Sunday, 30 November 2014

5. Judy Garland

I thought i'd do a little series on my top five favourite actresses, looking at their lives, work and lasting legacy. So without further ado, here is no. 5....

"The finest all around performer we ever had in America was Judy Garland. There was no limit to her talent. She was the quickest, brightest person I ever worked with"
-Gene Kelly

Vulnerable yet strong, innocent but many ways Judy Garland was all of these things, no matter how contradictory. Who can forget their first view of the young girl with gingham dress and ruby red slippers, polite, helpful and charming, and with a voice that seemed beyond her years?

Pushed into stardom by her over zealous mother young Frances Ethel Gumm had to change her name and so began the life of 'Judy Garland'.
Judy's life was a tragic one and much of her problems started at a young age, fostered onto her by studio MGM. Problems with her weight, alcohol and pills, as well as five marriages could well have diminished her talent. But Judy was a fighter and throughout her life she defied odds to leave a lasting, memorable legacy.

Early success began with Mickey Rooney in the 'Andy Hardy' series but it was The Wizard of Oz which catapulted her into stardom. Still Judy found it hard to break out of her girl next door image and was often unsatisfied with the roles she played. However their were some gems, Meet me in St Louis and three films she made with Gene Kelly (For me and my Gal, The Pirate, Summer Stock) and Easter Parade with Fred Astaire. Judy proved she was more than capable of holding her own with seasoned dancers and singers. Increasing health issues saw Judy return to the stage and her career was reborn, touring with a series of immensely popular concerts. This led Judy to be cast in the 1954 musical, A Star is Born. Her performance was perhaps the best of her career, and everyone believed she would win the Oscar, sadly she lost to Grace Kelly. After her triumphant return Judy continued acting in films, touring with her concerts and in 1962 even hosted her own television program. But Judy was never without troubles and shortly after her fifth marriage she passed away from an accidental barbiturate overdose at the age of forty seven.

Judy however was so much more than an addict, or even a troubled soul. She was beautiful, kind and talented, and she blessed thousands with her remarkable voice which seemed to read minds. Her ability to reinvent herself, from child star, glamorous leading lady, concert star and television host, showed the depth of her ability and the courage it took to achieve it.
Like us all Judy was not perfect, but perhaps that was why everyone loved her, why people continue to love her. She was human.

"Always be a first rate version of yourself, instead of a second rate version of somebody else"
-Judy Garland

Jailhouse Rock (1957)

Widely regarded as Elvis' best film, Jailhouse Rock, helped cement Elvis' star status. The story follows Vince Everett (Presley) who is sent to jail for man slaughter and upon his release begins a career as a recording artist. Whilst in jail Vince learns how to play the guitar from fellow inmate Hunk (Mickey Shaughnessy). Free from jail Vince becomes a star with the help of Peggy (Judy Tyler), but fame makes him arrogant and causes tensions with those around him.

The film was met with mixed reviews upon its release. Many were startled by the 'Jailhouse Rock' scene, particularly Elvis' dancing which was viewed as 'scandalous', his character also caused controversy because Vince was an anti hero. However despite not being a critical success it was a huge success at the box office. It was the eleventh top grossing film of the year and Elvis was the fourth top money making star.
Tragically two weeks after the film was completed Judy Tyler and her husband were killed in a car accident. Out of respect Elvis did not attend the films premiere. It was Tyler's last film.

The film presented the typical 1950s rebel, angry, confused, full of attitude but with a heart of gold.
This film also became the first to centre on Rock n' Roll. Up until that point rock had been seen as a passing fad, a novelty, but not something likely to last. Elvis forced the wider public to take notice of the new style.  Elvis is at the peek of his career, good-looking and talented he makes the film a memorable one, sure to get you dancing!


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)

Angie (Natalie Wood) is a young woman who after a one night fling finds herself pregnant to wayward musician Rocky (Steve McQueen). The film follows the ups and downs of their relationship, first as Rocky agrees to help Angie have an abortion, and then when she doesn't, as they begin to fall in love.

Like her earlier films, Rebel without a Cause, Splendor in the Grass and the later, This Property is Condemned, Natalie displays a raw emotional side. Whilst it may sound strange I always find Natalie's 'crying' scenes in films to be the most believable of any actress, you always feel that she is the characters she plays. Despite the serious nature of the film there are several light hearted moments, particularly involving Anthony Columbo (Tom Bosley), a clumsy young chef who is in love with Angie. Being a huge Happy Days fan I loved seeing Mr. Cunningham in this film!! Steve McQueen was also great, an understated performance, I loved the scenes he shared with Natalie.

The subject matter was quite daring for the time but the film handles it sensitively. It also cemented Steve's status as a heartthrob! Natalie was nominated for an academy award for her role. It really is a great film, starring two wonderful actors!


Saturday, 15 November 2014

This Property is Condemned (1966)

Alva Starr (Natalie Wood) is the town flirt, however underneath her coquettish exterior she is broken, and longing to escape the small town of Dodson. Her mother (Kate Reid) uses her for her own gains, forcing her on older men for money, and then accusing Alva of being selfish when she refuses.
Everything changes for Alva when she meets Owen (Robert Redford), but the cruelty of those around them destroys their chance of happiness.

