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On January 14, 1957, Humphrey Bogart died of cancer, leaving behind his widow, Lauren Bacall, and their two young children. It took Bacall seven months to feel ready to get in front of the cameras again, and that September she started work on the sentimental weepie The Gift of Love (1958). In a big respect this was an odd choice, for in the film she plays a childless wife dying of a heart ailment who wants to leave behind for her husband -- who does not yet know she is dying -- a tangible, living reminder of their love. She convinces him that they should adopt a child, and they adopt a little girl. But the girl's wild imagination and flights of fancy don't mesh with the husband's scientific, serious mind (he is a theoretical physicist), and when Bacall finally dies, he eventually returns the girl to the orphanage before an inevitable change of heart.
Film historian Lawrence J. Quirk later wrote that casting Bacall in The Gift of Love was a cynical, coldhearted move by Fox studio executives because it showed they were trying to cash in on Bacall's actual heartache -- and that shared by millions of her movie-going fans. The studio, Quirk wrote, hoped that female audiences "could cry into their Kleenex over the real-life pain and loss of it all, but what was overlooked was that Bacall registered most vividly on screen in roles that were racy, a little bitchy, a little naughty, and more than a little pungent."
While that may be true, it's probable that Bacall was mostly attracted to the possibility of spending several weeks working with a director she trusted and adored, Jean Negulesco. He had previously directed her in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) and Woman's World (1954). And playing her husband was Robert Stack, with whom she had worked memorably in Written on the Wind (1956). Surely the comfort of being on set with old friends was more important than the subject of the movie itself so soon after Bogart's death. In her memoir Bacall hinted as much, calling the film "not a marvelous picture -- a remake, sentimental," but mentioning Negulesco as a high point.
While The Gift of Love made no dent at the box office, it fared medium-well with critics, who generally found the acting to rise above the syrupy story. The Hollywood Reporter said "Miss Bacall's performance is so wonderful that one tends to overlook Stack's supremely able achievement." Bosley Crowther of The New York Times declared the child actor, Evelyn Rudie, to steal all her scenes, and described Bacall as "mighty noble and brisk with many virtues as the wife." Crowther also noted that Stack "appears frequently without a shirt, thus revealing the muscular torso acquired from wrestling with mathematical equations."
The film's screenplay was based on the short story "The Little Horse," by Nelia Gardner White, originally published in a 1944 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine, and previously made into the film Sentimental Journey (1946), with John Payne and Maureen O'Hara
Producer: Charles Brackett
Director: Jean Negulesco
Screenplay: Luther Davis (writer); Nelia Gardner White (article)
Cinematography: Milton R. Krasner
Art Direction: Mark-Lee Kirk, Lyle R. Wheeler
Music: Cyril J. Mockridge, Alfred Newman
Film Editing: Hugh S. Fowler
Cast: Lauren Bacall (Julie Beck), Robert Stack (William 'Bill' Beck), Evelyn Rudie (Hitty), Lorne Greene (Grant Allan), Anne Seymour (Miss McMasters), Edward Platt (Dr. Jim Miller), Joseph Kearns (Mr. Rynicker), Vic Damone (Singer of title song, voice).
by Jeremy Arnold
Lauren Bacall, By Myself
Lawrence J. Quirk, The Films of Lauren Bacall
Brenda Scott Royce, Lauren Bacall: A Bio-Bibliography