Posted by: reederwi | August 15, 2010

Gloria Grahame, Crossfire (1947)

1947 marked the year in which two Best Picture nominees at the Academy Awards explored the themes of racial bigotry and the rise of anti-Semitism after the horrors of the Holocaust of World War II. The Best Picture winner that year, Gentleman’s Agreement, led the way with eight Academy Award nominations. The other, lesser-known film up for Best Picture that similarly highlighted anti-Semitism was the B-movie thriller Crossfire. The film, directed by Edward Dmytryk and with a screenplay by John Paxton, was based on Richard Brooks’ novel “The Brick Foxhole.” Unlike the film version, the novel dealt with gay-bashing and murder- and the protagonist was not Jewish, but homosexual. In the film version, the story centers on the murder of a Jewish man named Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene) and the investigation behind his murder led by Homicide Captain Finlay (Robert Young). There is a ragtag group of demobilized soldiers who were at the scene of the crime and Cpt. Finlay is bound and determined to get to the bottom it. Finlay suspects Mitchell (George Cooper) of committing Samuel’s murder, while Sergeant Keely (Robert Mitchum) goes out on a limb to prove his friend’s innocence. Soon other characters emerge and begin to provide shading and mystery behind the crime- there’s Montgomery (Robert Ryan), a good-natured man until someone starts pushing his buttons, dance hall femme fatale, Ginny (Gloria Grahame) who gets testy and defensive when backed into a corner, and Mary (Jacqueline White), Mitchell’s wife who desperately wants answers as to her husband’s guilt or innocence. The film does it’s best to deftly balance film noir murder mystery with anti-Semitism and it succeeds on nearly all fronts. Although director Edward Dmytryk pulled great performances from his actors, the film was ultimately overshadowed by Elia Kazan’s preachy, sympathy-driven Gentleman’s Agreement.

Crossfire was the recipient of five Academy Award nominations including the aforementioned Best Picture, Best Director for Edward Dmytryk, Best Screenplay for John Paxton, and Best Supporting Actor for Robert Ryan. The film’s fifth nomination went to Gloria Grahame, nominee, (147), for her role as floozie dance hall girl Ginny Tremaine. The sexy and seductive Grahame plays her two scenes well- she’s sweetness, softness and lace while twirling around the dancefloor of The Red Dragon with accused-murderer Mitchell, but she comes out ready to strike like a venomous serpent once her motives come into question later on in the film. This marked the first of two Academy Award nominations for Grahame for Best Supporting Actress. She would later go on to earn a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful. Grahame lost the Oscar this year to Celeste Holm in Gentleman’s Agreement.

Posted by: reederwi | August 14, 2010

Lotte Lenya, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961)

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone is the 1961 film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ 1950 novella about a rich, dissolute widow meandering her way through Rome, Italy. Vivian Leigh plays Karen Stone, a 50-something actress with fading beauty who is facing a backlash from both critics and the public for being too old to appear in a show she’s taking to Broadway. Her businessman husband gives her a way out of the play and the two decide to escape to Rome to nurse their wounds. En route to Rome, Karen’s husband suddenly dies of a heart attack, leaving her a grieving widow. While in Rome, Karen rents a glorious apartment and soon falls vulnerable to Paolo (Warren Beatty), a young, tanned Italian gigolo who is housed in a stud stable that falls under the watchful eye of a ferocious Italian procuress, Contessa Magda Terribili-Gonzales (Lotte Lenya). Despite her friends’ warnings and her own uneasiness, Karen falls for the determined Paolo and the pair soon become lovers. From there, things take a decidedly negative turn as Paolo catches the eye of a much younger actress Barbara Bingham (Jill St. John) and soon he abruptly takes off on Karen to explore this new relationship. In the end, the vulnerable and lonely Karen finds herself as easy (and willing) prey for a dark and mysterious man who has been stalking her throughout her entire stay in Italy. The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone was the first film directed by the well-regarded theatre director Jose Quintero. And while the film is well-dressed and beautifully filmed (by cinematographer Harry Waxman),  it is an overwrought mess that is saddled with a lazy script (credited mostly to screenwriter Gavin Lambert) and boasts one of the worst Italian accents attempted by an actor  in film history (courtesy of a 24 year old, man-tanned Warren Beatty).

