Eva Marie Saint: Oscar Royalty

20 Jul

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It’s amazing that actresses today who strike Oscar gold with their first foray into film are immediately subject to the Oscar curse. This should not to be confused with the Oscar Love Curse – in which actresses from Vivian Leigh to Julia Roberts to Sandra Bullock win the little gold man of their cinematic dreams, only to lose their significant others in real life immediately after. No, I mean the Oscar curse where an actress hits paydirt her first time out and is relegated to terrible roles forever after. One classic beauty who defied this particular tinseltown superstition is the legendary Eva Marie Saint.

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Eva Marie was a little known though already incredibly talented actress on Broadway and television when Elia Kazan cast her as Edie Doyle,  Marlon Brando’s love interest in On The Waterfront (1954). The film was a tremendous hit – sending Brando into the stratosphere and taking Saint with him. The breakout role for the beautiful blonde resulted in an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Eva Marie was crowned the latest Hollywood princess of cinema – with every director circling her for their film. But Eva Marie was smart and, in a town that eats their own on a regular basis, chose her directors and her roles wisely.

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On the Waterfront showed the diminutive blonde as a naive though curious young woman who had little experience with men – let alone the domineering and larger than life presence of Brando. Maybe that’s what was so refreshing about her – she was able to keep her head amidst the carnage of Kazan’s black & white world. Saint’s performance was the perfect contrast to the rest of the film’s cynical world view. She stood out as pure and unaffected. It was a performance that deserved the Oscar, so the pressure was on for Eva Marie to find roles that would not typecast her – even at a time when so many actresses were interchangeable.

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To understand the role is to understand how acting as an art was changing in Hollywood. Eva Marie was part of a new breed of realism. She was able to convey a vulnerability without being weak at a time when women were still constrained in the “50’s mentality” of what a woman’s role was. That’s why I loved her next huge hit and the one that introduced me to her. Of course, I’m talking about Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959). In choosing Saint, Hitch was to transform Eva Marie from her trademark sweet, naive blonde persona into a femme fatale. Always the obsessive-compulsive auteur, Hitchcock literally took the scissors and cut Saint’s locks. It was a gamble that turned Saint into a sophisticated, world-weary spy who is able to control men in the dangerous world of espionage.

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Playing opposite the dapper and always glamorous Cary Grant, Eva Marie more than held her own in Hitchcock’s suspense classic. The performance was controlled and masterful. It was sophisticated and modern to have a woman so capable of holding her own – a realism that was rare for film of the day and set a tone that would be as influential to the spy genre as On The Waterfront had been for crime dramas. And all the while, Saint captivated audiences with that beautiful face that only let you see what she wanted you to see – until the end.

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Eva Marie’s role in North was a revelation to many who had remembered her as the diminutive blonde in Waterfront. She had matured as an actress between 1954 and ’59 and audiences knew it was no accident she had received the Oscar nearly a decade before. But to her credit, Eva Marie was more interested in spending time with her family than being in the Hollywood limelight. Her marriage to Jeffrey Hayden (1951) is one of the most enduring in Hollywood, largely because Eva Marie put her marriage and her two children first before her career. So, in a way she eluded both the Oscar curse of work and marriage falling apart, post winning her gold statuette.

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Now, at age 90, Eva Marie is still very active in Hollywood. While her roles have been sporadic over the intervening decades since North By Northwest, Saint has been nominated for Emmy’s in standout television roles. And as Oscar royalty, she’s been active in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. Eva Marie is a judge in the prestigious Nicholl Fellowships for Screenwriting – the single-biggest amateur screenwriting award that gives aspiring scribes the opportunity to break into show business with their cinematic dream projects. Many a newbie screenwriter has been blessed with meeting Eva Marie at the annual Finalist dinner and Awards in early November. What a treat it would be to meet the legend in person!

