It was a long, slow decline that took Veronica Lake from the 40 spy thrillers she made with Alan Ladd, to Flesh Feast (1970). But that was how it often was for stars of that era, on the top for a few years before retiring, only to return when very old for the money (it’s a frequent trajectory for actors who can’t resist the lure of celluloid.
Veronica Lake trademark ‘peekaboo’ bangs, her long blonde hair obscuring one eye. It was an artificial look that perfectly summed up the artifice of the time.
It has been such an enduringly appealing look that it was immediately obvious which star Kim Basinger had been made up to look like in L.A. Confidential:
Kim Basinger as a Lake-a-like in L.A Confidential)
By this point it is clear how much the movies owe to Veronica Lake, and just how embedded her look is in the fabric of movies. She has been mentioned in Manhattan, by Tracey, and scenes of her film This Gun For Hire are used as the film Goldie Hawn watches in Foul Play. That film is a wonderful summation of her talent in using her sexiness and likeability on screen to full effect. Her character is a dancer who gets caught up with Alan Ladd. In one scene she performs as a magician whilst singing Hocus Pocus (as far as I know her own voice was used) and in another scene she performs as a mermaid in fishnets and rubber; its innocently sexy in a way only films of this period are. But its really the chemistry that she had with Ladd that makes her so notable. She has an upfrontness about her that few other actresses had. Watching that film, you get the real impression that you are watching two people slowly falling in love with each other. Its also a great thriller, with a story by Graham Greene. Lake and Ladd were together again in the Dashiell Hamnet story The Glass Key (by all accounts a very faithful adaptation) and The Blue Dahlia.
I love this film so much
Lake appeared in another iconic film that inspired the Coen brothers’ O Brother Where Art Thou, the Preston Sturges epic Sullivan’s Travels. The film mixed comedy with a more serious social realist element, the film-within-a-film had Joel McCrea making a film about the Depression. The film says much about the gap between making films for art or for entertainment’s sake, in doing so its become a work of art itself. Those looking for Veronica Lake glamour will be disappointed,as she spends most of the film dressed as a boy.
Lake and Ladd were like two kids in a world for adults (they were both under five feet five). Her haircut was so popular that the government prohibited other women from copying it, fearing it would cause them accidents.
Her star waned after the war. She only made a few films after 1948, then filed for bankruptcy. By the time she made her last film, she was unrecognizable from the delectable satin moll who stole the heart of Alan Ladd and countless others.
Veronica Lake: “You could put all the talent I had into your left eye and still not have your eyesight impaired.”