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone only managed to snag one Academy Award nomination. The film’s sole nomination went to Austrian-born actress Lotte Lenya, nominee, (148), for her role as Contessa Magda Terribili-Gonzales, the barracuda-like pimp who rents out her Italian studs to rich widows. Lenya, with her wide-mouthed grin,  is by far the best thing about the film as the contemptible Countess who manipulates her gigolos and clients like a sinister puppeteer. Lotte Lenya lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to Rita Moreno in West Side Story.

Posted by: reederwi | August 13, 2010

Josephine Hull, Harvey (1950)

Mary Cross’ 1944 Pulitzer Prize winning play is the source material for Harry Koster’s wildly popular 1950 film Harvey. The story centers on an eccentric man named Elwood P. Dowd (Jimmy Stewart), who turns to drinking and other non-conforming behaviors in order to escape the world around him. Elwood ambles through life in the company of his pal Harvey, a 6’4″ white rabbit, which is a creature of his own imagination. Concerned that her brother has lost touch with reality, Elwood’s sister, Veta Louise Simmons (Josephine Hull) wants him committed into a mental hospital. The harmless but undoubtedly loony Elwood follows his sister to the hospital. But a mix-up occurs during the initial interview and Elwood is released while Veta gets committed. This lightweight, escapist tale soon heads off into zany directions as each character starts to actually believe that Harvey may in fact be real.

Harvey was nominated for two Academy Awards in 1950. The first went to Jimmy Stewart for his role as the good- natured eccentric, Elwood P. Dowd. Stewart recreated the stage role he originated in the Broadway production, as did his nominated co-star Josephine Hull, winner, (149), as Elwood’s nervous, long-suffering sister Veta. Hull is deliriously batty and immensely likeable as she navigates the troubled waters that she and her brother find themselves in. The hugely successful stage actress, who brought some of her better known roles to film, took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1950.

Posted by: reederwi | August 13, 2010

Ruth Gordon, Inside Daisy Clover (1965)

The 1965 film Inside Daisy Clover, directed by Robert Mulligan and adapted for the screen by Gavin Lambert from his own satirical 1963 novel, tells the story of a teenaged tomboy named Daisy Clover (Natalie Wood) who dreams of hitting it big in 1930’s Hollywood. Daisy, who is a troubled adolescent, lives along the beach in sunny California with her mother (Ruth Gordon), who is a dealer of tarot cards. All of Daisy’s dreams come true when she is suddenly discovered by the well-known film producer, Raymond Swan (Christopher Plummer). Once Daisy hits the big time, she is forced to deal with the pressures of her overnight success- including the sudden placement of her eccentric mother into a psychiatric hospital. Daisy finds comfort in another Hollywood star, Wade Lewis (Rober Redford) and soon the two are out partying night after night. Daisy and Wade decide to get married and this angers the impatient Swan because he feels that the marriage will serve as a disruption to his starlet’s career. On their honeymoon, Wade disappears quite mysteriously, leaving Daisy with many unanswered questions. Daisy returns to Swan’s house where she finds his wife, Melora (Katharine Bard). Melora breaks the news to Daisy that her Hollywood heartthrob husband is actually a closeted homosexual. Daisy springs her mom from the hospital and heads out to the beach to live. Shortly after her mother’s death, Daisy’s life falls into a tailspin and soon she makes several attempts at ending her own life. In a fit of rage, Daisy takes her career and her life, into her own hands.

The film had two major things going for it, yet it failed on both fronts. First, ace director Robert Mulligan could not recreate the success for Inside Daisy Clover that he had achieved just three years earlier with his classic film To Kill a Mockingbird. Second,  Inside Daisy Clover was supposed to serve as a vehicle that would bring Natalie Wood her first Best Actress Oscar. After two unsuccessful Best Actress nominations- in 1961 for Splendor in the Grass and 1963 for Love With the Proper Stranger, Wood seemed destined for Oscar gold with her star turn in this film. But Wood’s luck ran out and she failed to even receive a nomination. In the end, the film did receive three Oscar nominations- two in technical categories for Best Art Direction and Best Costumes, respectively. The third nomination for the film went to Ruth Gordon, nominee, (150) as Daisy’s looney fortune telling mother known simply as “The Dealer.” While lovably off-kilter, Gordon’s presence in the film was less than remarkable. The candidly cooky eccentric character that the 69 year old Gordon played in this film was a foreshadowing of what was to come just three years later- a decidedly similar, yet more ferociously pitch-perfect performance in Roman Polanski’s brilliantly macabre Rosemary’s Baby- for which Gordon took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1968.  Gordon lost the Oscar this year to Shelley Winters in A Patch of Blue.

