Friday, August 23, 2013


                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. 

            For instance:

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.
ROSEMARY DeCAMP in “Scandal Sheet”
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.

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.

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.

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?

ALICE PEARCE “The Belle of New York”

with HOBSON for the win


NicksFlickPicks said...

I am in complete heaven that you have posted these. I'll be pretty stalwart in the Hagen camp, but I do have one other contender that gives her a run for her money, which I'll fess up to shortly on my blog, once I'm back at home...

CanadianKen said...

Nick, I've always found you to be as gracious as Valerie Hobson, as astute as Thelma Ritter , as endearing as Mandy Miller. So warm words from you are always welcome. Thanks.


wow. can't believe you have not one overlap! but this is interesting.

CanadianKen said...

Thanks for visiting. Yep, no overlaps for me in '52. I'd say Marchand (and maybe Ritter) were nomination calibre here. But there were just too many superior turns from ladies in the Oscar outskirts that year.
Re Hagen's win: There's certainly no denying that, among the nominees, hers is the performance that has not just retained its prominence but has actually grown in fame and favor over the years. Yet, I doubt that in '52 she was perceived as the front-runner. Certainly, her Lina Lamont was immediately liked; the fact that she was nominated bears that out. But "Moulin Rouge" and "Come Back Little Sheba" both dripped with the kind of cultural prestige that would have seemed to make Marchand and Moore high-brow choices. I agree that Grahame was all over the place in '52 (although I don't think RKO's "Macao' was regarded at the time as anything but a scruffy Jane Russell gawk-fest - with Grahame along for the ride). Still, I feel there was another factor besides ubiquity that counted in Grahame's favor. I believe studio block voting was still alive and well in '52. MGM personnel would've tended (with strong encouragement from the top) to vote for their own. "Singin' in the Rain" had come out at the beginning of the year. "The Bad and the Beautiful", a December release, was still fairly new in theatres at Oscar time. And I suspect the studio felt there was still serious money to be made from it. A Grahame Oscar win could only add to its box-office appeal. So I think Grahame probably took precedence over Hagen as the studio's go-to voting choice.
Even then, though - and given the inconsequential nature of Grahame's actual performance in the film - I'm still surprised she won. Although you'd hardly guess it now, in its day "With a Song in My Heart" was as booming a box-office hit as "Singin' in the Rain". And was there ever anyone that didn't like Thelma Ritter?
Her popularity was at its peak in the early 50's. And "Heart" gave the lady her third nomination in as many years (with three more to come). I'd bet that Ritter, not Hagen, was the one insiders (and others) probably figured was robbed on Oscar night.
P.S. Don't get me wrong. I love Gloria Grahame. But what an erratic career graph she had! Within months of winning her Academy Award, she was giving one of the greatest of all "noir' performances in "The Big Heat" (which, of course, nobody thought to nominate) followed by a display of astonishing incompetence in "Prisoners of the Casbah", a slapped-together quickie that makes any other sword and sandal potboiler look like O'Neill. Who was her agent?