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Eva Marie Saint is one of Hollywood’s greatest success stories. She is one of the few that has TWO Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – both for her film and television work. Makes you wish more actors were as down to earth, generous and inspirational as her. And it makes you wonder if Hollywood’s biggest stars of the day will still be around – and still so inspirational – when they’re in their 90’s. Seems like the industry has changed too much for that to be possible. Then again, Eva Marie called her own shots back when it really was an old-boy’s club.

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Here’s to Eva Marie, one of the most gorgeous and talented actresses of Hollywood. Oscar royalty who never looked down on anybody, but instead used her talent and compassion to lift them up. If you haven’t seen On The Waterfront and North By Northwest then rent them as soon as you can. And for a different film experience altogether, watch Eva Marie in Raintree Country (1957), 36 Hours (1965), and the formidable A Hatful of Rain (1957) one of the first Hollywood movies to tackle drug addiction.

Jennifer O’Neill: Summer Lover

4 Jul

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For most of us there are images that stick in the mind long after their context fades away. That was this image of Jennifer O’Neill in SUMMER OF ’42 (1971). Actually, it was this nearly identical image in black & white below:

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Taken a few seconds apart, they are virtually identical except for Jennifer’s hand placement. The Black & White version of this photograph is famous (available as a poster, it remains a seminal image from the early 70’s) while the color-version is not. What makes the difference is the virtually subliminal image the second image conveys. In the movie, Jennifer plays a wife who’s husband is engaged in WWII. She is lonely, waiting for word from her husband while living in a beach house over the summer during one of the worst chapters in the war’s history. Her wedding ring in the second photograph is visible wherein the first image it is not. And it makes all the difference in the photograph, the character in the story and in the classic film.

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Summer of ’42 is a novel by Herman Raucher which the film was based. It was shot in 1969-70 and released in 1971. The film catapulted Jennifer into stardom, as much for her wholesome looks (the hope of a generation of Americans some have called the greatest) as for her action – which my opinion is superb. In fact, Jennifer would go on to act in almost 30 films throughout the 70’s and early 80’s but never again attain the starry heights of Summer of ’42.

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Jennifer is a contemporary of Katherine Ross, Charlotte Rampling and several other actresses I’ve covered in this blog. What sets her apart is that Summer of ’42 was her movie, a star-making vehicle if there ever was one because the audience felt her pain and sense of loss while at the same time taking solace in the arms of a very young paramour during a summer infamous for death. She is so young, so alive and so beautiful that she embodies the hopes and ideals of what that generation of Americans stood for. At the same time, the subject matter was highly controversial because it portrayed an affair between a married woman (albeit war widow) and an under-age boy. By today’s standards the film’s so-called love scenes are chaste, but back in ’71 it was hot-stuff. And even today, no man can deny watching the movie that having an affair with Jennifer O’Neill in a summer house would be an affair to remember – under any circumstances.

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Summer of ’42 is a beautifully-shot movie with an absolutely gorgeous actress in the prime of her youth and career. It is one of those rare cinematic occasions where you literally can’t imagine anyone else in the role. Sure, it has been remade in various incarnations since then – but none were able to replicate the magic. I think this is in large part to Jennifer’s ability to captivate with her performance as much as her looks. Even more, it is saturated in the hues and values of summer – that special time we all slow down, enjoy the sun and beach and invariably reflect on our lives; what’s been, what is and what will be. And for me, that’s the magic spell summer and Summer of ’42 cast no matter what the generation is watching it.

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One more shot of gorgeous Jennifer and Happy July 4th!

Elle Fanning: Beauty Awakens

11 May

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I think Elle is delightful and going to be a huge actress in a few more years…or maybe sooner. Her star turn in Super 8 was transformational, going from relative obscurity as younger sister to Dakota to a force in her own right. The camera lovers her even more than her sister. Her look is fresh and young, expressive and full of hope and beauty.

