Friday, June 27, 2008

Supporting Actress Smackdown 1939

So, for the legendary year, we look at the Supporting Actresses from legendary (and not so legendary) pictures. I'll start with the not so first. SL's post goes up first thing Sunday....

Edna May Oliver in Drums Along the Mohawk

First let me say I am not a colonial history fan. This movie does not encourage me very much. It's a mess of tone, but what can be said of Oliver is that if anyone in the movie manages to find one, it's her. She's brash, she's bold. She's frontiersy. She's certainly the only interesting thing in the movie, but in this one that's not saying alot. Fonda is uninteresting--sounding still as if he came out of Nebraska 100 years before there was one to come out of, and Colbert doesn't do much, either, except whimper or shine. Oliver's performance, as a lot in this movie are, is broad. And even though I liked her the most, I really didn't care. But so glad there was an "hysterical house darkie" in this movie, too, for no apparent reason. Just goes to show we're watching movies from the '30s. Good times.

Maria Ouspenskaya in Love Affair

I was thoroughly charmed by this movie, and completely on the force of Irene Dunne, who I now realized the adjective "winning" must have been created for. She and Charles Boyer made me buy this thin little thread of a story. And they are helped along considerably by the warm presence of Ouspenskaya. Her relationship with Boyer feels real, as does her immediate understanding of the Dunne character. Is it the best thing ever? No, but it's a very capable, memorable performance in a movie that requires the plot hinge on it. I still remember her face falling as she says "I hate ships whistles". Warm, inviting performance in an old school charmer of a film

Geraldine Fitzgerald in Wuthering Heights

This movie is all about Olivier and Oberon, so anyone else just better get out of the way. Fitzgerald is servicable in a role that is there mostly to show how cruel Heathcliff and Cathy's love is. She's great in the one scene where she has to tell off Cathy, but it's a boomerang of a role, and for the most part unsurprising. I wasn't really interested in her trajectory, but probably because it was telegraphed before it happened

Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind

I do love this performance, if only for what Hattie McDaniel manages to do with a part that was written as comic relief. Every action she does is done out of care, and it's that grounding that keeps any humor honest, and adds the extra depth of feeling that is not immediately obvious at all. She's not on screen alot, but when she is she's a proxy for what we're thinking a lot of the time, cutting through Scarlett's BS to what is good (and bad) about what she's doing. A deft performance in a role that could've been completely ridiculous.

Olivia deHavilland in Gone With the Wind

I love this performance as well, and suprised that I did. deHavilland makes Melanie's goodness inviting and not cloying, which is no small feat. In a part that could've easily been a self-righteous goody goody, deHavilland shows us a woman who underneath is trying to be the best self she can possibly be, and give everyone else that same credit. It's not a showy performance, which it could've fallen into as well, and also succeeds in having us never question why Scarlett would keep Melanie around. She makes Scarlett better, too.

All in all, it was a suprising year in hindsight. My list would more than likely not have included Fitzgerald or Oliver, though possibly Ouspenskaya. It's interesting that these movies are all templates for those that would come after--historical costume drama, epic, romance. So even though these may not have been my pics, perhaps they are most representative. I may have included Butterfly McQueen, though that role is much more disturbing than Hattie McDaniel's, and probably one of the most frustrating/annoying characters on film--GWTW does nothing half way. I might have added one of the women--Russell, Crawford--there's many to choose from. And maybe Margaret Hamilton in Oz. It's interesting looking at the year that it has more memorable lead performances (Garbo in Ninotchka anyone?), but not so many supporting that stand out for me immediately. And I do have to say that Leigh is brilliant in Gone With the Wind. I was truly blown away. I really do think it's one of the most perfect marriages to actress and character I've seen on film. We can't let 1939 go without saying that. And I still have HOURS of DVD extras to watch. Yippee...

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