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Archive for the ‘Irene Dunne’ Category

Love Affair

18 Nov

Love Affair – directed by Leo McCarey. High Comedy. A career woman and a philanderer meet on an ocean liner and agree to meet again in 6 months time, but their plan is run over by a motorcar. 88 minutes Black and White 1939.

★★★★★

Charles Boyer was a lush screen lover. He had wonderful drooping eyelids – bedroom eyes they were called in those days – a sensual mouth, and a deep French accent. Yum! Monsieur Boyer was also a marvelous actor, and you can see behind the surface charms lie even greater charms – innocence, affection, loyalty, and the tact of true fun.

Irene Dunne comes to this from success as the ingénue Magnolia in Showboat, which she had done on the stage, and which she had just completed aged 38. Here she is 41. She is fabulous, and sings Plaisir d’amour and Wishing. She never loses her glad eye. She never forgives because she never blames.

And here we see something the old Hollywood could do nowhere better, which was to star actors of a certain age as though they had no age at all.

So these two over 40 stars come together in a story which will subsequently be re-made, also by McCarey, with Deborah Kerr, aged 36, and Cary Grant, aged 53. And again with Warren Beatty, aged 57, and Annette Bening, aged 36. Each version is worse than the one before, indeed, each one is atrocious, but the first one, this one, which is first class, perhaps because it was written by Donald Ogden Stewart and perhaps, if what David Thomson says is so, because McCarey allowed the two stars to improvise their scenes.

Boyer didn’t like it, but fell in with it. Dunne was excellent at it, and it is her performance which carries the film once it turns solemn, for she does what Cary Grant later did, she plays the entire predicament of her injury as further grace for light comedy. She resists pathos like the plague. Boyer on the other hand has one of the great screen moments when he realizes what has happened to her. Watch for it; watch it happen to him.

This is comedy of faces. This is high comedy. This is comedy of the most life-loving fun. You may call it sophisticated, but it is also the comedy of two people experienced enough to suppose they would neither of them find anyone to be married with, which accounts for the real background of the story and the justification for their age, which Rudolph Maté films understandingly.

The dread, minute Maria Ouspenskaya plays the part of the grandmother, and she is not bad for once. It was finally played by Katharine Hepburn in her last film role. But the grandmother of them all is Catharine Nesbitt in the Grant/Kerr version.

McCarey’s drunken sentimentality over those singing children may give you the dry gripes, but isn’t it strange that material that, in its remakes, would disgust you, you should find in this, its first and original version, such charm, such delight, such perfection.

It’s the actors, of course. Boyer and Dunne. Don’t miss it.

 

 

Together Again

11 Feb

Together Again – directed by Charles Vidor. Romantic Comedy. The square mayor of a small town falls apart over the sculptor she hires to make a statue of her former husband. 93 minutes. Black and White. 1944.
★★★

Irene Dunne is 46 when she makes this, and Charles Boyer is 45. Those were the days! They had grown-ups in movies.

The title is a publicity scheme to announce the re-mating of the stars of the big women’s weeper Love Story. However, there is a curious lack of oomph between them here. Boyer looks middle-aged, but he is an actor who can rise to any occasion, and he is more acceptable than Dunne, who looks great but lacks the inner-madcap for the role. Charles Coburn is far sexier as the stout cupid leading them on. But then Coburn was one of the great film actors, a performer of admirable technical certainty, natural appeal, and lots of juice.

To play comedy you don’t have to do funny things – Betty Hutton had this. You don’t have to be inherently funny either – Rosalind Russell had this. Although both things are nice, what you have got to have is the inner permission for things to be funny around you – Claudette Colbert had this; so does Clint Eastwood. And Irene Dunne does not. Cary Grant said she was delightfully funny on the set, but on film she seems to be a prig who would really rather be a lady than a woman, a feature we see in Greer Garson and Deborah Kerr.

Irene Dunne (who added an “e” to her last name, perhaps as touch of antique Royalty) was a performer whom the studios thought added “tone” to a picture. But “tone” is at variance with Dunne’s role, which is that of a high profile politician longing to cut up. What you get instead is Helen Hokenson, so there is no possible way an actor opposite her could play sexual attraction in her direction.