Posted by: reederwi | August 11, 2010

Mildred Dunnock, Baby Doll (1956)

1956’s Baby Doll marks the second film collaboration of director Elia Kazan and playwright Tennessee Williams. In their first outing, A Streetcar Named Desire, the two brought to life images depicting lust, seduction, and corruption of the human soul. In this film, their attempts come close, but the overall result is far less successful than what they achieved in Streetcar. At the center of the story is the sexy, immature teenager Baby Doll Meighan (Carroll Baker) who is married to middle-aged louse, Archie Lee Meighan (Karl Malden). Before their wedding, the two agreed that he would be allowed to bed her after one year of marriage, provided that he keep her happy in a beautiful home. The film opens on the eve of their first anniversary and their sleeping arrangemens are odd to say the least- Baby Doll sleeps in a crib, wearing only a short nightie, while Archie spends his time spying on her through a hole in the wall in an adjoining room. Archie is in a financial freefall due to the failure of his cotton gin business and moving vans are coming to take away their furniture. Since Archie’s life is in ruins, Baby Doll still won’t let Archie touch her. His only comfort comes from the bottle.  The county’s new gin magnet, Silva Vacarro (Eli Wallach) has swept in and stolen everyone’s business. To get even, Archie secretly sets fire to Vacarro’s cotton gin. Vacarro knows Archie is the culprit and since no one in town likes Vacarro, he sets out to get his own personal revenge on Archie. Although Vacarro’s main intent is to convince Baby Doll to implicate her rotten husband in the crime, things begin to develop between the two and the action soon spirals out of control. 

This odd and quirky slice of Southern life was the recipient of four Academy Award nominations. Tennessee Williams received a Best Screenplay nomination for adapting the script from his one-act play, “27 Wagonloads of Cotton.” Boris Kaufman received a nomination for Best Cinematography. Two actresses from the film both received nominations for their work in the film. Carroll Baker received a Best Actress nomination for her role as the seductive, infantile bride, Baby Doll. The second actress to receive Academy Award attention was Mildred Dunnock, nominee, (151), for her supporting role as Baby Doll’s dotty, eccentric Aunt Rose Comfort. Dunnock has a great handle on the aunt’s scatter-brained antics, but she isn’t given enough material to work with. Although she has one great scene in which she confronts Malden’s smary Archie, it still doesn’t make up for nearly a film’s worth of strange, vacant staring. Dunnock lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to Dorothy Malone in Written On the Wind.

Posted by: reederwi | August 10, 2010

Gloria Grahame, The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

The 1952 film The Bad and the Beautiful, written by Charles Schnee and directed by Vincente Minelli, is one in a long line of fantastic movies about Hollywood and the choice one makes in putting professional life ahead of personal happiness. The story revolves around the lives of three of Hollywood’s brightest stars who are called together by a producer named Harry Pebbles (Walter Pidgeon). While together, the three have a phone meeting with another producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas). The three have sworn to never work with Shields again due to the way he treated them. The group consists of director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), a gorgeous movie star Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner) and writer James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell). The story is told in flashback and each recounts how they fell under Shields’ power and were eventually betrayed by him. Although Fred, Georgia and James were cheated and discarded by Shields, each has found a great deal of success in Hollywood due to his influence. Shields is a true dictator and his only concern is to create the best films of all time. And Shields runs his personal life just as he does his professional life- with utter ruthlessness. In the end, the three ask themselves if they can forgive Shields for his heinous flaws and challenge themselves to give him another chance by listening to his new film idea.  

The Bad and the Beautiful was nominated for six Academy Awards and was the winner of five including Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. Kirk Douglas received a Best Actor nomination for his role as the Hollywood megalomaniac Jonathan Shields. Douglas lost the Oscar to Gary Cooper in High Noon. The 6th Oscar nomination and 5th win for the film went to Gloria Grahame, winner, (152) for her role as Rosemary Bartlow, the blonde, sexpot Southern belle wife of abused novelist-screenwriter James Lee Bartlow. Grahame portrays Rosemary as charmingly manipulative, but daffy and lightweight. This film marked Grahame’s second Oscar nomination (and only win) for Best Supporting Actress- her first came in 1947 for the film Crossfire. 

