Fall is by far the Siren's favorite season. As soon as the temperature drops, her energy goes into overdrive and her family is confronted by the spectacle of the Siren, once so listless in the heat of the summer, standing in front of the pantry proclaiming, "I know! Let's alphabetize the spice rack!" From October to December is the best part of the year, as far as the Siren is concerned.
And Thanksgiving is the Siren's favorite holiday, elegant in its simplicity, devoid of anxieties like presents and whether you should put colored or white lights on the Christmas tree--although, for the record, the correct answer is colored. Anyway. Thanksgiving. You get together with people you love, and you eat. A lot. And the prospect of this happy event always makes the Siren philosophical. She walks around the house pulling unwatched DVDs off the shelf and instead of thinking, "Oh criminy, I haven't seen anything," she thinks, "Oh criminy, I haven't seen anything. Isn't that marvelous? Look at all these unwatched entries in the filmography of Hedy Lamarr, just out there waiting for me. Hey Mom! Whatcha doing? Let's watch Experiment Perilous!"
So the Siren thinks back over this year's moviegoing and reflects that in her view, a certain generosity of spirit is by far the most rewarding way to approach film. There will always be names in the credits that make the Siren's heart tingle with joy, and others that cause her to mutter something along the lines of, "All right, Gina Lollobrigida, get it right this time." The great philosopher Wile E. Coyote once said, "Even a genius can have an off day." The flip side of that is, as another great philosopher once said, "Every movie is another chance." Maybe the Siren has seen twenty movies in which Buddy Ebsen irritated the ever-loving hell out of her. (Technically, that's more like ten movies, but hear a Siren out.) Who's to say that number twenty-one won't be the time when she finally says, "Well played, Jed Clampett!"
It could happen. In fact, it has happened. Well, not with Buddy Ebsen, but with others. Three years ago the Siren, in a puckish spirit, put up a list of actors who usually fail to charm her. But now that the Siren has alphabetized her spice rack and rearranged her scarf drawer and she is feeling all cozy and right-with-the-world-ish, she finds herself moved to recall that making a film is incredibly goddamn difficult. It is, and always has been, miraculous that great ones get made. It is miraculous that good ones get made. The Siren is thankful for that, and thankful to those who do good work, even in mediocre films.
The spirit of Thanksgiving, says the Siren, is the spirit of being happy with what you've got. Turkeys are nonrefundable. And not all of those actors served up turkey every time, far from it. So, in celebration of the Siren's favorite holiday, she offers an amended list of amends to 11 of the 20 actors she once griped about. Ebsen, Red Skelton, Dan Dailey, David Wayne, Dolores Del Rio, Betty Hutton, Helen Hayes, Maureen O'Sullivan, Ruby Keeler, even (though this last is a faint, forlorn hope) Sonja Henie, who knows--the Siren hasn't seen their every movie, and better things may await.
1. Bing Crosby. Kim Morgan's wonderful post on him, and The Futurist's enthusiasm for the Road movies, make the Siren realize she was too way hard on Der Bingle. He was a lot, lot more than Father O'Malley. The Road movies are, in fact, some kind of genius, at times as weirdly surreal and funny in their way as the Marx Brothers, if bereft of the Marxes' full-on insanity. And while Bob Hope is most of what the Siren loves about the Road movies, they don't work without the very Bing Crosby "phoniness" that the Siren was bellyaching about. Furthermore, the Siren loves White Christmas.
2. Pat O'Brien. The Siren liked him a lot in several things she didn't mention, including Bombshell and Virtue.
3. Robert Taylor. Rewatched bits of Party Girl, Undercurrent and High Wall; saw him in Conspirator. Asexual Taylor was not, at least not at his best, and as the man also said, it's by our best work that we all hope to be judged.
4. Richard Conte. The Siren was thinking mostly of I'll Cry Tomorrow and Whirlpool when she listed him, although she did acknowledge his terrifying work in The Big Combo. But Conte was also good in New York Confidential and marvelous in The Godfather. Not a particularly versatile actor, but since when did that matter to the Siren, if the performances within the range were good?
5. Ronald Reagan. The Siren should have emphasized how very much she does like him in Dark Victory and King's Row.
6. Glenn Ford. Made a great villain in 3:10 to Yuma. Should have played more heavies, thinks the Siren.
7. Peter Lawford. The Siren loves the way Cluny Brown plays with his layabout image, and gets immense pleasure from his final line in Easter Parade: "Nadine, get out all the hounds. We're going for a walk."
8. Jeanette Macdonald. She really is swell in those Lubitsch musicals.
9. Gina Lollobrigida. Love her in Come September, one of those Mad Men-era confections that the Siren can't resist.
10. June Allyson. Yes, the Siren said JUNE ALLYSON, and it's Trish's fault. Trish reminded the Siren about Executive Suite. All right, the Siren isn't crazy about Allyson in Executive Suite, but she does not ruin the movie. And the movie is good. And the Siren is still trying to see The Shrike.
11. Last, but most certainly not least, the woman who inspired this entire post: Loretta Young. Gretchen, the Siren Done You Wrong. First off, was any other actress so utterly hobbled by the advent of the Production Code? There's Young, keeping unwed house for Spencer Tracy's ghastly character in Man's Castle, and committing adultery with no less a wolf than Warren William in Employees' Entrance. And she's fresh and natural and unaffected and sexy and when she's on screen you are perfectly happy to have her stick around as long she wants. Next thing you know, it's 1937 and she's in Cafe Metropole and what the Siren mostly thinks about Young in that movie is "Siddown, you're blocking my view of Tyrone Power." Still, even Loretta's later career was unfairly treated by the Siren. Cause for Alarm! is an extremely tidy, suspenseful domestic noir and Young's later buttoned-up, tightly controlled manner works perfectly for the suburban character. As indeed it does in The Stranger. The Siren caught Young last year in Wife, Husband and Friend which was fun--it won't stir the lumps out of your gravy or anything, but a very diverting comedy. And, as the Siren remarked at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, if the Siren absolutely has to watch a nun movie, Come to the Stable is pretty cute. Hand on heart, the Siren is going to be much kinder about Young in the future.
Wait a minute…"Hey Mom! Whatcha doin'? Do you realize neither one of us has ever seen Zoo in Budapest?"
Happy Thanksgiving. May all your turkey be on the table, and not on the screen.