04 April 2009

All About Eve and Margo and Tracy and Annie and Stella and Ilsa and Evelyn and Marge....

In my preceding post I listed 11 (why 11? you ask, why not 11 I reply) memorable male film characters. I excluded anyone previously famous in another medium such as literature (sorry Phyllis Dietrichson of Double Indemnity (1944)) or as a real person (apologies Edith Piaf of La Vie en Rose) or a recurring character (another time Princess Leia of Star Wars (1977 et al). Under the same ground rules I now present 11 (that's right I said 11, you got a problem with it?) notable female characters of film.

Margo Channing played by Bette Davis in All About Eve (1950). Eve may have got what she wanted but Margo didn't lose an iota of dignity or stature. It took her awhile to catch on to Eve's machinations but she eventually saw it all clear enough and would not be so fooled again. Margo was the pre feminist woman. Self possessed and self reliant without being self absorbed. A true talent unafraid of men or her own ability to woo them. Who else could have played this role as well as the great Bette Davis. Try no one.

Tracy Lord played by Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story (1940). Ultimately she needed some interloping news reporters to help edge her away from the wrong man and back in the arms of her true love, Cary Grant's CK Dexter Haven. Twas Mr. Haven who said of Tracy, "Not interested in yourself, Red, you're fascinated. You're far and away your favorite person in the world." Bit harsh but he was making a point. And you should really make a point to watch Lord more carefully next time you take in this fine film. She's far more complex a person than most give her credit for. Accused of not having her own mind, an anti-feminist, she's actually quite independent and suffers only from confusion. Sure she needs a shove in the right direction. Not a crime, that.

Annie Hall played by Diane Keaton in Annie Hall (1977). It's a hell of an advantage to have your character name in the film title but it was Diane Keaton's Oscar winning performance that made Annie shine. That and the clothes which started a mini fashion trend. She was a devastating combination of cute, pretty, smart, neurotic and funny. Writer/Director Woody Allen has a most well earned reputation for creating memorable roles for women (just ask Diane Weist, Scarlet Johannson or Mia Farrow, Actually forgot that last one she and Woody had a bit of a falling out). Annie might have been his best.

Stella Dallas played by Barbara Stanwyck in Stella Dallas (1937). Again the title and the character are one and the same, but the similarities end there. Stanwyck's Stella Dallas is the archetype of the self sacrificing mom who will do anything for her child even to the extreme of giving her up and stepping aside. The movie provided Stanwyck with one of her best roles which is going some considering how many great ones she had. This is melodrama at its best and if Stanwyck's performance doesn't choke you up you maybe better check your pulse.

Eve Carrington played by Anne Baxter in All About Eve (1950). That conniving little b*tch. Look how she manipulates people. What a phony! But she gets what she wants in the end, though stuck with George Sanders in the bargain. Few actresses have had a role like Eve to stick their teeth into and Baxter took full advantage. You had to admire Eve even in he act of despising her. She has a strange dark appeal to the baser nature of men, hence her being saddled with sanders seems appropriate.

Ilsa Lund played by Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca (1942). Ya know, all she had to really do was look at a man in just the right way with those soulful eyes and you wouldn't need Sam to play "As Time Goes By" for him to melt. Ilsa was a looker all right but she was also one of the good guys. Sure she was ready to give up her heroic hubby for Bogie's Richard Blaine, but she was such a good person that the selfless Blaine couldn't accept. Just gave her a nudge. Here's looking at you, ilsa.

Evelyn Mulwray as played by Faye Dunaway in Chinatown (1974). She was the mother, the sister, the mother the sister, the mother AND the sister. Dunaway was teamed with Jack Nicholson and John Huston and more than held her own. Ms. Mulwray was all things to all people. Spoiled. Manipulative. Victim. Heroine. Mostly she was memorable.

Marge Gunderson played by Frances MacDormand in Fargo (1996). Gunderson was Sarah Palin with brains. She wouldn't shoot a wolf from a helicopter but would hunt down a desperate criminal through snow drifts. Pregnant, plain speaking in that Upper Midwest accent. A dogged professional. You betchya!

Norma Desmond played by Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950). I'm the first to admit that I tend to lavish massive amounts of praise on anything movie related that I love. So here goes: Swanson's Norma Desmond is one of the 10 greatest film characters of all time. That walk down the stairs at the end of the film alone would be enough to cement her place in cinematic lore. My God you just don't get any better than this. Nuff said.

Sugar Kane Kowalczyk played by Marylin Monroe in Some Like it Hot (1959). If by hot they mean Sugar Kane, I'm in. Monore was all bouncy ass and breathy sexiness. A physical wonder of nature with nothing false about her. An admitted gold digger who knows herself far more than supposedly smarter dames. It's not just the physical endowments one remembers about her. Monore breathed some real depth into Sugar Kane.

Mildred Ratched as played by Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). Better known as Nurse Ratched, this character has come to symbolize the villainous nurse (the anti Florence Nightingale, if you will). What's scarier than a sadistic medical professional? Fletcher was one of those serviceable actors who had one great role and played it to the hilt. Nurse Ratched, just the name (shiver). What a fink.

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