It’s not quite here yet. I believe August 31 is the day the Film Experience will be hosting the long awaited return of StinkyLulu’s amazing Supporting Actress Smackdown.(Here in the Land of Crossed Wires I somehow got the impression it was going to be the 24th so I rushed to get these last few posts done). But, whatever, I’ve been looking forward to it since the announcement last month. That’s when 1952 was revealed as the target year. So this past month I’ve been revisiting key ’52 titles. Some are permanent and much-viewed favorites of mine; others I haven’t seen in decades. I even caught up with a couple I’d never watched before. And, of course, I revisited the five Oscar nominated supporting actress performances from that year. In other words I couldn’t resist playing along at home.
For the last few weeks I’ve been posting pieces on some of the notable performances that weren’t nominated that year, spotlighting seven actresses whose work intrigued me for one reason or another. And there are still quite a few faves I just didn’t get around to.
DIANA DORS in “The Last Page” – a neat British B, picked up by Lippert for fleapit showings
in the States – where it was radically re-titled “Man Bait”. Fading American stars George Brent and Marguerite Chapman are the leads and don’t do badly. But it’s Dors who steals the picture; she works in a stuffy bookshop and (echoes of Dorothy Malone in “The Big Sleep”) just yearns for a little fun. For Dors, however, the fun's over practically before it's begun - and she's up to her eyelashes in blackmail, robbery and worse. A sympathetic, nicely judged performance - and one more indication that the British film world could have and should have done better by Miss D.
De Camp was type-cast as the ideal mother when she was barely out of her twenties. Serving as loving mom to James Cagney, Ronald Reagan, Doris Day, Robert Alda (as George Gershwin) and Sabu among others. So it was startling to see her cast here in an altogether different light – as a pathetically unhinged ex, stalking Broderick Crawford, the man who’d jilted her years before. She’s really good in the part, too. Of course it all ends in disaster – because stalking Broderick Crawford’s a bad idea on every conceivable level. But it was great to see a new and impressive facet of De Camp’s talent.
ADELE JERGENS in “AARON SLICK FROM PUNKIN CRICK”
I discussed this performance and others by Jergens in a post from a few years back. Loved her then, love her still.
MANDY MILLER in “Mandy”
A remarkable piece of work from a juvenile . And the picture itself was a celebrated hit in British cinemas. Miller was only seven, I believe,when she committed this terrific performance (as a deaf child whose family can’t cope) to film. Phyllis Calvert (a favorite of mine) starred as her mother. And was excellent. But audiences were primarily moved by Mandy Miller’s unexpectedly powerful work; most assumed she really was deaf. She wasn’t. Just a tremendously gifted and sensitive little actress. She certainly deserved one of those juvenile Oscars they used to dole out periodically. But, then, Natalie Wood didn’t get one for “Miracle on 34th Street” either. So go figure.
There are a couple of ’52 performances I loved when I saw them 40 or 50 years ago
MONA BARRIE in “Strange Fascination
and SPRING BYINGTON in “No Room for the Groom”
But I’ve never been able to track them down for re-viewing so can’t really confirm whether they’d stand up for me now.
Anyway here’s how I feel about the five performances that were nominated that year – the five the Smackdowners will be reviewing – eloquently and entertainingly I’m sure – next weekend.
GLORIA GRAHAME in “The Bad and the Beautiful” ♥
Grahame was so good sometimes there’s a tendency to remember her as being good in everything. She wasn’t. Here, for example, flouncing around with a half-assed Southern accent , she delivers a few noncommital swats at playing a blandly silly woman. Then dies off-screen. That’s it. Of course it’s Gloria Grahame, 1952. So she looks good in that sly boots way of hers. But the nomination is nonsense.
JEAN HAGEN in “SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN” ♥♥
Hagen was a fine actress. Loved her in “The Asphalt Jungle”. But here her efforts are all in aid of a one note gag. Am I missing some gene? Did I not drink the Lina Lamont kool-aid? I’ve enjoyed Barbara Nichols’ take on similar characters – sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching. So I know I’m not immune. And Hagen’s performance is obviously committed, consistent and universally admired. I just don’t find it funny– which, as far as I can see, is the one and only goal here.
COLETTE MARCHAND in “Moulin Rouge” ♥♥♥♥
Think Mildred in “Of Human Bondage” Only Gallic and scrappier. I expected a mild tempest in a French teapot. But – playing with assurance and in bracingly unapologetic mode – Marchand owns the role. Highlights include a moment of brief semi-contrition after a spat plus a scarily convincing drunk scene. A bright film future seemed likely. But, within a year or two, she was gone. Maybe that push-cart license came through.
TERRY MOORE in “Come Back Little Sheba” ♥♥
Onscreen, Terry Moore’s almost defined by her size. There’s not much of her and not much to her. An unseemly confidence in her own (meagre) charisma. Plus a randy vibe. That’s about it. When cast as a storybook heroine, she’s a dud. But here, playing an immature tease, Moore seems more chez elle. Less a performance than just some mildly provocative bustling around. But she gets the job done.
THELMA RITTER in “WITH A SONG IN MY HEART” ♥♥♥♥
The first 50 minutes play like a splashy paperdoll book, Hayward fetchingly radioactive in a parade of spectacular gowns. Then she’s injured in a plane crash. Enter Thelma as nurse/confidante/cantankerous
life coach. Another illustration of Ritter’s treasurable talent for communicating salt-of-the-earth empathy from under a grumpy veneer.
I suppose the Smackdown will wind up a virtual Hagen coronation. But I’m still looking forward to all the entertaining and pithy observations – the hosannas and the barbs - that are bound to be part and parcel of the new Smackdown. That’s Entertainment!
Whom would I have nominated?
VALERIE HOBSON “The Card”
MIRIAM HOPKINS “Carrie”
MANDY MILLER “Mandy”
ALICE PEARCE “The Belle of New York”
CLAIRE TREVOR “My Man and I”
with HOBSON for the win