Sunday, February 09, 2014


    For Hollywood, the 40’s were an era of lush, multi-faceted achievement – a sort of height of the Roman Empire. Each of the major studios had built up an impressive battery of resources and was pretty expert at marshalling them to great effect. WW2 may have seriously shrunk the international market. But domestic box-office figures  went through the roof. And after the war, Hollywood quickly re-established its world-wide commercial dominance.  That postwar world was in for a creative shake- up  -much of it courtesy of thrilling cinematic developments from former Axis powers  Italy (the flowering of neo-realism)  and Japan (the magnificent post-war careers of Kurosawa, Ozu and Mizoguchi, soon to stun the west) . And  late 40’s Britain (what with The Red Shoes,Odd Man Out, The Third Man, the Ealing comedies etc) also basked in a period some still consider that nation's cinematic golden age.  
                It was tough to limit my favorite supporting performances to just 100. The field in the 1940’s was so rich and deep. But among the hundred I found undeniable:
Mary Gordon, elderly character actress with the irresistible brogue – pretty much ubiquitous in 30’s and 40’s films. And almost impossible not to love. Whether playing kindly scrubwomen or long-suffering mothers of delinquents, passionately pleading with judges to show them mercy.  In spite of her Scottish background, she was the go-to figure when they were casting Irish mothers (she and the similarly endearing Harry Shannon are the Celtessential  parental duo in “Tear Gas Squad”) . No tear gas necessary here. Watching Gordon and Shannon listen wistfully to Dennis Morgan warble Irish songs is quite enough to get most audiences moist-eyed.  And  though her appearances were brief, as Mrs. Hudson, landlady of 221 Baker Street , she remains a much-loved  part of Universal’s “Sherlock Holmes” series.  “ When the Daltons Rode”, from the same studio, gave her one of her biggest roles. The picture itself’s an under-rated western, chock full of expertly mounted action . And in keeping with the lively tone,  Gordon’s role requires her to get decidedly  physical . When a mob  materializes  to lynch one of her boys (she’s Ma Dalton), Mary’s right in the middle of the fracas, going all Chuck Norris on them. Bless her!  
                Orson Welles was an imposing onscreen presence. But Welles the director was equally impressive when it came to extracting great performances from supporting players. I’m still astonished at how much emotion Agnes Moorehead  packs into her brief , intense footage in “Citizen Kane”.  Anne Baxter‘s Lucy in “Ambersons” remains a cinematic benchmark of luminous originalty. And let’s hear it for Ray Collins, sardonically unforgettable in the same film. “The Stranger” was that rarity in the Welles canon, a big commercial hit. Over the years, this one's  acquired escalating critical buzz as well. Certainly the movie’s full of arresting performances.  With Billy House’s  checker-playing nosey parker and Konstantin Shayne’s maniacally reconstructed Nazi making especially indelibile impressions. And was there ever a more insinuating , wheedling, perspiring, invading-your-space crackpot than Glenn Anders’ George Grisby in “The Lady from Shanghai”?
             Not all terrific 40’s performances came in great pictures. Ruth Hussey was virtually the only good thing in the Ginger Rogers fiasco “Tender Comrade”, but boy was she good - a welcome astringent amidst the script’s goopy sentiments .  On the other hand, Mila Parely, breathtakingly vain as Belle’s sister, Felicie, in Cocteau’s “La Belle et La Bete”, was only one of the many, many perfect elements in this unimprovably wonderful fairy tale.  But perfect she was. 
     Roman Bohnen’s a name you never hear anymore. But, in his day, he was a celebrated stage actor. And. time and again, brought  subtle  emotional resonance to screen roles that  - in lesser hands - probably  would have barely registered.  Jennifer Jones’ weary, put-upon  father in “The Song of Bernadette” and  the conflicted warden in “Brute Force” are two of his best.
     Haughty “other women” were never in short supply in 40’s films.  Which meant that to make one stand out, an actress had to have something extra-special.  Enter Hillary Brooke, shaping Charlotte Bronte’s  Blanche Ingraham to cool, iconic perfection in “Jane Eyre’. Helen Walker’s  another 40’s wonder.  As calculating psychiatrist, Lilith, in “Nightmare Alley”, she stepped into an already sensational picture and walked off with all her scenes.
    Clifton Webb’s supporting performances in the mid-40’s launched what turned out to be a resoundingly successful career as a major box office star. For me, the best of  these 40’s turns is his Uncle Elliott in “The Razor’s Edge”.  Elegant, silly and – in the end – very moving. It took some serious style and ability to carry all that off.
      I could go on extolling  - but let’s just say that each performance on this list is one of the best ever.
Then and  now.

