Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Inevitable 20 Actors Meme

It was as inevitable as the tide, as Oscar-season food-fights, as politicians blaming the media. The 20 Actors Meme, or, as it's known around the Siren's place, more goddamn homework. Mind you, the Siren loves Tony Dayoub, who tagged her, but this time the Siren is doing it her way.

Here are her rules. (Edited to add: These are my rules only, nobody else has to follow them. For some reason I just live to make these things more complicated. The original meme is just 20 actors, 20 pictures. You don't even have to do captions.)

1. No actors who were primarily, or more celebratedly, directors. That means no Orson, though it pains me. That means no Renoir, though his performance in La Règle du Jeu just might be the Siren's favorite of all time. No Keaton, Chaplin, or Eastwood. My rationalization (other than that I need the space) is that they are being saved for the 20 Directors meme, not that the Siren has any intention of starting or even responding to that one.

2. The requirement here is slightly different than for the actress meme. Some of these gentlemen, for whatever reason, have had uneven careers, and the Siren can't in all honesty say she'll watch them in anything. For example, if the Siren ever were to find herself anywhere with Michael Caine, even just a lobby, the force of his brilliance would paralyze her vocal cords so that she could only widen her eyes and point, like Dorothy McGuire in The Spiral Staircase. However, dearly as the Siren loves the man, there is no way in hell she is ever going to watch more than the first 10 minutes of Beyond the Poseidon Adventure.

So the Siren chose actors who always give her a lovely little shiver of "oh, HIM!" every time the name appears in the credits. This is NOT a list about pure acting greatness, otherwise a few of these actors wouldn't be on it. It's about who I love.

4. No comments this time. Just stills. Rather than picking stills that show the actor full-on, the Siren picked some that show him interacting with others, acting being REacting and all that. The Siren chose movies she likes a lot, though in some cases she bypassed a favorite in favor of something more unexpected.

4. Since Tony helped himself to an extra 10, I'm-a grabbing 10 more than that. And I could list 20 after that, but here's the thing. This second group of 20 is no less valid than the first. I could, in fact, flip the groups and be almost as accurate in terms of my taste, save a few that really always have to be on top--those ones my longtime readers can probably guess.

5. Finally--the order. Once the Siren gathered the stills and started uploading them into Blogger, she previewed the post and noticed something a bit spooky. She began to get a sense, as she looked down the vertical line of the photos, that these gentlemen were speaking to one another across movies, that in fact these actors wanted to do an improv. So rather than alphabetical or preferential or chronological order, the Siren felt compelled to let each gathering of photographs have its little meta-narrative, although the story lines probably would have sent Harry Cohn's ass into overdrive.

The First 20

Cary Grant

James Stewart

Michael Caine

James Cagney

Jack Carson

Jean Gabin

Paul Newman

Charles Boyer

John Barrymore

Edward G. Robinson

William Powell

Charles Laughton

James Mason

George Sanders

Sidney Greenstreet

Peter Lorre

Toshiro Mifune

Montgomery Clift

John Wayne

John Garfield

The Bonus 20

Henry Fonda

Canada Lee

Tyrone Power

Terence Stamp

Basil Rathbone

Humphrey Bogart

Burt Lancaster

Anton Walbrook

Marcello Mastroianni

John Gilbert

Sidney Poitier

Thomas Mitchell

Claude Rains

Jack Lemmon

Kirk Douglas

Errol Flynn

James Dean

Louis Jouvet

Rock Hudson

Peter Ustinov

Oh, and tagging. This one the Siren leaves up to her patient readers. You wanna tag yourself? Your wish is the Siren's command.


notanotherblog said...

Oh noes! Paul Newman directed a movie with...his wife in it in the 70's. You can replace him with Brando.

ratatouille's archives said...

Hi! Self-Styled Siren,
What a very impressive list of actors. (I am impressed!...by your list: Bogart,(My "fav" of course!) Grant, Newman, Dean, Lorre, Mason and Boyer etc, etc, etc...) I too! have been "tagged" by the very "affable" Dean as Treadway.

And I can't hardly wait!...to create my list!...I 'am almost doing hand flips!
(I bet, people who(m) are reading this hope that I'am not by an "open" window on the very upper level in a tall building!!!)

Tks, for sharing!
darkcitydame ;-)

kassy said...

Oh Jack Carson!!! And George Sanders! And James Mason, sigh!!

Peter Nellhaus said...

That's ten more minutes than I will ever see of Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. You are a brave one, Siren!

Vanwall said...

Kick-ass list, Siren - your pics are cleverly individual and not the usual images, as well. I'd've thrown in Trintignant, Delon, Montand, Depardieu, Auteuil, and Belmondo from my wife's side, and prolly Omar Sharif, too - also O'Toole, Richards Harris & Burton, and Albert Finney, plus I always liked Rhys Williams - and I can't leave out Tatsuya Nakadai. I'd prolly dump Wayne, I wasn't a big fan of his, as only a few films of his I find watchable. I have a soft spot for John Hodiak and Steve Cochran, but that's just me I guess.

Laura said...

What an interesting list! I wonder how many of these lists will start with Cary Grant? (Mine does!)

I drew up a list just after Christmas which I posted here. I'll look forward to checking out more lists!

Best wishes,

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Great photos, and great list. (Slinks off with pencil and back of an envelope the electric bill came in, wipes fevered brow, begins to compile her own bloody list.)

The Siren said...

Notanotherblog -- if you check, there's a couple of others on the list who did direct a film or two. I threw out the ones who are primarily discussed as directors. Eastwood is, I suppose, either/or but I decided he's a director. Like I said, I needed the space. :D

DarkCityDame, a noir-focused list would be good indeed. I hope to see Robert Ryan there, myself. Hurt to leave him off. Especially with Ustinov there. I really could do another 20 like that.

And then I'd add most of Vanwall's list, esp. Richard Harris. Vanwall, is your wife French? So is Mr. C so the first thing I heard last night was a grumpy "Where's Piccoli?" "Belmondo isn't there either," says I by way of apology. "Piccoli is better," comes the reply.

Laura, thanks, I will take a look. I think Cary Grant is required to head these lists by some kind of fiat, just like all "Best Film of All Time" lists must lead with Citizen Kane.

Jacqueline, I'll be checking your place for your list. I really wanted a good still of Dorothy McGuire getting all bug-eyed in Spiral Staircase but could not find one! I may have to put one on the blog myself from one of my books.

Peter, I just posted in comments over at SLIFR about disaster movies and my soft spot for same, but Beyond the Poseidon Adventure was baaaaaad. Caine says The Swarm was his worst picture but I made it through all of that one.

The Siren said...

oh Kassy, forgot to say -- yes to all three! You are a person of taste. So glad to find that Rebecca still, it's my favorite George Sanders moment, when he pops up in that window at Manderly.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Well you got just about everybody.
Anton Walbrook is at the very top of my list closely followed by Cary Grant and Marcello Mastroianni.

As for actor-directors being disqualified you forgot that Ustinov directed films too and Charles laughton directed the greatest American film ever made.

Raquel Stecher said...

A list that includes George Sanders is a great list indeed!

I can't wait to do my list, but gah, there are too many rules. I throw rules out the window onto oncoming traffic.

The Siren said...

No, no, no D., I forgot nothing. I didn't forget Rachel Rachel, I didn't forget Night of the Hunter, I did not forget Romanoff and Juliet, I didn't even forget The Alamo. Like I said in the post and repeated to Notanotherblog, the idea was to eliminate those PRIMARILY known as directors. I assure you, when I posted the still from Billy Budd I knew Ustinov directed it! but that (great) film aside, I think he's primarily known as an actor, then raconteur, then writer, then (probably) director.

Raquelle, those are my rules and my rules only. As far as I know the original rules were "20 actors. With pictures." That's all you need follow. I have this need to make my life more difficult. :D

DavidEhrenstein said...

For me Ustinov is first last and always the ringmaster in Lola Montes

The Siren said...

I think it was his best role too. I just loved the Billy Budd still. He almost looks handsome. Wonder if he liked the series of photos too? They're from LIFE.

ratatouille's archives said...

The Self-Style Siren said,"DarkCityDame, a noir-focused list would be good indeed. I hope to see Robert Ryan there, myself. Hurt to leave him off. Especially with Ustinov there. I really could do another 20 like that."

Right you are!...What is that saying? "To one own self be true..." because I was going to list actors that others in the "know" already listed on their list!...I guess, I will follow my "heart" and your advice.
(and list the actors that I "truly" admire!)

Typo: What,I meant to write ..."The very affable Dean as in Treadway." Btw, his (20 + actors meme) list is very impressive and interesting too!
darkcitydame ;-)

Vanwall said...

