Posted by: reederwi | December 26, 2010

Dorothy Malone, Written on the Wind (1956)

Director Douglas Sirk’s 1956 film Written On the Wind is a steamy melodrama about a wealthy Texas oil family and the tragic events that lead to each members self-destruction. The story focuses on Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack), the self-pitying, self-destructive rich boy alcoholic who is a complete dissapointment to his father (Robert Keith). Kyle’s sister, the equally spoiled Marylee (Dorothy Malone) is an unstable, nymphomaniacal seductress who finds unrequited love with Kyle’s  “good guy” best friend, Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson). Mitch, taken in by the Hadley’s as a boy, is the lone success story of the 3 “siblings”- he’s smart, hard working and becomes a geologist for the family’s lucrative oil business. While on a business trip, Mitch meets and falls for the virtuous, level-headed New York advertising secretary, Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall). Not to sit idly by, the aggressive Kyle blasts his way into Lucy’s life and eventually sweeps her off her feet. After a surprisingly blissful start to their marriage, Kyle and Lucy begin to experience discord and Kyle reverts back to his alcoholic ways. As Mitch and Lucy draw closer to one another, the family’s self-implosion is certain-as one bombshell after another is dropped on the unsuspecting clan. Taken as a serious drama, this overwrought, button-pusher of a film is truly silly. But when it’s viewed in high-gloss camp mode-with it’s over the top performances, fantastic visuals (a yellow sportscar races through the landscape amongst pumping, phallic oil wells), and well-played plot twists- the film works surprisingly well.

Written on the Wind earned three Academy Award nominations. Robert Stack scored a Best Supporting Actor nomination as the rich, temperamental drunkard, Kyle Hadley. Another nomination went to the film for it’s corny theme song, “Written on the Wind.” The final nomination (and the film’s only Oscar win) went to first-time Oscar nominee Dorothy Malone, winner, (137), for her work as the scheming viper Marylee Hadley. Frocked in horribly ostentacious outfits, Malone’s Marylee is pure trashy camp- and in this film, it goes over like gangbusters. Malone’s fiercely realized performance is anchored by three scenes in particular- the final courtroom scene, the lurid lake scene with Mitch, and the sexually-driven mambo scene (in which she feverishly dances while a member of her family gasps his last breath) are all brilliantly realized and are the very definition of range (not to mention Oscar bait) for a Best Supporting Actress. Although Malone dances along the edges of over the top showiness, her giddy portrayal of  the seductive Marylee is nothing short of what we would expect from a seriously troubled vamp.

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Posted by: reederwi | December 25, 2010

Cara Williams, The Defiant Ones (1958)

Stanley Kramer was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for helming the 1958 message film The Defiant Ones. The Definant Ones is a classic example of the doomed buddy picture. It tells the story of Joker Jackson (Tony Curtis) and Noah Cullen (Sidney Poitier) who are on their way back to prison from work detail when their truck goes off a Southern windswept road. The two anti-heroes survive the crash and make a run for it. Each man couldn’t be more different- Cullen, a willful black man who is literally shackled to Jackson, a Southern white bigot. Hot on the trail of the two convicts is humanitarian Sheriff Max Muller (Theodore Bikel) who, under pressure from the governor, assembles a posse of apathetic deputies to track the two convicts down. After a brief capture and rescue, the two escapees are sheltered by a lonely, love-starved abandoned woman (Cara Williams). The “racist cuz she doesn’t know any different” woman offers Jackson a deal- she will turn in Cullen if Jackson agrees to stay with her. Though tempted, Jackson realizes that his bond with Cullen is too strong and soon the unchained men attempt to hop a train to the north with the law in hot pursuit. The film ends sweetly with Jackson being cradled in Cullen’s arms as the two men await their capture. The Defiant Ones remains a classic film that is propelled by the concept of two men locked together who are morally opposed to one another, but who must work together to make their way to freedom.

