Wednesday, October 18, 2017

THE ACTRESS 1953


I’m training my eye on The Actress: a film which marked the fifth and final collaboration between Spencer Tracy and director George Cukor. After teaming on Keeper of the Flame (1943), Edward My Son (1949), Adam’s Rib (1949), and Pat & Mike; Tracy and Cukor’s final collaborative hurrah was with the serio-comic domesticity of 1953’s The Actress.

From a screenplay by Ruth Gordon adapted from her autobiographical 1946 Broadway play Years Ago (which was itself based on her serialized memoirs Look in your Glass, published in several issues of The Atlantic Monthly in 1939); The Actress is set in 1913 Wollaston, Massachusetts, and chronicles, in episodic fashion, her teen years when first bitten by the acting bug. The featherlight project first caught the interest of two-time Oscar-winner Spencer Tracythen the darling of MGM and well into the “professional father” years of his career (Father of the Bride, Father’s Little Dividend); accounting perhaps for the charming film feeling somewhat dominated by the character of the father. More of a I Remember Papa reverie than a contemplation on a young girl’s determination to embark on a life on the stage.
Jean Simmons as Ruth Gordon Jones
Spencer Tracy as Clinton Jones
Teresa Wright (given not a single closeup in the entire film) as Annie Jones
Anthony Perkins (making his film debut) as Fred Whitmarsh
When heretofore aimless 17-year-old Ruth Jones (Simmons) sees actress and former Ziegfeld Follies star Hazel Dawn on stage in “The Pink Lady,” she undergoes an epiphany: she MUST hereafter devote her life to becoming an actress.
Ruth freely shares her newfound ambition with her practical and empathetic mother (Wright), but due to his having a “disposition,” works hard to keep her aspirations a secret from her bearish father (Tracy), a former adventuring seaman currently bristling at the penurious state of his current life as a factory worker.

While her mother harbors the hope that after graduation, Ruth will simply settle down and marry Fred (Perkins), the handsome and genial Harvard student avidly courting her; her father, who paradoxically believes women should be independent and learn to earn their own keep, yet forbids his wife from lightening their financial load by taking sewing, has set his sights on Ruth becoming a physical education teacher. 
Clinton participates in a YMCU fitness exhibition (married men's division)

Meanwhile, Ruth pursues her dream, albeit largely though daydreams and acting-out fantasies, but a well-placed fan letter to Hazel Dawn occasions a much-coveted meeting with the Great Lady (offscreen) and a summons to Boston to meet with the director of the company. Ruth Gordon Jones’ dream of life as an actress is set. Or is it?

Since from the outset there is never any doubt that timorous Jean Simmons will grow up to be a Tony Award nominated stage actress, a novelist, a playwright, an Oscar nominated screenwriter (with her husband Garson Kanin), and win an Academy Award for Rosemary’s Baby; the only dramatic conflict The Actress has to offer are comedic slice-of-life vignettes highlighting the domestic uproar in the Jones household born of Ruth’s decision to become an actress.
Indeed, the film’s slightness of plot and episodic nature (as delightful as I find it to be, as with Meet Me in St. Louis, not much really happens in the way of plot) proved to be an insurmountable obstacle as MGM struggled to market a film featuring one of Spencer Tracy’s finest performances in the context of a story not exactly about his character, but whose presence and contribution was indispensable. 
Instead of studying, Ruth and her girlfriends engage in an impromptu
performance of Hazel Dawn's signature song "Beautiful Lady"
 

Reflecting this dilemma is the fact that The Actress (a title few were happy with) entertained several working titles from pre-production through preview screenings, the blunt and misleading Father and the Actress proving too reminiscent of Tracy’s Father of the Bride series, but at least reflecting the film’s proper character emphasis.

Although Jean Simmons cites it as one of her favorite films and Spencer Tracy won a Golden Globe for his performance (and a BAFTA nomination), favorable critical reception couldn’t save The Actress from fizzling at the box-office. In the book You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet: Interviews with Stars from Hollywood’s Golden Era, Simmons recalls going to see the film at a theater in Westwood and being the only person in attendance.

