Thursday, September 12, 2013

Five Stars of the '30s, '40s, and '50s

Jean Arthur 

Jean Arthur, "The More the Merrier," 1943.
"The More the Merrier" is a great home-front wartime comedy from 1943 that addressed a very real problem; housing shortages in Washington DC and other centers of politics and industry.  Jean Arthur advertises her spare room for rent, and character actor Charles Coburn weasels his way into the apartment, even though Arhur was looking for a woman renter.  Coburn recognizes that Arthur doesn't allow herself to have much fun, so when Joel McCrae shows up also looking for a room, Coburn rents him half of his room.  Coburn works as something of a matchmaker, orchestrating screwball situations for McCrae and Arthur to get to know each other.  It's really funny!  Lots of spit takes and slamming doors, misconstrued situations and even some good social commentary.  And Arthur and McCrae make a good romantic couple.

Glenda Farrell

Glenda Farrell, "Goldiggers of 1935," 1935.
Glenda Farrell often played hard boiled characters, whether as a reporter, a gold digging secretary, or even tough as nails gangster molls.  I wasn't really aware of the breadth of her career until I caught a recent retrospective of her work on Turner Classic Movies.  She appeared in important supporting roles in many early seminal 1930s films, including "Little Caesar," "I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang," "The Match King," and "Lady for a Day."  Later she would star in many, many smaller films, in a series of films as girl reporter Torchy Blaine,  and layer in her career finding an enduring life on TV.

Kim Novak

Kim Novak, "Vertigo," 1958.
I don't think I quite got Novak's beauty in this sketch.  She's like a ghostly china doll in "Vertigo" in the early scenes, when Stewart still believes her to be Madeleine, before he believes she jumped from the bell tower.  There's something about her eyes that I didn't get.

Maureen O'Hara

Maureen O'Hara, "The Foxes of Harrow," 1947. 

For so many years I only knew Maureen O'Hara from "The Quiet Man."  But of course she's had a long and varied career, and she played many variations of "haughty" women, including this odd film from 1947.  She's the daughter of a wealthy landowner in pre-Civil War New Orleans who is wooed by gambler Rex Harrison.  She reluctantly agrees to marry him, but it turns out to be a difficult marriage because of Harrison's unconventional approach to wealth and work.  I really enjoyed the early scenes in this film.  Harrison is a real scoundrel, and O'Hara is simply stunning.  Unfortunately the film became more of a dull domestic drama and lost my interest by the last act.   

Edward G. Robinson

Edward G. Robinson, "Little Caesar," 1931.
Edward G. Robinson shot to fame in this role, modeled after gangster Al Capone.   It amazes me that he was able to avoid stereotyping and go on to appear in such different genres as biopics, dramas, and even comedies.  I did this quick trace/sketch from a great close-up late in the film when he realizes he can't betray his friend, an old partner who is trying to leave the life and go straight.   Robinson just looked devastated and lost. 

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