Siren - yes my wife is French, and a slight relation to someone on your list, surprisingly - or maybe not, I had him on my list for years even B4 I knew about the connection. I'll let you guess. When I first visited her relatives in Antibes, there was a slow evening and the TV was on; her father and uncle both asked me if I liked film noir, because they were going to watch an old American movie they liked - it was "Somewhere in the Night", with the aformentioned John Hodiak! Later in the month, the whole extended family was watching "The Big Country", which was evidently the best western ever made as far as they were concerned. I happened to catch some good French films along the way, and all in all the viewing was quite interesting. Ahem, Mr. C has his opinions, but I'd take Lino Ventura over Piccoli for character actors in French films.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Really? I can't imagine Lino Venture in Contempt or I'm Going Home

The Siren said...

Piccoli and Ventura would both be on my third list of 20. I have only recently discovered Ventura, a few years when I finally saw Touchez Pas au Grisbi. No, I can't imagine Ventura in Contempt but I am not sure I can see Piccoli projecting Ventura's exact brand of tough either.

Vanwall said...

Piccoli and Ventura could never be mistaken, or substituted, for each other, IMHO. I certainly wouldn't leave Piccoli off an extended list, that's for sure, but I like Ventura's physiognomy and style.

Katie said...

Great post!!

Dan Callahan said...

Tyrone Power on top of Terence Stamp! I love it. Though Stamp on top of Power might be even better...

Glad to see John Gilbert get some love...I'm fond of him, but I know a lot of people who can't stand him.

I didn't know you had such a thing for Michael Caine. I'm undecided on him...he's been in so many awful movies.

The Siren said...

Dan, Gilbert seems like such a relic to most people because he never made many sound pictures. But how could someone not love him in The Big Parade?

Katie, thanks!

Vanwall, Ventura could be funny too, as he was in Les Tontons flingueurs.

The Siren said...

darkcitydame, forgot to say, right on! follow your heart. That's why I have Hudson but not Brando...there's no question Brando is the finer actor but Hudson is just someone I enjoy so much.

DavidEhrenstein said...

You're right, Dan. Tyrone was a Bottom.

The Siren said...

Daaaavid! LOL, you're going to bring MrsR here, a lovely and informative commenter who's a big Power fan and always disputes the gay rumors.

I do want to thank Dan for being one of the few to read the vertical narrative though. :D

The Siren said...

and hey David, did you even notice that Douglas is Two Weeks in Another Town? I looked long and hard for that one because you said you liked it, too. Surprisingly hard to find pictures from it on the Net, though.

Gloria said...

Good to see John Gilbert there "The Big Parade" is a personal favourite.

It is hard to keep it a twenty, indeed. I like all those you have listed (the 20 and the 20+), and inevitably, James Mason, George Sanders, cary Grant or -of course- Charley me darling, who were on my own list. Jean Renoir is there (I have such a soft spot for his Octave ), and so is Eric Von Stroheim... I don't discrimeine directors when they're good on the other side ;p

I would have mentioned Mifune, too, but the more Jap flicks I see, the more I fall in love with Japanese performers (,ale and female), I choose Masayuki Mori, but the already mentioned Mifune and Tatsuya Nakadai are equally great, and one could of course add Takashi Shimura, Daisuke Kato, Keiju Kobayashi and so many, many more...

Re Ustinov. <>"He almost looks handsome"<>: actually, I think he was handsome, fat, yes, but not badlooking... Not as alluring as Charles Laughton ;p, but not bad, either

Karen said...

Oh geez! Where to begin? I kinda wish I'd seen this earlier in the day, before all the great comments arrived.

Well, needless to say: YES. YES to all of the above.

I would add Lee Tracy. And Gary Cooper. And Lon Cheney. Louis Jourdan. I really will watch damn near anything with those guys.

Michael Caine does pose a tricky problem--SO much dross mixed with SO much gold--and I would put Peter O'Toole in that category as well. Early O'Toole is just sheer joy, from Lawrence of Arabia (obviously) through fun romps like How to Steal a Million. (Regarding the latter: I consider the scene in which we get a cheek-to-cheek close-up of O'Toole with Audrey Hepburn, while they're hiding in the museum broom closet, to be one of the most heavenly visions visual culture has ever bestowed on us. So beautiful apart, they are exponentially more beautiful together.)

How up-to-date are we going? I ask because, of course, Caine is still active. Ish. On the foreign film front, I will watch anything with Daniel Auteuil in it. I would actually watch anything with Daniel Auteuil's nose in it.

More when I've thought about this some more.

D Cairns said...

Rather than write this one up at Shadowplay, I feel like just spinning out a list right here. Same rule as my actress list -- nobody too fanciable is allowed.

1) Percy Helton
2) Lee Tracy
3) Ernest Thesiger
4) Peter Lorre (although...)
5) Charles Laughton
6) Walter Huston
7) Alec Guinness (not ugly, just asexual)
8) Eric Blore
9) Robert Stephens
10) Peter Cushing
11) Godfrey Cambridge
12) Takeshi Shimura
13) Thomas Gomez
14) Thomas Mitchell
15) Walter Huston
16) Roscoe Lee Brown
17) Eugene Palette
18) Laurel & Hardy
19) Warren Oates
20) Louis Jouvet (although...)

This list could go on 10 times as long, but now that I filled it I'm going to STOP.

Yojimboen said...

A quick aside before the list-making: re M. Caine, there is an old H’wood joke about Michael’s ‘middle period’ (late 70s- 80s) - I even heard a variation of it from his own lips at a Q&A:
Michael Caine used to have an agent who answered the phone, “Hello, he’ll take it.”

(It’s also rumored that two of his other clients were Kiefer Sutherland and Kevin Bacon.)

The Siren said...

Okay, I feel the urge to defend Mr. Caine here, so --
The Ipcress File
Get Carter
Funeral in Berlin
Billion Dollar Brain (I like that one, hush)
The Italian Job
The Man Who Would Be King
Hannah and Her Sisters
Mona Lisa
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

and The Quiet American, a late-career performance to treasure in a movie that should have been bigger.

I honestly think that's a filmography that can stand a bunch of padding with, well, crap. Although Yojimboen's joke is hilarious. Caine supposedly said something like "I have to do a low standard of film in order to maintain a high standard of living." Which is also funny. He's also known to be a huge cinephile and is one of the few actors who will happily jettison the "me me me" talk to tell you all about, say, Preminger's working methods or Oswald Morris's cinematography.

Julie Burchill once did an essay back in her America-bashing phase (that went after 9/11, is it back now? probably) about how Caine was fine as long as he made British movies and looking over his filmography I have to concede that Burchill has a point, give or take the odd exceptions.

Karen said...

Holy camoly, I can't freakin' believe I left off Robert Montgomery and Dick Powell, two actors who managed to reinvent themselves successfully as the carefree films of their earlier years turned darker.

My appreciation for Dick Powell has grown considerably in the last few years. Just last month I watched a decidedly minor film of his called Thanks a Million, but in which I thought he really distinguished himself. He was very good at reacting believably and creatively to his fellow actors, and coming up with bits of business that made his performances far richer than they otherwise might have been.

I prefer Montgomery's earlier films to Powell's and Powell's later films to Montgomery's, but I will always watch anything they're in.

About Caine--I don't think you need to defend yourself, Siren. Honestly? If his career of crap was dotted with nothing more than Alfie and The Man Who Would Be King, I'd still put him on the list. Add in Get Carter, Zulu, The Ipcress File and The Italian Job and he is a true force to reckon with.

The Siren said...

David, I think you are cheating with Robert Stephens. In his 60s heyday, when he was married to Maggie Smith, he was sexy. Not conventionally handsome, but very sexy, like in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. And didn't he appear mostly naked in gold paint in The Royal Hunt of the Sun? Not many others on your list would have risked that!

Yojimboen said...

Well this is stupid, reading other people’s lists when you’re writing your own, I mean…

Robert Stephens (his Pistol in Branagh’s version of Henry V will only break your bloody heart) and Takashi Shimura? Okay, they both have to go on the list… but where? The hell with it, erase and start again!

The Siren said...

You're experiencing what I call the forehead-smacking moment. There's always one. I mean, here Gloria had to go and mention Matsayuka Mori. And I personally love Ken Uehara in a couple of Naruses. And there was Paul Robeson too. And Douglas Fairbanks Sr. And yes, Takashi Shimura. And Ralph Richards, if only for The Fallen Idol but he also made The Four Feathers!

But I guess I am making this harder ...

The Siren said...

