If you’re trying to quit smoking, we support the effort enthusiastically. Just don’t look to the movies for much help.
Older films in particular, with their smoke-filled rooms, reflect those bygone days when a lot more people were puffing. And cigarettes help define the characters we see in those movies: when these people smoke, the habit looks so cool and richly pleasurable that one can see the draw.
Here are our picks for movies where the cigarette stars, right alongside the actor smoking it.
Now, Voyager (1942)
In this classic romance, the most indelible moment occurs when Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid) lights two cigarettes at once, then places one in the mouth of spinster-turned-swan Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis). Even seen today, it’s an impossibly sexy gesture. As a result, wherever Henreid went, young ladies were begging him to repeat it for them.
To Have and Have Not (1944)
Whether or not Lauren Bacall was too young (at twenty) to be playing a sexy, tough dame opposite Humphrey Bogart, or too young to buy her own pack, she carries off the lighting of a single cigarette with poise and finesse. The line that does it: “Anybody got a match?” Bogart did — a match that started a fire, and not long after, he married the girl who needed a light.
The cigarette was to Rita Hayworth what the tiara was to Princess Diana: the accessory highlighting the beauty already there. In “Gilda,” Hayworth is enfolded in a gossamer cloud of smoke that hints at the complexity and conflict beneath her gorgeous surface. But don’t take our word for it. This dialogue spells out the dynamic between Gilda and her Marlboro just fine:
Gilda: Got a light?
Uncle Pio: Yes, Mrs. Mundson. It is so crowded and yet so lonely, isn't it?
Gilda: How did you know?
Uncle Pio: You smoke too much. I've noticed. Only frustrated people smoke too much and only lonely people are frustrated.
Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) may smoke more than any other character in film. He is also French, which means that the amount he smokes needs context- in this case, Paris in the late fifties. The top-selling cigarette is called, after all, the Gauloise. Anyhow, the super cool Belmondo looks as if he was born to smoke.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
The iconic image from the screen adaptation of Truman Capote’s famous novella is not the cat or the sunglasses. It is the cigarette holder that Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) positions between her elegant fingers, as long and cool and slender as Hepburn herself. That there is a cigarette at the end of the holder seems almost beside the point.
The tip of a brown cigarette balances precariously on Blondie’s (Clint Eastwood) lower lip, but somehow never falls to the ground, a memorable display of confidence combined with indifference. Director Sergio Leone helped create the tough, squinty Clint we know and love in this classic Spaghetti Western, and this teetering butt played a critical supporting role.
It’s hard to imagine the brilliantly profane comedian Lenny Bruce (Dustin Hoffman) stabbing at the air with a hand that did not hold a lit cigarette, its ember glowing in the small, dark nightclub. In Bob Fosse's stunning biopic, the camera captures the moody intimacy of this nocturnal setting, rendered romantic by the cloud of smoke hanging in the air. It was Bruce who brought the fresh oxygen.
Body Heat (1981)
Florida lawyer Ned Racine (William Hurt) smokes in the sultry heat, waiting for scheming Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) to break the sexual tension that builds along with the humidity. She’s playing him, but even if he guesses it, he doesn’t care. With each drag on his cigarette, Hurt inhales and exhales desire — and the flame is never quite extinguished.