Friday, January 16, 2009

Ladies of the Silver Screen and Why I Love Them Part Two

Marge Gunderson (Fargo): "I'm not sure I agree with you a hunnert percent on your police work, there, Lou." Frances McDormand as the smalltown cop. Strong, compassionate, pregnant, a trooper in more ways than one.

Susan Vance: (Bringing Up Baby): Cary Grant plays opposite Katherine Hepburn in this first rate screwball comedy: "Now it isn't that I don't like you, Susan, because, after all, in moments of quiet, I'm strangely drawn toward you but - well, there haven't been any quiet moments..." Delightfully daffy, seriously screwy, elegantly cuckoo, Kate at her wacky best.

Charlotte Vale (Now Voyager): Bette Davis with caterpillars for eyebrows.

Mrs Henry Windle Vale (Now Voyager): Gladys Cooper as Charlotte's bad mother, the mother who never tells her daughter about plucking or other activities that rhyme with plucking or anything the least bit plucky. Cooper was a stage actress extraodinaire and it shows.

Stella Dallas (Stella Dallas): Big jewelry, big heart, big sacrifices. If Mrs Vale was one of the nastiest mothers in cinema then Stella wins for being the most loving and sacrificial. In her clanging baubles and gaudy frocks, Barbara Stanwyck aces the part.

Loreli Lee (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes): Upon discovering that the tiara really does belong on top of one's head, Marilyn Monroe as Loreli Lee declares: "I just LOVE finding mew places to wear diamonds." I always understood Loreli's attraction to the sparkly stuff, and Marilyn played the diamond-digging Loreli ("a girl such as I") with her usual winning platinum aplomb.

Baby Jane Hudson (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane): Wearing ringlets and rouge not fit for courtesan nor streetwalker, Baby Jane (former child star now in her 60s) taunts and tortures her crippled sister: "But ya ah in a wheelchair, Blanche, ya ah." BD chewing up the scenery.

Madame X (Madame X): Lana Turner doing the sacrificial wife/mother bit in this superb hanky soaker. Her costars are formindable: Burgess Meredith, John Forsyth, Keir Dullea, and Ricardo Montalban as her sleazy lover. With Constance Bennett playing her evil mother-in-law the cast was complete.

Billie Dawn (Born Yesterday): Judy Holliday originated the role of this not-so-dumb-blonde-gangster's-moll on Broadway but almost didn't get the screen part. Good thing she did: her gin game is the prize in this box of Crackerjacks.

Norma Desmond (Sunset Boulevard): Gloria Swanson as the hasbeen star of the silent screen. "We had faces then." Full of silent actress gesturing and grand dame overacting Swanson is perfectly creepy in her stagey, needy turn as Norma Desmond.

Prissy (Gone With the Wind): "I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies!" Butterfly McQueen's glorious high pitched voice was once described in print as "a clarinet with a cold". In later years McQueen would be called "Uncle Thomasina" for taking on the stereotypical role of Scarlett O'Hara's maid. I include the character here because McQueen once said: "Now I am happy I did Gone With the Wind. I wasn't when I was 28, but it's part of black history. You have no idea how hard it is for black actors, but things change, things blossom in time." Butterfly was one of the blossoms.

Scarlett O'Hara: (GWTW): The girl had a way with drapery. After I saw the flick in the 60s I made a frock out of my mother's tablecloth. Not as stunning as Vivien Leigh's velvet creation but certainly suitable for the Swinging Decade.

Blanche DuBois (A Streetcar Named Desire): "Oh, look we have created enchantment." Here Vivien Leigh calls upon her vocal chords to help create the last-ditch-attempt and bruised reality of Blanche DuBois: dipping way down low then rising to a frantic pitch, she inhabits Blanche's unhinged mind with characteristic expertise.

Sally Bowles (Cabaret): Liza, Liza, Liza! (With a zee.) I painted my nails green after seeing Cabaret and in my small town that non pink nail polish rocked the small boats of the small people almost as much as my tablecloth dress and my other eye catching sartorial creations.

The Girl (Seven Year Itch): Marilyn in that marshmallow pink ensemble, Marilyn in that iconic white dress, Marilyn in anything (including her underwear which she keeps in the icebox in this heat saturated movie). When I was little I thought Tom Ewell was very funny but now that I am all grown up (kinda) I wish Wilder had gotten his first choice: Walter Mathau.