Ralph RichardSON, I mean. Blast.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Regarding Mr. Caine: Whatabout Play Dirty, The Wilby Conspiracy. Pulp or Dressed to Kill? I admit to a soft spot for Sweet Liberty because it has Michelle Pfeiffer and that scene with Caine and "The Lambeth Walk".

I did finally see The Dark Knight though, and liked what I saw of Caine, but the film in whole . . . meh.

The Siren said...

Dadgumit, I forgot Dressed to Kill! all the others you mention, yes, too, but Dressed to Kill.

**smacks forehead**

Operator_99 said...

Wonderful list - my work is cut out for me, and certainly there will be duplication, but at least I will make sure the pictures are different. And I will make sure they are not all from the twenties and thirties :-)

Tony Dayoub said...

Very exciting list, Siren. I can't believe you left off Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I must add Melvin Douglas, who I'd watch in anything, from "The Old Dark House" to "Hud," but especially in "Ninotchka." And Joel McCrea, and even Sean Connery and his one-size-fits-all burr.

No love for Spencer Tracy around here? Even the young, sexy Spence?

Dirk Bogarde. Alan Bates. Ian Richardson. Alastair Sim! Yes, I'm an Anglophile, wanna do something about it?

Happy new year.

Karen said...

Oh, Buttermilk Sky, good call: Melvyn Douglas!!

Alastair Sim: yes. And Alec Guinness, too.

Vanwall said...

I knew this list would bring out so many wonderful actors, so little space for recognition. Every name I read now is a forehead-smacker - watchurlanqwidgedare, Siren, remember your NYE resolution; I forgot Oscar Levant (other careers be damned!) and Roy Scheider and Aleksey Batalov. I consciously decided to be a bit of a H'wood-phile on this list, but that's a useless endeavor, I see. Too many men, so little time, seems to me I've heard that before. ;-)

mndean said...

Can I be a hypocrite and say how much I hate lists again? Hypocrite because right now I'm trying to help someone add to a list. Not a film list, but a list of sessions that a certain musician played on, because there's isn't a definitive one. Since it's research I don't feel too bad about it.

Mrs. R said...

I suppose I'm lovely only because you figured I'd read these posts, but I'll take the compliment.

Regarding Tyrone Power, I do dispute gay rumors but not bisexual ones.

The Siren said...

LOL Mrs R, I know I was buttering you up but I did mean it--I look forward to your infrequent appearances in my comments, and wish I could write some non-Power things that would draw you out from time to time. And I remember our first exchange quite vividly, and I also remember you saying that you imagined Power did sleep with men--the beauty and availability of so many in Hollywood lending itself to a freewheeling atmosphere. Which makes sense to me. Louise Brooks used to say that she envied people like Pepi Lederer their same-sex liasons, because they could do it knowing the papers wouldn't report it under most circs because, of course, that would mean acknowledging such people existed.

(if anyone wants to see the comments exchange MrsR and I are talking about, it's here.)

The Siren said...

MNDean, lists are fun as long as you don't take them too seriously. Or, rather, the blogger and/or commenters don't take them too seriously. I am not Sight & Sound or Cahiers and so if I leave off Robert Mitchum or ease Rock Hudson onto the list it will send no rumblings through the film-loving world, people will just think, "hmm, maybe she just saw Tarnished Angels again." (Actually, Glenn Kenny reminded me about it.)

Operator_99, your lists could be used to justify these lists by themselves so I very much look forward to it. I have also loved your Garbo posts. Very wise to let her speak for herself, describing Garbo is like describing the Pyramids.

Buttermilk Sky, I had a pang over Douglas and McCrea, both of them good and McCrea at least with a rising reputation. Tracy, though--he's wonderful in a bunch of films, don't get me wrong, but I can't shake the sense that he has been somewhat overrated. Especially if I sit down with something like Captains Courageous or Woman of the Year, where I just want to smack him.

And Tony, I guess that is why no Peck or Mitchum too. When I see Peck, I don't see just Atticus, I also see his wooden affect hurting The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and his utter lack of comic timing in Designing Woman. And with Mitchum, I think of times when he seemed barely present in something like The Way West. But ultimately, I can also leave them off knowing there are plenty of other people who will list them for the great work they did. (IMDB's bio of Mitchum starts off, "Underrated ..." Say what? if anything, these days it's the opposite!) But who will stick up for Hudson, I ask you? In fact, now that I am looking at it, I'm thinking my list is dominated by guys who get a lot of love anyway. Should have gone more David's route, but it's too late now.

Vanwall, YES to Oscar Levant. How I love him. Watched Humoresque the other day, struck by how very good it is in so many ways, but kept remembering Oscar Levant's quip to Joan Crawford as she sat endlessly knitting between takes: "Do you knit when you fuck?"

Exiled in NJ said...

A Shock To The System is my favorite later Caine.

Of all the stills of William Powell, you selected his most atypical. Boo, Hiss.

And Greenstreet without Lorre. Why they are almost like Laurel and Hardy.

As I type there are 46 comments, and no one has mentioned Sir Laurence. Hurrah! Somewhere, someplace, his ashes are spinning. I could include Archie Rice or Dr. Szell, but the man himself, no.

The Siren said...

Exiled, always so good to see you. Yeah, Olivier's reputation is not what it was in my youth, when it was accepted wisdom that he was the greatest actor in the world. I do like a lot of his early Hollywood work, and he was the definitive Mr. Darcy for me--Colin Firth was goodlooking but absolutely no match for Olivier.

Heh, well, the William Powell choice was deliberate although a totally atypical one might have been him old, gray and in a nondescript uniform for Mr. Roberts. I thought he roughed up kind of sexy, actually.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Why do you do that, mrs. R ? Tyrone's sexcapades have been well-documented by a wide variety of sources. Noel Coward didn't write "Mad About the Boy" in tribute to him for free ya know.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Oscar Levant.

He's what I thought grown-ups would be like when I got to that age. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered they weren't.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Doulas is truly teriffic in Two Weeks in Another Town or as the late great Stephen Havey called it The Bad and the Beautiful's Little Dividend.

Back in the 60's at the height of my film freak pack-rat days it used to play Chanel 42 (42nd street in New York) quite a lot. Two Weeks in Another Town spurred both an aprpeciation of Minnelli and shaped a lot of my ideas about what really imaginative directors (as aopposed to ticket-punching hacks) can do with even the most problematic material. I've always thought it would make a great double-bill with Godard's Contempt. My favorite moment is the "orgy" scene in Rome where Douglas wanders about muttering incoherently as a crowd of well-dress, obviously drugged-to-the-tits society swells stand motionless as Lieslie Uggams sings "Don't Blame Me' which upstairs Stephen Peck (the murderous "Rayomond" of Some Came Running makes love to Cyd Charisse) Douglas hears her mocking laughter and moves towards the starway where suddenly a "Vincent Minnelli yellow" chiffon scarf drifts down between Douglas and the woman he happens to be standing next to -- a pre-Rudi Gernreich Peggy Moffat (!)
He then runs upstairs grabs Cyd drags her out of the place and into a nearby sports car. Racing off into the night Minnelli remakes Lana's big nevervous breakdown car scene from The Bad and the beautiful but with Kirk and Cyd in the car.

They just don't make 'em like that anymore.

Gerard Jones said...

Ha! It's always fun to see a new list, so I can start thinking up my own version...but it's almost disappointing to find it so similar to my own! I laughed when I came to Jack Carson. Surely no one but me would ever put Jack Carson on a Top 20 list! (I thought.) And then just as I was thinking, "Heck, where's Mifune?"...there he was.

And yes, I too agree that Cary Grant is required to head these lists. In fact, we should probably just call these lists "Top 19 actors other than Cary Grant." Interesting how he rises to the top as the decades go by, isn't it? All those actors, all those styles, all those tastes, and yet somehow there really is one old Hollywood actor who weaves this nearly universal spell.

I was relieved to find one place I could break cleanly with you: John Wayne. That guy just bores the pants off me. Doesn't matter if it's young, lean Wayne, "classic" Wayne or crusty, grizzled Wayne. There are times I can see that he's *good*. But I never get that "Oh it's him" thrill. More of "Oh it's him" groan.

James Mason I find compelling in his younger days, but boy, do I find his later persona dull. By the time you get to that one about the Australian artist with Helen Mirren swimming around naked, I can barely stand to watch him. So him I would cut on the "whole career" grounds.

Laughton I like in small doses, but the very excesses that make him riveting for a moment wear me down over the length of a movie.

With three spaces freed up, I must leap to add Mitchum, a personal fascination of mine. Even in some dull movie about guys chasing a mountain lion, I find his sleepy eyes and slow-liquid emotions hypnotic.

Robert Ryan. So much crackling under his surface. And such a surface! He's also had few enough great roles that my scarcity issues kick in and I feel like I have to drink him all up whenever I see him.