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Elle is now a legitimate star playing opposite Angelina Jolie in Disney’s new tentpole MALIFICENT (2014). And, to be honest, Elle who plays Sleeping Beauty will be the only reason I watch this movie. I can’t wait to see what she gets to do with the role opposite the scenery-eating Jolie, who at this point can scare me without having to put horns on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it will be a monster hit. That said, the real acting will be coming from the younger thespian and not Angelina – who’s reputation for being not very nice to begin with has been firmly established. But I digress. Elle is the real star of the movie. A star who is rapidly ascending in the eyes of audiences and Hollywood alike.

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Elle is practically Hollywood royalty already. Her sister Dakota was a break-out child star and seemed to be in everything a few years back. Elle on the other hand, is on a much more mindful track to stardom – enjoying the process of filmmaking while keeping a balanced family life as well as pursuing dancing and other great, normal growing up pursuits out of the public eye. It’s so refreshing than so many other children of Hollywood who grow up too fast and burn out before they’ve even hit their mid-twenties.

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There’s  a freshness, an innocence to Elle that is integral to her onscreen appeal. I can only hope she retains that star quality while she grows into her own – amidst the pressures of stardom and all the entangling trappings that come with that rarest of territories. That’s where I think her family is going to really make the difference. As they must have learned with Dakota – fame can be fleeting but family is forever.

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I think the casting of Elle as Sleeping Beauty was a no-brainer for Disney. And I’m looking forward to her interpretation of what could potentially be a phoned-in role for any number of young starlets. But that’s what I’m really hedging my bets with for Elle: the role that every princess would love to play has gone to a young actress with some real acting chops and a beauty that can transform any ordinary role. I’m banking that she gives Angelina a run for her money, no matter how many special effects they throw into Malificent. Because at the end of the day, the classic story deserves a contemporary twist and could be a lot of spooky fun. A promise that was not fulfilled in the subpar TWIXT in which Elle was a delightful ghost – in a ghost story that was otherwise dreadful thanks to Francis Ford Coppolla’s uninspired direction.

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It will be an eye-opening experience finally seeing this sleeping beauty awaken into her own. And I’m pretty sure that will be worth the price of admission in a couple weeks!

 

Robert De Niro and Greta Garbo: A Match Made in Heaven

20 Jan

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Greta Garbo in Anna Christie by Robert De Niro, Sr.

Robert De Niro premiered a new documentary at Sundance film festival this weekend. The half-hour doc was produced by HBO and is about the Oscar-winning actor’s father, the late artist Robert De Niro, at Sun. What’s interesting about “Remembering the Artist Robert De Niro, Sr.,” is how it sheds light on the mutual fascination father and son had for another star: Greta Garbo. De Niro, Sr.’s fascination for the movie star was such that he would bring his young son to all her movies – and De Niro, Jr. became fascinated in his own right with her. While his father would paint portraits of Garbo, his son would study Garbo’s acting technique which inspired him to become an actor himself. Who knew?

Greta Garbo was the undisputed Queen of Golden Age Hollywood, or more accurately, Tinseltown from her 1927 silent film debut up to her abrupt departure from the screen in 1941. So much has been written about Garbo that there is very little new light to be shed on the luminous screen creation that was Garbo. The one thing I can add to all the biographies and hagiographies of the iconic actress, however, is why she remains more relevant today than when she was the highest paid woman in the U.S. ($5,000 a week in 1932) and the most recognizable face on the planet. Garbo remains relevant to today’s celebrity-obsessed culture simply because she started it all. She was the first star whose private life became fodder for the tabloids, literally her every move became a matter of record in every newspaper throughout the world.

The list of firsts involving the screen queen goes on and on:

The first time in history a newspaper hired a plane to fly over a celebrity’s house to capture a “candid” photo of the star sun-bathing nude.

The first time a King visited a movie set to pay homage to a movie queen (King Gustav of Sweden to MGM in Hollywood). Of course, Garbo refused to meet him.

The first time a celebrity (since Cleopatra) went by one name.