I first came across The Actress about five years ago when it was screened on TCM. I had never heard of the film before, but found myself instantly charmed by its simple structure and old-fashioned feel. In its simple humor and nicely-drawn characters, it reminded me a great deal of the aforementioned Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), as well as The Happy Time (1952) and The Matchmaker (1957)—the latter being the play for which Ruth Gordon won her sole Tony Award nomination, the film adaptation affording Anthony Perkins another opportunity to mine the same boyish appeal in a similar role.

For all the talent in evidence both in front of and behind the camera (personal favorite Teresa Wright is underutilized, but a real treat), there’s no denying that Spencer Tracy is the film’s most valuable player. The naturalism which earned him the reputation as “the actor’s actor” serving to ground his blustering but principled character (and with it, Cukor's entire frothy enterprise) in a realism that is engagingly funny as it is occasionally touching.
Clinton's most treasured possession is the spyglass he purchased during his youth as a sailor

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
The lack of a propulsive plotline seems to have been a major point of contention with many when it comes to The Actress, but for me the small scale and intimate presentation of this character-driven comedy feels wholly appropriate to the subject matter. The simple, even drab surroundings and humdrum concerns of budgeting, homework, school dances, pay bonuses, and cats attracted to Boston ferns, is the idea contrast for the larger-than-life theatricality of Ruth and her dreams. 
Ruth's dreamy dissatisfaction with the confining contentment of the
life her parents have chosen for themselves 

The small-scale of the family’s domestic dramas and the workaday concerns of a small-town life are grist to Ruth’s desire for a better, more exciting life. When I watch Meet Me In St. Louis, the loving home depicted is one so enchanting, I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to stray from it. But the home life depicted in The Actress, while every bit as loving, also contains an air of dissatisfaction. Clinton bemoans the overarching oppression of poverty and speaks of his past as a sailor as though it were the happiest time in his life. Annie is clearly a housewife out of love and convention, her expressed longing for a velvet dress and hint of a skill as a seamstress suggesting broader interests and desires than those of home and family. 

The Actress, without criticizing those who choose to settle down and live quiet lives of simple pleasures, makes Ruth’s desire for something more into a basic, keenly felt human quest for personal fulfillment.
Watching Hazel Dawn Perform, Ruth Sees a Vision of All That Life Can Be
Any person who's ever sought a life in the creative arts has likely experienced that one moment
when all that was beautiful in the world seemed to beckon with a voice meant only for them

PERFORMANCES
If you’re going to mount a film more character-based than plot-driven, it helps to cast actors capable of creating indelible, fleshed-out personas out of sometimes slim material. The Actress distinguishes itself in its casting, even down to the smallest bits.
Former child actor Jackie Coogan (better known as "Uncle Fester" on The Addams Family TV series) is hilarious as an over-amused spectator at the YMCU fitness exhibition. Ruth is appropriately mortified.

The boyish appeal of Tony Perkins is clear in this, his first film role. What’s also clear is that after seeing his performance here and then his livelier take on same in The Matchmaker five years later; Hitchcock’s use of him in Psycho is positively inspired.
The likability of the actors cast goes far in mitigating the fact that several roles, Anthony Perkins' moony suitor Fred Whitmarsh, for example, are a tad underdeveloped

If Tony Perkins’ trajectory from boy-next-door to everyone’s favorite psychopath seems swift, it’s nothing compared to Oscar winner Teresa Wright’s swift journey from fresh-faced ingenue in 1941’s The Little Foxes to long-suffering mom. Wright was only 11 years older than Jean Simmons when cast in The Actress (34 to Jean’s 23) and would play Simmons’ mother again in 1969s The Happy Ending. Late in her career when a reporter asked Wright why she stopped making movies, she replied: “I guess Jean Simmons no longer needs a mother.” 
As Far As I'm Concerned, Teresa Wright Can Do No Wrong
I wouldn't call her underappreciated, for her reputation as an actress is one respected and revered. But Teresa Wright doesn't get nearly the attention and play in classic film circles as she deserves. She brought a contemporary, genuine quality to every role she undertook, In The Actress she is has marvelous moments where she is both funny and breathtakingly real. Still, her impressive talents feel somewhat wasted in the role of caring mom, and as good as Simmons is (and she's very good) I can't help imagining how Wright would have been in Simmons' role just a few years earlier.