Posted by: reederwi | August 9, 2010

Geraldine Fitzgerald, Wuthering Heights (1939)

William Wyler’s beautiful and romantic 1939 drama Wuthering Heights, which was adapted from Emily Bronte’s sprawling novel, is a tragic love story set against the plaintive background of the Yorkshire moors. At the center of the drama is Heathcliff, a gypsy boy who is picked up on the streets of Liverpool by the wealthy aristocrat, Mr. Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights. As Heathcliff grows into manhood (Laurence Olivier), and after the death of his first master, he now finds himself forced to live as a servant/stable boy by Wuthering Height’s new master, Hindley Earnshaw (Hugh Williams). The once wild gypsy Heathcliff, who is now an incredibly rugged and handsome man, happens to catch the eye of Hindley’s sister, Cathy (Merle Oberon), a girl whom Heathcliff played with frequently when they were children. Cathy and Heathcliff’s love for one another is evident, but eventually Cathy succumbs to what society dictates of her and she throws away Heathcliff (who soons disappears) in favor of another man, Edgar Linton (David Niven). Now as Edgar’s bride, Cathy befriends Edgar’s lonely sister, Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Heathcliff eventually returns to Cathy as a wealthy man and purchases Wuthering Heights from the now financially-ruined Hindley. Despite his affection for her, Cathy again rebuffs Heathcliff, pushing him into the arms of Isabella. Heathcliff treats Isabella poorly and she soon learns what she feared most- that her husband has always loved Cathy. A tragic illness befalls Cathy and at her bedside, she reunites with Heathcliff and professes her love to him.

Wuthering Heights was one of 10 films nominated for Best Picture in 1939. The film garnered an impressive eight Academy Award nominations (securing Laurence Olivier his first of 10 career nominations) and it was the winner of one (Best Cinematography). One of the film’s nominations went to Geraldine Fitzgerald, nominee, (153),  for her role as Heathcliff’s second choice wife, Isabella. Besides Olivier, Fitzgerald turned in one of the most memorable performances in the film. Fitzgerald’s Isabella is something to behold because she effectively shows her devastating transition from naive young girl, to coquettish nymph, to sullen, down-trodden wife with a quiet brilliance. Fitzgerald eventually lost the Best Supporting Actress Oscar to Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind.

Posted by: reederwi | August 9, 2010

Margaret Leighton, The Go-Between (1971)

Summer of 1900. This is the time period of Joseph Losey’s lush and romantic 1971 Palme d’Or winner The Go-Between. Screenwriter Harold Pinter, a frequent collaborater of Losey’s, adapted L.P. Hartley’s novel about a bitter old man named Leo (Michael Redgrave) who is looking back on his life with less than enthusiastic eyes. The story focuses on 12 year old  Leo (Dominic Guard) and the summer he spends in Norfolk, England, as the guest of the upper class Maudsley family while on break from boarding school. Even though Leo is poor and seen as an outsider, the Maudsley’s do their best to make him feel at home- not only by lavishing him with room and board, but with expensive gifts as well. When Leo’s school friend, Marcus (Richard Gibson) falls ill, Leo desperately looks for something to fill his time.  Soon, Leo becomes a “go-between” or a carrier of illicit love letters between the Maudsley’s adult daughter Marian (Julie Christie) and Ted Burgess (Alan Bates), the ruggedly handsome farmer who lives nearby. Leo is eager to carry the letters between the two parties because he has developed a schoolboy crush on the beautiful Marian. Leo is uncertain as to why Marian and Ted cannot be open about their budding relationship. Unbeknownst to Leo, Ted comes from a lower social class than Marian and the relationship between the two has no future. Marian’s love for Ted also puts them both on dangerous ground because she has recently become engaged to the Viscount Hugh Trimingham (Edward Fox). The secret affair is finally revealed when Marian’s suspicious mother (Margaret Leighton) forces young Leo to take her to the trysting place of Marian and Ted. Ultimately, Leo’s involvement as messenger leaves him emotionally scarred and tragedy soon befalls the family.

This meticulously directed and gorgeous period film scored one Academy Award nomination in 1971. The recipient of the nomination was British stage actress Margaret Leighton, nominee, (154), for her role as the sternly observant matriarch of the Maudsley family. Leighton’s Mrs. Maudsley is forever on the fringes of each scene she’s in, but the power and quiet strength she exudes is palpable. Leighton provides a serene, calculating presence throughout most of the film, yet it’s in the film’s final act that Leighton’s Maudsley erupts without warning like a once-dormant volcano. Margaret Leighton lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to Cloris Leachman in The Last Picture Show.

