The 10 Lauren Bacall Films You Should See

10. Written on the Wind (1956)

Douglas Sirk’s soapy melodramas had an element of tongue-in-cheek camp that later came to be appreciated as sly subversion, and in this one Bacall played along beautifully as a canny Manhattan career woman in the advertising business who marries the scion (Robert Stack) of a wild oil clan while secretly making time for the poor outsider (Rock Hudson) who has worked his way up in the family business. 


9. Harper (1966)

Bacall was a demanding actress who was happy to turn down work she didn’t like and had largely been forgotten by the mid-60s, when this sly gumshoe tale gave her a surprisingly strong opportunity. Playing a middle-aged wife who is strangely blase about a missing millionaire, Bacall played beautifully off her few scenes with Paul Newman as the jaded private eye she hires to find out what happened to him.

8. Designing Woman (1957)

An attempt to recapture the magic of the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn movies didn’t work quite as well, but Lauren Bacall and Gregory Peck did fine as a feuding couple in which her sophistication meshes poorly with his Runyonesque leanings. Bacall was desperate for something light to do after losing her husband Humphrey Bogart that year.

7. Young Man with a Horn (1950)

Bacall co-starred as the wealthy jazz aficionado who marries a self-destructive trumpeter (Kirk Douglas) based on Bix Beiderbecke. It’s a melodrama in which Bacall isn’t the focus, but her shrewdness comes through anyway.

6. How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

A period piece that says much about its era, this one relegated Bacall to third banana behind Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable. Bacall plays the schemer who decides the three should pose as women of means and rent an expensive apartment as a trap to catch a rich mate — but her plan seemingly goes awry when she falls for a poor fella. Splashy fun, the film was one of the biggest hits of the year. The film is available on Netflix’s streaming service.


5. The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996)

Director-star Barbra Streisand’s self-indulgence was the star of this picture, but Bacall got her only Oscar nomination as the film’s one strength, the wisecracking mom of the Streisand character who, out of maternal competition, never told her daughter she was beautiful.

4. Key Largo (1948)

The down-at-heels atmosphere of a broken-down Florida hotel is the setting for this somewhat talky but mostly gripping noir in which Humphrey Bogart plays a WW II  vet seeking the family of a fallen comrade for a condolence call. Instead, he falls for his friend’s sexy widow (Bacall) and both are held hostage by a gangster (Edward G. Robinson) as the storm clouds rumble in.

3. Dark Passage (1947)

A breathless, classic noir that doesn’t get as much attention as the other three films co-starring Bogie and Bacall, this one begins with a knockout first act in which we experience everything from the viewpoint of escaped prisoner Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) who hooks up with a San Francisco woman (Bacall) and hides out in her apartment. The two stars were married by this time, and the electric spark between them had grown into a comfortable intimacy, but the pair are still as perfectly matched as ever.

2. The Big Sleep (1945)

A nutty classic with a famously tangled and indecipherable plot, this adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel is nevertheless a cool, tough delight from scene to scene. Bogart plays detective Philip Marlowe, who is hired to check out the blackmail scheme involving the babyish daughter of a millionaire. Bacall is the wise, gimlet-eyed older sister who becomes the perfect match for Marlowe as the two wander through a diseased and corrupt L.A. Watch how they interacted in his office for a lesson in sexual subtext.


1. To Have and Have Not (1944)

If the word “sultry” hadn’t existed, it would need to be invented for Bacall’s legendary screen debut in this adaptation of a Hemingway novel about smuggling to aid the French Resistance in Martinique. She was the world’s most mature 19 year-old femme fatale when, awash with glamour and slow-burning sensuality, she perched on Bogart’s lap and kissed him because she was “wondering if he’d like it.” Then she inquired whether he knew how to whistle. The two stars began their furious courtship on the set.


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