R.I.P. Dorothy Malone

The actress – whose career spanned over 50 years, has died at the age of 93.

My first exposure to her was in Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep, where she is absolutely unforgettable in her one scene with Humphrey Bogart in the bookshop. Her nameless character is one of the few truly liberated women in cinema. I don’t know anyone who isn’t affected by this scene in a primal way. Men flip their lids. Women find the character aspirational, relatable. A lesbian friend of mine – normally very articulate – can’t even discuss the scene. “Forget it. I’m hers forever.”

Liberation isn’t just about being able to say “no.” It’s about being ABLE to say “yes” – being okay enough with your own sex drive to say “yes” to it – and then move forward to get what you need. It’s such a great scene, starting with a little QA and then ending with hot afternoon delight … among the stacks, people … among the stacks! She makes such an impression you keep hoping she’ll return. (It’s a bold move to put such a strong female character in the film, since it’s mainly a vehicle for Bacall and Bogart. But Bogart, in the film, is surrounded by viable alternatives, including the sassy cab driver who gives him her card – yet another truly liberated woman. So he’s got options besides Bacall.) Malone’s character in The Big Sleep – who doesn’t even have a name! She is listed on IMDB as “Acme Book Shop Proprietress” – is not an overt sexpot. Most men would overlook her at first glance, or at least not perceive the potential. She’s not a bombshell. She’s not a yearning explosive Tennessee Williams spinster. She’s a smart cookie, a businesswoman, a cool customer, who feels the heat with this strange man and decides to act upon it.

And so she takes off her glasses.

And, to quote my friend, “Forget it.” Bogart clears his schedule for the afternoon.

In 1956, of course, Dorothy Malone won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as quintessential “bad girl” in Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind (a film in which Lauren Bacall also appeared). Yet again, she’s unforgettable, and my God she looks divine in Technicolor.

David Lynch is on record with his love for Written on the Wind, and you can clock references to it throughout his work. I always thought he was referencing Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind with this shot in Lost Highway.

And finally, I can’t finish this post of tribute without mentioning her role in Peyton Place, where she appeared with none other than Gena Rowlands, of course.

R.I.P. It’s the kind of career I love: long-lasting, hard-working, adaptive, intuitive. Change with the times. Move on. Look forward. Don’t repeat yourself. WORK.

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7 Responses to R.I.P. Dorothy Malone

  1. Sheila

    Oh my goodness Dorothy Malone! I love her. What a beautiful tribute to her! “It’s about being ABLE to say yes.” uh huh, tell it Sheila.
    I was watching The Last Voyage for the first time not that long ago and couldn’t place for a minute who the actress was. Who is that gorgeous woman who can also act?! Of course! Dorothy Malone! Man of a Thousand Faces. Cagney loved her too. And what a face she had. She stands out all the time for both her beauty and skill. I did the same when I saw her in Sliver, but who’s that though? Well done, Dorothy Malone!

    • sheila says:

      // uh huh, tell it Sheila. // hahahaha I keep telling it but nobody wants to hear it. Thank youfor your support.

      I don’t think I’ve seen The Last Voyage. Will have to rectify that.

      What did Cagney say about her? I love that he loved her!

      Like Bette Davis – she put out an ad in the newspaper later in her career saying “I need work. For hire!!”

  2. Ahhh. meant to say Basic Instinct!

  3. I never cared who killed the chauffeur, but I did always wonder why they didn’t just make The Big Sleep about Dorothy Malone. Great in everything and I never saw her strike a false note. (Highly recommend a western called Quantez if you’re looking for something offbeat and a little obscure. It’s as far from that confidence she displayed in The Big Heat as you can get and she’s every bit as good.)

    • sheila says:

      // I did always wonder why they didn’t just make The Big Sleep about Dorothy Malone. //

      I know!!

      It’s such a weird movie, with all of these little stand-alone scenes that could make up a whole entire movie in and of themselves.

      I haven’t seen Quantez – will look for it – thank you!

  4. Maureen says:

    I love that scene in the bookshop-and the funny thing-I forgot it was Dorothy Malone-because she was a brunette! Her pulling down that shade? Classic.

    Written On the Wind is such an enjoyable movie-I feel it isn’t as well know as some of the other Douglas Sirk movies. So full of emotion, drama-love it!

    • sheila says:

      I love how when she pulls down the shade, she dips her whole body down. It’s so playful – her intent though is so clear.

      I agree in re: Written on the Wind. It’s out of control – and the COLORS. MY GOD. How about the final shot – of her in the office, stroking the phallic-shaped oil derrick, as the final music swells? It’s just so … unbelievable. She’s so great in it.

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