Garbo. Historians of film still talk about “the Rapture” seeing her face in close-up on screen had on theater audiences, both male and female, throughout the world. Never before had a human visage been captured in light so perfectly and so large – big enough to see every perfect pore of skin (covered in silver make-up made for her by Max Factor himself – so she would literally shine), every eyelash (all natural); ever internal thought conveyed through voluminous eyes.

Garbo, aka “The Face” was said to be the most beautiful woman who ever lived. But more than that, Garbo brought about modern screen acting, making her counterparts Norma Shearer and Marion Davies by comparison, appear to be pantomiming. Screen legend Bette Davis was so obsessed with Garbo’s acting that she stole onto a movie set to see Garbo in action. She came away nonplussed. Later, she saw the footage of that days shooting and was blown away by what the camera saw. Davis said Garbo’s affect on the artificial eye was nothing less than “witchcraft.”

All Garbo’s directors and fellow actors agreed. Seeing Garbo act with the naked eye seemed like nothing special. But then, when the film emulsion was processed and negative became positive – Garbo the screen goddess in all her glory appeared as if by alchemy. Nothing less than magic. Her ability to convey emotion without uttering a word, even moving, seemed supernatural. So much so that the occultists of the day considered Garbo to be more than mortal. She became known in the press as, “The Immortal One.”
Of course, Greta Garbo was not immortal. After her final film, “Two Faced Woman” flopped in 1941, she bid the world goodbye and moved into an apartment in Manhattan, New York and aged quietly, reclusively, until her death in 1990. Yet up until virtually her dying day, Garbo was stalked relentlessly by paparazzi while other glamorous movie stars of her era like Hedy Lamarr, Rita Hayworth and poor Norma Shearer were forgotten once their beauty and fame faded from view.

Why? The easy answer is that Garbo’s steadfast rejection of the modern day cult-of-personality she helped to foment fueled our desire to capture her image evermore in the spotlight. As if, simply by virtue of the fact a famous person wanted to be left alone – we couldn’t allow it in our new age of media obsessed, fame monsters and attention whores. But I have a sneaking feeling there was more to it than that. My sense is that Garbo was more than met the eye, even when she became a shriveled, wrinkled, white-haired old lady. I think Bette Davis was onto something when she gazed at Garbo with those big, Betty Davis blue eyes of hers. I think Garbo was a witch. The most beautiful witch who ever lived, and whose cinematic spell will continue to be cast on generation upon generation of movie lovers – for as long as there is light.

Kirsten Dunst: Girl with a Devilish Smile

29 Dec

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Kirsten is one of my favorite contemporary actresses. She has been in the business a long time and easily one of the best actresses working today. Consistently excellent, the one thing the Dunster her trouble with is connecting with commercially successful roles. Don’t get me wrong, she has had her fair share of hits – though not in the same stratosphere as Jennifer Lawrence or Amy Adams, for instance.

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What sets Kirsten apart from both Lawrence and Adams is that she broke out when she was still a child, in her amazing performance as an immortal, child-vampire in “Interview with a Vampire”. Her ability to convey a woman in a child’s body was eerily on the mark, decades before “Let the Right One In”. Even her kiss with Brad Pitt was convincing, which she said at the time was totally gross.

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Dunst would make many more memorable, star-turning roles in “The Virgin Suicides”, “Bring it On” and “Little Women” but none truly catapulted her back into the spotlight until “Spider Man” opposite Tobey Maguire. Dunst as love interest Mary Jane to Spidey was truly inspired casting and secured Dunst as a bankable star in her own right.

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With Big Box office comes opportunity in Hollywood and Dunst used her new clout to make several smaller, important films. Most recently she portrayed a depressed bride at the end of the world in Lars Von Triers’ “Melancholia” a role that she fully-committed to and was met with critical raves for the young actress.  She was even able to survive Von Trier’s near career-suicide at the Cannes Film Festival when the film debuted. Having grown up in the business, the savvy Dunst is able to navigate the media as easily as she can a choice role.

