two Faces.

So unlike Alan Swann,   on stage Bacall was an actor and not a movie star.

 

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5 hours ago, TopBilled said:

Anyway, in 2006 or 2007, I had watched THE SHOOTIST for the first time on TCM.

"It's what they call... false Spring..."  

LAUREN BACALL is wonderful in that film, with her specialty: direct and assured.  I wanted to say that for me it was RON HOWARD that originally brought me to that movie.  It's probably my favorite JOHN WAYNE movie, and I admire many. 

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She was brilliant in the three-woman ensemble of How to Marry a Millionaire. I don't know whether or not Nunnally Johnson wrote specifically for her, but she delivered the lines with a kind of arch bemusement which was worthy of an old pro like Eve Arden. I love Marilyn and Betty Grable  but that was Bacall's movie. 

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I just watched WOMAN'S WORLD (1954) this afternoon. In this one we have Lauren Bacall (paired with Fred MacMurray) alongside June Allyson (paired with Cornel Wilde) and Arlene Dahl (paired with Van Heflin). While Allyson's comic timing was great and Dahl's vamping was hypnotic, I found Bacall probably the most interesting performer. She imbues her character with sass, class and vulnerability. It feels like watching a real person when she comes on screen, not an actress trying to play a real person.

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On 11/7/2020 at 9:02 PM, LiamCasey said:

For what it is worth, I could easily accept Ms. Bacall's character as the prime mover of the Murder on the Orient Express (1974). But, even there, was it a case of good acting or just the right personality?

That question is at the core of this discussion. She always seemed to me to be a very no-nonsense, what-you-see-is-what-you-get type of person and many of her performances felt the same, which might have made it seem as though there was no particular effort put into it. In general, a perceived "ease" to a performance can maybe distract us from what's really being accomplished.  In Written on the Wind, for example, she was the cool center of an extremely heated environment and I think we have to acknowledge the achievement of hitting the right notes while being so out of synch with the tone of most of the other performances. In a way she was like Cary Grant, the kind of actor who generally registered in various roles as some variant of a basic "personality" which was recognizable to the audience. Yet both Grant and Bacall were capable of playing against "type", Grant in films like None But the Lonely Heart and Suspicion and Bacall in Young Man With a Horn, where her character was complicated and unsympathetic. So, in answer to the OP's question "Was she a good actor?" my answer is absolutely yes. Was she a great actor? Let's keep talking.

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On 11/7/2020 at 5:15 PM, RoyCook said:

I've been wanting to ask this question of movie buffs for a long time: was Lauren Bacall a good actor? I'm normally not too critical about such things. I've never found her very convincing in her films. I just noted that "She was named the 20th-greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema by the American Film Institute and received an Academy Honorary Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2009 for recognition of her contribution to the Golden Age of motion pictures."

That means that I'm in the minority. I guess I feel that being with Bogey gave her a big advantage. However, acting with him put her to a disadvantage IMO because he was terrific. And in pieces of fluff like How to Marry a Millionaire, she seems to be just walking through the film.

So how wrong am I?

Don't think you're wrong. Without the Bogart connection, she doesn't have a lot of noteworthy films/performances on her resume. 

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Bacall was in 19 films from the start of her career (1944) until 1981 with The Fan.    Only 4 of those were with Bogart.

While I view her acting in film to be only "so so" (i.e.  a few very good performances,   but many "another actress would have likely done better"),    a handful of those 15 non-Bogart films were fine,  worth-watching films.

 

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19 hours ago, TopBilled said:

I just watched WOMAN'S WORLD (1954) this afternoon. In this one we have Lauren Bacall (paired with Fred MacMurray) alongside June Allyson (paired with Cornel Wilde) and Arlene Dahl (paired with Van Heflin). While Allyson's comic timing was great and Dahl's vamping was hypnotic, I found Bacall probably the most interesting performer. She imbues her character with sass, class and vulnerability. It feels like watching a real person when she comes on screen, not an actress trying to play a real person.

I love that movie. Bacall is the most intelligent of the three women and gives the most subtle performance. Though I was also entertained by Allyson as the well meaning klutz and Dahl as the scheming seductress. 

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I'm confused about the reference to 1981.  She made film and tv appearances after that.  I know that she was unhappy that she didn't get an Oscar nod for playing Streisand's mother in The Mirror Has Two Faces (and I think she blamed La Streisand).  I am a fan of Bacall and in an interview with Robert O. of TCM, she was very respectful towards her ex, Jason Robards Jr.  (I met him once and he was very gracious).  Robert O. said that she also used to yell at TCM when they ran all Elvis movies on his birthday/anniversary of his death.

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1 hour ago, chaya bat woof woof said:

I'm confused about the reference to 1981.  She made film and tv appearances after that.  I know that she was unhappy that she didn't get an Oscar nod for playing Streisand's mother in The Mirror Has Two Faces (and I think she blamed La Streisand).  I am a fan of Bacall and in an interview with Robert O. of TCM, she was very respectful towards her ex, Jason Robards Jr.  (I met him once and he was very gracious).  Robert O. said that she also used to yell at TCM when they ran all Elvis movies on his birthday/anniversary of his death.

She liked watching Fred & Ginger and wanted TCM to play their films more often. I saw it as her way of promoting the work of her peers and the type of musicals that were popular when she was young.  I'm okay with her not being a fan of Elvis.

Elvis made better musicals at Paramount than he did at MGM. TCM does not show his Paramount work too often. When we get Elvis movies on TCM, they are a bit subpar which is probably what Bacall thought.