The Defiant Ones received 9 Academy Award nominations in 1958. The film scored nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, as well as two Best Actor nominations- for Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier, respectively. Poitier’s nomination marked the first time in Oscar history that an African American actor received a nomination in either the Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor categories. The film scored two Oscars wins- one for Harold Jacob Smith’s Best Screenplay and the other for Sam Leavitt’s crisp, stunning Cinematography. The film’s final acting nomination went to Cara Williams, nominee, (138), for her role as “The Woman.” Williams provides a wonderful counterpoint to the two convicts as one of the lone women in the entire film. While Williams overplays her character’s Southern sexpot tendencies, she achieves greatness when her character is allowed to slowly and subtly reveal her casual racism. Cara Williams lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to Wendy Hiller in Separate Tables.

Posted by: reederwi | December 24, 2010

Gladys Cooper, Now, Voyager (1942)

The 1942 film Now, Voyager, which was based on the novel by Olive Higgins Prouty, is tear-jerker/melodrama with a nearly unrecognizable Bette Davis in the lead role. Davis plays Charlotte Vale, a dowdy, repressed woman who, overwhelmed by her evil, aristocratic dowager mother (Gladys Cooper), is on the verge of a nervous collapse. Charlotte’s sister-in-law intervenes and introduces the desperate, unibrowed spinster to a kind sanitarium psychiatrist, Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains). Now away from her freakishly fierce mother, Charlotte is transformed into a new woman and embarks on a pleasure cruise where she meets the unhappily married architect, Jerry (Paul Henreid). After a series of mishaps at sea, Charlotte and Jerry fall in love. However, the two decide to part ways and vow never to see one another again. Back at home, Charlotte’s family is shocked by her new appearance and her domineering mother vows to regain control of her wayward daughter. After a bitter mother/daughter argument with a heart-stopping outcome, Charlotte is forced back to the sanitarium where she finds solace in helping a young, depressed girl Tina (who turns out to be Jerry’s daughter). Unrequited love and a swelling orchestral crescendo mark the end of the film as Charlotte becomes the adoptive, caregiving mother figure for Jerry’s daughter.  Now, Voyager which was directed by Irving Rapper, is considered to be one of the classic love stories in American cinema. The film is best known for the indelible scene in which Henreid places two cigarettes in his mouth, lights them both and hands one over to the doe-eyed Davis- a move that the actress later turned into her own personal trademark.

Now, Voyager, a successful film featuring big stars, a campy style and oft-quoted lines, nabbed 3 Academy Award nominations and one win. The film’s sole victory was for Max Steiner- winning the Oscar for Best Original Score. The second nomination went to Bette Davis for her portrayal of the ugly duckling Charlotte Vale. This marked Davis’ sixth Academy Award nomination. The film’s third Oscar nomination went to Gladys Cooper, nominee, (139), for her supporting work as Mrs. Windle Vale, Charlotte’s verbally-abusive mother. Cooper handled the role of Mrs. Windle Vale with steely calculation- breathing life into a brilliantly monstrous mama. Cooper’s Mrs. Windle Vale is someone who is terrified of simply letting her daughter grow up and become her own woman. While Cooper truly exudes classic maternal tyranny, she never resorts to overwrought scenery chewing. She is simply one bad ass mother. This was Cooper’s first of three nominations in this category. She lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1942 to Teresa Wright in Mrs. Miniver.    

Posted by: reederwi | December 22, 2010

Mercedes McCambridge, All the King’s Men (1949)

The 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Robert Penn Warren was the source material for producer, writer and director Robert Rossen’s sensational political film All The King’s Men. The story focuses on the life of bullheaded, backwoods lawyer Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) and his rise from small time politico to coniving demagogue who has the whole state in his back pocket. The events are told from the perspective of  journalist Jack Burden (John Ireland) who is sent to cover the story for his big city newspaper. Burden finds Stark running for county treasurer as a reformer- someone who’s eager to bring down the corruption and harrassment that the current county commisioners wield like a battering ram. Stark ends up losing the election, but after a series of tragic events, he becomes the common man’s advocate against corruption. Soon he ascends to new political heights and is asked to run for governor. Once Stark becomes governor, he sinks into a mire of bribery and dirty dealings and becomes as corrupt as the politicians he replaced. Stark takes Burden on as his press agent, but soon Burden’s admiration for Stark is tarnished as the governor’s sleazy, womanizing ways come to light- he has affairs with both his campaign manager Sadie Burke (Mercedes McCambridge) and Anne Stanton (Joanne Dru), Jack’s love interest.  Though the film was made in 1949, it stands as a reminder of how disgusting the nature of politics can really be.

