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.