         The 40's - 
    100 Favorite Supporting Performances

  1. FLORENCE BATES “Rebecca” (’40)Alfred Hitchcock
  2. JANE DARWELL “The Grapes of Wrath”(’40) John Ford  **
  3. PETER GAWTHORNE “Band Waggon”(’40) Marcel Varnel
  4. MARY GORDON “When the Daltons Rode”(’40) George Marshall
  5. JOHN JUSTIN “The Thief of Bagdad”(’40) Michael Powell,Tim Whelan & Ludwig Berger
  6. ALMA KRUGER “You’ll Find Out”(’40) David Butler
  7. RAYMOND MASSEY “Santa Fe Trail”(’40) Michael Curtiz
  8. GAIL PATRICK “My Favorite Wife” (’40)Garson Kanin
  9. BASIL RATHBONE “The Mark of Zorro”(’40) Rouben Mamoulian
10. GALE SONDERGAARD “The Mark of Zorro”(’40) Rouben Mamoulian
11. VICTOR SEN YUNG “The Letter” (’40)William Wyler
12. LYNN BARI “Sun Valley Serenade” (’41)Bruce Humberstone
13. SPRING BYINGTON “The Devil and Miss Jones”(’41) Sam Wood
14. CHARLES COBURN “The Devil and Miss Jones”(’41) Sam Wood  *
15. ISOBEL ELSOM “Ladies in Retirement”(’41) Charles Vidor
16. SYDNEY GREENSTREET “The Maltese Falcon”(’41) John Huston  *
17. FRIEDA INESCORT “You’ll Never Get Rich” (’41)Sidney Lanfield
18. JOAN LESLIE “High Sierra” (’41) Raoul Walsh
19. AGNES MOOREHEAD “Citizen Kane”(’41) Orson Welles
20. ANNE BAXTER “The Magnificent Ambersons”(42)Orson Welles
21. NANCY COLEMAN “Kings Row” (’42)Sam Wood
22. RAY COLLINS “The Magnificent Ambersons”(’42) Orson Welles
23. SUSAN HAYWARD “I Married a Witch”(’42) Rene Clair
24. GENE LOCKHART “Juke Girl”(’42) Curtis Bernhardt
25. GRANT MITCHELL “Orchestra Wives”(’42) Archie Mayo
26. JANE RANDOLPH “Cat People”(’42) Jacques Tourneur
27. DANA ANDREWS “The Ox-Bow Incident” (’43)William Wellman
28. ROMAN BOHNEN “The Song of Bernadette” (’43)Henry King
29. JEAN BROOKS “The Seventh Victim” (’43)Mark Robson
30. JACK CARSON “The Hard Way” (’43)Vincent Sherman
31. NANCY COLEMAN “Edge of Darkness”(’43) Lewis Milestone
32. JANE DARWELL “The Ox-Bow Incident” (’43)William Wellman
33. GABRIELLE DORZIAT “Le Baron Fantome” (’43)Serge de Poligny
34. CONNIE GILCHRIST “Presenting Lily Mars” (’43)Norman Taurog
35. RUTH HUSSEY “Tender Comrade” (’43)Edward Dmytryk
36. THOMAS MITCHELL “Flesh and Fantasy”(’43) Julien Duvivier
37. ROBERT PAIGE “Son of Dracula”(’43) Robert Siodmak
38. VINCENT PRICE “The Song of Bernadette”(’43)  Henry King 
39. ANNE REVERE “The Song of Bernadette” (’43)Henry King  *
40. CESAR ROMERO “Wintertime” (’43)John Brahm
41. LEON AMES “Meet Me in St. Louis”(’44) Vincente Minnelli
42. JUDITH ANDERSON “Laura”(’44) Otto Preminger
43. MARY ASTOR “Meet Me in St. Louis”(‘44_ Vincente Minnelli
44. HILLARY BROOKE “Jane Eyre”(’44) Robert Stevenson
45. NIGEL BRUCE “The Spider Woman”(’44)  Roy William Neill
46. HENRY DANIELL “Jane Eyre” (’44)Robert Stevenson
47. PEGGY ANN GARNER “Jane Eyre”(’44) Robert Stevenson
48. ANGELA LANSBURY “Gaslight”(’44) George Cukor  *
49. DIANA LYNN “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek”(’44) Preston Sturges
50. HATTIE MCDANIEL “Since You Went Away”(’44) John Cromwell
51. AGNES MOOREHEAD “Since You Went Away”(’44) John Cromwell