All The King’s Men was nominated for 7 Academy Awards and was the recipient of 3. The first Oscar went to the film as the Best Picture of 1949. The second Oscar was bestowed upon Broderick Crawford (his sole career nomination and career win) for his stunning portrayal of the megalomaniacal Willie Stark. The film’s third Oscar win went to Mercedes McCambridge, winner, (140), for her role as Stark’s political aide and sexually-frustrated secretary-mistress, Sadie Burke. McCambridge allows Sadie to circle the political world like a hawk until she stealthily emerges as a savvy, cynical political operative. McCambridge’s Sadie is a smart, competent woman, but she ultimately falls victim to her own feelings that she can never be woman enough for any man. McCambridge is most devastating during her confrontation scene with Ireland as she reels in shock and laughter after being slapped across the face. This was McCambridge’s film debut and her stunning portrayal of Sadie earned her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Posted by: reederwi | August 22, 2010

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, The Color of Money (1986)

The 1986 film The Color of  Money is the sequel to Robert Rossen’s 1961 classic, The Hustler. Both films feature the suave pool hustler named “Fast Eddie” Felton (Paul Newman) who is the long-reigning king of the pool hall. The Color of Money now brings Fast Eddie 25 years into the future and resting on his legendary status amongst far inferior pool players. Eddie is now a part time liquor salesman who keeps his eye on pool and hustling by staking out players of interest. Eddie discovers the infantile and brash Vincent (Tom Cruise)- a young man who’s skills are not unlike that of Eddie’s. Soon Eddie takes Vincent under his wing, along with Vincent’s tough-talking girlfriend, Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). Vincent is a pool playing wizard, but his character is weak- he’s likeable, but arrogant, skillful but naive. Eddie tries to harness Vincent’s ability (as well as his own experience) en route to a spectacular nine-ball tournament in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The film, which was directed by Martin Scorcese, is a 1980’s showpiece for Newman and Cruise. Both actors give star turns (especially Cruise) and it’s a pleasure to watch the old master and the young student square off against one another in the national tournament. Ultimately, the important thing is not who wins, but the exploration of these two characters and the melodrama that ensnares them both.

Although the film received four Oscar nominations (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Art Direction), all eyes were on Paul Newman who took home the Oscar for Best Actor in a year that boasted such contenders as Bob Hoskins, William Hurt, James Woods, and Dexter Gordon. This nomination marked the 7th for Paul Newman in a career that spanned a total of six decades. The win put him in an elite group all by himself. Newman became the first (and only) actor to win an Oscar for reprising a role in a sequel. With his Oscar, Paul Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward, became the second married couple to win acting Oscars- the first couple to accomplish this was Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.

The film’s second acting nomination went to Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, nominee, (141), who was recognized for her role as Vincent’s girlfriend Carmen, an all-business kind of woman who spreads her time between flirting with Eddie and massaging young Vince’s cue stick. This was Mastrantonio’s sole Oscar nomination of her career. Mastroantonio lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to Dianne Wiest in Woody Allen’s Hannah & Her Sisters.

