Saturday, August 26, 2006

Thelma Ritter in The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)

I remember "Birdman of Alcatraz" as a particularly tedious experience. And I thought that this time I might just fast-forward to Thelma Ritter's scenes. But in the end I stuck with it. My opinion hasn't changed much. Burt Lancaster plays restraint in bold capital letters and aims it at the last row of the balcony for two hours plus. And the freshly scrubbed G-rated portrayal of prison life packs little punch these days. Thelma Ritter must have welcomed the chance to play a character with some trajectory for a change. Normally, she's presented as something of an eternal verity, an unchanging (albeit reassuring) given. Characters around her may (or may not) evolve but Ritter remains Ritter. As written, Mrs. Stroud goes from potentially endearing to baldly manipulative to selfishly vindictive. And Ritter hits all her chalk marks, but I expected more. She's definitely on the good side of okay (although in her final scenes her efforts are compromised by some really awful latex aging makeup). But a nomination? No. Unless I just accept it as the one she should have gotten for "The Misfits" the year before.

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