Movie Stars: Bacall, Lauren–James Agee’s Poignant Review

James Agee was a great film critic, for many different reasons, but that’s a subject for another article.  It’s hard to tell what impact he would have had on American film criticism and pop culture had he not died so young and so prematurely, in 1955.

Bacall with Gregory Peck in Minnelli's 1957 comedy Designing Woman

Bacall with Gregory Peck in Minnelli’s 1957 comedy Designing Woman

Doing some research for a commissioned piece about Lauren Bacall, who died yesterday at the age of 89, I found Agee’s review of her stunning screen debut, in 1944 opposite Humphrey Bogart in Howard Hawks’ “To Have and Have Not.”

Agee wrote:

“Lauren Bacall has cinema personality to burn. She has a javelinlike vitality, a born dancer’s eloquence of movement, a fierce female shrewdness, and a special sweet-sourness.  With these faculties, plus a stone-crushing self-confidence and a trombone voice, she manages to get across the toughest girl Hollywood has dreamed of in a long, long while.”

Agee was right on.  He captured vividly what would become the essence of what would become her screen image for the next three decades.