Posted by: reederwi | August 21, 2010

Ethel Barrymore, The Paradine Case (1947)

Alfred Hitchcock was known as The Master of Suspense. His films ranged from the terrifying (Psycho) to the dark and disturbing (Shadow of a Doubt). Hitchcock’s 1947 The Paradine Case (a lesser-known and even lesser regarded Hitchcock film) is a legal courtroom drama that is based on the 1933 novel of the same name by Robert Hitchens. The story centers on a glamorous foreigner Maddalena Anna Paradine (Valli), who is arrested for poisoning her blind, wealthy husband, Colonel Richard Paradine, a British war hero. Sir Simon Flaquer (Charles Coburn), the Paradine’s solicitor, retains superstar barrister Tony Keane (Gregory Peck) to defend Mrs. Paradine. After their first meeting, the happily-married Keane falls madly in lust with his beautiful client. Doing whatever he can to save her, Keane attempts to pin the murder on the Paradine’s young valet, Andre Letour (Louis Jourdan). This is an uphill battle for Keane since Mrs. Paradine has a rather checkered past- including marrying Colonel Paradine for his money and having a thing for her handsome valet. Keane puts his reputation on the line by defending Mrs. Paradine with his heart instead of his head. During the courtroom scenes, the lustful barrister is stunned to learn that he’s taken the wrong tact with his less than innocent client. Presiding over the courtroom is the hilariously acid tongued Lord Thomas Horfield (Charles Laughton) who has little patience for Keane’s courtroom dramatics. Lord Horfield has some of the best lines in the film- he’s lusty and lecherous and gets big laughs thanks to his offhanded commentary. The film’s courtroom scenes are somewhat dry, but Hitch works his magic with the camera to provide some beautifully-filmed imagery.

The Paradine Case was nominated for one Academy Award in 1947. The film’s lone nominee was veteran actress Ethel Barrymore, nominee, (142) for her role as Lady Sophie Horfield. Although her role as trial judge Lord Horfield’s wife is paper thin, Barrymore has one outstanding scene in which she trades contrasting views on justice with her brash, unsympathetic husband. This film marked Barrymore’s third nomination for Best Supporting Actress (and her second consecutive nomination- she was nominated the previous year for her supporting work in The Spiral Staircase). Barrymore lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to Celeste Holm in Gentleman’s Agreement.

Posted by: reederwi | August 21, 2010

Flora Robson, Saratoga Trunk (1946)

Sam Wood’s 1946 film Saratoga Trunk, which is based on the novel of the same name by Edna Ferber, tells the story of Clio Dulaine (Ingrid Bergman), a beautiful, half-Creole woman whose return to 1875 New Orleans by way of Paris causes a tremendous stir. Born out of wedlock, Clio’s mother was a local New Orleans woman who became pregnant by a wealthy, married landowner. Scandalized, his wife and her family set about humiliating Clio’s mother and even pay for Clio’s trip to Paris in order to erase any memories of the illicit affair. Now Clio returns to the French Quarter with a bi-racial maid, Angelique Buiton (Flora Robson) and a dwarf manservant, Cuipidon (Jerry Austin) in her entourage. While in New Orleans, Clio meets and falls for a brash Texas gambler named Colonel Clint Maroon (Gary Cooper). Soon after their initial encounter, Maroon begins to realize that Clio is nothing more than a desperate gold digger- she is bound and determined to marry a wealthy man in order to not end up like her mother. Maroon departs for Saratoga Springs, where he is working on a venture involving the railroads. At the same time, Clio sets her eyes on the railroad baron Bart Van Steed (John Warburton). The two male heroes come into conflict with one another and Clio must decide between love or money. The film is festooned in beautifully-opulent costumes, but there’e not much that lies under the surface. Bergman and Cooper, who were paired earlier as a couple in For Whom the Bell Tolls, can’t quite connect with any tangible, romantic zeal. The role of Maroon is all wrong for Cooper and while Bergman has the beauty for Clio, she can’t quite reach the hysterical heights of a character who’s reminiscent of a preening Scarlett O’Hara.

Saratoga Trunk scored one Academy Award nomination. The sole nominee from the film was Flora Robson, nominee, (143), for her role as Clio’s dour maid, Angelique Buiton. The uniquely-bone structured Robson is woefully underutilized as the hardened Angelique. Robson’s appearance and voice do most of the leg work. Her face is puzzingly smeared in overly-dark shoe polish. Her darkened face is paired with evil-looking eyes that are reduced to malevolent slits which are housed beneath two brambly, unkempt eyebrows. Robson, along with Jerry Austin (who plays the dwarf manservant) are a delicious, eccentric feast for the eyes for the first few minutes of the film. But soon one realizes that their talents are being put to little use and they are sadly relegated to mere physical oddities rather than deeply-defined characters. Flora Robson lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to Anne Baxter in The Razor’s Edge.