A couple more men's men: Gable and Widmark. The former had a narrow range and coasted a lot, but I still just love watching and listening to him. The latter suffered some from the James Mason syndrome, abandoning youthful madness for middle-aged stolidity, but I also find something to like. And even at his most respectable, there's always a flicker of poor old Harry in his eyes.

I guess my most perverse individual choice is...Ralph Bellamy. I came to love him so much as the guy who always loses the girl to Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, or whoever, that now I like watching him in anything. Just seeing him enter always makes me laugh, even as FDR in Sunrise at Campobello. (I keep expecting him to lose Eleanor to Hume Cronyn.) There's something spooky about his eyes, too—a hint of a cruel streak—that jangles intriguingly with that dopey grin.

But now I'm two over, so I have to cut more of yours. I pick...Michael Caine and Sidney Greenstreet. (I nearly picked Gabin, but I thought if word ever got out that I'd cut Jean Gabin for Ralph Bellamy, I'd be ruined socially.)

X. Trapnel said...

Exiled, you just set MY ashes spinning with your swipe at my namesake (X stands for Laurence) and favorite actor, though it serves me right since I had been gloating earlier over the absence of Spencer Tracy (just try to imagine Regular Guy ST in the March [and where oh where is Fredrick March?] role in Best Years and think how his smugness would have ruined it).

Olivier remains for me a glorious actor and my favorite Shakespearian. Being known as The World's Greatest Actor is more a drag on a reputation than an enhancement and let's recall that the great theatrical knights all had erratic film careers (How much of Richardson or Redgrave do we have? Gielgud cashed in heavily only late in the day).

Except for about 4 names (at which I shall remain silently aghast) I am in head wagging, foot stomping agreement with the Siren's list. My favorite George Sanders moment is when he helps himself to the de Winter's lunch and asks Maxim's advice on how to live well without working very hard, a cold blast of Thirties reality rattling the Gothic proceedings.

Gerard Jones said...

I suggest a special honorable mention for Charles Lane. Not because he was any great shakes as an actor, but because no one can top him for that "Hey, it's that guy again!" joy.

Gerard Jones said...

David: Oscar Levant. He's what I thought grown-ups would be like when I got to that age. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered they weren't.

I think a lot of them were...before the emphysema and the cirrhosis winnowed them out.

Karen said...

In fact, we should probably just call these lists "Top 19 actors other than Cary Grant." Interesting how he rises to the top as the decades go by, isn't it?

Welcome back, Gerard!! And, yes, it IS interesting. I remember when my own video collection was growing, I was curious to see whether any one actor or actress stood out with his or her frequency; I would have expected it to be Cagney (for whom my love is well known to regular Siren readers) and so was shocked to see Cary Grant in a clear lead. Partly it's that he's been in just so darn many great films, but clearly he had a quality that just shines from the screen.

The Siren has been suspiciously quiet on my contributions to the discussion--as has been almost everyone else--so I am compelled to out Gerard as someone who supported my Dick Powell choice...off-list!

DavidEhrenstein said...

Gerard I adore Charles Lane too. What would the cinema be without him?

As for John Wayne, try Hondo. It's not Ford, Hwks or Hathaway. It's John Farrow.

And his leading lady is Geraldine Page. I saw it in its original 3-D format about two years ago and it's quite something. it's a western but Wayne is required t play a character who while "heroic" is quite outside what we've come to expect of his usual range. I've always enjoyed him (especially in lighter fare like Hatari! and Donovan's Reef) but after seeing Hondo I'm starting to suspect he's underrate.

Gerard Jones said...

Thanks for the welcome back, Karen! I had a traumatic experience several weeks ago: in a frenzy of unreproduceable creative I had just produced one of my most thoughtful and surely my best-written blog comment ever (a paean to the look and sound of early '30s Hollywood in answer to Siren's "Things I like about old movies" post) when my browser froze. Gone, all gone. It's taken me this long to find the courage to make myself vulnerable again.

I like Dick Powell because he was truly two completely different actors. Not even Peter Sellers created personae as contrasting as the Dick in the letterman sweater and the Dick in the battered trenchcoat. I can imagine hanging around drinking with Dick Powell between shots of Cry Danger and making fun of sappy '30s musicals. "Remember that overaged 'juvenile' they used to put in all those Ruby Keeler movies? Whatever happened to that idiot?"

And yet there's an essential Dick who shines through both. That self-satisfied smile that lets you know he's playing a game, and he's got the rules all figured out.

Okay, so...Dick Powell instead of Jean Gabin?

Karen said...

Funny you bring up Hondo, David. I'm the inverse of Gerard where Wayne is concerned--I used to ignore him utterly and then recently started actually watching some of the films he's best known for and discovered something truly to admire. I think the order was Rio Bravo, Red River, Hondo, and The Searchers.

I was struck, while watching Hondo, by the runway-model swing of Wayne's hips as he [literally] sashayed his way across the corral. I mentioned this to a friend of mine, whose husband teaches film studies at a nearby university, and she told me that when her husband screens John Wayne films for his students, they always assume the Duke was gay.

TCM, in one of their "fillers," had either an interview recorded with Ward Bond or someone who knew Wayne and Bond well. The two actors had played college football together, and Wayne always tried to find Bond a role in his films once he was in a position to do so. Their closeness gave Bond certain liberties, I guess: the story was that Wayne didn't like Page very much, so in the scene where they have their first kiss, Bond would keep on doing stuff to ruin the take, so that Wayne would have to keep doing the kiss over and over.


Gerard, I think you're dead on about Dick Powell, and have captured just what I was trying to convey. His reinvention of himself--his astonshingly successful and credible reinvention of himself--is one of the most impressive such attempts in Hollywood history, if you ask me. (I know; no one did.) So I admire both the acting and the process.

X. Trapnel said...

Five more among the missing ("I want them accounted for!"): Robert Donat, Max von Sydow, Gerard Philipe, Dana Andrews, and Christoper Plummer. And the absolutely indispensible Joseph Cotten!

X. Trapnel said...

Curious that nobody has mentioned William Holden...

Yojimboen said...

George Lazenby
Frank Stallone
Joe Dallesandro
Oops, sorry, wrong list…

…Dudley Moore
Roger Moore
Clayton Moore
Archie Moore…

Damnit, that’s not it either!

Ahh, here it is:

(The actors’ names are followed by one film title each – by way of illustration if you will.)

Leon Ames
From the Terrace
Thommy Berggren
Raven’s End
Gunnar Bjornstrand
Smiles of a Summer Night
Harry Carey
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Robert Donat
39 Steps 39!
Dan Duryea
The Little Foxes
Jose Ferrer
James Garner
The Americanization of Emily
Tim Holt/Walter Huston (tied)
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Trevor Howard
The Heart of the Matter
Takashi Shimura
Shichinin no samurai
Stan Laurel
Swiss Miss
Frank Lovejoy/John Hodiak/James Whitmore (tied)
Broad-shouldered, tent-pole actors all; when you saw their names you knew you were safe.
Fredric March
Middle of the Night
Kenneth More
Sink the Bismark
Nigel Patrick
Raintree County
William Powell
My Man Godfrey
Alastair Sim
The Happiest Days of Your Life
Anton Walbrook/Roger Livesey (tied)
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

X. Trapnel said...

Yojimboen, is there any space on left on List 1 to include Wendell Corey, Richard Beymer, John Boles, S.A. Brugh?

Vanwall said...

No Whit Bissell love here? I thought he was a required accessorie in films from the 40s - 50s.

Richard Basehart, too - the scene in "He Walked by Night" where he removes the bullet from his side with do-it-yourself-surgery is still the most harrowing scene ever, AFAIC.

I'll throw in some Dick Powell chips, myself - no one went from musicals to drama with such panache. And besides, he was Rex Shepherd in "You never Can Tell" - he was playing a dog, and he even out-acted the real dogs.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

So many good and watchable actors! And would I have to doff my Gladys Cooper mask in order to express my continuing love for Robert Ryan? Somehow the two names don't seem to fit together ...

"Caught" and "On Dangerous Ground" are on the short-list of films I'll see innumerable times.

To return to more seemly matters, however ... did I blink, or was Gary Cooper omitted? The Paramount Cooper is the one I had in mind, the Borzage-directed Cooper and the Cooper of "Design for Living." Also, of "The General Died At Dawn."

Yes, yes, I know, that last one ain't "Shanghai Express" -- but there *are* compensations. Notably hearing Cooper bend his mouth around such Odets-isms as "A fish on a dish could-a took me!"

Gerard Jones said...

