September 16, 1924 – August 12, 2014
Though Hawks may have discovered her and molded her, Minnelli managed to draw her best performances from her (just as he drew career best performances from her old boyfriend, Kirk Douglas, which the latter more or less acknowledged by acting as pall bearer at Vincente's funeral) and gave her, her favorite role, Marilla, the Designing Woman of the film's title. The film itself isn't perfect (there's real callousness in the way that the brain damaged boxer is presented as an object of humor,) but the film is clearly the work of a master director, and is perfectly cast, especially with Gregory Peck every bit as beautiful and sexy as Bacall. (I shudder to think what the film would have been had the insufferable James Stewart accepted the role, but that was probably tied to the producer's desire to cast Grace Kelly in Lauren's part. Perhaps they were hoping for another Rear Window, minus Hitch's severed-head-in-a-hatbox.) It's remarkable that she was able to make this light hearted film about the difficulties of marital adjustment while her real husband was at home dying of cancer. It certainly doesn't show in the film; but work can be a respite from suffering, and she was never far from him when filming (and it's just possible that it took her back to the beginnings of her own marriage.) James Naremore said that he had considered dealing with this movie in his excellent book on Minnelli, but it just missed the cut. I'd be very interested to read what he had to say about it. It definitely shows Bacall off at her very best; and it says something pretty shameful about Hollywood that she had so few starring roles after it.