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After Lauren Bacall's stunning film debut in To Have and Have Not (1944), the big question in Hollywood was, what will she do for an encore? The answer should have been The Big Sleep (1946), another pairing with Bogart and actually the second film she shot. But that film was still being tinkered with, and Warner Bros. was in a hurry to capitalize on Bacall's sudden stardom, so instead they rushed her third film, Confidential Agent (1945), into theaters.
Based on a Graham Greene novel, Confidential Agent is the story of a Spanish musician (Charles Boyer) who becomes a reluctant spy in England during the Spanish Civil War. Bacall plays the daughter of an English lord, who helps Boyer. Bacall would later say, "To cast me as an aristocratic English girl was more than a stretch. It was dementia." Most critics agreed, giving her scathing reviews. And she didn't get much help from Herman Shumlin, a stage director who was directing his second film. He never directed another.
Yet at least one important critic liked the film, and the star. James Agee wrote "Lauren Bacall is still amateurish and she is about as English as Pocahontas, but her very individual vitality more than makes up for her deficiencies." And author Graham Greene -- himself a film critic -- thought Bacall was fine. He pointed out that "the girl was only second generation nouveau riche, and therefore Miss Bacall was right in not giving her any real aristocratic air." Greene liked Confidential Agent the best of all his filmed works.
For Charles Boyer's world-weary agent, there was unanimous praise. Long typecast as a Continental Lover, he had the chance to show what a subtle, multifaceted actor he was. As the villains, Peter Lorre and Katina Paxinou were at their nasty best. Robert Buckner's screenplay captured Greene's moral ambiguity, and cinematographer James Wong Howe captured the drearyness. Although Confidential Agent was not a success in 1945, today's sophisticated audiences may agree with critic Lewis Archibald that "as many another 'classic' retreats with its time and place, something about films like Confidential Agent manages to stay always fresh and useful."
Director: Herman Shumlin
Producer: Robert Buckner
Screenplay: Robert Buckner, Jack Daniel (dialogue), based on the novel by Graham Greene
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Editor: George Amy
Art Direction: Leo Kuter
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: Charles Boyer (Denard), Lauren Bacall (Rose Cullen), Katina Paxinou (Mrs. Melandez), Peter Lorre (Contreras), Victor Francen (Licata), George Coulouris (Captain Currie).
BW-118m. Closed Captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri