Monday, May 19, 2008

I Do Not Like Them, Sam-I-Am

Have you seen the Live Journal of Amy-Jeanne, It'll Take the Snap Out of Your Garters? Along with several others, it's become one of the Siren's favorite eye-candy spots. Like most classic movie fans Amy is an enthusiast by temperament, but a couple of weeks ago she did a two-part post on "celebrities I either don't like, I'm kinda 'meh' on, or those ones it took me a while to like."

The Siren generally writes about artists she loves, and the ones she doesn't she leaves alone. Still, not even the Siren can like everyone. This seemed an interesting idea for a post--which classic stars (roughly, pre-1960) does the Siren avoid? (The same idea could apply to directors of course, but the Siren has no desire to see blood on the walls. Director dissing gets vicious, fast.)

It's a pretty short list, easily trimmed to an even 20. (A contemporary list would have been much, much longer, alas.) When it comes to old movies the Siren likes to think she has catholic tastes. Almost all of these actors have done something the Siren likes, just not often enough to give her any enthusiasm for the performer. The Siren also reserves the right to change this list without notice, if she happens to discover somebody being brilliant in something she hadn't seen before.

As Amy-Jeanne says, "all these celebrities are cool by default because they are from the 'old days,' but I just never felt any magic from them and this is just my personal opinion." The Siren isn't trying to upset anybody, this is just for fun, with a line or two to explain why this person doesn't do it for me.

In no order at all:

His dancing mannerisms irk me no end--the way he sucks up his face like a duck and tucks in his too-long limbs.

Certainly he was good at times, but even his best performances have an element of phoniness to me.

Reliably dull. Adequate, but never more, in a number of excellent movies.

Bores me to death. As do all Rat Pack movies. And the Kennedy connection.

Same performance in every movie, always tough and upright, upright and tough.

I get really crabby when I feel like an actor is demanding that I be charmed. That's Wayne in every role, worst of all in Adam's Rib.

Handsome, god knows, but so asexual. The Siren has never seen him in a convincing love clinch.

The Siren generally forgets Dailey about five minutes after the end titles have rolled, It's Always Fair Weather notwithstanding. I do love him personally, though, for a story he told about Betty Grable. He claimed she got angry on the set of a film and snapped at him, "Do you know why I'm doing this picture? I thought they said Dan Duryea."

Just not funny to me. Plus, apparently, I get him mixed up with Red Buttons. (Thanks, Dan.)

Genuinely frightening in The Big Combo, but mostly a big block of wood on screen.

Reportedly he got a lot more upset at people who said he couldn't act than those who said he couldn't govern, which is kind of endearing. The Siren still avoids his movies for the most part. In Dark Victory he had charm, and he was very good in King's Row, but somehow he never built on that performance. Generally he seems to be doing a very low-grade amalgam of Errol Flynn and Gary Cooper.

An annoying voice, a pile-up of girlish mannerisms carried way into adulthood and a permanent puppy-dog expression. The one actor in this list whose presence in a movie causes the Siren to dive for the remote control every time. As you can guess from Peter Lawford's name above, Good News is playing on a loop in the Siren's personal Hell Plaza Octoplex.

It's a pity she came along before models earned a good living, because that is essentially all Del Rio was in her movies.

I don't know what she was like in life, but on-screen she gives the most amazing impression of overbearing self-love.

Every once in a while Fox Movie Channel shows one of her movies, just to remind the Siren that not everything old is classic. Or even watchable.

Usually nails on a car door to the Siren, but a stitch in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. Which proves that Preston Sturges could make anyone funny.

I'll say one thing for her, she makes you appreciate Sophia Loren's acting talent.

As Auntie Mame said about Patrick's fiancee, "a mean mouth." To the Siren, she always acts as neurotic as she looks in that still. Screechy voice, graceless movements, zero sex appeal.

The Magnolia Cupcake of classic movie stars, decorative but way too sweet. She did give a nice performance in The Story of Alexander Graham Bell. The Siren hears good things about Man's Castle (another movie in Borzage DVD purgatory) and also Zoo in Budapest, but who the hell has seen Zoo in Budapest? (Edited: Besides Karen. And Dan Callahan.)

First Lady of the American Theater, unforgettable on stage by all accounts and a swell lady--but she usually had no idea what to do on screen, not in the 1930s nor later in Airport. Just you sit through The Sin of Madelon Claudet and tell me if you don't emerge with a new appreciation for Lana Turner in Madame X. (Hayes did nail it once, however, in Anastasia, where her recognition scene with Ingrid Bergman has the Siren in tears every time.)

The Siren is thawing out toward Ruby as time goes on. But like Lina Lamont, she can't act, she can't sing, she can't dance. A triple threat. That's the prettiest picture of her the Siren has ever seen, however.


Karen said...

Siren, I have seen Zoo in Budapest. But you knew that, didn't you?

I also liked Young in Employee's Entrance. I prefer her when she's lithe and nubile, before that overbite of hers gets in the way of her performances.

You hit two of my all-time nail-scratchers: Robert Taylor and June Allyson. (Making a remake of The Women is bad enough--I'm looking at you, Diane English--but making it into a musical with June Allyson is practically criminal.)

Others of mine include Jeff Chandler, Victor Mature, Charles Coburn, Irene Dunne (except in The Awful Truth), and several whose names will occur to me as this thread picks up steam!

The Siren said...

Unfortunately there was no one around to lay odds on whether you'd seen Zoo in Budapest, but it would have been a sucker bet anyway. The only suspense I could create would be in finding out whether Peter Nelhaus has seen it too, and which one of you posted first. :D

Oh man, Jeff Chandler totally belonged on this list. I guess I forget him even more than I forget Dailey. Everybody says "oh he's really good in Broken Arrow!" but no, he really isn't.

Dan Callahan said...

I agree with pretty much all these choices, in particular the mean-spirited Robert Taylor and the relentlessly cutesy-poo June Allyson. She's supposed to be good cast against type as the wife in "The Shrike," but I'll believe it when I see it.

I'll see your Pat O'Brien and raise you a Frank McHugh, who is in EVERY Warners film from the thirties doing his Irish drunk act. Frank McHugh has really been the bane of my existence for a number of years.

Red Skelton...God, so unfunny. It was Red Buttons, though, who was in "Sayonara."

I've seen "Zoo in Budapest," a wonderful film, but Loretta Young is pretty in it, and that's about it for her.

David Wayne is shrill in most of his comedy things, but he really is terrific in Joseph Losey's remake of "M." It's a real shocker...he not only doesn't embarrass himself in the Peter Lorre role, he is quite good in his own right. It's a "who knew?" moment.

Finally, I'd say a word for the beauty, at least, of Dolores Del Rio. She really is stunning to look at in Vidor's "Bird of Paradise"---the middle-aged photo you chose doesn't really do her justice.

Uncle Gustav said...

I'm with you on all but Gina and Loretta...sweet, sweet Loretta...I'd watch anything they were in, and who cares if they can act?

The Siren said...

Dan, how embarrassing, and poor Red Buttons, who come to think of it was a pretty good actor who was also memorable in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? My posthumous apologies to him, and thanks for the correction. Skelton, gah. Even Lucille Ball couldn't make him funny.

Frank McHugh never irritated me and in some things I find him quite funny. No one will ever accuse him of versatility, however. As for David Wayne in M, I'll file that alongside The Shrike in the "okay, maybe" pile. You've definitely intrigued me though.

To me one of the things about Del Rio is that her beauty didn't change that much from year to year; she probably had a portrait up in the attic somewhere because no one seems to know how she did it. Here's a link to Operator-99's picture from Bird of Paradise so readers can judge for themselves. She was a phenomenal beauty, just not to my personal taste.

Patrick Wahl said...

I agree with most of your choices that I know, although a bunch of those actresses I've never seen. Kind of disagree on Bing, probably because I don't have any expectation of a good performance, that is, he is just a movie star type actor, where he is there because he is an affable screen presence, and he probably had audience good will from his singing career. His acting skills are adequate for roles requiring a limited range (we had this discussion before when you put him on your list of 5 worst Best Actor winners). I like Glenn Ford for his westerns, which you may not have seen if you aren't (I think this is true) a fan of westerns. I think he was pretty good in them, 310 to Yuma for one.

Good topic, if I wanted to spend some time at IMDB I think I could dredge up a bunch of them, I see some faces in my head but their names escape for the moment, but here are a few - Vincent Price just gives me a vibe of being an oddball. Paul Douglas, opposite Linda Darnell (Everybody Does It), absolutely a disaster for that role. Jane Wyman in those Sirk movies, just drips with sincerity, ack. McDonald Carey (again, one role like Douglas) in Shadow of a Doubt, pretty much a non-entity on the screen. I'd agree on Jeff Chandler, seems to be trying too hard in most of his roles and one of those actors who you just couldn't imagine doing comedy.

I think you could subtitle this post - If you ain't got it, you aren't going to get it. That is, for me a lot of it comes down to screen presence, and if you don't have it, you can't get it.

shahn said...

I agree with all of your choices, especially Ruby Keeler. In every movie I've seen her dance, she's staring at her shoes and seems to need her arms outstretched to keep her balance. She bumbles her lines and just looks plain scared at all times.
I have no idea why she is still often promoted as a major musical star- especially by todays standards.

Greg said...

I think the fact that few of these are big stars these days to the average filmgoer (if any of them) and the fact that you don't like them fall into the same category of definition. Certainly anyone coming here knows every last one of them but there's a reason the average filmgoer knows who Cagney, Hepburn, Stanwyck, Davis, Tracy, Brando etc. are but not
necessarily Robert Taylor, Betty Hutton and Jeanette MacDonald.

They had what it took to be successful in their time but not whatever the hell that thing is that makes you an eternal star. And there are even more that were big in their day that don't even approach Ruby Keeler's modern day recognition.

My wife and I often discuss it when watching an old mediocrity running in the early morning hours on TCM. There are so many actors now forgotten because they just don't translate through the ages.

It's the reason that, and I'm being completely honest, I knew before I even scrolled down that you would not have James Cagney, Bette Davis, et al on your list. They're remembered for a reason and that reason doesn't have to do with bewildering people as to their popularity.

I think about everyone who makes films today and how many will be forgotten in 50 or 60 years. At any given time there are hundreds of lead and supporting actors who are known and working and yet through the years it whittles down until there are but a few left.

When I was a kid I remember seeing William Atherton everywhere. He was in The Sugarland Express, there he was again in Day of the Locust and again in Looking For Mr. Goodbar, The Hindenburg and so on. Then he fell to supporting, then minor supporting (Ghostbusters, Die Hard) then appearances on popular tv shows. For a brief time he was a lead as were many of the names you chose. But he was never a star. Something about him just didn't work for too many people and he was selected out (by the way, I think he's a fine actor, but not exceptional).

What I'd like to see from you (I'm not actually asking for this but it would be interesting to see) is a list of actors, big actors, STARS, that you love but for whatever reason their performance in this movie or that just left you cold. I have a long list there for nearly every beloved actor in my book.

I also see the occasional actor from the thirties that is generally unfamiliar even to most cinephiles and think, "Why isn't she/he famous?" The top of my list there would be Glenda Farrell who I thought was just terrific in everything she ever did but she fell off the map and even when she was on it she rarely made it out of B-Movieville.

(Sorry for such a long comment - JL)

Greg said...

Oh and by the way, I was just reading John Kobel's lovesong to Jeannette MacDonald is his book Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance just yesterday (he thinks she's the tops) and scanned a candid photo taken from the very same movie in the very same scene of the pic you chose for her. Now I'll have to put it up soon before everyone turns against her.

Patrick Wahl said...

J. Lapper - good comment, I have a slightly different explanation. It occurred to me when thinking of why I hadn't seen some of those actresses (Ruby Keeler, Jeanette M.) is that they just didn't make movies that have survived their own time. Probably the reason is they were recognized at the time as "B List" actors, so didn't get the good roles or work with the best directors. Maybe not being a top rank actor is compounded by then being excluded from the best movies, so they are making due with weaker scripts.

The Siren said...

Charles, welcome! I haven't discussed one in yonks but I'm happy to say you're wrong about me & Westerns. I love them, although I'm not a hardcore fan enough to sit through a lot of the real programmers. I did a post of my favorites a while back. I had 3:10 to Yuma in mind (along with others like Gilda and The Big Heat) when I said he Ford was adequate, no more. Those are very good movies and he's good in them but he's never transcendent in anything, not to me. In The Big Heat, Lee Marvin and Gloria Grahame are the ones you remember.

The Siren said...

Jonathan, on the one hand I see your point and on the other hand I think Mr. Noland is onto something as well. Macdonald was in a genre that hasn't stood the test of time, for whatever reason. I would say without hesitation that she was more talented than Ruby Keeler but Keeler is probably better known to modern audiences because of 42nd Street, which many non-cinephiles are still familiar with. It really takes only one movie. To go back to an old fave, if you take away The Maltese Falcon then Mary Astor, dearly as I love her, becomes a name solely for buffs.

As I was taking my kids home from dance class on the bus, I realized another name I forgot, ironically (if you've read her memoirs) right along with Chandler: ESTHER WILLIAMS. I loved her book, on talk shows she's darling and I'm so glad she's still with us, but damn if I can get into the aquatic musical. And her own account of the "acting" instilled in her by MGM's coach is hilarious.

The Siren said...

Flickhead, I'm convinced I'll be reading people saying the same thing about Scarlett Johannson years from now.

I just saw Trapeze again last week and what WAS going on with Gina's makeup in that one? her face looked positively gray in that last trapeze scene.

The Siren said...

Shahn, Ruby WAS in an awful lot of classics, even if most of us just see her as filler until Ginger or Joan shows up.

Uncle Gustav said...

I've yet to see Trapeze, but the makeup was by Louis Bonnemaison, who went on to several Chabrol pictures!! Could be he was distracted by Gina's curves...either that, or the print was blemished.

Your piece has me toying with the idea of writing a "I'll See Anything With..." article.

The Siren said...

Well, my next theory was going to be that she pissed off the makeup artist.

that's a very good post idea, I may steal it myself.

Dume3 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Siren said...

dume3: well, I have to admit that's a bold choice, like Amy-Jeanne admitting that she doesn't care for Cary Grant. You're both bonkers, of course, but it's a bold choice. :D

Dume3 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Siren said...

She loves the really old 1930s pre-code stuff and a lot of silent actors, so her idols are women like Clara Bow, Joan Blondell and Ann Dvorak and a few later ones like Dorothy Lamour. In terms of men I know she has said she thinks Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd are very sexy, and I seem to recall she likes William Powell. But I was definitely struck by how fearlessly eccentric the list of dislikes was, and how good natured she was when queried. She's a very interesting blogger.

Alex said...

Richard Conte swings back and forth from pretty good in roles that suited him (usually ethnic roles) - like Thieves' Highway, House of Strangers, The Brothers Rico, The Big Combo - to horrid mistakes where he was cast as an Anglo-Saxon - most ludicrously as an Ivy League professor in Preminger's Whirlpool (where Mel Ferrer's bravura performance so overshadows Conte that you can bearly remember Conte is actually in the movie).

Don't go around bagging on Taylor - my fellow Sagehen (Taylor and I graduated from Pomona College about sixty years apart).

goatdog said...

I think Ruby Keeler is cute as a button. A particularly cute button. The singing and dancing part? The acting part? Well... she sure is cute.

Loretta Young was very good in Man's Castle and Employees' Entrance, as others have noted.

Victor Mature would be at the top of my can't-stand list.

The Siren said...

Alex, that shot is from Cry of the City - have you seen it? because I haven't and now I'm intrigued. It's also got Victor Mature who just barely got cut off this list; I basically left him off because he cracks me up in The Shanghai Gesture.

As for Taylor, all right, I won't mention his lines in Quo Vadis, where he calls out "Christ! Christ, help her!" and you don't know if he's calling on the deity or trying to slip an anachronism past Joe Breen.

Seriously though, he wasn't bad in Party Girl and Johnny Eager.

Greg said...

Hers is quite a list of dislikes. It almost seems impossible to enjoy a classic Hollywood film with that list. ;)

Hey, maybe she likes Glenda Farrell too. The Torchy movies are the perfect example of B-Movie fluff entertainment.

As for the theory of who is remembered and who isn't I think what I was talking about was star quality more than anything else. Dana Andrews has some big films to his credit but isn't exactly tearing up the online avatar market as we speak. And your own selection of Glenn Ford, who also has some choice movies, in a non-starter with modern moviegoers. Despite some big movies Andrews and Ford haven't sparked interest beyond their time.

As for Brando, I love him as a personality almost more than an actor. I find most of his performances between the late fifties to the late sixties to be the definition of laziness as an actor. Watching Sayonara I kept thinking, "Oh my god, he's going to nod off at any moment, watch out!" I mean really, he just seems extraordinarily bored in that movie. And yet he was nominated for Best Actor for it, probably because of his stature at the time more than anything else.

The Siren said...

J., Amy-Jeanne is an early Hollywood aficionado more than anything, but when she posts her viewing lists they're quite extensive. Puts me to shame.

I definitely see your point about Ford and Andrews too, I suppose, though I think he was a much more exciting actor. Andrews essentially self-destructed, I think that had he not had such an alcohol problem at such a key point in his career he might have been far bigger, but it's one of those eternal what-ifs. As it stands, you're right, he has zero name recognition outside the buffs.

As for laziness -- to me, and he almost made the list because of it, the definition of a lazy actor is not Brando but Sinatra. I swear I can tell almost from the first frame if he had any interest in the part. He phones it in so often. I kept him off for about four performances and that's it. I think TCM is running The Joker Is Wild this week and if anyone is interested that's my vote for his best performance. But I see him in something like "The Tender Trap" and I just want to kick him. Get a move on!!

Gerard Jones said...

Golly gosh! So much to comment on! I don't know whether to second the Siren choices I agree with, quibble with the ones I don't, add my own candidates, or riff on others' comments! This one could just go on and on and on.

First, to go with Pat O'Brien and Dan's addition of Frank McHugh, I have to add Hugh Herbert. Or "Hugh Effing Herbert" as I am inclined to refer to him when I see his ridiculous, goggle-eyed visage come up in the visual cast sequences of '30s WB movies. (And hey, isn't that the greatest thing, the way they show the actors in a characteristic moment from the film right after the title and credits? I wish movies would do that now.)

Mostly I love the Warners stock company: Glenda Farrell, Aline McMahon, Guy Kibbee, Barton McLane, Dick Powell, Lyle Talbot...and of course Ginger Rogers before she broke out of the pack. But Hugh and McHugh! Dear God! I guess we just have to attribute them to the way humor tastes don't always hold steady over time. The Robert Morse and Terry-Thomas of the '30s.

I'm less inclined to dismiss Pat O'Brien, though. Have you seen Virtue with Lombard (and a Robert Riskin screenplay)? Yeah, he's tough and virtuous, but it's also clear that he's an a-hole for being so damned tough and virtuous. And at the end he has to eat a lot of crow--a raven, even--to make up for it. Then there's Hell's House, one of the most God-awful movies ever made, but O'Brien is intermittently dazzling as a big-talking conman. And of course there's his Hildy in The Front Page.

I'd vote for O'Brien as one of the classic cases of an actor who started out with wonderful promise but was steamrolled by the studio system. His flat, stiff persona was post-steamroller.

Two things happened to poor Pat: First, Cagney. Exactly what O'Brien was good at, Cagney was better at. So poor Pat become the Other Mick in a series of Cagney movies, and the guy who was kind of like Cagney but shouldn't be too much like Cagney in a bunch of other New York slums flicks that Cagney wasn't in. In both cases, that meant a lot of cops and priests who had to be virtuous/tough. No room for for his comic talents and essential sleaze to shine.

Second, the Breen-enforced Code. (Oh, and a swell post you did on that too, a while back. Sorry I didn't have a chance to comment while the commentin' was hot.) No movies suffered as much from the Code as those about Tough Paddies. Because the Code was so driven by the Catholics, specifically the Irish Catholics of New York and Boston, the Hayes Office and the studios bent over backwards to win their approval with moral dramas about Irish Catholics. They figured they could still get away with some sly immorality about rich WASPs as long as they bought the Hibernians off with upright priests and two-fisted cops and crusty but wise magistrates and thugs who turn good for the sake of the children. O'Brien was the point man, the one they flung out first: Look how tough and virtuous those Irish boys are! And sure'n you can tell, Mother MacCree, how much we Hollywood studios admire 'em!

A last and similar note about Loretta Young. Though she'll never one of my favorites, the starry-eyed saccharinity that made her so dull from the mid-'30s on had not yet glazed her in Employees Entrance, Midnight Mary or Platinum Blonde. There was something very complex and sexy about her. You can see how she could be the woman who would have an illicit affair with Clark Gable and then "adopt" her own illegitimate daughter.

Loretta was another casualty of the Catholic crusade against movie immorality, not just because of the Code but because, as a Catholic girl herself, she started holding herself and her roles to a higher and higher standard. Or call it a duller and duller standard.

And you know what? So was Bing. Check him out in The Big Broadcast, his first feature role. He was brilliant: twistedly, maliciously funny, devilishly self-mocking, which I get the feeling was close to his real personality. But he too listened to the Church and became less and less willing to indulge his own instinctive nastiness. Hence both the phoniness and dullness that shows up later.

It was an interesting moment in Irish-American (and generally Catholic-American) history, when church leaders turned aggressively against the old Irish cultural niche as lovable drunks, tough guys and laborers and decided they should be America's ethical conscience instead. It all culminated in Fulton J. Sheen. An almost willful dulling-down of cultural traditions that had been a lot of fun.

Fortunately, it turned out to be mostly just a phase.

Noel Vera said...

See, with me, you just need one film, and I'm yours forever. I'm such a pushover.

So: just do something like Miracle at Morgan's Creek and I don't care how dull you are anywhere else, you're the star of Miracle at Morgan's Creek.

I mean, look at Kim Novak. She's got animal presence and nothing else; she trades on it, she builds her career on it. She doesn't act, not really. But she's one of the stars of Vertigo, so to me she's immortal.

Peter Lawford and June Allyson paired together in Good News and that was enough for me (though I did enjoy Lawford in Easter Parade, and even Advice and Consent (actually I thought everyone was terrific in Advice and Consent, but Laughton (not Lawford) was transcendental); Allyson I liked in at least one more picture, Her Highness and the Bellboy--but that may be a collateral glow from having Hedy Lamarr in the picture).

But Glenn Ford? 3.10 to Yuma? Cimarron? Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (okay, I haven't seen that in years, but--Vincente Minnellli? And there are fuddy duddy old critics who swear by that film)? We just have to agree to disgaree...

Andrew Grant said...

You know, Jeanette almost won me over in Love Me Tonight, but mostly because I admire the film so much. Yet on repeated viewings I realize she's just window dressing. I mean, to even try to compete with Myrna Loy. . .

One I would add to the list -- Alice White. I just saw her in The Naughty Flirt and she is drop dead awful. Oh, did I mention Myrna Loy is in that one too?

The Siren said...

Filmbrain, you so do not fool me. I barely notice who else is in a Myrna Loy movie myself, aside from William Powell, of course.

Gerard -- loved your comment. There is a definite thread in this list of my disliking a certain type of plaster-saint actor. On a personal level, though, I admire Young for keeping her daughter, however ludicrous her cover story may have been. There's a number of stars who admitted to abortions and they must be a fraction of the real total. It would have been easy enough for Young to do, and I'm sure a lot of outwardly religious stars did, but she lived her convictions and you have to give her that, I think.

Noel, I can't explain it, even when he's in a really good movie Ford just doesn't click for me.

Gerard Jones said...

Yes, Loretta did live her principles, within the bounds of social acceptability and the requirements of her career. And surely no one could fault even the purest Catholic girl for failing to keep her knees crossed while on location for weeks with Clark Gable. That's what the sacrament of Penance is for.

As for another one of your Boring 20, Jeanette MacD. I thought Lubitsch got some very interesting things out of her (Love Parade, Monte Carlo, Merry Widow, One Hour with You), and Mamoulian kind of did too in his Lubitsch imitation (Love Me Tonight). Maybe it's kind of like how Sturges got such good results from Rudy Vallee: casting so that everything that's annoying about the actor works to make the character funny. But in my book that still counts in the actor's favor. Jeannette curls my hair in San Francisco and the Nelson Eddy movies, but all those vain, hysterical Lubitsch princesses and countesses getting their comeuppances save her in my eyes.

I'll bet a bunch of you have read James Harvey's Romantic Comedy. I love the book, but boy does he go on about how great Jeanette is. I think he's ascribing too much to her ability and not enough to casting, scripting and direction.

But say: shouldn't Nelson Eddy be on anyone's Top 20 Bores? Apart form the voice, which was just fine, he was just...criminy. What was he?

The Siren said...

Nelson Eddy probably does belong here. I wish I really did love the Macdonald/Eddy movies because I love being contrarian and writing about actors who get less respect than they deserve, but as you say, criminy. I guess I am too modern. It's not just the operetta music, it's the way the whole. damn. movie. STOPS. when they sing.

Their career/personal association might make an interesting movie, though.

Greg said...

Gerard - One, thanks for mentioning the Warner stock company (including Glenda). And I've always liked Guy Kibbee.

Two, in the John Kobal book I mentioned earlier (and I'm home now so I can quote it), he blames her success with Nelson Eddy for bringing down Jeanette MacDonald's reputation, saying that once those movies became big she was no longer given "the opportunities... to display her comic talents." He then quotes Lubitsch as saying, "In sophisticated comedy today, she has few equals. Underneath that red-gold hair is a very level head and a sense of humour not often found in beautiful women." So another case perhaps, as with Pat O'Brien of an actor's success with a certain style or genre effectively halting their progress.

Kobal's main criticism of her is that her singing was "affected by too many tremoloes."

I think I'll put that picture up tomorrow. Great discussion.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I think even more so than Charlton Heston, Glenn Ford is the axiom of the cinema.

And to answer that question: I have not seen Zoo in Budapest.

I like Betty Hutton in the other films I have seen - Stork Club and Incendiary Blonde.

There isn't anyone I really actively dislike although I have yet to bother actually watching a whole Nelson Eddy-Jeanette MacDonald operetta. In the past couple of years, Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy have left me cold.

peg said...

everyone else has already mentioned them, but i cannot pass up the opportunity to publicly state that June Allyson and Betty Hutton were the finalists for "luckiest woman on the face of the earth" title. how either ever qualified as a "movie star" (let alone do so for a matter of years) is beyond me.

others (far behind those two) on my list would be Lana Turner (though I understand the appeal she might have had for others), Cornell Wilde, Robert Cummings and the ever-leaden George Brent.

i'm sure i'll think of more (and would have included many on the siren's list)... ooh, ooh - Miriam Hopkins!

this is fun.

Patrick Wahl said...

Siren said - "Noel, I can't explain it, even when he's in a really good movie Ford just doesn't click for me."

There is always that personal response to the underlying human being I think is the explanation. There are a few actors where I think I am getting a sense of what sort of person they are in real life, and sometimes I can't get past that, that person just bugs me (Barbara Streisand is a good exmple).

Regarding the westerns, I based that on what I thought I remembered you saying about Ride the High Country, but digging up that post and it seems to be more of an aversion to Peckinpah than to westerns in general. That would be the quote below -

I am placing my ticket order this morning, and I may hold my nose and get tickets for Ride the High Country.

mndean said...

I can't say I dislike Frank McHugh - I've seen him plenty of times NOT doing a drunk-Irish act, and I found him enjoyable. Also Hugh Herbert doesn't bother me as long as he doesn't overdo his silliness (okay, okay, it doesn't happen often).

As for Loretta, she seemed better in precodes than after (I particularly liked her in They Call It Sin as well as Midnight Mary and Employee's Entrance. She was also pretty good in Week-End Marriage though I wasn't crazy about the film). I remember her later films, and she did get dull and virtuous.

Now Ruby, she's adorably clunky in everything - she's just bad enough and cute enough to be endearing. I just can't hate her. Also, anyone who gets her start as a teenager in Texas Guinan's is okay by me. It's really bewildering that she was so popular though, but then I didn't live through the Depression. I liked her most in the rather silly Dames, because she played Dick Powell's petulant young girlfriend and was forever worrying that Joan Blondell was going to steal her man away.

Jonathan - THANK YOU, I find Glenda Farrell such fun that I record everything she appeared in. Unfortunately I missed recording the Torchy Blane films.

My addition to an unsung actor would probably be Warren William. He was such a great bastard in Employee's Entrance that it surprised me to see him do so well in a range of comedy roles from Perry Mason to Mae West's press agent.

Noel Vera said...

Ford may or may not bring much to the part--haven't read anything biographical, but the way he's used--it's like Clint Eastwood and what Sergio Leone said of him. He's a block of marble, and Leone's Michelangelo. Same with Ford and Mann, or Minelli, or Daves.

You just have to look at the 3.10 to Yuma remake. Russell Crowe by any definition is a sublter, more risk taking actor than Ford ever was, but in these two films, the difference, the force and charisma, and more the subversive pull of the latter is like night and day in the two actors. Maybe it's the director that made the difference, I don't know (though Mangold is known to be good with actors, and Daves, far as I know (and I don't know much about him) hasn't had as loud a reputation).

But it's the personal reaction, I understand that; that's personal reaction speaking in my earlier post, too.

Rick Olson said...

How COULD you trash that adorable Red Skelton? I mean, when he'd crinkle his eyes and dimple those cheeks and say "Good Night, and God Bless" in that cute child's voice, what's not to love?

Gerard Jones said...

So now we have James Harvey, John Kobal and Lubitsch himself telling us that Jeanette MacDonald was a fine comedienne. I begin to think I need to take her more seriously.

A pattern I see: Siren has a few people on her list based on how boring they became from, say, 1935 on but whom some of us are defending based on their work from '34 and before: Jeanette, Bing, Loretta. "Precode," basically, and the Code was part of what went wrong, although I think it also gets too much blame and credit for the sea-change in Hollywood movies then. For a whole bunch of reasons there was definitely a classing-up and dulling-down then, in which some stars blossomed and others lost what made them sparkle.

What Charles said about our personal reactions to actors resonates with me. Betty Hutton vs. Glenn Ford is an interesting case study. Hutton bores or annoys me in everything but Morgan's Creek, and yet for Morgan's Creek I forgive her everything. If the Gallup Poll asked whether I approve or disapprove of Betty Hutton I'd say "approve."

Ford, on the other hand, I thought was just right in Gilda, The Big Heat, Human Desire, 3:10 to Yuma and a few other things. But if forced to commit I would say, "Eww, I don't like Glenn Ford." And I'd cite things like Pocketful of Miracles to make my point. There's just something about Ford that leaves an acrid smoke in my nostrils. As Charles says, it might be my gut reaction to the man I'm glimpsing. By all accounts, he was quite the putz.