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4 hours ago, Det Jim McLeod said:

I love that movie. Bacall is the most intelligent of the three women and gives the most subtle performance. Though I was also entertained by Allyson as the well meaning klutz and Dahl as the scheming seductress. 

It's a well-cast film. They all do a great job. But Bacall gives the more adult, nuanced performance in WOMAN'S WORLD.

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On 11/9/2020 at 9:39 AM, jamesjazzguitar said:

Bacall was in 19 films from the start of her career (1944) until 1981 with The Fan.    Only 4 of those were with Bogart.

While I view her acting in film to be only "so so" (i.e.  a few very good performances,   but many "another actress would have likely done better"),    a handful of those 15 non-Bogart films were fine,  worth-watching films.

 

And perhaps ironically, one of those films, Dark Passage, is the only film I've always thought she was bad in, and have always chalked this up to her still being relatively young and still inexperienced. Almost everything she says in it has always sounded stilted and unnatural to me. And of course, the little used "subjective camera" format used in much of this film might have thrown her off a bit, also. 

But other than that one, her performances have run from merely adequate to exceptionally good in my view.

(...but yes, without her being associated with Bogart, I doubt that her fame and her reputation would have risen as high as it did in Hollywood circles)

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3 minutes ago, Dargo said:

And perhaps ironically, one of those films, Dark Passage, is the only film I've always thought she was bad in, and have always chalked this up to her still being relatively young and still inexperienced. Almost everything she says in it has always sounded stilted and unnatural to me.

But other than that one, her performances have run from merely adequate to exceptionally good in my view.

(...but yes, without her being associated with Bogart, I doubt that her fame and her reputation would have risen as high as it did in Hollywood circles)

It's rather an unrealistic picture from the get go, as my Dad used to say (maybe that's one for the archaic expressions topic).  She just happens to know where to find Bogey hiding out, but the prison guards and police can't.  Still entertaining though, especially for Agnes Moorhead's performance (despite the ending).

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37 minutes ago, Dargo said:

And perhaps ironically, one of those films, Dark Passage, is the only film I've always thought she was bad in, and have always chalked this up to her still being relatively young and still inexperienced. Almost everything she says in it has always sounded stilted and unnatural to me. And of course, the little used "subjective camera" format used in much of this film might have thrown her off a bit, also. 

With regards to Bacall's performance in Dark Passage:    I believe that "subjective camera" format did impact her;   An actor has to play to the camera.   They have to look directly at it as if they are talking to another actor.    That really exposes an actor and Bacall just wasn't experienced enough for that level of in-your-face type exposure.

 

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Interesting comments about Bacall's performance in Dark Passage especially since I have always liked her work in this film. It's the only one of her four films with Bogie in which her character acts protective towards him (after all his character is quite vulnerable and turns for help to a lot of others, very untypical for Bogie). Bacall brings a warmth to her scenes with Bogart that makes her quite appealing to me. And that final scene in the film, when Bacall with that expectant sweet smile on her face as she has a rendezvous with Bogart in that Peruvian cafe, the two melting into one another's arms on the dance floor to the sounds of Too Marvelous For Words, is one of the most romantic fairy tale endings I've seen in any film. The potent chemistry between these two stars is so key to that.

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The Bacall performance that leaves the least impression upon me of her Bogart films is in Key Largo in which  their scenes lacked the sexual sparkle they had previously had together. Bacall is quite bland in this film. Maybe its because Lauren, a limited actress at this point in her career, was a bit overwhelmed by all the great scene stealers that appeared in that one, Eddie G. and Claire Trevor in particular.

On the other hand, I thought Bacall scored well in Bright Leaf and How to Marry A Millionaire (all that smart, sophisticated banter), while decades later her reserve and a slight tired sadness in her eyes worked effectively opposite an aging dignified Duke in The Shootist.

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Lauren  Bacall  is  a  good   actress  and  I  liked  her in  these  two films.  Young  Man  With  A  Horn  1950  and  Written  On  The  Wind  1956..  In  Young  Man  With  A Horn ,  Lauren  portrays  an  high class  lady in a relationship  with  Kirk  Douglas. Lauren   Bacall  and  Doris Day  have an  romantic  triangle  with  Kirk  Douglas . This  film  is one best about  the  world  of  Jazz.  Douglas  Sirk   Written  On  The  Wind  is  a  high  quality soap opera . I wonder  if  both  Dallas and  Dynasty  went  to school  watched this  film as a guide for their for  series.  The  main stars  of  this  film are  Rock  Hudson ,  Lauren Bacall ,  Dorothy Malone  and  Robert  Stack. Lauren  plays  an  executive  secretary  and  falls for  Robert Stack .  Their relationship has some up and downs , as he has an drinking  problem. Rock and  Dorothy  are  paired together in this film. Dorothy Malone  won an  Academy Award  for  Best  Supporting  for  this  film.  Roger  Ebert  liked  this movie and gave it  good  review.

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4 hours ago, Dargo said:

And perhaps ironically, one of those films, Dark Passage, is the only film I've always thought she was bad in, and have always chalked this up to her still being relatively young and still inexperienced. Almost everything she says in it has always sounded stilted and unnatural to me. And of course, the little used "subjective camera" format used in much of this film might have thrown her off a bit, also. 

I really enjoy DARK PASSAGE (particularly that swan dive near the end) but think BACALL may be the best thing in the film.  It sure ain't the script; the movie's called "Noir"  'kay, but it's just melodrama - very typical Hollywood.  Love it. 

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