Judith Canfield (Stage Door): Lucille Ball wasn't always the card we knew from I Love Lucy. In her early movie career she tackled serious roles, this one opposite Kate Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Eve Arden and Ann Miller.

Tracy Lord (Philadelphia Story): My, Kate was yar - especially in that sleek, sexy, sparkly white evening dress by Adrian.

Dinah Lord (Philadelphia Story): Virginia Weidler as the spirited little sister of Tracy. Only Groucho could out do her rousing rendition of "Lydia O Lydia, say have you met Lydia, Lydia, the Tatooed Lady. She has eyes that folks adore so and a torso even more so."

Kate Trask (East of Eden): Jo Van Fleet won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing James Dean's mom in both his first film and hers. She was 41 years old at the time and had up until then been a stage actress exclusively.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ladies of the Silver Screen and Why I Love Them

Leslie Crosbie (The Letter): Bette Davis pumping bullets into a man in a white linen suit on a moonlit veranda in Manila. I would love to play this part but BD has pretty much defined it for all time. No remakes allowed.

Mrs Hampton aka the Eurasian Woman (The Letter): Gale Sondergaard parting the bead curtains in the opium den revealing her mysterious and regal self while that crazy opium addict snickers in the background. Sondergaard's biggest career mistake (or not; see below*) was turning down the role of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.

Maude (Harold and Maude): "My body is in the earth, my head in the stars." When I was a teenager I performed a monologue from the play The Actress for an audition. I didn't get the part but it was the beginning of my appreciation for the woman who wrote that autobiographical script: Ruth Gordon. Eighteen years after The Actress appeared on the silver screen Ms Gordon breathed life into Harold's Maude and gave us the most vibrant free-spirited octogenarian in all cinema.

Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany's) Audrey in Givenchy! It made me want to go to Tiffany's. I finally got there a few years ago, just stood outside like Holly did in the movie.

Margo Channing (All About Eve): "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night". Another great turn from Mother Goddam.

Mrs Robinson (The Graduate): She loses in the end but with Anne Bancroft playing this sexy mom/seductress could she ever really be considered a loser? I first saw La Bancroft in The Miracle Worker as the kindhearted Annie Sullivan. This switch up to the cold and calculating Mrs R endeared her to me forever.

Jeanne (Last Tango in Paris): My hair was poker straight so naturally I wanted Maria Schneider's full head of curly hair. But that was all I coveted of hers. Brando was cruel to say she'd be playing soccer with her breasts in a few years but it made me like my slender silhouette even more (Twiggy had already given me a pretty good appreciation for skinny).

Sylvia Scarlet. Alice Adams (from movies of the same names): Because Katherine Hepburn played both.

Kitty Foyle (Kitty Foyle): Never seen it, just like her name.

Fran Kubelick (The Apartment): Another great name (Wilder specialized in them). In that fabulous career girl coat Shirley MacLaine gave Fran a touching and elegant vulnerability. I admire Wilder's decision to shoot in b & w.

Irma LaDouce (Irma LaDouce): French prostitute packing a mean poodle. The awesome Ms MacLaine in another Wilder jewel. This one in Technicolour for jewels have to be colourful especially if they are in Gay Paree!

Elmira Gulch (The Wizard of Oz): "I'm all but lame for the bite on my leg!" Not lame enough to stop her from pedaling a mean bike.

*Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz): Margaret Hamilton's career never recovered from the typecasting but she gave us one of the great evil ladies of cinema. As a child I always wrote a witch part for myself into the plays I put on in my basement. Hamilton's crone was a terrific role model.

Glinda (The Wizard of Oz): Billie Burke in sparkly splendor with that inimitable dance of consonants off her enchanted tongue: "Toto too." Ah, the glitter and glimmer of Glinda! I once found a dress in the garbage outside a tony downtown shop that was much like Glinda's garb except that it was blue and falling apart: a cross between the Good Witch's frock and Miss Haversham's rags.

Dorothy Gale (The Wizard of Oz): Every year they showed The Wizard of Oz at Christmas when I was a kid. Since we only had a b & w set I watched it for several years without that splendid change to colour when Dorothy lands Over the Rainbow. Still I was entranced. I'm so glad Shirley Temple didn't play Dorothy as planned. I love Judy.