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One of the more curious movies Kirsten has been in recently is 2012’s “Upside Down” a lavish, visually intoxicating love story set between two worlds who share the same atmosphere – yet different gravity, literally. Dunst was luminous in the film, as she always is, but there was something missing. It was a perfect example of a director and co-star not being able to keep up with a leading lady whose very on-screen presence is more stunning than any special effect. And while the film was lackluster, Kirsten makes the film worth watching just to bliss out on her face for 2+ hours.

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I can’t wait to see the German born American actress in her next star turn, whatever that may be. And my wish for her in 2014 is to connect with the right role that will make audiences realize just how amazing she is. No offense to Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams but Kirsten was here first. And she’s going to be around a long, long time after many of her contemporaries have come and gone.

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Kirsten in a more serious mood.

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A more playful mood by the pool (very patriotic, too).

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And one of my favorite glamor shots of the classic, timeless beauty!

 

Marlene Dietrich: My Blue Angel

1 Dec

Marlene was the first to admit that her onscreen image was a creation of her own and that of director Josef von Sternberg. Imported by Paramount Pictures in 1930 (the execs wanted their own Garbo to make MGM sweat a little at the box office), Marlene had made The Blue Angel in English as well as German to capitalize on the scandalous subject matter. But it was Marlene’s androgynous appeal to women as well as men that made her a huge crossover star in America. Arguably, the German-born actress was as beautiful as goddess Garbo with one distinct difference. Marlene’s sex appeal was derived from her self-effacing sense of humor. If Garbo’s love was tragic – Dietrich’s love was sardonic.

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Marlene called herself the “ersatz-Garbo”. She didn’t like being compared to the Swedish Sphinx and her film roles reflected that fact. Plus, Marlene was more than just a movie goddess: she could sing and dance with the best of them. When she arrived in Hollywood the studio tried to make her sign a morality clause in her contract. America was coming off the hangover of Prohibition and Hollywood didn’t want their stars private lives to overshadow their on-screen creations. No doubt Marlene’s proclivity for bedding as many women as men (she traveled with her lover as well as her broad-thinking husband) gave the studio suits fits of worry and they thought they could control her with money.  Little did they know how smart and strong Marlene could be.

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Marlene may have been a creation of her favorite director/collaborator von Sternberg, but when it came to her career she took no chances. As soon as she could, she assumed control of her movies by becoming one of the first female producers in Hollywood. Now she had a say both on camera and off about the script, costumes, locations and, most importantly, what the censors cut and what she fought to keep in her films. In 1934, the tide changed in Hollywood and the code came into full effect. Only stars of Marlene and Garbo’s stature could fight for the best roles – often times their own studio bosses would try and tame them, watering down the storylines until there was little or no value left in them. Garbo would ultimately throw in the towel and retire in 1941. But Marlene’s star would rise even higher in the wasteland of World War II.

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Dietrich was as strong as she was beautiful. When Hitler commanded her to return to Germany at the outbreak of hostilities – Marlene not only told him where to get off, she did everything in her power to aide the Allies. She was a fixture of War Bond fundraisers overseas. She entertained the troops at USO shows with song and dance (her fabulous legs were insured for a million dollars) and spoke passionately about democracy and her love for America, her adopted country). Marlene truly came into her own during and after the war – and her fans loved her all the more for it. She was like a blonde Venus rising from the catastrophic aftermath of her birth countries bid to rule the world. And she was a shining example of a woman who fought for freedom as hard as any man – and won on her own terms.

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What Marlene lacked in Garbo’s perfect facial features she more than made up for in exquisite make-up effects.

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She liked to say “The Blue Angel” was her first film, even though in reality it was her sixteenth!

Ella Raines: Phantom Leading Lady

17 Nov

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I’ve seen a lot of movies by now but I’m still young enough to have cinematic epiphanies like discovering the beautiful and enigmatic Ella Raines for the first time. This was surprising not least of which because I’m a film noir nut but that once I laid eyes on her amazing face I wondered aloud where she’d been my whole film life. The revelation came in a small, underappreciated though thoroughly engaging noir called “IMPACT” (1949).