Without recalling the actress in any way at all, Jean Simmons is really splendid as the stage-struck teenage Ruth Gordon. Called upon to show vivacity, naiveté, rebelliousness, and ultimately determination and maturity; if her performance suffers at all (test audiences at the time to a decided dislike to her) I’d say it’s because she captures the sulky self-absorption of adolescence all too well. Gordon isn’t exactly easy on herself, and depicts her younger self’s single-mindedness in sometimes unsentimental ways. But I like that the character has an arc of growth in the film. And if perhaps she starts out as a dreamy-eyed brat, she grows into a mature woman of some empathy and understanding of what parents sacrifice in raising spirited and independent offspring.
Ruth suffers her first taste of rejection 
Because he’s never been tops on my “favorite actors” list, I tend to harbor the impression of Spencer Tracy as one of those solid, reliable, studio system actors who could always be depended upon to deliver a professional performance in any film assigned. It’s only when I actually watch one of his films that I’m reminded what a valuable and rare thing that is.

It could be argued that nothing Tracy does as Clinton Jones is anything he hasn’t done before, after all, by this time in his career he’d made well over 50 films. But what’s remarkable about Tracy is that he was a star with a character actor's gift for inhabiting a part so completely, the behavior, movements, and vocal inflections all seem to exist exclusively for whatever character he was portraying at the time.
In The Actress, his character is largely identified by a gruff, irascible demeanor and a comic paternal bossiness. But to watch Tracy stay in character while delivering a monologue that's part searing tirade against the cruel aunts who brought him up/part lamenting requiem for his mother who committed suicide when he was two years old--well, it's to watch a little bit of acting genius.

Ruth hopes to convince her parents of the soundness of her decision to go upon the stage

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Much like my experience with the film adaptation of Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker, I came to The Actress with low expectations and found myself not only surprised by how good it is, but completely captivated by its simplicity and charm.
The film's vignette structure may play a bit of havoc with Ruth and Fred's relationship (we never understand whether it's as serious as Fred takes it or as casual as Ruth makes it out to be), but it nicely suits the photo album/scrapbook setup of the title sequence. The script is witty, the performances uniformly fine.
Of course, given my own life-changing brush with the arts (see: the Xanadu post), I can't help but find certain details of Ruth Gordon's teen years to resonate with me and have a certain universal appeal.
Ruth's reaction to seeing Hazel Dawn (Kay Williams) on the stage is not unlike my response to seeing the critically lambasted 1980 musical Xanadu. So inspired was I by that film, I embarked on a career as a dancer.  
Effort and hard work are indispensable, but having dreams is where it all begins
Like the unexpected setback which threatens to ultimately derail Ruth's plans to move to New York, my own move away from home—to L.A. from Berkeley—was beset by a similar reversal. Exactly as it happens in the film, I panicked, certain that if I allowed this one problem to stop me (an apartment I had put a deposit down on was suddenly no longer available), I'd be stopped by another and another.
Happy Ending: went to LA even without a place to live, got my deposit refund, spent the entire day apartment-hunting and found a place before sundown on the very same day I arrived (on a weekend, yet).
So, you see, there's much in The Actress that speaks to anybody who strikes out on their own, armed with little more than impossible dreams and a foundationless belief in self.
The Actress is not a perfect film, to be sure, but it is certainly something of an unsung cinema gem.

Copyright © Ken Anderson

18 comments:

  1. I never fail to mention what a huge Anthony Perkins fan I am, and he is so charming as the borderline silly Fred. Still, it is an overwhelming staticity that dominates my memories of The Actress. I enjoy Simmons and Wright a lot as well, but never really warmed to Tracy the way you have with his performance here. I too appreciate the old-fashioned quaintness of a movie like this, but it's not one I care to rewatch much.

