Thursday, July 21, 2011

Greer Garson, in The Valley of Decision
approximately 76 minutes and 16 seconds
60.6% of the film

The film

It tells the story of a young Irish house maid who falls in love with the son of her employer, a local steel mill owner.

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

Valley of Decision is all about its supporting cast, and not so much about story or directing. It moves smoothly, but doesn’t risk anything and never reaches heights of story or narrative. The story deserved a much more accomplished writer, to explore its full potential.

Greer Garson as Mary Rafferty

As I’m sure you know, this was Greer Garson’s 5th consecutive Best Actress nomination (a 6th to that point, of a career total of 7), a record of BA consecutiveness equalled only by Bette Davis. Everybody loved Greer in the 1940s and she’s been a category-filler in more than one occasion. This particular nomination is somewhere in the middle: I’m sure nobody was VERY excited about the performance, but it’s definitely not her worst nomination.

Greer plays Mary Rafferty, a poor young honest woman of Irish ancestry in 19th century industrial Pittsburgh. Much against her crippled full-of-hate father’s wish, she goes to work as a maid in the house of the Scott family, the rich owners of the mill. She wins the family’s appreciation, falls in love with their oldest son, but social matters threaten to separate them. It’s a good role, but as much as the screenplay offers her in the first half, the opposite it does in the final part, almost completely ignoring its lead.

There are two main elements working against the performance, both pretty obvious from the start. First, there’s the uncertain age of the character; Greer was 40-41 when the film was made, Gregory Peck was 28-29. :) The fact that it’s black-and-white hides the age difference a bit, but they never mention or suggest how old Mary is. From what I can understand she’s in her middle 20s, which makes it a bit hard to believe and I would’ve appreciated it if they had hinted that Mary was leaning towards spinsterhood – it would’ve made the performance far more believable.

The second element hard to judge is the accent. There’s a BIG Irish accent going on here. I didn’t hate it, but also I could tell it didn’t come natural to Greer; especially when she’s… well… you know… singing. These 2 elements alone stop it from greatness. But allow me to move on to what I actually appreciated about the performance.

Most importantly, I felt like Greer understood the character, especially in the first half. Class difference is an important topic here, and there was at least a scene where my heart felt for this girl: it’s when she tries, in her full shyness and modesty, to announce dinner is served to a bunch of high-class people. As she stands there, in her maid uniform, unable to raise her voice enough, nobody listens to her and she’s invisible. Such a small, short scene had a big impact on me, because Greer made me understand what this girl was going through, in a poorly written yet surprisingly significant moment.

Another success is the display of emotion when having to refuse his love. Her eyes are tearful and she makes small emotional scenes feel meaningful, like she did before. She puts emotional effort in something that didn’t necessarily require it.

Unfortunately, as I said, she’s almost completely ignored in the 2nd part, being offered almost no good moments. And it’s a pitty. I’m running too long here, it’s also because it’s one of the hardest ratings I had to chose till now. Should I give it a 2 or a 3. I initially thought of 3, but considering I’ve previously gave 3 stars to Janet Gaynor (7th Heaven) and Mary McDonnell (Passion Fish), it wouldn’t feel right. So I’m going for a strong , which isn’t that low in my book, considering such ratings have been previously offered to Deneuve (Indochine) and McGuire (Gentleman’s Agreement).

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Jennifer Jones, in Love Letters
approximately 49 minutes and 46 seconds
50.2% of the film

The film

Allen Quinton writes a fellow soldier's love letters; tragedy results. Later, Allen meets a beautiful amnesiac who fears postmen.You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

To put it simply, I thought the film was an uninteresting cliché that seriously lacked suspenseful writing or any reason to keep interested. There’s a good remembering scene towards the end, but even the ending fails by going for hard to believe jolly nonsense.

Jennifer Jones as Victoria Morland / Singleton

By the time this film was released, 26 year old Jennifer Jones was already an Oscar winner for her saintly performance in The Song of Bernadette and was fooling around with Hollywood’s greatest producer. It was her second of many pairings with Joseph Cotten and the idea of the film sounded more than promising: the perfect role for her to use her prettiness and innocent looks. And yet…

Jennifer Jones plays Victoria Morland aka Singleton, the mysterious interest of a man, a young woman who got tricked into marrying the wrong guy, killed him and now suffers from amnesia. She goes by the name of Singleton, doesn’t know her real identity and falls in love with Allen, without knowing he’s in fact the one writing her the love letters that started everything. No worries, I didn’t do any spoilers as all this info is pretty clear/obvious from the beginning.

