We too have been puzzling this out lately, sparked by the 2014 deaths of Lauren Bacall (who passed in on Aug. 12), Luise Rainer (Dec. 30), Mickey Rooney (April 6) and Shirley Temple (Feb. 10). (We await the comprehensive 2014 necrology from British publication, Sight & Sound, to see who may join this list.)
The short answer to today’s principal question is that each of the above through a combination of looks, personality, and, yes, talent, became unforgettable screen personalities who undoubtedly will live on in classic movie memory. But the movies they made? As the saying goes, not so much.
Bacall had a long and distinguished career covering more than 70 movie and tv credits over seven decades (she worked right up until last year) but is remembered for her earliest outings. And these were in conjunction with husband Humphrey Bogart, a classic star who made several movie classics.
Bacall enlivened her first movie, 1944’s To Have and to Have Not, by coaching Bogie on how to whistle. She was upstaged by Agnes Moorehead in Dark Passage, and figured as Bogie’s love interest in her third movie, the all but incomprehensible (still) The Big Sleep. And she was radiantly memorable in the 1948 thriller Key Largo, her fifth film.
We’ll stipulate that at least one of the above titles rates as a movie classic — our choice is Key Largo. But it’s hard to come up with other Bacall titles with or without Bogie that can be so classified.
The German-born Rainer, who lived to 104 (she would have been 105 next week), is readily known today for winning back to back best-actress Oscars for 1936’s The Great Ziegfeld opposite William Powell, and for 1937’s The Good Earth opposite Paul Muni. Can either of these film be considered classics today? Just asking. The same question applies to the rest of Rainer’s 25-credit career.
From the force of his histrionic personality alone, Mickey Rooney will be remembered. His talents were perhaps best on display in the movies he made with Judy Garland: 1939’s Babes in Arms, 1940’s Strike Up The Band, 1941’s Babes on Broadway, and 1943’s Girl Crazy.
Rooney, who died at age 93, made a ton of movies — his tv/movie credit list tops 330 individual credits. And, he certainly made his share of commercial clunkers of little interest today. The pictures with Garland live on. Still, can they be considered movie classics?
Temple is a clearcut case. She is unforgettable, the biggest child movie star Hollywood has ever produced. But don’t be surprised if you have trouble identifying the titles of the movies that showcased this amazing talent. A classic star in not so classic movies.