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Ella is cast as a gorgeous garage owner in a fairly preposterous scenario involving a love triangle with a man left for dead by his conniving wife. He strays into a small town garage where Ella is doing her best to destroy an auto she is trying to fix. She needs a car mechanic and looking for love at the same time. The first time I saw her stunning face on screen I did a double take. I was discovering her in that garage right along with wronged leading man, Brian Donlevy. Only I forgot completely about his two-timing, back-stabbing, murderous wife and immediately fell head over heals for the insanely gorgeous Ella.

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Ella Raines was born in 1920 and came to Hollywood prominence fairly early in her career. She starred opposite John Wayne in “Tall In The Saddle” (1944) and hit with several other movies like “Brute Force” (1947) where she starred opposite Burt Lancaster. But her signature-noir-roles were in the curious, all-female noir “Cry Havoc” (1943) and, of course, “Phantom Lady” (1944).

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Phantom Lady had a similarly preposterous plot of a conniving woman who has sent a man to death row over a heated row with another woman who had the audacity to wear the same hat at her nightclub show. There’s a murder naturally and it is up to Ella to find out the identity of the Phantom Lady in order to exonerate  her boss – whom she has fallen head over heals for. However, the plot doesn’t matter when you have a woman this gorgeous in a noir so stylistic and well-shot that the atmospherics alone create the mood and forward momentum.

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Ella is simply, darkly gorgeous in Phantom Lady. She inhabits the shadows and imbues the cigarette smoke-filled environment with a white-hot drive to save the man she loves. She’s formidable in her gallant effort to stop a would-be femme fatale and that’s enough for this moody, brooding and over the top noir. At a tight 88 minutes of running time, Phantom Lady does what it sets out to do: introduce the world to one of the greatest beauties unleashed on the silver screen in glorious black & white.

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Ella continued to act both in film and television after her amazing start to her career. But the roles were mostly in B-movies, turkeys that no matter how she shined and was shot – were still turkeys. She even had her own television show where she starred as a registered nurse (back when that career alone could be the basis of an entire show). And like so many actresses before her – she worked well into her late 50’s and 60’s with her last screen credit in 1984 – four years before her death by throat cancer in 1988.

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Ella was a classic beauty who had brains and talent more than luck with movie roles. I’m glad that Impact was my first introduction to her because it was a good noir with an interesting role for Ella. Plus, she was an absolute knockout with her hair pulled back and engine grease on her face in tailored white coveralls. If there were only women like her in garages in small towns throughout the country today. America would be a much better, much sexier place.

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My favorite glamor shot of Ella because she’s almost smiling.

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There. She finally did it. She smiled!

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And now a bit of cheesecake for the boys…

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Before going back to smoldering sensuality.

Lizabeth Scott: Ultimate Femme Fatale

11 Nov

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Lizabeth Scott is simply one of the most unusual and glamorous stars of Hollywood. Her timing was impeccable because her smoky sensuality and husky voice came at the exact moment film noir was establishing itself as the dominant genre in post World War II America. She started out on Broadway as a sub for Tallulah Bankhead in a play called “The Skin of Our Teeth” though Lizabeth never got to shine because Tallulah never got sick.

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Instead, Lizabeth (she dropped the “e” to be different) was noticed by film scouts who brought her to the attention of producer Hal Wallis.  Wallis was the genius who brought us “Casablanca” and he saw talent in the young (Lizabeth was 20) would-be screen siren. Lizabeth tested at Warner Bros. and it was a disaster but Wallis still liked her look enough to bring her with him to Paramount Pictures when he left Warner Bros. – he and Jack Warner having had a bitter falling out over Warner “stealing” the Best Picture Oscar from Wallis for Casablanca. Wallis would remember this the rest of his career and wasn’t going to let anyone take his new starlet out from under him.