52. ELIZABETH RUSSELL “The Curse of the Cat People”(’44) Robert Wise & Gunter von Fritsch
53. WALTER SLEZAK “Lifeboat”(’44) Alfred Hitchcock
54. JOHN DALL “The Corn is Green”(’45) Irving Rapper  *
55. LINDA DARNELL “Fallen Angel”(’45) Otto Preminger
56. DAN DURYEA “Scarlet Street” (’45)Fritz Lang
57. WANDA HENDRIX “Confidential Agent” (’45)Herman Shumlin
58. ROSALIND IVAN “The Corn is Green” (’45)Irving Rapper
59. ANNE REVERE “National Velvet” (’45)Clarence Brown  **
60. PATRICIA ROC “The Wicked Lady”(’45) Leslie Arliss
61. GEORGE COULOURIS “Nobody Lives Forever”(’46) Jean Negulesco
62. LILLIAN GISH “Duel in the Sun”(’46) King Vidor  *
63. BILLY HOUSE “The Stranger”(’46) Orson Welles
64. MARTITA HUNT “Great Expectations”(’46) David Lean
65. LEOPOLDINE KONSTANTIN “Notorious”(’46) Alfred Hitchcock
66. DOROTHY MALONE “The Big Sleep”(’46) Howard Hawks
67. MILA PARELY “La Belle et la Bête”(’46) Jean Cocteau
68. KONSTANTIN SHAYNE “The Stranger”(’46) Orson Welles
69. JEAN SIMMONS “Great Expectations”(’46) David Lean
70. MARTHA VICKERS “The Big Sleep”(’46) Howard Hawks
71. LUCILE WATSON “The Razor’s Edge”(’46) Edmund Goulding
72. CLIFTON WEBB “The Razor’s Edge”(’46) Edmund Goulding  *
73. MARY ASTOR "Cynthia"('47) Robert Z. Leonard
74. ETHEL BARRYMORE “The Farmer’s Daughter”(’47) H.C. Potter
75. ETHEL BARRMORE “The Paradine Case”(’47) Alfred Hitchcock  *
76. CHARLES BICKFORD “The Farmer’s Daughter”(’47) H.C. Potter  *
77. ROMAN BOHNEN “Brute Force”(’47) Jules Dassin
78. CHARLES COBURN “The Paradine Case”(’47) Alfred Hitchcock
79. ESTHER HOWARD “Born to Kill”(’47) Robert Wise
80. ROBERT PRESTON “The Macomber Affair”(’47) Zoltan Korda
81. HELEN WALKER “Nightmare Alley”(’47) Edmund Goulding
82. PERCY WARAM “The Late George Apley”(’47)Joseph L. Mankiewicz
83. RUTH WARRICK “Daisy Kenyon”(’47) Otto Preminger
84. NATALIE WOOD “Miracle on 34th Street”(’47) George Seaton
85. GLENN ANDERS “The Lady from Shanghai”(’48) Orson Welles
86. BETSY BLAIR “Another Part of the Forest”(’48) Michael Gordon
87. RAYMOND BURR “Pitfall”(’48) Andre De Toth
88. WENDELL COREY “The Accused”(’48) William Dieterle
89. HOWARD DUFF “The Naked City”(’48) Jules Dassin
90. HOPE EMERSON “Cry of the City”(’48) Robert Siodmak
91. SYDNEY GREENSTREET “The Woman in White”(’48) Peter Godfrey
92. KIRK DOUGLAS “A Letter to Three Wives”(’49) Joseph L. Mankiewicz
93. PAUL DOUGLAS “A Letter to Three Wives”(’49) Joseph L. Mankiewicz
94. CONNIE GILCHRIST “A Letter to Three Wives”(’49) Joseph L. Mankiewicz
95. ALAN HALE “Adventures of Don Juan”(’49) Vincent Sherman
96. MARY MORRIS “Train of Events”(’49) Basil Dearden
97. THELMA RITTER “A Letter to Three Wives”(’49) Joseph L. Mankiewicz
98. RONALD SQUIRE “The Rocking Horse Winner”(’49) Anthony Pelissier
99. EVELYN VARDEN “Pinky”(’49) Elia Kazan
100. TOM WALLS “The Interrupted Journey”(’49) Daniel Birt

                                                   * indicates an Oscar nominated performance
                                                  ** indicates an Oscar winning performance  

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