Archive for the ‘Mildred Dunnock: acting goddess’ Category

Butterfield 8

24 Mar

Butterfield 8 – directed by Daniel Mann. Romantic Melodrama. A promiscuous model falls for a married man and sacrifices her all. 109 minutes Color 1960.
Unutterable junk.

The script is so bad that everyone tends to overact to fill in the blanks. An example is the barroom scene where Elizabeth Taylor stabs her heel into the toe of Laurence Harvey’s shoe. Her delivery is unnecessarily nasty; a woman that beautiful never has to be nasty; as an actress she is in error, as she tended more and more to be as time went by.

Our Liz was a person who never lost. For Elizabeth Taylor, losing was a factual impossibility. She doesn’t have to lift a fist, only her little finger. The question is, What is she winning? And even, as here, when the repartee is flimsy and the moral motive phony, all she needs to do is keep it small. She has moments in the movie, but they are all quiet moments. Her failures as an actor come when, as when she reveals her thirteen year-old molestation to her pal, Eddie Fisher, she emotes. This was not what her instrument was designed by God ever to do well. Elizabeth Taylor is one of the greatest of all film actresses when the emotion and the body are contained. Here, however, she embarks on a career as a dramatic actress. Here she turns in the direction of Martha and The Shrew. She never really recovered. She won an undeserved Oscar, and she knew it.

Nor did she recover as a human. Everyone who saw the film at the time – and everyone did (on a $2.5 million cost the film earned $7.5 million)  — realized they were watching a woman of 28 on her fourth marriage, each one of them notorious, the mother of three young children, playing out the role of the femme fatale everyone took her to be in real life and came to this movie to see if it was so. The film confirmed it. They did not know that a woman in her position has to marry her lovers.

Taylor didn’t want to make the movie, because her character originally was made out to be a call girl, which in the present version she is not quite.

She also found Laurence Harvey to be a vain jackass and the director Daniel Mann a jerk. But she never held an animosity long, although Harvey is completely miscast opposite her and would no more be a graduate of Yale than would one of The Three Stooges. A New Englander? No. He retains his English accent, his lizard visage, and his icy eye. All this adds up to a minus.

The  cast is a mishmash; you never believe a single one of them; they agree stylistically in nothing. And since the script is atrocious, none of them can find a basis in reality for what is before your unbelieving eyes. Big Broadway actresses Betty Field and Mildred Dunnock are hauled in to play their one note apiece. And even the great Mildred Dunnock, as Taylor’s willfully dumb mother, plays at a pitch slightly above the needed, in a part that is ill-conceived and vacant.

I watched a days shooting and had lunch with Mildred Dunnock, Sidney Guilaroff the famed hairdresser, and Elizabeth Taylor at the Gold Medal Studios in the Bronx as Butterfield 8 was made. Taylor was real, gutsy, curious, savvy, and bright. She was not vain about her looks. She also was clearly unphotogenic. Sitting across from her at the cafeteria table, you have never seen anything so beautiful in your life. And that is what the public came to see. They had grown up with it. Velvet had become Helen of Troy. The face that launched a thousand ships and burned the topless towers of Ilium now had to be observed as it enacted the next chapter of its strong and fervent destiny.



Baby Doll

04 Dec

Baby Doll — directed by Elia Kazan — a comedy about a nubile teen age girl, her drooling husband, and the cotton gin of a rival. 114 minutes black and white 1956.
Of the six great Kazan films, all made around the same time: A Streetcar Named Desire, Panic In The Streets, Viva Zapata, On The Waterfront, East Of Eden, it is the last.

Baby Doll is one of the funniest American comedies ever made, and it certainly is the most unusual – because it resembles the low comedy of comedia del arte and certain films of Da Sica and Fellini.

Completely the opposite of the starched and laundered comedies of Doris Day, those tense technicolor sundaes of that era, Baby Doll is a comedy based in actual humor, and comes from the pen of the finest ear in the English language since Congreve.

When Caroll Baker, asserts to Eli Wallach that she is not a moron by saying: “I am a måagazine-reader!” we are in the land of comic plenty.

And when the great Mildred Dunnock as the half-cocked Aunt Rose Comfort, picking bedraggled weeds in the unkempt garden, calls them “Poems of Nature” we are in poetry heaven.

Mildred Dunnock was nominated for an Academy Award for this performance, and she and the luscious Carroll Baker and the foxy Eli Wallach and the profusely sweating Karl Malden make the most of all that Kazan and the Deep South location and Tennessee Williams’ script and The Method can offer.

This is a movie to see over and over, over the years, and I have. An American classic!



Story Theater

04 Dec

Story Theatre – directed by Paul Sills – a theater documentary of comedies of folk and fairy tales played out by grown-up actors.

90 minutes color 1969

* * * * *

This piece was a fill-in during a union strike at Yale. Paul Sills was then developing a form of theatre in which folk tales and short stories would be partly enacted and partly told. It was worked up quickly and it is presented with high professional finesse. I actually saw it in New Haven at the Yale Theatre, and it was a lot of fun. Mildred Dunnock is a master of her craft. It was once said of her that she knew so much about acting that it had become innocent again. She plays a wiley teenager, Clever Gretchen, and of course she is in her 70s when she does this. In any case her physical touch on the part is entrancing – light, deft, completely malicious, crafty, real. Interviews with the cast interlace the stories, and what Mildred Dunnock has to say about how to play a witch is worth millions to any actor called upon to play anything. A fascinating creature, who got sexier as she got older – as both Warren Beatty and Marlon Brando said of her. This is a  good clean light film suitable for the whole family.



A Brand New Life

04 Dec

A Brand New Life – directed by Sam O’Steen – drama of a middle-aged couple and a baby – 74 minutes, color, 1973

* * * *

This picture brings together the great Mildred Dunnock, the wonderful Wilfred Hyde-White, and Cloris Leachman and Martin Balsam who are perfectly beautiful as the principal players of two middle aged careerists who find themselves surprisingly pregnant. This film is modest and economic in its telling. Mildred Dunnock’s big scene is done as a master shot without a single close-up. She doesn’t need one. You cannot take your eyes off her. Cloris Leachman and Martin Balsam are master actors at the peak of their powers in roles you wouldn’t associate them with. Both are absolutely ingratiating in everything they do. It’s a pleasure to behold them. The picture is simple and affecting. It accomplishes what it sets out to do. What more can you ask?


Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button