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Wallis dubbed Lizabeth “The Threat” and made her over into a femme fatale and perfect foil for some of the screen’s greatest leading men. Arguably the greatest was Humphrey Bogart, whose wife Lauren Bacall and Lizabeth had similar character traits in common. Lizabeth and Bogie got to work together in the noir classic “Dead Reckoning” and Lizabeth held her own against the formidable screen presence of Bogart. She was able to be charming at the same time rip smart-aleck lines right after another. Her portrayal of world-weary, potentially dangerous women on the outside of polite society looking-in was an instant favorite of movie goers. She suspected everyone of having an angle – as did a new generation of world-war-weary Americans. She was in good company from the start.

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But Lizabeth was quickly typecast as the femme fatale of noir. She made 20 films in her time in Tinseltown and more than 80-percent of them were classic noir scenarios. Except for her very last performance in 1957, when she starred opposite a young Elvis Presley in the curious “Loving You”. Curious because the King actually had screen chemistry with the Queen of Noir in a technicolor musical and one of his first of 27 Presley movies. Off-screen, the two became great friends and stayed in touch even after Lizabeth retired from films. In fact, Lizabeth was a singer herself and would release the eponymous “Lizabeth” which, true to its name, was full of torch-songs as well as light-hearted love ballads.

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The thing I love most about Lizabeth was truly how different she was to any other actress that came before, or after, her time in the spotlight. She projected a character that had seen the dark side of life, one that had survived in spite of the lousy hand she’d been dealt. The kind of alley cat that had been kicked around and never wanted to trust anyone or get hurt, again. Yet in spite of it all, she would fall in love again and again. Sometimes the guy was on the level, sometimes not and Lizabeth’s characters would take their lumps and move on. This classic noir archetype existed before Lizabeth but she brought it into vogue – the vamp with a heart – and made it her own signature style. It’s as distinctive as her voice and her angular, often smiling in spite of the pain visage. Many actresses would imitate this style later but few would come close to Lisabeth’s signature persona.

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It astounds me that Lizabeth hasn’t received more acclaim for her work in noir. The great actress is still with us (she was born in 1922 so you do the math) and I think that the new generation of neo-noir directors (i.e. Rian Johnson, Brian Helgeland, etc.) would want to cast this living legend even if just for a cameo – in their films. Or, maybe they’ve tried and Lizabeth has rebuffed their advances like her character did in so many of those inspiring, femme fatale roles she created. She’s truly like Garbo in this way – she does want to be left alone. Still, I would give my eye teeth to sit down and talk with such a classy, under-appreciated original like Lizabeth. It would be a privilege and an honor to sit across the table from the actress who starred opposite so many golden age movie stars. And probably more than a little intimidating, too.

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A classic publicity shot of the up-n-coming star during her heyday in the California sun.

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One of the few shots of Lizabeth smiling…right before she devours you!

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That’s more like it. The Queen of the Femme Fatales in classic evening gear. The cigarette is smoldering and so is her glare.

Elisabeth Shue: Golden Goddess

9 Nov

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Part of the fun of writing a blog dedicated to Hollywood’s Leading Ladies is rediscovering the moment you fell in love with an actress via the silver screen. Sometimes its not the first time you meet but often when they shine in a film that brings out their amazing talent. But then again it can be love at first sight as was the case with Elisabeth Shue. I first laid eyes on Shue in “The Karate Kid” way back in 1984. She played Ali Mills the love interest of little Ralph Macchio and just about the hottest teen heartthrob there was. Shue acquitted herself admirably as the girlfriend and love interest, something she would do again in “Back to the Future, Part II” (1989). For Hollywood, Elisabeth seemed just a pretty-face but that was about to change, radically.

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Like so many actresses, Elisabeth was looking for a meaty role to break out of the cycle of girlfriend roles she was being offered again and again. wholesome, blonde and athletic she exudes the girl-next-door quality that made her initial break into features a no-brainer. But Shue knew she was capable of so much more and stuck to her guns to find a role that would highlight a darker side. And what better role against type for a wholesome, blonde and athletic girlfriend than a dark, disillusioned call girl based in Sin City.