Before we leave Dick Powell behind, let's one of us mention Christmas in July. You could call it a transitional role from Dick A to Dick B, what all those early-'30s Jimmys might have turned into after the world had knocked them around for a few years but before they got sent to the big house or became cynical private eyes. But I also think it's an utterly unique role, and my favorite of his. (Of course, Sturges so often led actors places no one else did.)

And Mrs. Vale, I too keep being tempted to put Cooper (specifying the Paramount Cooper, especially the funny Cooper) on the list. And Fred MacMurray. And Joel McCrae. (Although again I would say the younger, funnier McCrae.) In fact, looking back at Siren's list, I'd pick all those guys over Montgomery Clift and Edward G. Robinson at a pure I-like-'em level. But I don't want to overstack my list with tall, pre-war he-men who were also good at playing loveable clods.

The next thing you know, I'd be adding Randolph Scott too, and from there it's a slippery slope down to Robert Montgomery and Franchot Tone.

Operator_99 said...

Posted and available for viewing. Hopefully not to many duplicates.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Dick Powell is unique. The smiling boy tenor of the Warner Bros. musicals of the 1930's completely reinvented himself in the 40's as the tough-talking private eye of Murder My Sweet. Utterly unprecedented.

I like both Powells very much.

Joel McCrea is an actor of infinitely subtle erotic dynamite. Watch him in The More the Merrier and The Palm Beach Story Talk about "sex on a stick"!

When she won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing Emma Goldman in Reds Maureen Stapleton's last "thank you" was to Joel McCrea. No sooner was the name out of her lips than the camera cut to Warren and Jack, who were sitting right neXt to one another, and both can be clearly seen mouthing in incredulous unison "JOEL MCCREA???!!!!"

When asked about it in the press room afterwards Stapleton simply said "Oh I've just always loved him."

Karen said...

Joel McCrea as sex on a stick: can we go straignt to Bird of Paradise, please?

And, yes, Cooper was missing from the Siren's list (which I'd love to hear more about), but he was in my addition. I think I've mentioned in the past going to see the terrific 1931 Mamoulian film City Streets at the Film Forum. Coop's first appearance is the back of his head, which turns quickly to reveal his full glory in close-up. The entire audience GASPED. He was just that beautiful.

Gerard, I agree that Christmas in July is an interestingly transitional film for Dick Powell, though I confess I hadn't realized it before. A terrific film, with that wonderful Sturges combination of comedy and darkness.

But....Robert Montgomery and "slippery slopes"?? Are you just trying to get back at me for my Dunne-phobia??

Gerard Jones said...

David, speaking of McCrae, we mustn't forget Sullivan's Travels. Not much eroticism, as the character is pretty asexual (even Veronica Lake in a late night diner is just another pair of ears to listen to his self-obsessive woes), but he had to make some extraordinary character developments and dialogue believable, and he did so with an extra something that was all McCrae.

Okay. I'm putting Joel on my top 20.

Another one: Warren William. They used to call him the poor man's John Barrymore, but I'll usually seek him out before the original. Must be my shabby lower-middle-class upbringing showing.

And I will check out Hondo. Thanks for that. Maybe I just need to get over the anti-Wayne feelings I developed in my long-haired teen years in the '70s.

I am fond of Hatari. It was one of the first movies I ever saw in a theater, when I was five. Although at that age the only human actor I remember noticing was Red Buttons.

D Cairns said...

Slaps forehead.

I forgot Laird Cregar.

In defense of Robert Stephens as a non-sexy actor, I always felt his voice gave the impression that Robert Morley had somehow teleported into a younger man. I think that idea would put me off during the physical act of love.

I love The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. I think the qualities that make him unlikely as a leading man are what appeal to me most.

Now, Stephen's friends and fellow Sherlock, Jeremy Brett, was IMPOSSIBLY handsome as a young man.

Exiled in NJ said...

Seems like Henry Daniell pops up in half the films we've been watching lately. He takes the Rathbone part in Sea Hawk (being called Wolfingham, as if some descendant of Walsingham would sue Warners for defamation),then pops up as Cecil in Elizabeth & Essex. Wife loves to watch Rathbone's Holmes, and there is Daniell as Moriarity in Women in Green, but my favorite is his Mr. Brocklehurst in Jane Eyre, where he uses that word repeated by Ward Bond in a different connection in Quiet Man, "Juggernaut."

Daniell also helps in one of my favorite Laughtons, The Suspect, a retelling of the Crippen case.

btw, my late first wife also could only think of Olivier when it came to Mr. Darcy....ditto Olivier as Heathcliff [and when will we see that reissued on DVD.....I note they have finally gotten around to putting out Waterloo Bridge]

Unknown said...

Just for the fun of it, I'll throw in a few European oddballs:

Jean-Pierre Leaud: I don't know if he's a great actor, but because of his unique creative relationship with Truffaut (the Antoine Doinel films and others) he is admired by many.

Klaus Kinski: everybody's favourite crazy weirdo, both on and off screen, always over the top but with an intensity that is rarely matched.

Louis de Funès: comedy genius, along the lines of Donald Duck, probably not known at all in the US, but he was the most popular comedian on film in Europe during the 60s and 70s.

Gareth said...

I'd add in the French answer to Charles Laughton - and then some - Michel Simon; I find him compulsively watchable in that "what on earth will he do next" kind of way, and he's more than capable of making even the least distinguished films worth a look (though admittedly he never appeared in Jaws: The Revenge).

DavidEhrenstein said...

Oh Leaud is most definitely a great actor. But his association with Truffaut tends to get in many people's way of recognizing his incredible work for Godard (Masculine Feminine), Eustache(The Mother and the Whore) Garrel (La Concentration) and above all Rivette (Out 1)

X. Trapnel said...

Gareth, I think it's the "then some" of Michel Simon that made him a greater actor. To paraphrase Cyril Connolly, in every Laughton performance there's a George Arliss performance signalling wildly to be let out.

I'm not much surprised to see that nobody has mentioned Paul Muni

Exiled in NJ said...

Had Muni only stopped after Chain Gang and Scarface, he wouldn't be listed anyway since it would be too small a body of work, but these two polar opposite characters are amazing.

"He give 'em a writ of hocus pocus."

When someone asks me how I will afford retirement, I hiss "I'll steal."

crumit said...

Love the list. Hurray for Jack Carson! (Not so much for John Wayne...)

All that's missing is Michel Simon. And Alastair Sim. And Robert Ryan. And...

Gerard Jones said...

The mention of Klaus Kinski brings something to mind...I wonder if others experience it. I do like modern movies, and there are several actors out there now (Tony Shalhoub, Kevin Spacey, Simon Pegg, Robert Downey Jr., etc.) who fit the criteria of this list for me: I love seeing them come on screen, I'll watch a weaker movie just to see them be them.

And yet somehow I just can't compare them to actors from the first half of the 20th Century. Not that I think they're not as good...they just feel like they're in a different medium. When looking at the #20 spot I can more easily choose between, say, Gary Cooper and Raymond Walburn than I can between Ricky Gervais and Eric Blore. Does anyone else find this, or do I just over-compartmentalize?

LaBoheme said...

I don't think I can argue with a single person on either list... Though many of them I wouldn't have thought of to put on mine...

I think I'll have to post some on my blog in the next day or two...

Mrs. R said...

Excuse me, Tyrone Power's sexcapades with men are well-documented, and Noel Coward wrote "Mad About the Boy" for him? You've just revealed that your sources aren't very good. "Mad About the Boy" was written in 1932 when Tyrone Power was just out of high school. Why don't you mention his well-documented sexcapades with women? Guess you never read "On the Wing," "All Those Tomorrows," "Two Lives in the Theatre" etc. No one is saying he wasn't bisexual, but try referencing some correct info.

Yojimboen said...

82 comments into this and so far DCairns and I are the only two people who’ve posted the 20 names requested by our hostess? (I’m starting to feel like the idiot who didn’t get the memo that the party was no longer fancy dress and showed up in a tutu.) Or is it that I’m the only one here who doesn’t have his or her own blogsite?
(Gotta get me one a those! Meanwhile I wanna see LISTS!)

My own hope was to include as many names with little or no overlap with other lists; thus engendering an epidemic of forehead-smiting. But not a forehead smote. Not a sausage in fact. Better call my doctor and get an anti-esoteric booster shot.
Tough room. :-(

DavidEhrenstein said...

"Mad About the Boy" was written in 1932 when Tyrone Power was just out of high school.

Your point?

DavidEhrenstein said...

I think you're over-compartmentalized. I love Ricky Gervais but he's no Eric Blore.

No one is.

X. Trapnel said...

Happy to oblige, Yojimboen.

