Designing Woman (1957):  Bacall After Bogart

Lauren Bacall, Gregory Peck

Lauren Bacall filmed Designing Woman while Humphrey Bogart was still alive, and when they both believed he would recover from his cancer.

It’s a lighthearted comedy, likely a welcome respite from the nightmare of Bogie’s illness and death.

Bacall and Gregory Peck play an opposites-attract couple who fall in love and try to stay that way when the honeymoon is over and real life intrudes.  Though not a musical, director Vincente Minnelli (Meet Me in St. Louis, An American in Paris) gives the film the light and bubbly tone of one, and throws in a few choreographed numbers to boot.

In a role originally developed for Grace Kelly (“She got the prince, I got the part” Bacall quipped), she plays Marilla Brown, a fashion designer who meets sportswriter Mike Hagen while on vacation in Beverly Hills.  They embark on a whirlwind romance and return to New York blissfully in love and knowing little about one another.

Mike assumes they’ll live in his cluttered shoebox bachelor pad and is stunned to learn she owns a luxurious penthouse. 

Laughs ensue as they discover further differences that mark them as completely incompatible but never diminish their love. 

The most memorable scene in the film is when Mike hosts his weekly poker night with his reporter friends on the same night Marilla has a group of her artistic friends over for a dramatic reading.  Each is incredulous over the other’s choice of food, friends, and activities.

Further trouble ensues when Marilla meets Mike’s former lover Lori Shannon and Mike pretends not to know her.  There’s no malice in Mike’s lie, he merely wishes to spare Marilla’s feelings.

There’s a mobster after Mike, a fashion show for Marilla, and Mike’s old boxer friend who sleeps with not one but two eyes open.

It’s a funny, sweet comedy that ends with a choreographed fight scene as mobsters attempt to kidnap Marilla and Mike rides to the rescue with mixed results.

By the time Designing Women was released, Bogart was gone.  Numb with grief, she went on a three week publicity tour for the film just two months after his death.

In the years after Bogart’s death, Bacall floundered in both her life and career.  She had a disastrous rebound relationship with Frank Sinatra, and an unsuccessful second marriage with Jason Robards that likely wouldn’t have happened at all but for her pregnancy.  She lost her mother and her beloved uncle Charlie who acted as a father figure. 

She fled California—her film career was all but dead, her friends had been Bogart’s friends, and Bogart was gone.  She couldn’t live in that once happy house without him.

She returned home—to New York City, and the stage.

Though her film career never recovered (despite an Academy Award-nominated performance many years later in 1996’s The Mirror Has Two Faces), Bacall embarked on a successful decades-long career in the theater. 

In was in the theater that she found happiness and satisfaction again.  And success.  Though the Oscar eluded her, she was perhaps more grateful to win two Best Actress Tony Awards for her work in Applause (1970) and Woman of the Year (1981).

The pity of the stage is that, unlike film, its great performances are lost to history. 

Lauren Bacall died in 2014, 115 years after the day Humphrey Bogart was born.  During the 115 years that one or both of them walked the earth, they shared only 13 years together.

Such a short time, but it couldn’t have been any longer.  If they’d met any earlier, she’d have been too young for a romance to blossom.  For Bogart, Bacall was a sweet ending—the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for a man who’d been so unlucky in love.

B&B on their wedding day

For Bacall, Bogart was the beginning.  She became a woman when she fell in love with him, and he set the standard for her love and work.

Casablanca was a wonderful romantic film, perhaps the finest ever made.  But when Humphrey Bogart found his Baby two years after completing the film, they one-upped Rick and Isla. 

At the end of Casablanca, Isla lets Rick talk her into leaving him so they can both do their part to help the war effort.

Admirable, yes.

But Bacall would’ve let the world burn to the ground before she left her Bogie on the tarmac.

As we turn the page on one of Hollywood’s greatest love stories, I’ll give Bacall the last word.  She writes in By Myself, “No one has ever written a romance better than we lived it.”

Sources

  • Sperber, A.M. and Eric Lax.  Bogart.  1997.
  • Bacall, Lauren.  By Myself.  1978.

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

Remake Rumble:  Father of the Bride (1950) vs Father of the Bride (1991)

Spencer Tracy and Steve Martin, both as Papa Banks in their respective versions of Father of the Bride
Remake Rumble Opening Banner:  Father of the Bride (1950) vs. Father of the Bride (1991)

When it comes to Father of the Bride, only the names have changed.