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    1. Hi Callie
      Yes, Anthony Perkins' performance is so very charming. Very understandable how he came to teen-idol status, albeit briefly.
      As for the static quality you remember from The Actress, I can't say that your memory is all that faulty. While the pacing of the film appeals to me, from all I've read, The Actress posed many problems in test screenings. Almost all complaints having to do with it's problematic structure (seems like Gordon's play could never fully overcome it's magazine serialization roots).
      As I said, I like Spencer Tracy, but honestly don't seek out his work and can't say I'm a big fan. But each time I do happen to catch him in a movie, it does become clearer why so many hold him in high esteem. I think I can relate your feeling s for Tracy with how I feel about Jimmy Stewart- I admire his talent, but could never warm up to him much.
      But there are Simmons and Wright. I've sen very few Jean Simmons films, but Teresa Wright has the ability of turning the smallest scenes into moments of truth.
      Nice to hear from you again, Callie! Thanks for reading and being the first to comment!

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  2. I, too, caught this on TCM one night and found it charming. I found your remarks about Teresa Wright being/not being underappreciated interesting because even though I don't necessarily count her as a favorite, I almost always enjoy her and I feel she was a very SMART actress. Wasn't her husband a writer? It seems she was a very literate, thoughtful sort of person. I completely agree also with regards to her having been the title role had this been done a tad sooner. When I think of Ruth Gordon, the very first thing I think of is petiteness and that's not something I associate with Simmons, but I do with Wright. And even her voice is more closely pitched and modulated to Gordon's (though no one could ever really match that!) The quote about why Wright retired is PRICELESS...

    I also share your feelings about Spence. He's always good, but I don't think I would EVER pick out a movie to watch simply due to him being in it. Long ago, I used to just downright avoid him for whatever reason, but "Bad Day at Black Rock" was a tipping point for me in that I began to take an interest in him like I hadn't before. Something about that one just caught me.

    This was an enjoyable read. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Poseidon
      I stopped carrying TCM a while back due to repetition overkill (and it's just not the same for me without Robert Osborne), but it has introduced me to many an enjoyable obscurity.
      You always make such thoughtful personal observations about movies, I always think we would have a great time talking film. You are right, Teresa Wright was married twice, both times to writers. The last one was the playwright who wrote TEA & SYMPATHY (Anderson?)
      Anyhow, I think your observation that she exuded an intelligence is right on the money, and a defining characteristic of her roles. I look at some of her early films and I'm so taken with the kind of contemporary feel of her performances.
      And yes, that is a really great quote!
      And we're like-minded about Tracy, as well. Not being a big fan of Katharine Hepburn, I've never seen either of the comedies Gordon/Kanin wrote for Tracy/Hepburn, so when his name come sup, I think fort of IT'S A MAD...WORLD, then this. I'm sure there are countless better performances in his roster, but like you, I never seek him out, but ALWAYS enjoy his performances. I only saw BAD DAY A BLACK ROCK about two years ago, and he is really arrestingly good in that one.
      Glad to know you're familiar with this film, and, as always, thank you for taking the time to read and especially for commenting so thoughtfully.

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  3. Ken, lovely take on what sounds like a genuinely charming film. Now I am going to check it out! Also, as always love the bit of autobiography you offer : )
    Cheers, Rick

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    1. Hey Rick,
      Thanks very much! "The Actress" has its problems, but if you're already amenable to the actors and subject matter, the only problem is likely to be the slightness of the overall enterprise itself. Which, to me, is one of its principal charms.
      Thanks for dropping a line, Rick! Hope you have the opportunity to catch this next time it screens.

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  4. Ken, thanks. Truly for this. Said so much that I completely agree with. The early moments when she was watching "The Pink Lady" absolutely resonated with me. I had chills; Simmons with Cukor's assistance captured the transcendence of that moment when you feel somehow you have a CALLING. I was completely hooked from that moment on. And Tracy is an actor that I, too, have never fallen madly for. And yet I have seen several performances of his recently that have made me realize what a truly superb actor he is and how impossible it is to catch him "acting." "Fury" was one and "Man's Castle" was another besides "The Actress" that made me feel I had been dismissive!!!
    One other moment I found breathtakingly well done. It was simple but it was so beautifully blocked and so well executed by Simmons. She was in her usual dreamworld, thinking of the theatre, but she was supposed to be putting out the lights and going to bed. She semi-danced through the house and reached out to turn off lights without conscious thought and lost track of one or two and sort of lunged back to catch the one she had passed. It was graceful and awkward and funny and touching all at once. I was enthralled.
    I had a long conversation with Jeff Marquis recently after seeing "The Actress" and this article has felt like a continuation of our discussion of how much this film felt personal to each of us -- having pursued artistic endeavors after being inspired as you were by Xanadu.
    How blessed some of us are to have lived lives that were sparked by that magical moment that altered us forever.