In no paticular order

1. Bogie
2. James Stewart
3. Errol Flynn
4. Laurence Olivier
5. Robert Ryan
6. Cary Grant
7. James Cagney
8. Claude Rains
9. Charles Boyer
10. John Garfield (Sure, sure)
11. Dana Andrews
12. Dan Duryea
13. Conrad Veidt
14. James Mason
15. Joel McCrae
16. Sydney Greenstreet/Peter Lorre
17. Jack Carson
18. George Sanders
19. Joseph Cotten
20. Leslie Howard, Ray Milland, Gerard Philipe, Richard Widmark, Robert Donat, Ralph Richardson

X. Trapnel said...

Xt! I knew I'd forget someone.

Fredric March

X. Trapnel said...

J.H. Xt!
William Powell

Gerard Jones said...

I want Yojimboen to know that I fully intend to produce that list, but I don't want to rush it. A Top 20 is a big commitment, after all. Not like a Top 10, which I still don't think I'm ready for. But big.

Thank you, David, for validating my intuition that Eric Blore simply cannot be compared, to anyone or anything. Sui generis is the applicable term, if I remember my Latin phrases.

And Karen, I love Robert Montgomery too. I'm just seeing the danger of creating an entire Top 20 list of '30s leading men with twinkles in their eyes. There's the makings of a great dinner party, but a boring list.

And thank you, Gloria, D Cairns and Yojimboen for lobbying for Takeshi Shimura! He holds a very special place in my heart, because he was a key player in the original Godzilla, a passion I share with my teenage son, and, of course, in many more conventionally "artistic" Japanese movies. But let no one question the importance or glory of Godzilla—not the butchered and Burrized American version, but the Nipponese McCoy.

In one year, Shimura appeared in Godzilla and Seven Samurai. Can anyone top that for a single moment of global cultural iconography?

(He just bumped Montgomery Clift off my list.)

Yojimboen said...

Mr. Jones – I’m happy to share in the Shimura love-fest.
Here he is in the Seven Samurai trailer in all his glory. (Incidentally at about 2:05 we see him armored against all this Siren-esque forehead-smacking.)

Re the other side-thread that’s simmering: Noël Coward and Tyrone Power?? Please, I’m still trying to get over Sir Larry and Danny Kaye! (Not to mention Tallulah and Hattie McDaniel!)
I have to lie down now.

Karen said...

Wait--Tallulah and Hattie?!?! Do tell!

I did know about Larry and Danny, though.

Yojimboen said...

Karen – read “The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood” By Diana McLellan

preview here
Then we’ll talk.

The Siren said...

Holy cats. I've been working (the Siren has a part-time day job now, one that doesn't involve small fry) and now I am lost as a ball in high jimson weed, as my grandmother used to say.

Karen, I would never ignore you, doll. I did sidestep Dick Powell, however, because he doesn't thrill me. (Here the Siren ducks to avoid the food thrown her way.) I don't dislike him at all, I never see his name and say "Oh shit" like I do with his longtime wife. He's always a fine and enjoyable presence. But he's never quite funny enough in the musicals for me, and never quite tough enough in the later films. Although ironically I think his comic timing improved in his noir roles. I love the bit in Murder My Sweet where Moose Malloy refers to his lost girl one too many times as "cute" and Powell snaps back, "All right, she was as cute as a cap pistol!"

I am going to bed now, tomorrow is my birthday, but I will come back and try to sort through the wheat and the chaff tomorrow.

The Siren said...

I mean wheat and chaff in terms of actorly likes/dislikes of course. The comments are all pure gold.

X. Trapnel said...

Ah, but have you heard about Slim Summerville and Leo Gorcey, Sr.? We know about it because the brother-in-law of the cousin of somebody or other who knew George Cukor's gardener's uncle's first wife's third cousin said so.

Yojimboen said...

I take your point, X.T – and not to belabor this thread-splinter, but the liaison betwixt Tallulah and Hattie was more than passing strange – what with Hattie living in Tallulah’s manse as part-time bedmate and part-time (unpaid) maid; the kind of scenario that could only be co-written by Margaret Mitchell and Harold Pinter.
I love this town!

Isabel said...

In reality "Mad About the Boy" wasn't written in 1932. It was written earlier and published and introduced in 1932. So far as I know, it was written for Cary Grant. Tyrone Power didn't become famous until 1936. I don't think Noel Coward would have found him in the midwest.

SteveHL said...

Siren, I believe that the actor in The Royal Hunt of the Sun was Christopher Plummer (a very fine actor himself)rather than Stephens.

X.Trapnel, I was about to say that almost all my favorite actors had been mentioned by someone here with one major exception, but then you included John Garfield.

I do want to include Keenan Wynn as well.

DavidEhrenstein said...

And Keenan Wynn inevitably leads to the recently deceased Van Johnson.

Karen said...

Oh, Siren--happy birthday!!

And I will accept your assessment of Dick Powell with good grace. We don't all have to agree, as long as well get along!

Unknown said...

This is so much fun. Glad somebody finally brought up Joseph Cotten. Like Spencer Tracy (who got Oscars for two of the worst movies he made) he was always good.

Herbert Marshall, anyone?

Maybe Siren can make us a list of actors whose names in the cast guarantee a shudder. You know, Mickey Rooney and Irene Dunne.

Karen said...

Uh-oh, Samson. Dissing Dunne brings down the Wrath of Jones. Trust me--I know. Be kind to Sampson, though, Gerard; he's a good friend of mine.

Yikes! Herbert Marshall!! How DID we miss him? You're right; any Herbert Marshall cast-sighting guarantees a look for me.

And the SIren DOES have an excellent post on actors and actresses that make her shudder--I'll try and find the link for you.

Karen said...

Here it is:


Gloria said...

"let's recall that the great theatrical knights all had erratic film careers"
Well, I'd say that there is one notable exception: Alec Guinness.

As for the rest, I think that the motive is a certain snooty attitude some people had in Britain towards film acting: many of those knights considered film acting (at best) as a second option, and a money-making one, most of the time. And it doesn't escape my attention that, in the old times, those Britons working mostly in the American stage and in Hollywood were mostly doomed to never receiving any honours. The old "great theatrical knights" were mostly working in the British stage, and mostly doing classics.

"Seems like Henry Daniell pops up in half the films we've been watching lately"
Daniell (acting-wise), hides in the supporting cast luke a tiger hides in the jungle, and is as deadly (in the George Sanders manner): anyone sharing the frame with him knows he's lost

"in every Laughton performance there's a George Arliss performance signalling wildly to be let out"
IMHO I wouldn't put Arliss and Laughton in the same box (and I'm not thinking just about the respective girths of the gentlemen)... It's just... hum, no, no teh same thing. Not at all, not in a godzillion miles.

But then I'm biased ;p. However I won't complain about those not warming to Laughton (though I might suspect they've missed some very interesting performances): everybody is entlitled to his/her own taste... For the same very reason, I don't criticise those who prefer watery decaf, even though I think that an expresso of Jamaica Blue Mountain is waay much better.

Yojimboen said...

Wish I shared a birthday with people as cool as Eartha Kitt, Betty White and Moira Shearer (Not to mention Carl Laemmle and Mack Sennett)!
Many happy returns, dear lady!

Gerard Jones said...

Happy birthday, Campaspe!

Samson, I'd never thought of Irene Dunne and Mickey Rooney at once. Fascinating co-starring possibilities come to mind.

Herbert Marshall almost makes my Top 20 on T in P alone. Unfortunately, he was too often asked to be the humorless Englishman who reminds everyone else of tiresome reality. Riptide, f'rinstance. Not his fault, but it causes a stir of apprehension when I see his name.

My great anomaly: Fred Astaire, I would venture, is my single favorite male movie star. I will eagerly watch any movie he's in, even if I'm certain the movie overall will bore me. I love to watch his movements and expressions, even when he's not dancing or singing. And yet I wouldn't rank him very high on my list of favorite "actors." Which just goes to show that movies are about much more than the established critical categories.

Ditto Buster Keaton. If not my second favorite male star, he's at least in a small pack of runner-ups. But he'd fall even lower than Fred as a favorite actor. Wouldn't even make the top 100.

ratatouille's archives said...

Hi! Self-Styled Siren,
Happy Birthday!
Here's looking at you kid!...I hope that you receive some nice gifts such as... all the "films" (on dvd) that your "heart" desire.
Take care!
dcd ;-)

LaBoheme said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LaBoheme said...

My original intention was to post 10 classic and 10 modern. But I couldn't stop there. So it's not 25 each.

I went on when they had the majority of success. If it was before 75, they're classic and if it was after, they're modern.

This will be the quick list, but I'll probably do pictures and reasons on my blog later.