I think it’s worth starting with the couple of good elements in this performance. First, there’s an hesitation when she first admits her memory loss to Allen; I think this also comes up in other scenes and Jennifer does a good job in acting a certain shame that Victoria feels – she’s often quite apologetic and embarrassed of her situation.

Also, on the good side there’s the big dramatic scene towards the end, when she remembers everything. It’s the most emotional moment in the film, a much needed one I might add. Jennifer brings it all: tears & deep understanding of the character, but if only that lasted. One minute later she loses herself again in the dreadful writing: she hasn’t even had time to process her dramatic memories that she immediately jumps into Cotten’s arms, with a big smile on her face disregarding the previous highly-dramatic moment, only seconds before.

Those good acting moments can’t compensate for the awful truth: Jennifer doesn’t get above the material. Sure, playing someone confronted with memory loss isn’t easy to do, but most of her choices are uninspired. She also gets the typical clichéd lines & monologues for a character in such position and I admit it’s hard to do justice to such unnatural writing.

The performance is inconsistent, unbalanced and handled by an actress who is either poorly guided by her director or just not experienced enough. There are moments when all of the sudden she goes for wide-eyed reactions of Norma Desmond kind, as if it’s suddenly turning into a horror film or a suspense movie – which this film clearly isn’t.

It’s not the worst Best Actress nominee I’ve reviewed in the past 3 years, but it’s there at the bottom in an unfortunate Top 5. I have no hesitation in going for a .

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Joan Crawford, in Mildred Pierce
approximately 84 minutes and 36 seconds
77.5% of the film

The film

After her husband leaves her, Mildred Pierce proves she can become independent and successful, but can't win the approval of her spoiled daughter.

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

Mildred Pierce feels like a classic noir film, but it still has a couple of problems with the screenplay. It starts great, it ends up nicely, but there’s too much of a rushed storytelling in the middle and doesn’t take full advantage of possible, richer directions.

Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce

How many years did it take for Joan to get her first nomination? Too many, as she had been a movie star ever since the 30s. And she won: partly because some felt it was her time, partly because there was thin competition and mostly because even today it feels like a worthy winner. It’s arguably Joan’s most beloved performance and you don’t see that very often: actors winning for their most outstanding career achievement.

Joan plays Milded Pierce, a woman left by her husband, having to take care of their daughters during economic downturn. She tries to please her daughter Veda by giving the girls a better life: she opens a restaurant, becomes a successful business-woman, gets involved with a sneaky man and just can’t seem to win her evil daughter’s affection. It all ends with a murder. It’s a dramatically rich role about a very determined woman.

The performance is technically irresistible. It’s generally agreed that few actresses had the control over a performance like Joan Crawford had. If you’ve seen some videos/interviews on her acting, they always underline what a pro she was, always knowing where the camera is, when to show tears and so on. And all those assets are perfectly coordinated here: she’s always in control of her scenes in a manner that would seem robotic, except that it’s fabulous because Joan is so damn talented.

She makes it look easy and natural and along the way she also manages to bring emotion to her flawless acting skills. Actually, those emotional scenes are my favorite: the introduction of her character, for example, with the suicide attempt, is PERFECTLY played and set: her gorgeous face, the light, the fur coat and most of all her eyes filled with tears. The slapping scenes are also classics, because Joan is wonderful at playing “vulnerable with dignity” and win the sympathy of the audience.

It’s not a performance that holds a lot of secrets & surprises, because Joan is very good throughout; that’s no reason to blame, but it’s worth mentioning. One thing I didn’t like and it stood out in the film, was the way the screenplay treated the death of Kay and how Joan didn’t do a bit more to grab all the potential of that scene. It was all like: the kid died, one or two tears and now we’re ready to move on. I don’t think that was in the spirit of the character, considering how much Mildred loved those girls. I would’ve expected her to be completely devastated. It’s probably the director’s fault, but Joan should’ve pushed for us to see something that what was more believable for her character.

Joan Crawford gives a remarkable performance, that I probably respect more than I love. I wouldn’t feel completely comfortable in giving more than a but it’s a very strong one. When the camera’s on her in a big, emotional scene there’s perfection that’s hard to match. However, in the regular scenes, she’s her usual great, maybe not with enough surprises or a bit too technical in her acting skills. It’s a very strong performance anyway.

Friday, July 01, 2011

This week my life-saving blog turned 3 years old. :D

I initially planed a photo shoot, special editions & something like that, but who has the time. :) I'd more rather focus on catching up with my Best Actress posts.

Anyway, being Alex in Movieland's birthday and all that, at least allow me to make a recommendation.

I love Jane Fonda. And this is the BEST interview I've ever seen on Inside the Actor's Studio. This woman is a treasure. See all 5 parts for fantastic words of wisdom and some great Hollywood memories.