Monday, January 16, 2012

Best Actress Birthday Party, Week 3

Born January 15–January 21:
Click here for the full list of entries

Jan 16: Diana Wynyard (106; died 1964)
New Review: Gaslight (1940)
Diana's Best Work: Unquestionably, out of my very small sample, her take on the famously terrorized wife in the movie I just saw.
I've Also Seen: Her stiff, shaky, but nominated performance in Cavalcade (Best Pictures from the Outside In), which is not a great moment in Oscar history, especially since the transition from an Aug 1–Jul 31 eligibility calendar to the much more sensible Jan 1–Dec 31 window resulted in the 1932-33 ceremony inviting candidates from 17 months of top-flight movies. Best not to think about whom Wynyard bested on the way to her citation. Anyway, Wynyard was one of those actresses who made no bones about valuing the stage in every way above the screen, and only made 16 films in 25 years before her abrupt death at 56.
Where To Go Next: Diana has a tough task trying to elbow into a three-way Barrymore Act-a-Thon in Rasputin and the Empress. Speaking, though, of crowded rings, I gather from commenters that she makes a vivid impression as part of the large ensemble in her last film, the four-stranded Island in the Sun. (She's got the Blanchett part in the 1947 version of An Ideal Husband, but after my first two run-ins with Diana, I'm not convinced she'd import the subliminal slyness into that role that Cate so dexterously brought to it.)

Jan 20: Patricia Neal (86; died 2010)
New Review: The Fountainhead (1949)
Patricia's Best Work: Neal is one of those happy cases of a performer gleaning her Oscar for what is surely her best performance, as the aroused but worldly-wise Alma in Hud (my Favorite Films entry).
I've Also Seen: Extremely savvy and emotionally layered in A Face in the Crowd; sensual and moneyed in Breakfast at Tiffany's, like Nina Foch in An American in Paris; nominated for bearing up with a querulous husband, a war-scarred son, and whatever weighs on her own soul in The Subject Was Roses; and a miniature, late-in-life delight in Robert Altman's Cookie's Fortune
Where To Go Next: I'm most curious to beat a path to the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still. Otherwise, beyond her two Reagan vehicles from the same year as The Fountainhead, especially the Oscar-nominated The Hasty Heart, I've heard some good things—including from you guys—about The Breaking Point, Bright Leaf, Three Secrets, and the immediately pre-stroke Psyche 59. How Glenda Jackson ever found her way into starring in The Patricia Neal Story is fathomless to me but a mystery for another time.

Jan 21: Geena Davis (56)
New Review: The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
Geena's Best Work: If all she'd ever shown us was dizzy, irked, fun-chasing, assaulted, recklessly emancipated Thelma in Thelma & Louise, she'd belong in the pantheon.
I've Also Seen: From a surprisingly not-enormous filmography, a goofy-sexy cameo in Tootsie, formidably intelligent and emotionally rich in The Fly; a good fit for Burton's whimsy in Beetlejuice; winning her Oscar as Anne Tyler's warmly offbeat dog-walker in The Accidental Tourist (my review), where she memorably puts paid to William Hurt's fickleness and unwitting condescension; and trying to resuscitate Irene Dunne in Speechless. Also, the episode of The Geena Davis Show where she teaches the kids The Hustle, and the one of Commander in Chief where she gets the gig.
Where To Go Next: As several commenters rightly pointed out, there is no excuse for me to have not seen A League of Their Own by now. Earth Girls Are Easy will probably come after that, but I can usually watch Davis in anything.

As always, propose your own favorites in the Comments, and respond to the reviews as they appear!

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Blogger Sam Brooks said...

It might not be her best film, but it's certainly her most entertaining leading role: The Long Kiss Goodnight, where Geena Davis perhaps plays the least unlikely action heroine in a film. Very silly, very fun film.

12:14 AM, January 15, 2012  
Blogger Walter L. Hollmann said...

Diana Wynyard gives a brief, fascinatingly layered performance as Joan Collins' mum in Island in the Sun, which also boasts a bizarre James Mason performance. And Joan Fontaine! So, yes, Island in the Sun is recommended.

12:25 AM, January 15, 2012  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

yeah, a take on LONG KISS GOODNIGHT couldn't help but be interesting. Or if were on her marriage run with Renny Harlin, CUTTHROAT ISLAND is rarely discussed and very storied.

but how have you really never seen A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN? If you really haven't seen it that's my vote. So many actresses! Such a big hit. And I actually really like her in it. Very subdued while everyone else is showboating.

you've seen more

12:25 AM, January 15, 2012  
Blogger Walter L. Hollmann said...