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Sera in “Leaving Las Vegas” (1995) was a tour-de-force performance for the golden actress. She falls hopelessly in love with Nick Cage’s depraved alcoholic screenwriter, on a weekend bender bent for oblivion. Shue received her only oscar-nomination for best actress and she should have won. The unflinching honesty of her damaged hooker looking for real love is a heartfelt and incredibly deeply personal performance that forever changed the way Hollywood would look at the actress. I couldn’t get over how Shue, the golden girl, became the worldly woman, trapped by circumstances barely touched on in the film’s backstory yet always apparent just behind her beautiful, slate-blue eyes.

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The seasoned actress (she’d been acting for thirteen years by then) suddenly became Tinseltown’s It-Girl. But the film roles she received were almost always sub-par compared to her acting chops. “The Trigger Effect” (1996) was a dud as was “Hollow Man” (2000) a redux of the Invisible Man with Kevin Bacon going berserk and terrorizing his former flame. The best part about the movie was Elisabeth beating the hell out of a crazed bacon (or, his invisible alterego). Unfortunately, Shue never again received a role that would highlight her complex and multi-faceted talents. The vagaries of Hollywood casting never again aligned with this movie star’s unusual talent, a tragedy that befalls so many actresses in the fickle industry of show business.

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But the great part about Elizabeth, other than the natural beauty and inner strength, is that she never gives up. And so, we can celebrate her 31 year career in film and television. An amazing canon of work in any business and one that we can revisit again and again. I’m so happy that she has her “Leaving Las Vegas” along with “The Karate Kid” and “Back to the Future, Part II and III” because we might never have realized this golden goddess of the silver screen is more than just a pretty, photogenic face. She is a serious actress who constantly works at her craft.  That’s a rare thing in Hollywood, to say the least!

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Keep on smiling, Shue!

Rachel McAdams: Timeless Beauty

9 Nov

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There are so many Rachels in the world but none more beautiful than Rachel McAdams. The actress hit the scene in “Mean Girls” (2004) which is ironic because ever since she’s been portraying nice girls on film. Especially nice girls where the boy travels in time like this weekend’s romantic comedy “About Time.” Before that it was “Midnight in Paris” (okay, she wasn’t so nice in that one, either) and “The Time-Traveler’s Wife.” Is is a coincidence or does Rachel possess a timeless beauty that makes her the queen of the time-traveling genre?

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What’s almost as interesting about Rachel is the roles she hasn’t gotten since she hit the silver screen. Since 2004, she has been up for some of the biggest roles in tinseltown, only to be beaten out at the last second by a bevy of other beauties: Rachel was in consideration for the role of Rachel Dawes in “The Dark Knight” (2008), but Maggie Gyllenhall was cast instead. She was in consideration for the role of Daisy Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby” (2013), but then Carey Mulligan was cast instead. Rachel auditioned for the role of Sophie for the musical “Mamma Mia” (2008) but lost out to actress Amanda Seyfried. She was considered for the role of Vesper Lynd in “Casino Royale”(2006), before the role was given to Eva Green. Rachel almost portrayed Pepper Potts in the first “Iron Man” but turned down the role! And we all know what goopy-actress ended up with that mega-hit-slash-movie franchise.

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But for all the roles she’s missed out on it really doesn’t matter because Rachel is having fun…and that’s what counts. She’s not a megastar but nor does she want to be. She’s a great actress and I have no doubt that she will ultimately break out of the romantic comedy/drama genre one of these days. Until then, she is the go-to actress for stories full of love and loss and love again. She enjoys making people feel good and has a light touch on screen. I just hope she lets the time-travel thing drop after this latest one for awhile. I wouldn’t want her to get typecast – even though she is a beauty for the ages.

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A rare photo of Rachel with a pout where her fantastic smile usually goes.

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A great photo of her that shows off her amazing eyes!

 

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