Posted by: reederwi | August 21, 2010

Anne Revere, National Velvet (1945)

The beautifully told film National Velvet, which is based on the bestseller by Enid Bagnold and was adapted by Helen Deutsch and Theodore Reeves tells the story of the winsome 12 year old Velvet (Elizabeth Taylor) and the trials and tribulations she experiences with the surly young gelding named The Pi that she adores. Velvet acquires the somewhat skiddish gelding at a raffle in her small English village. Velvet’s love for the horse grows  and the two begin to form a special bond. Velvet then goes toe to toe with Mi Taylor (Mickey Rooney) a down-on-his-luck ex Jockey who encounters Velvet’s family while crossing the English countryside. Velvet’s parents, Mr. Brown (Donald Crisp) and Mrs. Brown (Anne Revere) take in Mi and give him a job as a delivery boy for the family’s butchery business. Although Mi is bitter about horses (since his racing career was cut short due to a serious accident), he sees how much Velvet loves The Pi and feels compelled to help her with the horse. Velvet believes The Pi is the most gifted horse in England and through sheer determination, decides to enter him into The Grand National Steeplechase, a grueling horse race in which she eventually rides herself. While the steeplechase sequences are admittedly heart-pounding, the culmination of the race and subsequent action afterwards comes off as a bit overly sentimental. Still the story is a rousing and well-told one and the film makes its mark as one of the best horse pictures in the history of cinema.  

The gorgeous editing, great production values and a stellar cast make National Velvet a real thing of beauty. The film,which was directed by Clarence Brown, scored an impressive five Academy Award nominations in 1945 including Best Director (for Brown), Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography. The film converted two of it’s nominations into Oscar gold. The first was for Best Film Editing (for Robert Kern)- mostly for Kern’s masterful work on the dizzying,  quick cut, kinetic energy he created in the Steeplechase scenes. The second of the film’s two Oscars went to Anne Revere, winner, (144), for her role as Velvet’s mother, Mrs. Brown. Revere is splendid in the role of Mrs. Brown- possessing equal parts earth mother and formidable former athlete. Mrs. Brown is wholly committed to the well-being of her family, but she recognizes the fire inside Velvet to become a national champion. Mrs. Brown’s backstory is compelling and Revere delivers it with a deft touch. This was Revere’s second of three Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress and her only win.

Posted by: reederwi | August 21, 2010

Nina Foch, Executive Suite (1954)

The 1954 film Executive Suite, directed by Robert Wise and adapted for the screen by Ernest Lehman is an intense, yet overly-dramatic story about big business boardroom drama and boasts an all-star cast including William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Fredric March, June Allyson, Walter Pidgeon, and Shelley Winters. The President of Tredway Corporation, Avery Bullard suddenly dies of a heart attack, leaving behind a gang of vice presidents on the board to see who will emerge as the new head of the sucessful furniture company. The men who vie for the position are: McDonald Walling (William Holden) the practical and ambitious family man who’s main goal is to build a better company; Loren Phineas Shaw (Fredric March) the uncaring, ruthless and money-driven controller, Josiah Walter Dudley (Paul Douglas) the weakling sales manager who is being blackmailed by Shaw for his vote because he is having an affair with his secretary, Eva (Shelley Winters); George Nye Caswell (Louis Calhern) a man who likes to gamble with the company’s stocks and who comes up short on cash when the chips are down; Frederick Alderson (Walter Pidgeon) Bullard’s former best friend who doesn’t have what it takes to run with the other top dogs; and Jesse Grimm (Dean Jagger) a man on the verge of retiring from the company, but who doesn’t like any of the other candidates. The last piece of the voting puzzle comes in the form of Julia Tredway (Barbara Stanwyck) the company’s biggest stockholder and the daughter of the company founder and the ex-lover of Bullard. Julia has disengaged herself from the company due to a previous nervous breakdown and now seems willing to let Shaw vote for her through proxy. As the battle for the presidency ensues, one man will emerge triumphant (with four votes from the seven member board). When the dust settles, it comes down to good guy Walling versus the fiendish Shaw. The film ends with a overwrought speech from Walling as he attempts to enlighten the board with his notions about product quality and togetherness. Will it be enough to sway the voters?  