Oh, sorry, and I forgot to mention rec for Geena Davis: singing and dancing for Jeff Goldblum in campy sci-fi musical curiosity piece Earth Girls Are Easy. She gets a solo!

12:27 AM, January 15, 2012  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

A League of Their Own and The Long Kiss Goodnight are clearly the Twin Towers of Geena omissions in my movie viewing. They're both sitting on my shelf, and it's a close race as to what I pop in... though, in my perversity, I was curious to poke into something like Angie or Hero or, yes, Cutthroat Island from that weird period when she could get a project financed.

@Walter: Earth Girls Are Easy is also tempting. As for Island in the Sun, CanadianKen brought that one up in terms of Dorothy Dandridge, so boy is it on everyone's lips all of a sudden. I've ordered it through my library, but I know it won't be here by Monday. Thanks for the suggestion, though! Looks like it was her final film, and I like hearing the additional vote of confidence.

12:55 AM, January 15, 2012  
Blogger Ivan said...

Neal: The Breaking Point is dare I say a superior To Have and Have Not.

Earth Girls Are Easy is way fun. Unlike most curiosities, it's quite watchable and fully committed to being goofy.

1:15 AM, January 15, 2012  
Blogger Tim said...

No love for Geena in Stuart Little? Not even a smidgen?

Really, though, I 1000% second what Nathaniel said. Even if you don't review it, at least use this as an excuse to see League of Their Own, though I think your essay on any of the films in play would be an absolute treasure.

I've communicated my thoughts on Patricia Neal to you elsewhere, but it bears repeating: The Fountainhead, however broken it may be, has a lot going on, and boasts considerable privilege of place in her career.

2:43 AM, January 15, 2012  
Blogger Ivan said...

Oh yes! The Fountainhead is one of my all-time favorites. What better way to handle such extremism than as high camp. Toning down the rhetoric would only hurt the movie.

10:50 AM, January 15, 2012  
Blogger Dan Callahan said...

OK, just want to do a catch-all post here. It's too late for Rainer, and you nail her exasperating performance style in "The Emperor's Candlesticks," but she really is very good in Borzage's "Big City." This is a classic example of an actor not knowing what their best work is. Borzage is the only one who got her to tone down her Elisabeth Bergner nonsense for the camera, so that she seems like a human being for once, and she's good with Spencer Tracy.

For Diana Wynyard, I'd do her "Gaslight" with Anton Walbrook.

Oh, and I said this at Nathaniel's blog before the Golden Globes, but I wish some savvy press photographer would have posed Streep and Lange together with their statues, ala 1982. Maybe someone did?

As a fellow Lange obsessive, I tried to watch "American Horror Story," and I just couldn't. It's only good because it gets her some much-needed attention as the best thing on it, but it's trash, and it's unfocused trash, and I didn't like seeing her do this sort of stuff in "Hush" once, let alone on a weekly basis. She seems to be having a good enough time. It isn't like what Ryan Murphy did to poor Vanessa on "Nip/Tuck," where she rattled off her vulgar dialogue as if she didn't even know what it meant.

Murphy really is an Evil Gay Casting Genius, because he casts every older actress we would cast if we were doing a TV show, but then he either gives them nothing to do or he actively humiliates them.

11:50 AM, January 16, 2012  
Blogger Fritz said...

I have seen the Gaslight-version of 1940 and found it utterly disappointing but your review really makes me want to see it again!

2:16 AM, January 18, 2012  
Blogger Tim said...

Oh man, this was exactly the piece I hoped for when I started nudging you toward The Fountainhead. I'm stealing "a coelacanth in your bathtub" for any future Rand arguments I have.

One quibble:

"Rand allows her male lead to rape his ally..."

I daresay "encourages" might be more in keeping with Our Ayn's intentions than "allows".

7:53 PM, January 20, 2012  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Tim and @Ivan: Thanks for these recs, and it sounds like we all wind up at about the same place on The Fountainhead. What an odd duck! Or, as it were, a coelacanth. You're right about "encourages," Tim. One wonders about "applauds," even.

@Dan: Well, if I'm ever ready for more Rainer, Big City it is. You and Borzage are a tough duo not to trust, especially since what you're saying about American Horror Story is exactly what I've been worrying about. Hope you liked the Gaslight review.

@Fritz: Thanks for that compliment, even after I gave your Luise a pretty hard time in the other piece!

1:06 PM, January 21, 2012  
Anonymous Terri Geller said...

I want to submit an appeal for your reconsideration of The Long Kiss Goodnight, which I teach every year, and it generates great, smart papers. Have you read my article on it?

Hope this pleads its case for a retrial.

4:25 PM, December 28, 2013  

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