Saturday, November 07, 2009

Rosalind Russell, in Mourning Becomes Electra
approximately 88 minutes and 51 seconds
56.9% of the film

The film

An adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's play. As an updated Greek tragedy, the film features murder, adultery, love and revenge. All taking place after the American Civil War.

You can find my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

It’s a hard movie to decide on: on one hand, it’s a costume drama with an interesting cast and a lot of tragedy to keep it fun. But unfortunately it also has infinite dialogues and shaky acting. Great potential, though.

Rosalind Russell as Lavinia Mannon

I actually believe this is the first drama I’ve seen Rosalind Russell in. I guess many of us are aware that she was an excellent comedy actress; I much enjoyed The Women, His Girl Friday and Auntie Mame. But getting to this performance… nothing funny about her character. As the film is constructed as a tragedy, there’s nothing left for Rosalind to do than to bring the finest overacting to the stage… excuse me: screen. The role is tricky, as the text requires theatrical without making excuses.

Rosalind plays Lavinia, the daughter of a wealthy family during civil war. Her long devotion for her father and resentment towards her unfaithful mother provoke the tragic events of the film. Though true leading only in the second half, her presence on screen is always remarkable and necessary as she is the one always pushing the movie forward and disconnecting the rest of the stars from their zombie-like acting.

It’s a bit hard to see her as this innocent young lady in the first part of the film (in all fairness, the role might’ve required a younger casting), but she totally sells the frigidity of Lavinia, her passive anger towards the fact that her mother stole her man, the stiffness of her reactions. To some, it might look like bad overacting and it’s true that during the film I myself had some problems with small details like much-too-sudden head movement and over-interpretation of stuff that could’ve gone subtly.

But as I said in the beginning, the staginess of her performance is in the spirit of the material. And what Rosalind adds is honest emotion, making Lavinia the (only) relatable character of them all. For example the scene where she’s looking at her father’s window with a strange anxiety and maybe childish jealousy. And as the tragedy starts happening, there’s always a silent sneakiness about her and the eyes acting is very good / suggestive for the most of it.

In the last part of the film, the role requires for her to step into the shoes of her mother (who’s played terribly by Katina Paxinou) – I don’t understand this direction, meant probably to show that Lavinia is growing into a woman as charismatic and secretive as her mother was. But considering how lousy Katina did her job, Rosalind easily manages to elevate all those features, shaping a believable, mature & charming Lavinia.

There are a lot of monologues that Rosalind has to do. She gets to play innocent, arrogant, guilty, she is stressed by her brother who exploits her vulnerability (a nice decent chemistry with Michael Regrave) while at the same keeping her claws on all of his actions. It’s a fierce character and Rosalind benefits of the fact that she’s easily the best of the acting group; so by comparison, she’s gold. It really is a journey for her character and Rosalind manages to underline such changes in Lavinia. Even with the overacting at times, it’s still impressive to watch and I felt a relief every time she entered a scene, as I new something real was finally happening. .

Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that tour-de-force in the ending, when she wonderfully chews all those scenes. And that line: I don’t need God or anyone else to forgive me. I forgive myself! :) brilliant.

Ps.: I have posted the film on youtube. If you want to check it, click here. Also, her screentime was calculated for the 159 min version that I have (just saying, cause I know they’re many different editing versions out there).


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

This is getting interesting. That being said, does that mean she was justified in getting up before a name was called? Just asking.

Alex in Movieland said...

considering how heavy the role was, her Globe win, her popularity, her previous snub and the fact that the movie fitted the 1940s, I'd say yes, she was justified to get up.

The Jaded Armchair Reviewer said...

i guess as with most, i discovered her as a comedian but then i saw The Citadel and i was completely blown away by how good Ros was in drama. her His Girl Friday performance was the perfect mix of her gifts in comedy and drama.

Alex in Movieland said...

well, I've never seen The Citadel. so many films I need to see... :/ but I really liked His Girl Friday