Also note, this is not in order... I'd never finish if I had to place them.
1. Cary Grant
2. Peter O'toole
3. Humphry Bogart
4. James Stewart
5. Clint Eastwood
6. James Dean
7. Steve McQueen
8. Michael Caine
9. Laurence Olivier
10. Jack Lemmon
11. Charles Laughton
12. Lon Chaney
13. Charlie Chaplin
14. Buster Keaton
15. buster Crabbe
16. Paul Newman
17. Sidney Poitier
18. Eddie Cantor
19. Donald Sutherland
20. Warren Beatty
21. Maurice Chevalier
22. Boris Karloff
23. Christopher Lee
24. Toshiro Mifune
25. John Wayne

1. Viggo Mortensen
2. Johnny Depp
3. Phillip Seymor Hoffman
4. Christian Bale
5. Brad Pitt
6. Guy Pierce
7. Mickey Rourke
8. Sylvester Stallone
9. Gary Oldman
10. Al Pacino
11. Johnathon Pryce
12. Russel Crowe
13. Steve Buschemi
14. John Malkovich
15. Heath Ledger
16. Jeff Bridges
17. Jason Isaacs
18. Robert De Niro
19. Dustin Hoffman
20. George Clooney
21. Ralph Feinnes
22. Alan Rickman
23. Liam Neeson
24. Christopher Lambert
25. John Cusack

I'm going crazy over these, and I know I forgot people in both lists. But I'm going to stop here and jsut go with what I have.

Karen said...

Yojimboen, I followed your link to the preview of The Girls and, before I'd even finished reading the table fo contacts, I'd already linked over to Amazon and one-clicked it.

Hubba HUBBA.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Gerard, for taking my Irene Dunne phobia in stride.

Yes, T in P. But also, in two roles that aren't much like the one you name, Foreign Correspondent and Little Foxes. OK, he's preachy in the latter, but he's not supposed to be English. I think. He's not a truth-teller, much, in The Letter.

Main thing is that he's always good AND makes everyone around him look good. Did Laraine Day ever do better work than in Foreign Correspondent? Yes, she was also opposite Joel McCrea, whom I very much like for just the same reason. So that's why Marshall and McCrea and Spencer Tracy and several others named here appeal: they're going to help everyone else do a good job too.

LaBoheme said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LaBoheme said...

Gees... I completely forgot guys like Ian McKellan, John Hurt, Morgan Freeman, Fred Astaire and Marlon Brando.

And that's why I hate doing these lists.

On my blog I replaced Maurice Chevalier with Fred Astaire and replaced Lee withBrando...

X. Trapnel said...

Yojimboen, I reserve the right to skepticism regarding a number of those liaisons about which "everyone knows" even after they've been convincingly debunked. And, of course, some are true just now and again. But concerning other peoples's lives we are in the long run, as J.M. Keyenes didn't quite say, all wrong.

Gloria, yes Laughton is much greater than Arliss, but he did sometimes show a certain Great Men of History respectability and/or sentimental pathos. Not so Michel Simon. I wonder if Laughton's French analog is not Harry Baur.

A pity Herbert Marshall was so often reduced to pained forehead clutching. He was magnificent in Foreign Correspondent. I agree with Samson that L. Day gave her best performance in FC, but so what? She's still painfully inadequate. I see her character and Marshall's as amplifications of the that curious parting scene between Godfrey Tearle and his shy, clinging daughter in 39 Steps. If Joan Fontaine had played the role the romantic relationship with McCrae would have taken on another dimension. In the scene where JMc reserves a single room Day just plays it for Doris Day-style huffiness.

X. Trapnel said...

Oh, and happy birthday, Siren!

Gerard Jones said...

Samson, I also love Marshall in Foreign Correspondent and The Letter, and in several scattered other things, especially including Preminger's odd Angel Face. He also gets points for playing a character named Skinny in Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble. We may never have gotten our Irene Dunne-Mickey Rooney team-up, but we did get Herbert Marshall and the Mick.

I've never been able to get comfortable with him in Little Foxes, maybe just because my own family is from Mississippi and he's always seemed so utterly out of place. Not just the accent but the body language, the sad soulfulness of the eyes, everything. Even Bette managed to pass, but I'm sorry, there's never been anyone remotely like Herbert Marshall from Yazoo City to Pascagoula.

X. Trapnel said...

Chris Matthews just said that Obama reminds him of "an old-time movie actor named Ray Milland," [???] "who nobody remembers." [!!!]

Gerard Jones said...

Thank God he never reminded me of Ray Milland, or the campaign would have had one less phone-banker.

Mind you, I don't dislike Ray Milland, at least not in the right role. But an inspiring leader he ain't. I'd rather vote for Ralph Bellamy.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Ray Milland? In his dreams! He reminds me of Strother Martin.

On on a very different note --

Happy Birthday Campese!

Gerard Jones said...

Here at last is my list. In the spirit of not comparing apples to pommes, I’m restricting this to actors with extensive careers in the English-speaking cinema during the “studio era,” roughly before 1970. There’s no particular order, except a general drift from one archetype to another.

1. Robert Mitchum
2. Robert Ryan
3. Clark Gable
4. James Cagney
5. Joel McCrae
6. James Stewart
7. Robert Walker
8. William Powell
9. Warren William
10. Cary Grant
11. Charles Boyer
12. Dick Powell
13. Melvyn Douglas
14. Claude Rains
15. Ralph Bellamy
16. Jack Carson
17. Elisha Cook Jr.
18. Edward Everett Horton
19. Eric Blore
20. Franklin Pangborn

Then a whole bunch of guys just waiting around for someone to stumble: Richard Widmark, George Sanders, Fredric March, Joseph Cotton, Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper, William Holden, Raymond Walburn, Lee Tracy, Jack Palance, Charles Coburn, Mike Mazurki.

Honorable mention, for reasons mentioned before: Fred Astaire, Buster Keaton, Charles Lane.

And the two I was considering except that I was afraid you’d laugh at me: Ricardo Cortez and Don Ameche.

X. Trapnel said...

Good people, we've all forgotten Arthur Kennedy.

Gerard Jones said...

Of course I meant Joseph Cotten above, not Joseph Cotton. At least I didn't have Walter Pigeon on there too. Or Peter Lorry.

Karen said...

rrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, Gerard! I lurve Ricardo Cortez.

Gerard Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gerard Jones said...

So glad to find another Cortez fan--but not surprised to find it's you, Karen! I not only like him in many fun movies (Mandalay, Midnight Mary, the first Maltese Falcon), I just love the *idea* of him. Jewish boy goes from New York to Hollywood, gets rebranded as a Latin lover because they're hot, then sound comes in and he can't do a Spanish accent, so he starts playing wise-ass city toughs...but he's stuck with the name Ricardo Cortez.

And David: I don't see the physical resemblance between Barack Obama and Strother Martin, but I would love to see him open a cabinet meeting by firing a shotgun into the air and saying, "What we have here..."

Gloria said...

X. Trapnel, I see what you mean, and see how you can regard in this way some historical characters Laughton played, but then one could hardly call sentimental hisCaptain Bligh, Father Barrett, or Nero (this last one truly on the wacky side) ...And of course, there's more to Laughton than playing historical characters: two of my favourite roles are the ones he plays in "Island of Lost Souls" or "This Land is Mine", which are two performances which are as different as can be.

Re whether Laughton is comparable to Michel Simon or Harry Baur I can't say as, on one hand, I haven't seen Harry Baur at work (Though I hope to make amends for that when I get the Raymond Bernard -eclipse- box). On the other hand, well... Saying that Simon is the French Laughton (or viceversa) is like that Vittorio Gassman is the Italian Olivier (or that Anna Magnani is the Italian Hideko Takamine): each one of these gents has a distinctive style of his own which cannot possibly be translated ;) (I mean, I can imagine Gassman doing Hamlet, but can't imagine Olivier playing Brancaleone)

"but he's stuck with the name Ricardo Cortez."
And the funny thing is, his cameraman brother was known as Stanley... Cortez

Deborah said...

I was glad to see Leslie Howard in at least one comment; from The Scarlet Pimpernel to Pimpernel Smith, seeing him on screen makes me very happy. And can I also propose William Demarest? A Preston Sturges movie without him is almost inconceivable.

Vanwall said...

As a last thought, I'd find a way to shoehorn in Randolph Scott instead of John Wayne.