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    1. Hi Kent
      Before responding to your kind and very evocative comments, I went back to take a look at the scene you referenced (Ruth turning out the lights). You're quite right, it's a small bit of business beautifully executed, conveying character, humor, and feeling. It's small, like everything else in the film, but it conveys a wealth of understanding of the character.
      The scene of Ruth being inspired by watching Hazel Dawn is pivotal to the emotional validity of the rest of the film. It's to both Cukor's and Simmons' credit that everything Ruth experiences at that moment plays so vividly across across her face. It's the tightest closeup employed in the entire film and it is another of the many small miracles that made this film work so well for me.
      I've seen many movies about young men inspired to go into the theater or arts ("Those Lips, Those Eyes"
      "Enter "Laughing," "Next Stop Greenwich Village"), but their journeys tend to be depicted so externally.
      The Actress is one of the best examples of a film capturing what it feels like inside when that first spark of "something better" is ignited in a young person.
      Your words about this movie and how it struck you upon seeing it, so eloquently expressed, tells me you feel much the same way. It's such a unique, personal kind of thing when you go through it yourself, it's rather elating to see a film that "knows" such feelings very well.
      I think had Gordon had someone working on the script to help fashion her anecdotal play into a more traditional narrative structure, perhaps the film would have been better received.
      But where Gordon's contribution proves invaluable is in being able to relay-in such a funny a touching way -what it feels like to, as you put aptly it, have a calling. To be inspired by the artistry of others is a true thrill, and in THE ACTRESS, Cukor & Company have fashioned a bittersweet valentine to the dreamers.
      Wonderful to hear from you, Kent! Thanks for the complimentary words, and for contributing such marvelous comments and observations to this post!

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  5. Hello Ken, again!!! I haven't seen this but I intend to after reading your essay/review. It seems like Jean Simmons didn't have many movies...but i dont know very much about her so i will check her filmography? Did she get the attention she deserved? I have always loved the mini series of the Thorn Birds...and she was amazing in it. Have you ever seen this? if you have....what is your opinion of it? Do you even like the mini series concept at all? i guess some would think it a bit second rate to cinema. but i was a kid when i saw the thorn birds and i was enthralled after watching the first episode. Thoughts?

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    1. Hi Cinema
      So glad this essay about THE ACTRESS intrigued you! I can't say I am very familiar with much of Jean Simmons' work, but she was pretty prolific in her day. Perhaps because she was one of the few who worked consistently but seemed little concerned with her "stardom status" I think she tends to be overlooked. That and the fact that she was often the female lead in a lot of male-dominated films. Lacking a distinct screen persona like Audrey Hepburn or Doris Day, she was seldom the major attraction in her films; her male co-stars (Brando, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck) often having the marquee value.

      I didn't watch THE THORN BIRDS when it was first broadcast. In my youth I was one of those movie snobs who eschewed the TV-miniseries format.
      However, just about five years ago I was on this Richard Chamberlain kick and watched all of THE THORN BIRDS in one evening. Wow! I really enjoyed it. I was so impressed with both Barbara Stanwyck and Jean Simmons, whom i though gave very moving performances. I thought it was terrific. Many years after the fact, but I'm glad I waited until I was old enough to appreciate it (aka dropped my attitude about TV).
      I was told by Rick (a commenter above) that THE ACTRESS will be broadcast in November on Thanksgiving Day on TCM, so maybe you'll have a chance to check it out then.
      Thanks very much for reading this and expressing a bit of curiosity about Jean Simmons. She was nominated for and won many awards in her time, but I do think she tends to be overlooked a bit these days. I'm guilty of it myself.

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    2. I read that Jean said her marriage to Stewart Granger stalled her career. It pissed off whoever was running her studio (shades of you know who). Also, Jean was nominated for the best actress Oscar the year Maggie won for Brodie in a movie I had never heard of.

