Saturday, November 23, 2013

Four Villains, One Hero

Gail Patrick, "My Man Godfery," 1936.
 I love Gail Patrick.  I think she's great at playing believable "other women" who are really just misunderstood.  In "Godfrey" she's the older sister who thinks that Godfrey - a rich man willing to play a butler - has a secret.  Turns out she was right, but not in the way she thought.  She's smart but too cunning for her own good.  In Godfrey she learns a lesson about misjudging people, something a lot of people in the 1930s needed to also learn.
Sterling Hayden, ""Dr. Strangelove; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb," 1964.
The perfect portrayal of the paranoid conspiracy theorist.   "Purity of Essence."  What frightens me about "Strangelove" is how slow the responsible people are to recognize the insanity around them, and how much power wackos like Hayden's Gen. Ripper have over the rest of us.
Burt Lancaster, "Sweet Smell of Success," 1957.
Burt Lancaster, a gossip columnist along the lines of Walter Winchell, wants to break up his younger sister's romance to a musician; he uses Tony Curtis, an amoral publicist, to pull the strings.  Lancaster spends much of this film lying through his teeth and then being appalled when people don't believe him.  He's a snake.

Ann Blyth, "Mildred Pierce," 1945.
In "Mildred Pierce," Ann Blyth portrays the meanest, most ungrateful child in the history of cinema.  Her mother rises from poverty to create something of a restaurant empire, all so her daughter can lead a better life.  But Ann, as Veda, is dismissive of her mother's struggles, as if wealth just appears, and is even disdainful of her mother's attempts to protect her.  When she gets slapped late in the film, we cheer, because she deserves it.

Humphrey Bogart, "The Maltese Falcon," 1941.
Bogart, as Sam Spade, is the hero of "The Maltese Falcon," but he's not a really great guy.  He never really grieves for his dead partner; he's sympathetic to Mary Astor, but quickly gives her up for the Archer's murder, telling her sarcastically that he'll "wait for her."  He's cynical and bitter and hard-boiled, the way our detective heroes ought to be.

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