16 November 2008
There's Nothing Like A Dame Part 2
In my post of Tuesday November 11 I wrote of my love of women in general and women in film in particular. I rhapsodized about how lovingly and accurately women have sometimes been depicted in film. That was followed by ten examples spanning over 70 years of great female film performances. I tried to find ten representative performances. Clearly I merely scratched the surface. So here’s another ten.
Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce in Mildred Pierce (1945). In some ways its the ultimate woman’s role. Mildred is a working girl who wants to be her own boss. She juggles family, lovers and work on her way to the top. Mildred’s such a loyal mother she’ll even take the rap for her bratty daughter. Mildred Pierce would have been the role of a lifetime for most actresses, for the great Joan Crawford it was merely the cream of a bumper career crop.
Bette Davis as Mary Dwight Staruber in Marked Woman (1937). Davis had any number of performances that warranted inclusion on this list. I selected this one because in addition to being one of her best its one of her most underrated. She’s one of many call girls in the employ of a nogoodnik crime boss. But she has the courage to say no to him and yes to the crusading DA who wants to slap the bum in irons. She’s brave and steadfast and heart breaking.
Giuletta Masina as Maria Ceccarelli in Nights of Cabiria (1957). It’s the last shot of her that does it for me. It sums up the heart of an utterly indestructible woman. Regardless of how many lemons life dishes out and you can still make with the lemonade. Cabiria starts of feisty and fun. She rides ups and downs and pushes on. A great film heroine. If you’ve never seen this film rent it at your earliest convenience. You’ll enjoy the whole film but you’ll really savor those closing seconds.
Frances MacDormand as Marge Gunderson in Fargo (1996). Can a woman cop be in an advanced state of pregnancy and still track down the bad guys? You betchya. Marge was doing that whole Sarah Palin a dozen years before the Alaska Governor besmirched the national scene. This quirky cop proved that a woman could balance career and impending motherhood.
Audrey Tautuo as Mathilde in A Very Long Engagement (2004). Patience is a woman. Persistence is a woman. Resourcefulness is a woman. Faith is a woman. Love eternal is a woman. Mathilde is a woman with all these qualities and more. Her intended missing and presumed dead in the trenches of World War I? Our gimpy beauty ain’t buying it. No matter how long it takes she’ll find him and love will be served. Tres bien!
Danielle Darrieux as Comtesse Louise De... in Madame De... (1953). Conniver, schemer, cheater, she’s all of these things and more. The Madame, whose name we never learn, is going to live life her way. By hook or by crook Madame generally gets what she wants and sacrifices nothing along the way. Darrieux was never a big name in the US but based on this captivating performance alone she should have been.
Norma Shearer as Jerry Bernard Martin in The Divorcee (1930). Cheat on her, will ya? She’s got a way to repay you and in spades, buddy. There were a lot of great performances by actresses in pre code films. Shearer delivered many of them. This was one of the best as a wife who proves that’s what goes for the gander is good for the goose.
Janet Gaynor as Kay Brannan in Small Town Girl (1936). Every list has to have at least one offbeat pick This selection is evidence of that. The title tells you a lot about the film. This is a young lady who could easily settle in to a comfortable life in her hometown with the affable young telephone line worker Elmer Clampett (Jimmy Stewart) as her mate. Her cozy and lovable family, their store and big home are wonderful sources of security. But Kay, sweet little Kay is a dreamer who yearns for excitement. When it comes it comes suddenly and emphatically in the person of a very wealthy, handsome and sophisticated big city dwelling doctor (Robert Taylor) she jumps at the chance. In the face of numerous obstacles and rejections our plucky friend proves to be as tough as she is cute. It’s no just a charming performance but an inspiring one for all little women who dream big.
Claire Trevor as Dallas in Stagecoach (1939). Life has dealt Dallas some nasty blows. The stuffy and huffy women of a an old western community literally send her packing. “Proper Christian” folk don’t want her type around. She remains unbowed and proud. She proves that woman can recover from a morally questionable past and find love and happiness. But you’ve got to be tough -- great stuff.
Sigourney Weaver as Ripley as in Alien (1979). Can a woman be the last man standing in battle against a voracious alien killing machine? You better believe it. Ripley was brave, resourceful and clever in fighting for survival. But this was no cartoon character, this heroine showed real human fear. Not incidentally, Ripley was a knockout.