Lauren Bacall Film Noir Movie Star

Lauren Bacall was a movie star even before she was a movie star—which is to say, from the moment she arrived in Hollywood in 1944. This New York City-raised blonde had all the makings of a successful actress: She could sing, dance, and act. But as one casting director told her: “You won’t go far because you see, darling, you belong back home in New York City again.” Luckily for us and Ms. Bacall, this wasn’t the end of her story. The lady wouldn’t give up on her Hollywood dreams and went on to become one of the most successful actresses of the 1940s and 50s a period known as “the Golden Age of film noir” (or simply “film noir,” which translates to "dark film").

Film noir: The Basics

Before we delve into the story of Lauren Bacall’s rise to fame, let’s take a quick look at what film noir is. Film noir, which started in the late 1940s and reached its peak in the early 1950s, is a genre that includes stories about crime and corruption, usually in an urban setting. Characters are morally compromised, with the line between right and wrong often being blurred. There’s often a femme fatale, a mysterious and seductive woman, as well as a hard-boiled detective or investigator who’s usually cynical and detached. The visual style of film noir includes low-key lighting, dramatic shadows, and a black-and-white palette. It often uses camera angles from low above the ground or from below the characters’ eye level and uses long, lingering shots. While film noir is often associated with American films, it also appeared in European films after World War II.

Lauren Bacall's 6 Best Films

Now let’s look at Lauren Bacall’s 6 best films. Her first film was the 1944 comedy "Stage Door Canteen," in which she appeared with fellow New York City-raised blonde, Judy Garland. Her career took off in the late 1940s when she starred in several film noirs with Hollywood’s leading men:

- The Big Sleep (1946): Bacall’s first film with Humphrey Bogart in this film noir based on Raymond Chandler’s novel.

- Dark Passage (1947): Bacall’s second film with Humphrey Bogart.

- Key Largo (1948): Bacall’s third film with Humphrey Bogart.

- In a Lonely Place (1950): Bacall’s first film with young, rising film star, and future icon, Marilyn Monroe.

- How to Marry a Millionaire (1953): Bacall’s first film with future icon, and former husband, Gary Cooper.

- Blood Alley (1955): Bacall’s last film noir, and her only film with future icon, and former husband, John Wayne.

To Have and Have Not

Lauren Bacall’s first really big film was the Howard Hawks-directed "To Have and Have Not" (1944). That year, she also appeared with Humphrey Bogart in "Confidential Agent," with Charles Boyer in "Dark Passage," and with William Powell in "Murder My Sweet" (also known as "The Woman in the Window"). In "To Have and Have Not," Bacall plays a young woman on the Caribbean island of Martinique who helps an American boat captain smuggle goods to the French resistance. The film was loosely based on a novel by Ernest Hemingway, and it made use of documentary-like footage from the war effort.

Dark Passage

Lauren Bacall appeared opposite another famous leading man in a noir film: "Dark Passage" (1947) starred Bacall alongside the suave Charles Boyer. In this film, Bacall plays a young woman falsely imprisoned for a murder she didn’t commit. While in prison, she befriends a man who is also in jail. After she is released from prison, she travels to the man’s home, only to discover that he is now blind. She pretends to be the man’s former wife so that the two can live together without raising suspicions.

Key Largo

Bacall appeared opposite yet another famous leading man in the film noir "Key Largo" (1949), directed by John Huston. In this film, Bacall played a young woman who travels with her invalid husband to visit his father, a hotel owner in the Florida Keys. The young woman’s husband is a gangster who has fled to the Keys to escape the police. The couple meets the gangster’s father and his associates, including a cynical, hard-bitten crime investigator named Frank (played by Humphrey Bogart). The group is forced to take refuge in the hotel when a hurricane approaches.

In a Lonely Place

Bacall appeared with yet another suave leading man in the film noir "In a Lonely Place" (1950). In this film, Bacall played a young aspiring actress who lives in a boarding house with a famous writer, who also happens to be a potential suspect in a murder case. At first, the writer seems to be a kind and gentle man, but as the investigation into the murder continues, he becomes increasingly paranoid and violent towards Bacall. The film ends with Bacall’s character leaving the writer, who has become unhinged and returning to New York City.

How to Marry a Millionaire

Bacall appeared in two very different films in 1953. The first was "How to Marry a Millionaire," a light-hearted comedy directed by Jean Negulesco. The film traces the romantic adventures of three friends who want to marry rich men. The three women are looking for a man to marry a rich man because they feel that “when you’re poor, you have to go out and work for a living.” The film co-starred Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable.

Blood Alley

Bacall’s other film in 1953 was the film noir "Blood Alley" (1955), directed by John Huston. The film was a co-production between the United States and Great Britain. In "Blood Alley," Bacall played an American woman who is the daughter of missionaries and the granddaughter of a sea captain. She travels to China to marry a man she has never met, to help him raise funds for a medical clinic. Bacall’s character meets up with a former sailor, who is now working for the Chinese government, and the two confront danger as they travel through the Chinese countryside.

The Big Tip-Off

Bacall made a comedy in 1956 that was less than memorable. "The Big Tip-Off" starred the actress with the great name and the even greater comedienne, Marie Windsor. The film was about a waitress who poses as a fortune teller to get the goods of a jewelry thief. The movie received bad reviews and was considered a dud. However, Bacall was looking pretty as always in the film, so maybe it’s just not that bad.

Confidential Agent

"Confidential Agent" (1945) was a comedy and a war film. Bacall played a young woman who works for the French Resistance and forges passports for American soldiers. The film starred Charles Boyer and a very young Gary Cooper.


Lauren Bacall became a star in the late 1940s and early 1950s when film noir was at its peak. For most of her career, Bacall played characters who were tough, independent, and sexy, and she often had to wear tight-fitting clothes and dresses with low-cut necklines. Bacall’s rise to fame coincided with the beginning of the Golden Age of film noir.