But Karen! Karen, Karen! Though I admire you immeasurably for having seen Zoo in Budapest, I will never be able to forgive you adding Irene Dunne to your nail-scratchers list. Irene Dunne! Wisely, you make an exception for Awful Truth, which is my favorite Irene too. But to put Irene anywhere near a 20-worst list! Despite Love Affair, Theodora Goes Wild, Roberta, and My Favorite Wife? Oh, Karen...

Eddie Selover said...

I see I'm late to this party, but maybe the fact I've seen Zoo in Budapest gets me in on a pass...? It's a sweet little idyll of a movie, thanks to a fine director, but it does suffer from starring the intensely dull Loretta Young and the helplessly annoying Gene Raymond (he's one you missed, Siren).

The post and the comments are a reminder that there are so many ways of being bad. Irene Dunne excepted, I can't disagree with anybody named here, and I'd add a few who always make me jump for the remote:

Al Jolson. Try to find a description of him that doesn't use the word "talent," but except on rare occasions when he simmered down, he was repellent.

Betty Grable. She's like your favorite waitress at the diner -- you're always glad to see her until she comes over to talk, and the longer she does the worse it gets.

Victor McLaglen. Another member of the Irish mafia. Loud, boorish, ugly as sin and drunk half the time. If John Ford hadn't kept rescuing him, he'd have been out of the movies by about 1940.

Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson. His smug pipe smoking and her queenly grandeur are like a narcotic to me.

Robert Cummings. He got only a passing mention, which is not fair because he was one of the most creepy crawly leading men ever. He did something with his mouth that makes him very hard to watch, and he exudes weakness and self loathing. He was promoted by Universal, a studio that has a lot to answer for -- Abbott & Costello, Deanna Durbin, Jon Hall, Maria Montez, Francis the Talking Mule... all unwatchable.

Alan Ladd. I read online that his house in Palm Springs was filled with homoerotic art. True or not, it rang a bell.

Anna Neagle. Like Marion Davies and Norma Shearer, she owed her career to a sugar daddy. Unlike them, she had no talent, no charm -- zero. If she hadn't had a mostly British career, she would be much more widely hated.

Last but not least, Lucille Ball. I'm going to get a lot of flack for this, so I'll choose my words carefully. As a movie star, I find her arch and unsexy -- always trying on attitudes that other actresses created first, and doing it shrilly and mechanically. In her long career I don't think she ever had a moment of softness or spontaneity. She was paired up with Red Skelton a couple of times, and boy did they deserve each other.

Uncle Gustav said...

Edward, you're not alone on Lucille Ball. I've always found her to be grotesque, cold and asexual -- not unlike Desi. Hell for me would be listening to a loop tape of her forced "whaa" crying alternating with his equally forced laughter.

Most people believe Lucy's career was a resounding success when, in fact, she completely failed to register as a film star. The move she made to television was a gamble that paid off. She could afford to take the risk, because she stood to lose nothing.

It's a pity that Lucy was never "herself" in front of the camera. I recall the Dean Martin TV roast for James Stewart when her reaction to Orson Welles offered a glimpse of an urbane, intelligent side otherwise absent from her work.

Greg said...

I like Miriam Hopkins a lot in Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. While I can't say she's one of my favorites she wouldn't be a dislike either.

But Irene Dunne to me is immensely likable. I love Theodora Goes Wild! For that movie and The Awful Truth alone I would never put her on a dislike list. But I myself have actors that are beloved by others that I cannot bear (I'm just not naming them right now) so we all see different things in performances and personalities.

Exiled in NJ said...

Without Breen there would be no need for Pat O'Brien. der Bingle went through his own transformation under Breen when he went into the seminary. But before you dismiss him, see the piece on his singing in pre-Code films at Critics Choice. The man was the greatest white jazz singer of his time.

Whatever you think of Red Skelton, anyone who came up with 'Give the people what they want to see' at the funeral of Cohn will live in our memory.

One remake that works better than the original was Douglas & Paltrow and Mortenson in Dial M for Murder, simply because who could believe Grace Kelly would have an affair with Robert Cummings. Creepy is a great description of him.

Another "Young" is on my list: Robert, and pairing him with the detestable Margaret O'Brien in Canterville Ghost makes me hold by breath the entire length of the film.

Young and Cummings kept on going strong while Joel McCrea, an unsung hero of mine, was relegated to Westerns.

The Siren said...

Charles, yes, that was Peckinpah! I am always delighted when people actually read the archives. :D I didn't make it to High Country on the big screen but when I Netflixed it I absolutely adored it, even Peckinpah's objectionable way with actresses didn't bother me. Randolph Scott -- if I had never seen his Westerns he'd have definitely made the list. He was two different actors. In Roberta he ruins every scene he's in. In High Country or Seven Men From Now he's pure enjoyment.

Karen said...

gerard jones, bravo! You’re absolutely right about O’Brien in Virtue and thanks for reminding me about Loretta in Platinum Blonde, which is a film I adore with a passion. It almost brought me to tears when I realized that Robert Williams’ early death robbed us of his career, which would have been a PIP. About Bing: I”ll always love him in the Road films, which were post-modern before anyone knew what that was. But I kinda hate him in almost everything else, because he affected that hipper-than-thou persona that I tended to think he had not earned. Hearing him swap slang with Louis Armstrong in High Society just about makes me sick.