She does sing a bit, and Dunne was a true singer and is best when singing, because most honest and simple, for she does care about music, and music is never respectable. Her “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” in Roberta is just lovely. See her in Anna And The King Of Siam. Or see her in George Stevens’ I Remember Mama or his Penny Serenade. In a certain kind of role, she is a seriously dedicated actress and very worthwhile.

The film is beautifully mounted and well constructed, and simply and clearly directed. If you like the old studio, A-movie production values, there is much to enjoy here, for they, more in black and white movies than in color movies, tell the story as much as the script tells it.

Why is that?

Because black and white engages one’s narrative imagination and color supplants it.

 

Penny Serenade

11 Jul

Penny Serenade – directed by George Stevens. Women’s Weeper. A married couple try raising a family and are met with internal and external obstacles. 119 minutes Black and white 1941.

★★★★

If you can prepare yourself to suffer through the insufferable Irene Dunne and through this gluey soap opera, there are splendid rewards. Edgar Buchanan as the crusty sidekick and family friend has such perfect timing and governance of his instrument that none of it is noticeable. What a treat he is! And there is the beautiful Beulah Bondi as the adoption official. She hardly moves a muscle, but boy does that project itself as the truth of movement of each situation her character is in. Finally there is Cary Grant in another of his skillful light hearted rapscallion roles. There are movies Grant has not been particularly notable in, but this certainly isn’t one of them. He carries the film on the shoulders of his believability. You go along with it because he brings validity to every scene, a validity already in him. A true cinema actor, whose instrument defined screen acting for his era, modest in its effects, attentive, and personal. He plays in this film probably the greatest scene he ever played in movies. We do not think of Grant as an emotional actor, but it is a long scene, of great emotional power. Despite the fact the writing is banal, his sustainment and modulation of the emotion of this scene, which culminates in an enormously long speech is one of the greatest I have ever seen in film. Watch his body. It scarcely moves. Think of how Sean Penn would have over-miked it, good as he is an actor. In his life, Grant never won an Oscar, but was nominated twice; this was one of those two times. Dunne is 6 years older than Grant, and isn’t convincing as a 20 or even 30 year old. Grant and she had had two big successes together before this, and it must have been hard for her. She was at this moment in her career at the peak of her popularity, as a result of those two hit comedies. In her day the age of certain actresses did not necessarily count as determining their casting, once their hold on the public was secure. Dunne was never a jeune fille; she was a woman, in the way that Susan Sarandon always was a woman and Julia Roberts never has been. So, she was already a grown-up and could be cast as one, her real age being irrelevant. There is something to be said for her as a screen presence. Not having much of sense of humor helped her in being a foil for the rapscallions playing opposite her. She sometimes condescended to be lady, which was both ghastly and futile: Greer Garson had seized the throne. But, as here, she was one of the few stars who could actually play a good woman; Colbert could do it too. Loretta Young could not. Think about it. Meryl Streep could do it; Glenn Close could not. But Glenn Close could play a saint, and so could Loretta Young. If you want to see Irene Dunne at her best, see Showboat or, another George Stevens film the wonderful I Remember Mama, a perfect role for her, suitable to her age and stolidity, a part in which she is simply superb. She is a very good example of a hard-working actress who took her craft seriously and was sometimes moved by the tides of studio casting into waters where she could barely swim. If in this film she suffers too daintily, that may be as a corrective to the lugubrious nature of the material, a weeper, like her famous one with Charles Boyer, remade many years later with Grant and that other lady actress Deborah Kerr.

 

I Remember Mama

13 Jan

I Remember Mama — directed by George Stevens. Comedy/Drama.  The love of a mother for her family forges a life for them in pre-WW I San Francisco. 134 minutes Black and White 1948

