Thursday, February 06, 2014


                The night sky’s a big place. A canvas that needs a lot of stars to fill it. Movie screens need stars too. And  not just the big ones. So much of what makes movies fun comes from the secondary players. And, so often, the best ones leave a more lingering glow than the luminaries they’re there to aid and abet.
                I love the movies of all eras. But I probably feel most comfortable – most at home – watching films from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. The period that crystallized and defined so much of what we want, expect and love when we watch a film.
                The  30’s represent the first full decade when the screen spoke. Not every silent star faded with the talkies.  Garbo, Colman, Crawford, Loretta Young, William Powell and W.C. Fields all shimmered brighter when the world heard them talk. But for every silent icon that lost their careers, ten newcomers lassoed  fame, using their voices as well as their faces to conquer the world. Or at least the very large part of it that went to the movies.
                Sound gave full scope to supporting players as well. They were the ones who reacted to the stars onscreen and made the stars react to them. Peppering the plot with comic or dramatic flourishes, supplying warmth and chills, villainy, vamping or valor as required.
                Like so many others, I’ve been watching these films and performers all my life. Mary Gordon, Donald Meek, J. Farrell MacDonald,  Jane Darwell are all like old friends. Eternally welcome. It’s such a  pleasure when you’re watching an old movie and one of these beloved players unexpectedly sweeps or bumbles or bustles or slips onto the screen. You feel like getting out the good china and inviting them to stay for a week.
                Anyway, I’m a list-a-holic. So here’s my chronological list of favorite supporting performances from the 30’s. You’ve probably seen many of these already. I can verify that they all stand up beautifully to repeat viewings. The ones you haven’t caught up with yet all represent  treats to look forward to.
                I could  spend  forever  watching  tiny, venerable Etienne Girardot dither and fume in 1934’s “The Firebird”. Ditto for Una O’Connor , sublimely freaking out over  Frankenstein’s monster.  Hold onto your man whenever cool blonde troublemaker Claire Dodd sidles into view.  Dodd’s  fantastic  in the Warners programmer “The Payoff.” And she doesn’t even get to play her last scene onscreen.  James Dunn just describes it to Patricia Ellis. But I‘ve pictured it so vividly in my head that, for me, it’s now a mythic Dodd moment.  Leaving me to wonder forever, was it actually filmed and left on the cutting room floor?  
                I wasn’t that high on Deanna Durbin. But I could never get enough of her sometime nemesis Helen Parrish – the 30’s greatest proponent of junior deb bitchiness. A bella donna blend of brisk entitlement and teen allure. The thing about Parrish was that she could play sweet girls beautifully too. The same year she ran maid Mary Treen ragged  in front of her gargantuan Park Avenue clothes-closet in Durbin’s “First Love”, she also played Deanna’s loving sister in “Three Smart Girls Grow Up.”  And made you want to settle down with her.
                Hugh Herbert is on this list four times. But I couldn’t leave off any of those performances, all of which have me in stitches whenever I watch them. To me, he and Lou Costello are the two funniest men I’ve ever seen in the movies.
                And speaking of funny men, I love W.C. Fields – but I’d have to say he’s never more fully Fields than when he’s sparring with Kathleen Howard and Tommy Bupp in “It’s a Gift”.  Possibly the two greatest foils he ever had.  Both marvelous.
              How many actresses have played difficult mothers-in-law?  A lot.  But no one has ever – ever – done it better than Lucile Watson in “Made for Each Other”.  Born in Canada, too, I’m proud to say.
                And “Gone with the Wind” was just the most visible peak in Hattie McDaniel’s career. I’ve gone on record before as saying this lady’s one of the goddesses. Give her a  whole hour or half a minute. It doesn’t matter. She makes magic.
                The Academy  didn’t get around to recognizing supporting performances till 1936. So for the better part of the decade, these performers and their  work  basically went unacknowledged. I’ve used asterisks to indicate performances that were nominated.  Double asterisks for actual winners.  As you’ll see the asterisks are few and far between. But that doesn’t detract a whit from the wonderful accomplishments celebrated on this list. And thanks to TCM and DVD’s, virtually all of them are out there
to  enjoy. So enjoy.