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    3. Ah...the marriage thing makes sense. I often forget that many a popular star doesn't put career first.
      That film you've never heard of is "The Happy Ending" and it crops up on TCM now and then. It's a somewhat traditional midlife "marriage on the rocks" drama, given distinction by quirky against-type casting with Shirley Jones and Bobby Darin.

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    4. I did some more research and found a Daily Mail article. There was some kerfuffle with Howard Hughes. She was with RKO and he called the shots. Apparently she would have been in Roman Holiday if he hadn’t blackballed her. Another Hollywood “what if?”. And, for better or worse I read "Full Service", Old Spence will never be the same.

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    5. Ah, yes! I remember her resistance to Howard Hughes being a defining factor in her show business trajectory. Let's see...and it's now 2017 and we're only JUST expressing outrage at such abuse of power.
      I love books like "Full Service"! I’ve never been fond of the kind of hagiography that keeps the lies of classic film stars alive. The stories in it are great and probably true, but it’s too bad the book is so poorly written and edited he winds up undermining his own credibility.

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  6. Hi Ken,

    As always a wonderful essay on a fine under-known piece of cinema. I first saw it years ago on American Movie Classics when it was a decent channel not the mess it is today. It’s the definition of a small film with quiet observation instead of overstated emotions or scenery chewing.

    Considering how outspoken and brash Ruth Gordon was in adulthood I can only image that as a teen she was thornier than the way she’s presented here even though she doesn’t pretend she was a plaster saint. Since it is such a delicate piece while the direction and attendant departments are important to set the pace and mood it’s the performers who make or break a thing like this. It’s fortunate then that the lead trio are all expert at underplaying and economy of expression.

    I share your admiration for Teresa Wright and she certainly didn’t have the career that those first films of hers seemed to augur but I think that might have been at least partially her own fault. She seemed to prefer the stage and from many of the more obscure films of hers that I’ve seen (Escapade in Japan, California Conquest, The Capture to name a few) she either wasn’t offered the best or she wasn’t a good judge of material. Also in an age of bigger emotions she was an understated actress, pretty rather than ravishing and with the unfortunately aging fashions and hairstyles of the 50’s after that first blush of youth on the dowdy side. Even here where the disparity in age is only a dozen years it doesn’t really look like a stretch that she could be Jean Simmons mother. Still I’ve never seen her give a bad performance and whatever is going on behind her eyes is always young, fresh and telling.

    I’m a bigger Tracy fan than you I think and have often watch a film specifically because I see his name in the credits usually assured of at least one decent performance in the film. He’s rarely left me down though I’ll never understand the Oscar for what has to be his worst performance in Captains Courageous…my head hurts just thinking about it! But by and large he’s subtly brilliant and I join in the praise for Bad Day at Black Rock though Inherit the Wind (another acting showcase) is my favorite of his work. He makes so much of the father in this who with all his bluster and irascibility genuinely loves his family and only wants the best for Ruth. Tracy shows that in a dozen clever ways.

    I’m not much of a fan of Perkins, in his youthful pre-Psycho phase he was a bit too unctuous and mealy for me and post that film a twitchy neurotic. He doesn’t keep me from watching a film but he’s never a draw.

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    1. Hi Joel
      Yes, this really is a small film. Almost personal in its appeal. No wonder the studio had such a hard time marketing it (the ads for it rest exclusively on Tracy's appeal, despite the title).
      I only have an image in my head of Ruth Gordon as an oldster, so no matter how many times I watch THE ACTRESS, I never really think of it as having anything to do with the Ruth Gordon I know. I just see it as being about "a stagestruck girl."
      Nice to hear you're such a fan of Teresa Wright, and congrats on having caught some of her more obscure features. And speaking of features, I agree that it is somehow very easy to accept her as being old enough to be Simmons' mother. When I look at how youthful she looks in SHADOW OF A DOUBT, it's hard to grasp that a mere ten years (if mere can be applied to 10 years) had passed.
      The people that I know who like Spencer Tracy speak of him and his work in much the same way as you. He's seems a very solid and reliable actor, talented in ways it's easy to overlook. Not really sure why he never did it for me, because he is often so good in the few things I've seen him in.
      Perkins is an accepted acquired taste. For some reason young film fans seem to adore him - more his early, boyish period than his post-PSYCHO creepy years (for many, adoration seems to end at PRETTY POISON).

