Biggest Celebrity Loss of 2014: Lauren Bacall

Of the notable people who died in 2014, Lauren Bacall is the one I will miss the most. Most of the obituaries about her left out something quite important about the evolution of her career. The typical account noted that her triumphant debut film with Bogart, To Have and Have Not , was followed by glorious success the following year in The Big Sleep. But what happened is more complex than that.

The Big Sleep was completed on January 12, 1945 and was shown to troops on U.S. military bases. To Have and Have Not was released to American audiences a few weeks after that. Normally, the Big Sleep would have been released to U.S. audiences immediately after or even concurrently with the big hit debut film of a star. That would have dampened Bacall’s career because in the original version (a good but not great movie), she just doesn’t have the sass and zing on display in To Have and Have Not. Coupled with the poor reviews she received for Confidential Agent later that year, she could easily have ended up as a one hit wonder.

But the war of course was ending in 1945, and Warner Brothers realized it had to rush all its war-related films into theaters right away. As a result, The Big Sleep was set aside and American stateside audiences did not see it in 1945. Bacall’s agent, Charles Feldman, used his considerable muscle in the interim to have major rewrites and reshoots done on The Big Sleep. Some scenes without her were cut, some were redone to be sexier and more fun, and this entirely new scene was created. It works even better than it might otherwise have because the two stars were by then madly in love and newly married. Bacall here shows off the sultry persona that entranced countless men, including me. What a woman! She will be greatly missed.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

10 thoughts on “Biggest Celebrity Loss of 2014: Lauren Bacall”

  1. Thanks for the backstory. I stumbled across the earlier release about 10 years ago, when I wanted to share this movie with my then teenage son. I checked it out of the local college library and noticed that each side of the CD had a different version of the movie, identified as the Canadian and American releases. I'd never known of a 2nd version. I put on what I thought was the familiar one, but hadn't myself seen the movie in 20+ years and it was only about 45 minutes in, when there was a scene at the coroner's office (IIRC) that I knew for sure I'd never seen, that I realized I'd put the wrong (i.e., unfamiliar to me) version on.

    We watched that version that night, and the REAL one the next. The alternative cut makes much more sense — it's actually possible to follow the story line — but the film noir aspect is much, much thinner. I prefer the familiar one.

    1. I have that set. It's an interesting demonstration of the fact that increased understanding of the plot doesn't always make a better film. Without the long scene in the car where Bogart explains the show so far, the final version is far less understandable but because the scenes that replaced it are so good, far more entertaining.

  2. Thanks for the info. And a terrific scene. Bacall was also very charming in a 2 part Rockford Files episode with James Garner, another wonderful actor we lost this year.

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