There aren’t many actresses besides Kim Basinger who could have played L.A. Confidential‘s Lynn Bracken, a call girl whose calling card is her Veronica Lake looks. For Basinger, the test of credibility comes when Russell Crowe’s Officer Bud White finds Bracken at home playing Lake’s This Gun for Hire on her movie screen for a client. Same sweep of blond hair, same alabaster cool, yet White is unfazed. ”You’re the first man in five years who didn’t tell me I look like Veronica Lake inside of a minute,” says Bracken.
”You look better…” he replies.
Sullivan’s TravelsThere’s a close call. For most of the 1940s, Lake was the movies’ sultriest siren, a natural in front of the camera who won her first indelible role in Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels. Born Constance Ockelman in Brooklyn in 1919, the ingenue assumed her second stage name (her first was Constance Keane) for 1941’s aviator film I Wanted Wings, an impressive turn that earned her an eight-year contract with Paramount. But by the early ’50s, when Confidential is set, she was out of fashion. Married four times, she filed for bankruptcy in 1951, moved to New York and gave theater a try but ended up a waitress. In 1970, her screen career ended with the sci-fi bomb Flesh Feast. Lake died in 1973, leaving behind her singular mixture of seduction and grit in these signature films.
Sullivan’s Travels (1941, Universal) pairs Joel McCrea with a worldly Lake in this comedy about a pampered Hollywood director who wants to learn about the little people’s suffering. A
This Gun For Hire (1942, Universal) has singer Lake helping the Allied effort by spying on her boss — and melting the heart of hired killer Alan Ladd in the meantime. B+
The Glass Key (1942, Universal) throws socialite Lake in with henchman Ladd for Dashiell Hammett’s tale of corruption. B+
The Blue Dahlia (1946, Universal) lets Lake do her softest vamp yet for Raymond Chandler’s L.A. thriller. Again it’s murder suspect Ladd who attracts her sympathy. ”Every guy’s seen you before — somewhere,” he tells her. ”The trick is to find you.” No doubt the feelings of many a returning serviceman. B+