Executive Suite was nominated for four Academy Awards. Three of the nominations went for the film’s technical work- Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. The fourth nomination (and the film’s sole acting nod) went to Nina Foch, nominee, (145), for her role as Erica Martin, the grief-ridden, yet altruistic executve secretary to the deceased Avery Bullard. Foch, the Dutch-born actress who’s known for playing cool, confident women onscreen, does what she can to add some interest to her role as the somewhat muted and overshadowed Erica Martin. Foch lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to Eva Marie Saint in On the Waterfront.

Posted by: reederwi | August 17, 2010

Aline MacMahon, Dragon Seed (1944)

Harold S. Bucquet and Jack Conway’s 1944 film Dragon Seed is strange and thought-provoking. Well, perhaps it’s more strange than thought-provoking. Let’s put it this way: once you see the actors in their respective roles, you quickly realize that you are in for a long and arduous 148 minutes. The film, which was made at the height of World War II, was adapted from the novel by Pearl S. Buck. The story focuses on a conservative Chinese peasant family. At the head of the (they’re supposed to be Chinese but they’re all completely non-Chinese looking) family is patriarch Ling Tan (Walter Huston) and his wife (Aline MacMahon) who are fretting about their sons- Lao Ta (Robert Bice) who is married to the beautiful Orchid (Frances Rafferty); Lao Sun (Hurd Hatfield), who is still single and reckless; and Lao Er (Turnham Bey) who is married to the headstrong, free-spirited Jade (Katharine Hepburn). Jade soon comes to the forefront of the film as we see her as a well-read peasant woman who yearns to break free of the old-fashioned ways that keep women like her in their place. Soon the family’s quaint quasi-Chinese village is invaded by the Japanese army. As the surviving family members scatter into the hills,  the unlucky ones are killed in the seige. The family members who remain in occupied China, including Jade, her husband, and their new baby, return from the hills to fight the Japanese using the family’s farm as a home base. As the plot veers off into more ludicrous directions, patriarch Ling Tan must accept that he has to destroy his land and sacrifice his present gains in order to ensure the future of Jade, Lao Er, and his new grandson. While Jade and Lao Er rejoin the resistance fighters in the hills in order to restore peace to China, they leave their son “the seed of the dragon” in the loving arms of his grandparents. Dragon Seed is an overwrought mess of a film. By today’s standards, this well-meaning, heroine-based film is seen as nothing more than shockingly racist- and that’s just in terms of it’s casting alone. The Chinese family consists primarily of caucasian actors who look absolutely ridiculous in their “Asian” make-up and wardrobe. The poor casting choices greatly detract from the authenticity of the film’s attempt at historical storytelling and obliterate what could have been a somewhat adequate, albeit overlong film.

Dragon Seed received a shocking two Academy Award nominations in 1944. The first went to Sidney Wagner for his work on the film’s Black and White Cinematography. The second nomination went to Aline MacMahon, nominee, (146), for her role as Jade’s disapproving and tradition-oriented mother-in-law. While MacMahon struggles with the machinations of her role of Ling’s wife, it’s hard not to stare at her while she’s onscreen. But can this be credited to MacMahon’s attempt at breaking out of her flimsy role by imbuing her character with facial tics and verbal sputterings or is it merely the imprint of the ghastly makeup and garish costumes? Unfortunately, as with the rest of the cast, I think it’s the latter. MacMahon lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to Ethel Barrymore in None But the Lonely Heart.

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