Posted by: reederwi | August 7, 2010

Claire Trevor, Key Largo (1948)

John Huston’s taut 1948 film Key Largo, which was adapted from Maxwell Anderson’s 1939 stage play, was the fourth and final time that Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall appeared on film together. The film centers around big-time gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) who is headed to Key Largo to finalize a deal over counterfeit money with a crooked Miami mobster. Johnny brings with him a motley crew of underlings and his alcoholic moll, Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor). Johnny and his gang comandeer a seedy Key Largo hotel headed up by wheelchair-bound James Temple (Lionel Barrymore) and his strong-willed daughter in law, Nora (Lauren Bacall). Nora, who’s husband George was killed in the war, is being visited by the cynical Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart). The hardened Frank McCloud served as George’s wartime commanding officer and best buddy. Frank’s mission to Key Largo is to pay his respects to James and Nora and tell them how George died. As a deadly hurricane brews in the distance, tensions mount as Frank prepares to collide with Johnny and his mobster friends. The film plays out as a tightly-drawn crime thriller that yields tragic results. Key Largo is a scintilating character study contrasting Frank’s alienated war veteran searching for a new identity and Johnny’s aging gangster searching for his once-powerful role in the crime-filled underworld. In most cases, a film adaptated from the stage tends to be too constrained. In the case of Key Largo, the straight-from-the-stage source material serves as a strength rather than a weakness. The film’s setting, a hotel under seige by gangsters holding a summit meeting in the midst of a hurricane, contributes to the feeling of panic and claustrophobia. The end result is a portrait of a man, once disillusioned by war, who is forced out of inaction in the name of justice.

Despite it’s high-calibre list of acting icons and crackling dialogue, Key Largo only received one Academy Award nomination. The film’s sole nomination and win went to Claire Trevor, winner, (155), for her supporting work as Gaye Dawn, the teary, alcoholic singer and gal pal of Johnny Rocco. Trevor is unforgettably magnetic and larger than life as the mobster’s drink-sodden moll. This film marked Trevor’s 2nd Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress and it gave her her only win. Her first nomination came in 1937 for Dead End. Her third and final nomination would come in 1955 for The High and the Mighty.

Posted by: reederwi | August 6, 2010

Maria Ouspenskaya, Love Affair (1939)

 

In director Leo McCarey’s 1939 tearjerker Love Affair, two strangers meet on a ship and eventually realize their lives are not complete without one another. This story has been told and retold on numerous occasions. It was first remade by McCarey himself as An Affair to Remember in 1957. It was also retold by Nora Ephron in 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle. Finally, the film was made a third time (with the original title intact) by Glen Gordon Caron starring Warren Beatty and Annette Bening in 1994. Despite it’s many transfigurations, the original Love Affair, which was written by McCarey, Mildred Cram, Delmer Daves, and Donald Ogden Stewart is a sweet, love note of a film that would melt even the most jaded of hearts. The story revolves around French artist playboy Michel Marnet (Charles Boyer). While Michel is on a trans-Atlantic trip from Naples to New York, he meets American nightclub singer Terry McKay (Irene Dunne). The two are set to marry other people, but after their first dinner together, they find themselves irresistably drawn to one another. On a stop over in Madeira, Michel reunites with his sweet grand-mere Janou (Maria Ouspenskaya). Janou is enamored of Terry and tells her she is the one woman who can help her playboy grandson settle down and take life more seriously. With grand-mere Janou’s blessing, Michel and Terry dock in New York and agree, in six months time, to meet again at the top of the Empire State Building to see if their love is still true. On that fateful day, a tragedy befalls Terry and she is unable to meet Michel. Will their love flourish? Only time will tell…

Love Affair was nominated for six Academy Awards (including Best Picture, Best Actress (Dunne),  Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Original Song entitled “Wishing”). The film’s second acting nomination went to 63 year old Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaya, nominee, (156), as Michel’s sweet, endearing grand-mere Janou. This was Ouspenskaya’s 2nd Best Supporting Actress nomination and her work as grand-mere Janou provides warmth and charm to the film. While she only appears in one scene in this film, it’s her blessing that she gives which connects the entire plot of the film. Her work here is at a complete counterpoint to the iron-fisted supporting role she played (and was nominated for 3 years earlier) in Dodsworth. Some have accused Ouspenskaya for holding the most Supporting Actress nominations for doing “nothing.” In actuality, both of her characters suggested layered backstories and Ouspenskaya was skilled at providing a hint at the rich subtext behind the women she portrayed. I yearned to see more of the Stanislavski-trained Ouspenskaya in each film. Although her total screen time in BOTH films totals 14 minutes, she certainly made the most of those brief moments. Ouspenskaya lost the Best Supporting Actress Oscar to Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind.

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