* * * * *

Stevens had been a cameraman all during the 20s and his technical grasp of filmmaking is unparalleled by any American director of his time, so just watch how he gives what he gives you – if you can, for his scenic power is so engrossing one cannot detach from the gift itself to pay attention to the wrappings which are an integral part of it. He will make you a voyeur by making you listen through a window. He will make you an eavesdropper by allowing you to hear what two characters standing on a street with their back to you are saying. He will hold you at the distance respect requires as a woman retreats across a barnyard and fades into the unapproachable solitude of widowhood. Or he will bring you so close up into the face of two characters that you are actually a part of the speechless energy between them. He will allow you in. He will keep you at bay. He will let you watch something in the corner. He is always aware of you, always wanting your participation and understanding, but he won’t hammer it home. He will often catch you in with the unexpected. He always has something for you, but he let’s you do your part by yourself. I saw this when it came out and it presents the ideal mother. She is played by an actress I don’t ordinarily like, Irene Dunne, but here I not only admire the actress I admire the character. The film is divided in chapters, each one recounting an episode of heroic devotion to her children. None of them are cloying, although the number of them might be said to be. Dunne’s playing is impeccable, and so is her accent, as are all of the Norwegian accents. She wore padding and no make-up. She was nominated for an Oscar for this. Nicolas Musuraca, famed “master of light,” filmed it. He was nominated for an Oscar for this. Barbara Bel Geddes played the elder daughter and narrator. I identify with this character because were I a female I would be her type, and because, like me, she is a writer. She was nominated for an Oscar for this. When Jessica Tandy turned down the role of the shy aunt, Stevens said, “Let the script girl play her,” so the script girl did, and a long career was born. Ellen Corby was nominated for an Oscar for this. Oskar Homolka had played Uncle Chris on the stage with Mady Christians and Marlon Brando, and when he is on camera Stevens gives him full sway in bringing to life this crusty, rude, frightening character. He was nominated for an Oscar for this. Save for Bel Geddes, the children in the film tend to be little Hollywood child actors, but it would be not before long that Stevens found Brandon de Wilde. Barbara O’Neil, Florence Bates, Edgar Bergen, Rudy Vallee, Cedric Hardwick, Philip Dorn fill out and give depth to the cast.

After The War, Stevens came home shell-shocked and did nothing, but eventually formed a company with Frank Capra and William Wyler. A great post WW II trilogy emerged. Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life is about the home-front. Wyler’s The Best Years Of Our Lives is about home-coming. Stevens’ I Remember Mama is about home, the thing fought for and the values that made the fight prevail, set even before WW I, in the city George Stevens grew up in at the time he grew up in it.

 

Together Again

26 Mar

Together Again – Directed by Charles Vidor – Romantic Comedy. A widow tries to keep the flame but falls for the sexy sculptor of her late husband’s statue. 93 minutes Black and White 1944.

* * *

Irene Dunne is 46 when she makes this picture, and Charles Boyer is 45. There is a curious lack of sexual oomph between them. Charles Coburn is far sexier as the stout cupid leading them on. But then Coburn was one of the great film actors, a performer of admirable technical certainty and natural appeal. Boyer is given a final scene of great interest in a picture which is very well written as a comedy without guffaws. The trouble with it is that Dunne, while in a comedy, does not foster comedy around her and has no comic luster of her own To play comedy you don’t have to do funny things — Betty Hutton could do that. You don’t have to be inherently funny either. Although both things are nice, what you have got to have is the inner permission for things to be funny around you — Claudette Colbert had this. And Irene Dunne does not. The poor lady is a prig. She would really rather be a lady than a woman, a feature we often see later in Deborah Kerr. Here what we need is an actress to play the part of a woman with a high profile political position who inside is busting to cut-up. This would have been meat and potatoes for that mistress of the doppelganger, Ginger Rogers. Or perhaps that Queen Of Mischief Rosalind Russell. Or I’m-Trying-To-Do-My-Best Jean Arthur. Anyhow, Irene Dunne (who added an e to her last name — a touch of antique Royal Tone perhaps?) was, indeed, a performer whom the studios thought added “tone” to a picture. But what you get is a Helen Hokinson wannabe. There is no possible way any male actor opposite her could pitch sexual attraction in her direction. She does sing a bit in this film; indeed  Dunne was a professional singer, and is best when singing, because most honest and simple, for she does care about music, and music is never respectable. (Her “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” in Roberta is just lovely.)  Boyer looks middle aged, but he is an actor who can rise to any occasion, and he is more acceptable than Dunne, who looks great but lacks the inner-madcap for the role. The film is beautifully mounted and well constructed and simply and clearly directed by Charles Vidor. An outline missing a content.

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