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  7. Someone who is a draw for me though is Jean Simmons! Of her I’m a huge fan. As with the others she gives a delicate reading to her role and she imparts Ruth’s longing for a different life than the one she’s living beautifully without resorting to cheap tricks or bathos. No question she should have been a bigger star (however during her heyday she was considered a top performer) but though her private life was messy it wasn’t the type of messy that hit the fan mags nor papers. Hughes definitely impeded her progress but she had a drinking problem which became more severe with the years. Richard Brooks wrote The Happy Ending for her in an attempt to make her realize how deep her problem was but it didn’t work immediately, she eventually was involved in a serious car crash which led her to seek treatment.

    Having seen all but two of her films, a British obscurity named Kiss the Bride Goodbye which was considered lost for years and now is only available through museum showings from what I can ascertain and some piece of 80’s junk called Going Undercover with Chris Lemmon, she was always a strong facile and capable performer but there was a placidity to her (a shared quality with Teresa Wright) that keep her from bursting through the way a more expansive woman like Elizabeth Taylor did.

    What I hadn’t realized until I undertook working my way through her filmography is that she was a teen star in Britain making her biggest early impact in Great Expectations at 16 and appearing in the original Blue Lagoon! Several of her English films before she headed to America with Granger are very good, I’d recommend So Long at the Fair, Trio, Cage of Gold and The Clouded Yellow as worth seeking out.

    Once she hit these shores I don’t think she was always properly used but she still managed to turn up in several good pictures. Angel Face is a real standout, it uses that placid exterior to hide an underlying malevolence better than any other film she made. Like all contract players she had her share of fodder but mixed in there are some gems…or diamonds in the rough…among her big hits (Spartacus, Elmer Gantry, Guys and Dolls-a film I actively hate despite my love of the stage show and her, The Robe etc.) Hilda Crane is a big ol’ honking MELODRAMA but with a surprisingly liberated heroine for the 50’s, This Could Be the Night-a charmer set in a nightclub. I found Home Before Dark somewhat of a dreary slog but she’s just great in it. This Earth is Mine is another meller but a big vigorous one with Rock Hudson, Claude Rains and a surprisingly vicious Dorothy McGuire (another actress I can envision in the lead role of The Actress had it been made a decade earlier). She completely walks away with The Grass is Greener in a performance that makes you realize she should have done more comedy and lastly All the Way Home another quiet family drama as a pregnant wife at the turn of the last century who finds herself suddenly widowed. She is A-MAZ-ING in it, award level great. So of course she wasn’t even nominated! I agree she was wonderful in The Thornbirds and I’m so glad she won something that was long overdue. A small tidbit-She was extremely close with Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn both of who acted as mentors to her. Her two daughters are named Tracy and Kate.

    Just one more thing on what I had thought would be a brief comment! This film also has a supporting actress in it who will get me to tune in for whatever film she’s in-Mary Wickes! A unique and bracing performer who added sauce to any scene she was in movie or TV and who I was delighted to discover shares my birthday!

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    1. Part II
      Thanks for all the Jean Simmons info. I'm certain admirers will appreciate the film recommendations as well as the mini-bio stuff about her career.
      She's another of those classic era actresses I first encountered in a film I didn't enjoy (GUYS AND DOLLS - i guess we share the same thoughts there) and so it took me several years to even check her out in other films. She can be really wonderful, and as you speak of her, I suspect there to be a great deal more versatility to her talents than Iv'e been exposed to.
      Jean Simmons is a curious one for me because she is so often co-starred with so many actors I don't like, I miss out on a lot of her films. The last "new" one I saw was "The Happy Ending" which I liked enough for a single watch, but can't see myself revisiting it any time soon.
      And glad you did a shout-out to Mary Wickes. my partner is a big fan of hers and so she's another one I've come to appreciate in my adulthood after practically growing up seeing her on sitcoms as a kid.
      Thanks for the two enlightening comments contributions! As always, your enthusiasm for movies is engaging, and its wonderful that you offer so much information with your subjective take on things. Enjoyed reading these very much. Thanks, Joel!

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