                                The 30’s -100 Favorite Supporting Performances

  1. HARRY EARLES “Freaks”(’32) Tod Browning
  2. GEORGE SIDNEY “High Pressure”(’32) Mervyn LeRoy
  3. MAE WEST “Night After Night”(’32) Archie Mayo
  4. FRED ASTAIRE “Flying Down to Rio”(’33) Thornton Freeland
  5. CLAIRE DODD “Footlight Parade”(’33) Lloyd Bacon
  6. J. FARRELL MACDONALD “Peg O’My Heart”(’33) Robert Z. Leonard
  7. UNA O’CONNOR “The Invisible Man”(’33) James Whale
  8. EDWIN PHILLIPS “Wild Boys of the Road”(’33) William Wellman
  9. GREGORY RATOFF “Let’s Fall in Love”(’33) David Burton
10. GINGER ROGERS “Flying Down to Rio”(’33) Thornton Freeland
11. ERNEST THESIGER “The Ghoul”(’33) T. Hayes Hunter
12. CLARA BLANDICK “The Show Off”(’34) Charles F. Riesner
13. HARRY C. BRADLEY “House of Mystery”(’34) William Nigh
14. TOMMY BUPP “It’s a Gift”(’34) Norman Z. Mcleod
15. FRANKIE DARRO “The Merry Frinks”(’34) Alfred E. Green
16. JANE DARWELL “Heat Lightning”(’34) Mervyn LeRoy
17. ETIENNE GIRARDOT “The Firebird”(’34) William Dieterle
18. KATHLEEN HOWARD “It’s a Gift”’ (‘34) Norman Z. McLeod
19. GUY KIBBEE “Dames”(’34) Ray Enright
20. FRANK MORGAN “Success at Any Price”(’34) J. Walter Ruben
21. MICKEY ROONEY “Hide- out”(’34) W.S. Van Dyke
22. DOROTHY TREE “The Firebird”(’34) William Dieterle
23. JANE WITHERS “Bright Eyes’(’34) David Butler
24. FRANK ALBERTSON “Alice Adams”(’35) George Stevens
25. PEGGY ASHCROFT “The 39 Steps”(’35) Alfred Hitchcock
26. ALICE BRADY “Gold Diggers of 1935”(’35) Busby Berkeley
27. JOSEPH CAWTHORNE “Gold Diggers of 1935”(’35) Busby Berkeley
28. BEBE DANIELS “Music is Magic”(’35) George Marshall
29. CLAIRE DODD “The Payoff” (‘35 ) Robert Florey
30. GLENDA FARRELL “Gold Diggers of 1935”(’35) Busby Berkeley
31. ETIENNE GIRARDOT “The Whole Town’s Talking”(’35) John Ford
32. HUGH HERBERT “Gold Diggers of 1935”(’35) Busby Berkeley
33. HUGH HERBERT “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”(’35) William Dieterle & Max Reinhardt
34. KATHLEEN HOWARD “The Man on the Flying Trapeze”(’35) Clyde Bruckman
35. HATTIE MCDANIEL “Alice Adams”(’35) George Stevens
36. JOHN MCGUIRE “Steamboat Round the Bend”(’35) John Ford
37. DONALD MEEK “The Whole Town’s Talking”(’35) John Ford
38. UNA O’CONNOR “Bride of Frankenstein”(’35) James Whale
39. EDNA MAY OLIVER “David Copperfield”(’35) George Cukor
40. BASIL RATHBONE “David Copperfield”(’35) George Cukor
41. ANN SHOEMAKER “Alice Adams”(’35)  George Stevens
42. MARY ASTOR “Dodsworth”(’36) William Wyler
43. MONA BARRIE “King of Burlesque”('36) Sidney Lanfield
44. HELEN BRODERICK “Swing Time”(’36) George Stevens
45. EDWARD BROPHY “Strike Me Pink”(’36) Norman Taurog
46. JOHN BUCKLER “Tarzan Escapes”(’36) Richard Thorpe
47. DONALD CALTHROP “The Man Who Changed His Mind”(’36) Robert Stevenson
