Thursday, August 22, 2013



 Mexican actress Katy Jurado won the Golden Globe for her supporting work in 1952’s “High Noon”.  
And the film itself was a towering success, much honoured by Oscar too.  So Jurado’s failure to land even a nomination was, at the time, regarded as something of a slap in the face. Certainly, it’s puzzling. She stayed in Hollywood for some time, lurking semi-tempestuously in several American films, mainly westerns. Even became Mrs. Ernest Borgnine for a spell. A couple of years later, the Academy did try to make amends for the perceived snub and nominated her for 'Broken Lance"an expensive western soap opera ", where she hovered stoically on the sidelines. Her dialogue in the picture consisted mainly of saying “yes, my hosband” and “no, my hosband” to Spencer Tracy. About a hundred times. And not that convincingly, coming as it did  from a lady who looked like she’d defer to absolutely no one.
           There’s no doubt she was an impressive looking woman. Her darkly dramatic beauty -  alluringly sculpted,  indelibly Mexican and utterly compelling - certainly didn’t conform to Hollywood’s prevailing standards– and that look of hers is a large part of what made her so arresting.  No one was ever going to mistake her for Janet Leigh or Piper Laurie.  Biographies claim she was 27 when she made “High Noon”. But an imposing  agelessness is what she tended to communicate. Two years later, “Broken Lance” presented her as a woman who’d  been Richard Widmark’s stepmother  for 25 years. And nobody batted an eye.  It’s as if Jurado’s look was so original, no one could get a bead on her when it came to assigning any particular age.  Anyway, in “High Noon”, she’s Helen Ramirez , widowed proprietress of the local hotel. Without actually saying so, the screenplay  subliminally posits her as a kind of surrogate saloon girl/ prostitute. Even her dress looks like some sort of kinky lingerie insolently posing as daywear.  The “decent” women of the town seem to want no truck with her – and in westerns that doesn’t usually happen because they don’t like her flapjack recipe. Certainly, that breakfast en deshabillee in her room with young buck Lloyd Bridges indicates a pretty relaxed sexual code en casa Ramirez. Though “relaxed” isn’t a word you’d apply to anything else about Jurado. Stately Aztec priestess?  Sometimes. Stalking  tigress?  Frequently.  Relaxed? Not really. Grace Kelly wasn’t the only one to shout “Amen” when Jurado passionately proclaimed “I’d follow my man to Hell and back!”. She made audiences believe it too.  As a performance, Katy Jurado’s work in “High Noon” is hard to evaluate. She doesn’t exhibit much facility with the English language. Accents fall where they may, landing on random syllables often enough to make you wonder whether she’s doing the whole thing phonetically. And there’s a lot to process about the way she’s presented – like some icon of passionate neo-realism, but on her best behaviour , with make-up maybe  a little too impeccably applied.  What she delivers onscreen here may in the end be more presence than performance. But it’s a vivid presence – one that suggests  volcanic levels of emotional potential.  Certainly “High Noon” would be a less striking movie without her. It seems that Mexican films allowed her to realize a great deal of that potential. She enjoyed a long, distinguished career in her homeland, winning Ariel Awards (Mexico's equivalent of the Oscar) in '53, '74 and '98).  I can’t help thinking that – in later years –an unbridled Jurado would have probably made a titanically effective Martha in some Spanish-language production of Albee’s “Virginia Woolff”. Come to think of it, considering that ageless quality of hers, she probably could have taken a pretty good crack at it in ‘52.  Except , of course, the play hadn’t been written yet.

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