In the original, Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett play Stanley and Ellie Banks, proud parents of Elizabeth Taylor’s about-to-be married Kay Banks.

In the 1991 remake, Steve Martin and Diane Keaton revive the parents as George and Nina Banks, and Kimberly Williams-not-yet-Paisley-at-the-time takes on the role of young and blushing bride Annie.

Other than that, only the addition of color separates the films.

Both open on patriarch Banks, disheveled and collapsed in his easy chair, just after the last guest has left his daughter’s wedding reception.  Papa Banks removes his shoe and rubs his aching foot as he regales the horrific tale of his daughter’s wedding.

Papa Banks has one daughter—a daddy’s girl through and through—and the news of her engagement (to a boy who isn’t worthy of her, naturally) sends him reeling. 

Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride (1950); Steve Martin and Kimberly Williams-Paisley in Father of the Bride (1991)
Elizabeth Taylor, Spencer Tracy, Steve Martin, Kimberly Williams-Paisley

As Papa Banks narrates the events to the audience, he makes a loveable fool of himself throughout the rest of the film.  While his wife and the fiancé’s parents are unequivocally thrilled, Papa Banks howls that his daughter is too young to get married, and dismisses his wife’s reminder that she was the same age when she married him.

Having financial responsibility for the wedding, he demands cuts to the guest list, and blows a gasket at the price of the wedding cake.

Both feature scenes of the father of the bride trying to squeeze his now middle-aged body into a tuxedo that was the peak of fashion—twenty years ago.

Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride (1950); Steve Martin in Father of the Bride (1991)

And in both scenes, the daughter overacts to a silly fight with her fiancé and threatens to call off the wedding—for about five minutes, until the equally distraught fiancé arrives to apologize.  (In the original the fight is about his desire to go fishing on their honeymoon; in the remake it’s because he buys her a blender as a wedding gift.)

Papa Banks covers his terror of losing his daughter by grousing over the extravagance and cost of every detail, but ultimately bends to his wife and daughter’s wishes down to the last canapé.

And just like any film with a gooey center, he realizes in the end that (just like his wife assured him) it was all worth it, and that, “a son is a son ‘til he finds a wife, but a daughter is a daughter all her life.”

Elizabeth Taylor in Father of the Bride (1950); Kimberly Williams-Paisley in Father of the Bride (1991)
Two young brides…Elizabeth Taylor and Kimberly Williams-Paisley

Father of the Bride is a perennial favorite because even though he is an exaggerated figure, everyone knows a Stanley (or George) Banks.  A loveable curmudgeon who can’t quite grasp that the pigtailed daughter he once bounced on his knee is now a woman.  One who can’t accept that he will no longer be the man in his daughter’s life.  (Driven home in both films in a scene where the daughter dismisses her father’s advice that she wear a coat, then immediately acquiesces when her fiancé suggests the same.)

I prefer the original 1950 version, because I’m partial to old films, Spencer Tracy is more believable as a grumpy old dad, and the newer version veers unnecessarily into the absurd at points (as when Steve Martin falls into his future in-laws swimming pool, or spends the night in jail after causing a scene in a supermarket.)  Also, the over-the-top wedding planner played by Martin Sheen is similarly absurd and hasn’t aged well.

But these are nitpicks.  When it comes to the best version of Father of the Bride, the choice is truly yours.

Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride (1950); Steve Martin and Kimberly Williams-Paisley in Father of the Bride (1991)
Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride (1950); Steve Martin and Kimberly Williams-Paisley in Father of the Bride (1991)

It’s a story so universal and so beloved that it will likely be remade (virtually unchanged) for every generation to enjoy.  As of this writing, there are talks of a remake in development starring Andy Garcia in the title role.  Time will tell if this particular project makes it to the screen, but there’s no doubt that as long as there are daughters getting married, we will see Father of the Bride again.

I look forward to the next incarnation.

To see my thoughts on the original sequel, Father’s Little Dividend (1951), head on over to read my guest post this week at B&S About Movies.

Remake Rumble Final Verdict:  Father of the Bride (1950)
Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.
Spencer Tracy and Steve Martin, both as Papa Banks in their respective versions of Father of the Bride