48. FRANK CELLIER “The Man Who Changed His Mind”(’36) Robert Stevenson
49. JANE DARWELL “Ramona”(’36)  Henry King
50. JAMES ELLISON “The Plainsman”(’36) Cecil B. De Mille)
51. HUGH HERBERT “Colleen”(’36) Alfred E. Green
52. MARCIA MAE JONES “These Three”(’36) William Wyler
53. ALMA KRUGER “These Three”(’36) William Wyler
54. GAIL PATRICK “My Man Godfrey”(’36) Gregory LaCava
55. PHILIP AHN “Thank You, Mr. Moto(’37) Norman Foster
56. FAY BAINTER “Make Way for Tomorrow”(’37) Leo McCarey
57. JANE BRYAN “Confession”(’37) Joe May
58. BILLIE BURKE “Topper”(’37)  Norman Z. Mcleod
59. ESTHER DALE “The Awful Truth”(’37) Leo McCarey
60. BILLY HALOP “Dead End’(’37) William Wyler
61. HUGH HERBERT “The Singing Marine”(’37) Ray Enright
62. MARY NASH “Heidi”(’37) Allan Dwan
63. PARKYAKARKUS “She’s Got Everything”(’37) Joseph Santley
64. DITA PARLO “La Grande Illusion”(’37) Jean Renoir
65. SLIM SUMMERVILLE “Love is News”(’37) Tay Garnett
66. DOUGLAS WALTON “Flight from Glory”(’37) Lew Landers
67. SOLLY WARD “She’s Got Everything”(’37) Joseph Santley
68. EDWARD ARNOLD “You Can’t Take It with You”(’38) Frank Capra
69. GEORGE BRENT “Jezebel”(’38) William Wyler
70. JUDY GARLAND “Love Finds Andy Hardy”(’38) George B. Seitz
71. PAULETTE GODDARD “The Young in Heart”(’38) Richard Wallace
72. IGOR ILYINSKY “Volga-Volga”(’38) Grigori Aleksandrov
73. HENRY KOLKER “Holiday”(’38) George Cukor
74. MOORE MARRIOT “Old Bones of the River”(’38) Marcel Varnel
75. VARVARA MASSALATINOVA “The Childhood of Maxim Gorky”(’38) Mark Donskoy
76. ROBERT MORLEY “Marie Antoinette”(’38)   W.S. Van Dyke  *
77. DORIS NOLAN “Holiday”(’38) George Cukor
78. DONALD O’CONNOR “Sing, You Sinners”(’38) Wesley Ruggles
79. BRIAN AHERNE “Juarez”(’39)  William Dieterle  *
80. LIONEL ATWILL “Son of Frankenstein”(’39) Rowland V. Lee
81. ROMAN BOHNEN “Of Mice and Men”(’39) Lewis Milestone
82. HENRY BRANDON “The Marshal of Mesa City”(’39) David Howard
83. BILLIE BURKE “Remember?” Norman Z. McLeod
84. WALTER CONNOLLY “Fifth Avenue Girl”(’39) Gregory LaCava
85. OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND “Gone with the Wind’(’39)  Victor Fleming  *
86. ROBERT DOUGLAS “Over the Moon”(’39) Thornton Freeland
87. KAY FRANCIS “In Name Only”(’39) John Cromwell
88. SYDNEY GRENVILLE “The Mikado”(’39) Victor Schertzinger
89. MARGARET HAMILTON “The Wizard of Oz”(’39) Victor Fleming
90. SIR CEDRIC HARDWICKE “The Hunchback of Notre Dame’(’39) William Dieterle
91. J. FARRELL MACDONALD “Susannah of the Mounties’(’39) Walter Lang & William A. Seiter
92. HATTIE MCDANIEL “Gone with the Wind”(’39)  Victor Fleming  **
93. BUTTERFLY MCQUEEN “Gone with the Wind’(’39) Victor Fleming
94. DONALD MEEK “Blondie Takes a Vacation”(’39) Frank R. Strayer
95. EUGENE PALLETTE “First Love”(’39) Henry Koster
96. HELEN PARRISH “First Love”(’39) Henry Koster