So many of Natalie's films are underrated and hard to find! When This Property is Condemned was first released it didn't do very well in the eyes of the critics, yet both Natalie and Robert Redford are exceptional. Natalie gives Alva a multi faceted personality, Alva's flirtatiousness really masks her true feelings, her desperation to escape, and her mothers role in her man obsessed world. What Alva is really looking for is someone to truly love and take care of her (unlike her much idealised father who ran out on them). The rest of the cast are also well suited to their roles, Mary Badham (who is best remembered for her role as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird) is very believable as a tough, worldly young girl, who is also strangely innocent. The final shot of her on the railway tracks is haunting.

The film was based on a one act play by Tennessee Williams, however it was greatly expanded in the film version. In the original play Willie and the boy she befriends at the beginning of the film, are the only two characters. Willie tells her sisters story, but their is no Owen. Apparently Williams disliked the film version, but it was one of Natalie's favourite roles.

I think this is definitely an underrated film, Natalie is fantastic, but the ending will break your heart!


Friday, 14 November 2014

Penelope (1966)

Penelope (Natalie Wood) is a self confessed kleptomaniac, she steals because it makes her 'cheerful'. At first she steals jewellery from those who have wronged her in some way but her compulsion reaches a head when she robs her husbands bank. Her psychiatrist is at his wits end, but using her own brand of intelligence and sense of humour Penelope seems to excel at what she does. However she is really desperate for her husband to notice her.

Penelope may not be the greatest film from the era but it is fun and very enjoyable. Natalie is lovely, and I think she is quite underrated as a comic actress. The film is reminiscent of How to Steal a Million, and at times Penelope reminded me of Audrey Hepburn's most famous character, Holly Golightly. One of the films most celebrated aspects are the gorgeous Edith Head costumes. 

The film also has a great soundtrack, I guarantee it's opening song will be stuck in your head! You can hear it here. Natalie also has the opportunity to sing in this lovely number. The film is full of sixties fun, from it's vibrant colours to the excellent, varied cast. If you wish to watch a sweet, amusing comedy, I recommend, Penelope!


The Red Shoes (1948)

This visually stunning, heartbreaking film, tells the story of Victoria Paige (Moira Shearer), a young talented ballerina. Her life is torn between the love of her life and the ballet.
Vicky is cast as the lead in a ballet based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale, 'The Red Shoes'. As time goes on Vicky's life begins to resemble the fairy tale including it's tragic end.

Visually the film is breathtaking, with it's rich Technicolor, and the wonderful ballet sequence. The film did well in Britain although it was not a commercial success. When it was shown in America however it became one of Britain's highest grossing films of all time. It's innovative use of ballet inspired Gene Kelly to include a ballet sequence in his film, An American in Paris. The BFI rates it 9th in it's top 100 British films of all time.

Moira Shearer had been a ballerina before she began acting in films, and from her superb dancing, to her brilliant red hair matching the shoes, she was perfect for the role as Vicky.
Anton Walbrook is suitably menacing as the controlling director who forces Vicky to choose between her love for Julian (Marius Goring) and the ballet. Haunting and beautiful this is a fascinating film, not only for it's story and characters but also it's use of special effects.


Saturday, 8 November 2014

Bus Stop (1956)

The 1956 film Bus Stop, is a strange, and often awkward, mixture of genres. It is not a comedy nor a drama yet it has elements of both, it even appears at times to be a musical. This mismatch gives it a peculiar air, only saved by the 'newly reinvented' Marilyn Monroe.

The film follows loud mouthed, brash, insensitive and childish, Bo (Don Murray) a cowhand who whilst competing in a rodeo meets nightclub singer, Cherie. He is smitten and pursues her like he pursues the cattle he ropes. Cherie try's desperately to escape him, but after an embarrassing episode at a bus station in which Bo lassos her she finds herself his captive on a bus back to his ranch.

Bo is incredibly awkward, making the viewer cringe at his lack of tact and his rough handed ways. Every scene is filled with a sense of desperation for Cherie to escape, and at every turn she seems to fail.
There is a sense of dissatisfaction at the end of the film; Bo is finally set straight, but his then repentant attitude wins Cherie over, and they do leave together!
I found it hard to accept, for the whole film all I wanted was for Cherie to be rid of Bo, and when she finally has her chance, he has a complete character change and it becomes romantic.

The saving grace of the film is Marilyn. She had recently been studying with Lee Strasberg, and movie critics where unsure of how she would embrace method acting. She proved her critics wrong; she is tortured, innocent, beguiling and raw. A more intense version of her typical 'dumb blonde' showgirl characters. As Cherie, Marilyn is lost, searching, and her dramatic performance is at odds with the over the top Don Murray. She is incredibly pale, to emphasise the life she leads as a nightclub entertainer, her hair is always messy and she only wears three outfits for the entire film. It was a different Marilyn and she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her efforts.


Saturday, 1 November 2014

Eva Marie Saint

One of my favourite things about Classic Movies is discovering 'new' actresses and actors. I love reading about their lives, and then making my way through their filmography.
Of late I have been enjoying learning more about the wonderful, talented Eva Marie Saint.

She is best known for her Academy Award winning performance in On the Waterfront (1954) with Marlon Brando, and her role opposite Cary Grant in the Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest (1959). Despite her success as an actress Saint is relatively unknown today, and I think under appreciated.

Saint has played a myriad of characters, amongst others, the mysterious femme fatale, passionate career woman and the girl next door.
She starred with some of the most famous actors of the day including, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck and Montgomery Clift, yet she was more than capable of holding her own, creating memorable, strong female characters.

So far I have seen On the Waterfront, North by Northwest, Exodus and Grand Prix, of her films. If anybody has any more recommendations I would love to hear from you!