When Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart met on the set of To Have and Have Not in 1944, sparks flew on and off screen, and continued to do so in the following three film noirs they starred in together. Despite the couple’s differences in age and background, their chemistry was undeniable. Bacall and Bogart are still considered one of the great power couples of the silver screen, and their real-life marriage lasted from 1945 until Bogart’s death in 1957.
Both Bacall and Bogart stood out in the film noir genre on their own, but together, they were a force to be reckoned with. Of the four films they starred together in, The Big Sleep is the standout. Warner Brothers studio capitalized on the public’s interest in the couple following the success of To Have and Have Not, as The Big Sleep was filmed in 1944 but not released until 1946. The gap between filming and release allowed for rewrites of old scenes and additions of new ones, emphasizing the couple’s sexuality as much as possible during the restrictive Hays Code era.
The Big Sleep stars Lauren Bacall as Vivian Rutledge, the sly femme fatale archetype and Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe, a stone-faced detective investigating the disappearance of one of Vivian’s father’s colleagues. The plot of this crime drama takes a backseat in just about every scene that the couple are in together; their natural chemistry overshadows all else in the film, their first film after officially becoming a couple. Indeed, the screen became a mirror, reflecting the true to life passion that they felt for each other.
They went on to star in two more films together, Dark Passage and Key Largo. Dark Passage sets an interesting narrative; Bogart’s character is on the run from the law to clear his name for a murder he didn’t commit, and isn’t shown until after he gets “plastic surgery” to change his appearance. Bacall’s character had taken an interest in Bogart’s character’s case and believes that he’s innocent, helping him evade police and clear his name. Key Largo, a crime drama set during a raging Florida hurricane, was the last film Bacall and Bogart starred in together, with Bacall playing the widow of one of Bogart’s war buddies who was killed in action in Italy. Both films are captivating for their leading performances alone; both possess the theme of a relationship defying the odds, a couple that shouldn’t work but does. This is, of course, reflective of their off-screen romance.
One could wonder just how interesting seeing the actors on screen together four times can actually be, but Bacall and Bogart prove again and again how compelling they are. When watching their films in the current era of cinema that’s been criticized as “sexy yet sexless,” seeing the two on screen together, even under the constraints of the Hays Code, is like being struck by a bolt of lighting. When Bogart died of cancer in 1957, Bacall had him buried with a gold whistle, engraved with “If you want anything, just whistle,” a nod to the iconic, provocative line she delivered to her future husband in their first film together, To Have and Have Not: “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”