X. Trapnel said...

Gloria, I didn't mean to suggest that Laughton was anything less than great, and it's probable that in sheer magnitude of talent he was Simon's equal. The problem may be that actors and directors of the 30s/40s/50s had to work within the cultural constraints and expectations of commercial film less obvious than those imposed by the Code. A Boudu or Pere Jules would simply not have been allowable. A good example as late as the Now It Can Be Told fifties would be the film version of Miss Lonelyhearts (even the book's title was clearly too much). The cast is perfect (go back and read West; it's as though he anticipated Clift, Ryan, Loy, Stapleton), but the film is utterly tame. And consider the reception of absolutely unconstrained masterpieces like Kane, Ambersons, Vertigo. On the other hand, a film that constantly pulls its punches like Sunset Blvd. is acclaimed from the outset

Vanwall said...

M. X - I wouldn't say the three you chose as unconstrained were any such thing, altho they were closer to slipping the leads than many others.

Until the chain theaters and their lawyers were comfortable with showing something uncomfortable enough to resemble what was old hat in the literary world, the leashes were just longer, with more allowable implied.

One wonders who would be on these lists if the kind of scalding to the bone that the average reader could pick up at a newsstand or bookstore had been the used as the standard for unconstrained in the theaters all along.

Gloria said...

X. Trapnel, I agree with you that non-American films films, scripts and actors were non-restrained by the code, and that allowed Michel Simon and others to act with more freedom. Tough able actors in American movies were still capable of suggesting what wasn't in the script with the gleam of the eye ;D

X. Trapnel said...

Vanwall, I can't agree about the three film I cited. Let's start from the unarguable position that every artist begins with self-imposed restraints in order to find the form and style that will convey the desired aesthetic effect. Secondly, all works of art are embedded in particular cultural and historical situations that limit possible forms of expression; George Eliot could not of written Joycean stream of consciousness. So the two Welles films while products of Hollywood utterly dispense with certain Hollywood indispensibles: there are no "stars," the stories are not particularly edifying, there is no real romance in either, nor an appeal to romantic fantasy or sympathetic identification. Vertigo, as Geoffrey O'Brien has pointed out certainly has the look of the 50s luxury film, but utterly subverts its conventions. Think of all those fashion show scenes in 50s films and then think of the (excruciating) dress store scene in Vertigo. Whenever I see Novak's ghostly coat in the redwood forest I am always reminded of those conical/nosecone coats worn by Doris Day (which seem always ready to blast off toward Moscow and points east at the slightest tremor on the DEW line.) In the same spirit, I've always felt that Norman Bates was among other things a send up of all those "sensitive" adolescents played by Brandon de Wilde.

I could go on...

X. Trapnel said...

Gloria, I couldn't agree with you more about what the actors of the 30s-50s were able to achieve under constraint, much more, I think, than the untrammeled performances of today. There is the still melancholy thought of what might have been. Since Deborah shares my love of Leslie Howard I would note that only in Pygmalion do we see him unconstrained; Shaw gave him all the room he needed and we are all the richer for it. Would that there were more.

Vanwall said...

M. X - "there are no "stars," the stories are not particularly edifying, there is no real romance in either, nor an appeal to romantic fantasy or sympathetic identification." - Kane and the Ambersons would qualify for the first, but that's not a constraint, particularly - if anything it's an opportunity; "Curse of the Cat People" had a much bigger handicap in that regard and possibly the worst title ever, a very high hurdle for such a cerebral film to overcome on any marquee back then, and I consider it to be as least as unconstrained as any of these three; Vertigo is a star vehicle without a doubt.

All were certainly edifying, frighteningly so, which may have been the source of their troubles; the element of romance was there - it was minor, true, except in Vertigo's case: it's major, and it's certainly fantasy, blended with tragedy. I posit the eras that Kane and Ambersons were set in were part of the romantic fantasy in themselves - nostalgia is a powerful emotion in the right hands.

The sympathetic identification may have been for the supporting players in Kane and Ambersons, not necessarily a bad thing, but Jimmy Stewart was obviously set up to be sympathetic in Vertigo. Above all, Ambersons was mangled by the Studio, and certainly not unconstrained.

Even the lowly pulps were more true to human nature than Studio efforts - Haycox's brutally efficient and hauntingly lyrical pulp western, "Trouble Shooter", while not as graphically adult as some novels just a few years later, at least told it like it was about death, lust, and love - only to be bowdlerized and prettified into "Union Pacific", just another sturdy, mom & apple pie Studio product. I won't even go down the Hammett/Chandler/Woolrich path - there's some unsympathetic, un-romantic, un-edifying hard core stuff there that also got stomped by convention on screen.

Even one of my favorite soapy H'wood efforts, "From the Terrace", was hardly more than lip service to the basic O'Hara plot lines - it would've been too distasteful for the Code to allow, and it was a best-seller with a wide audience.

I know these aren't Fine Literature, particularly, but the popular kind of books were already way past the conventions the Studios were trying protect, and I really wonder what some of these actors could've done with some real unconstrained material.

X. Trapnel said...

Vanwall, I don't really think we disagree much here regarding the films themselves, but are defining our critical terms diffently. God knows I'm not opposed to nostalgia or romance, but I think in Ambersons nostalgia signifies the pain of loss rather than a sentimentalized view of a past that never was (this is what I meant by convention, just as I meant "edifying" in a sense that Joseph Breen would endorse). Similarly, by identification I meant projection of the self onto an idealized image. Yes we cetrainly do sympathize with Ray Collins' and Agnes Moorehead's characters but certainly do not want to "be" them. In other words, Ambersons does not cater to fantasy as most--even the great--Hollywood films do. I never suggested that Vertigo is anything but a star vehicle but Stewart's towering performance goes not only beyond his "lovable" image, but well past his great work for Anthony Mann. He is set up "sympathetically" at the beginning of the film, but by mid-point we are already aghast and for the rest his moral compass is spinning like Saul Bass' whorls. For me this still the most daring and disturbing performance in American film; nothing from the supposed innovators Brando/Dean/Clift comes near.
I think of Hitchcock as the Anglo-American answer to surrealism, our Breton, our Magritte/Delvaux.

I am a Lewton fan and agree about Curse of the Cat People and what the pulps could do on paper but lose on film. Only read the novel, Phantom Lady

Gerard Jones said...

Gloria, thank you for reminding me of Stanley Cortez. That is one of the great screen names ever. I can just picture him hanging out in the barrio with his friends Melvin Gonzales and Sidney Garcia.

Good cinematographer, though. Obviously didn't get the work just because his brother was a Latin lover.

Gerard Jones said...

In fact, Magnificent Ambersons was Stanley C's, wasn't it? I love how these Sirenian conversations interweave.

X. Trapnel said...


Hollywood of the golden age is like a great ecosystem of deep roots, wondrous exfoliation and everything, flora and fauna, comingling and intertwing, a fantastical, enchanted landscape.

Despite all the considerable talent around this is no longer true of film culture, but I love this site for the afterglow. Sirens are, after all, fantastical beings.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Other Stanley Cortez credits include The Night of the Hunter and Shock Corridor

Vanwall said...

Speaking of interweaving - Stanley Cortez was the cinematographer on "The Naked Kiss", which had as a supporting player: Betty Bronson, who starred in the silent film "The Cat's Pajamas", with...Ricardo Cortez.

X. Trapnel said...

Ive often wondered whether Stanley Cortez and Sam Fuller had been taking a good, long look at The Twilight Zone before making Shock Corridor...

Vanwall said...

I wish Cortez had looked the other way when asked to do "The Night of the Hunter" re-make.

Vanwall said...

Both Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss have that flat TV look to them a bit, I think, so Cortez was watching something - Hmmm, maybe Fuller was using a Capt. Video episode. ;-)

Now, The Naked Kiss, there's an unrestrained piece of work - years ahead of Bonny & Clyde, even the violence was groundbreaking.

Gerard Jones said...

X, I love the "great ecosystem of deep roots." Even more than the "city of nets."

X. Trapnel said...


Those roots go deeper and wider than many are ready to acknowledge. David Thomson got the point: "Chaucer knew [Errol] Flynn." So much of the fascination of old Hollywood is the coming together of so much unprocessed talent, from so many places/cultures, in so many areas of filmmaking creating a new art form at a time and as a product of so much historical upheaval, chaos, and volcanic creativity. How else can we explain the sheer existence of Peter Lorre?

Tonio Kruger said...

Happy belated birthday, Campaspe.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Add me to the list of those who, if the remote is lost, will unplug the set to avoid Mickey Rooney.

Interesting -- not a single vote for Walter Matthau, a huge star not so long ago. Or Jason Robards, who doesn't leap into my mind when you say "movie star," but is someone I always enjoy.

Charles Lane! He delivers one of the best lines in "42nd Street" ("In a star it's temperament, but in a chorus girl it's just bad taste") and he isn't even billed. I guess this is one of the reasons they needed a Screen Actors Guild.

panavia999 said...

Glad you mentioned Jack Carson. He always makes me smile.