I also agree with you about Jeannette MacDonald in Lubitsch and Mamoulian. I find her kind of endearing, and very lovely. But once she got teamed with Nelson Eddy, poor thing—well, I’m not sure which of them was more sickening.

And thank you for mentioning Hugh Herbert! Oh dear lord, whenever I come across the TCM listings for the B-movie comedies he starred in, I run for the hills. I’m actually kind of fond of Frank McHugh, myself, but Hugh Herbert gives me hives. And I can only take Guy Kibbee in Very Small Doses.

I’m sorry, though, Gerard, I really can’t bear Irene Dunne. Especially when she starts to sing. (Except in The Awful Truth!) Well, I do rather like Theodora Goes Wild, too. And she doesn’t grind my ears in Roberta, either. But there’s so much else to love in Roberta her presence hardly matters. I’m so sorry you can’t forgive me, Gerard--I felt that otherwise we had the beginnings of a beautiful friendship.

Charlton Heston, as I mentioned in Siren’s tribute at his death, is one of the primo candidates for actors I will not watch. I hear he’s great in some things, but I just can’t do it, other than Planet of the Apes. (I feel the same way about Michael Douglas today, with the sole exception of The American President, because I am an angry liberal.)

George Brent used to be on my list, until I saw him in his very, very early work. In movies like Stamboul Quest he is positively dynamic. I wish I knew what happened to him to leech out all the humor and talent. I agree with Edward about Walter Pidgeon, too, although he also surprised me in a very early film of his, I think it might have been Big Brown Eyes.

I like Betty Hutton as Tex Guinan. I loathe, really loathe, Ruby Keeler, but she’s in such great films I have to watch her. It’s not just the spectacularly bad dancing, it’s her utterly affectless line delivery.

I’m sure I’ll come up with others. What a great topic!

Greg said...

I love Joel McCrea too. I just watched Dead End again on DVD the other day, The Most Dangerous Game about a week ago and The Silver Horde a few months before that. Why doesn't McCrea get the credit he's due? I thought he was an excellent actor. Maybe he was too stalwart, not enough of a scoundrel or rascal to get people's attention through the decades.

Eddie Selover said...

Man, I'm loving this little game. You know who's just plain gargoyle awful? Ralph Bellamy. He saved his career and reputation by becoming Cary Grant's stooge, but in anything else it's almost difficult to look at his raccoon eyes, fish lips and lantern jaw.

The Siren said...

Jonathan, Gerard -- as for Jeanette, I saw her in Merry Widow recently and despite it being Lubitsch and all I still wasn't all that impressed. G., you sum up Ford *perfectly* for me (although I'm not that crazy about Human Desire with or without Ford, I think the lack of Jean Gabin was just too much for me in that one). And thanks for sticking up for the divine Irene. I love her in My Favorite Wife, which also stars the should-have-been-bigger Gail Patrick.

Dee, noooooo, not Miriam! she was an excellent actress in my view, at her best in Trouble in Paradise. Which movie did she annoy you in?

Peter, we're quite left out here, not having seen Zoo in Budapest. As a matter of fact I guess I have to get cracking on all of Loretta's precodes although having seen the early-1934 House of Rothschild I am not exactly panting with anticipation. In a sense I'm like you, I am willing to watch just about anyone. Except June Allyson. We all have our limits and that's mine.

The Siren said...

Edward, I have a soft spot for Betty, who knows why, but your description of hers is so priceless I will probably quote it at some point. With attribution, of course. I admire McLaglen in The Informer and Wee Willie Winkie (yes, I am serious about that 2nd) but he could easily be hard to watch I think.

But as for dear Lucy -- have you & Flickhead seen Lured or The Dark Corner? On the big screen she was missing that vital something that makes a big star, it's true, but I still think she was quite good on occasion. (and I'm a big fan of her TV shows.) She was delicious in Stage Door.

Exiled, I remember you are anti-Bob Young and I probably would have put Cummings on, except I forgot he existed. I wouldn't put down der Bingle's singing, nor would I deny that I watch White Christmas ever year and love every cheesy minute. I even like The Bells of St. Mary's, Blue Skies and some of the Road movies. But as an actor I have to ration him in small doeses.

The Siren said...

Noel, "block of marble" is actually a not-bad description of Ford. But see, I think Clint is great, and while Leone gave Eastwood his career, he's still great outside of those movies. Clint has that undefinable something that flies off the screen at you no matter how underwritten or even risible the part. It took Leone to unlock it but after that it stayed with Clint. Whereas Ford, for whatever reason, never has that for me.

Karen, I think Brent gave up and just started collecting the paychecks. The studios could really grind an actor down with bad parts and not everybody could be Bette Davis, bugging the bejesus out of everybody for the good stuff. Something similar happened to dear Kay Francis.

The Siren said...

Rick, thank you for the link. I am not, in fact, a Communist, all rumors to the contrary. :) I guess for me the only drunk act worth watching was W.C. Fields.

Exiled in NJ said...

Aside from playing Judge Roy Bean and Ike Clanton, I find most Walter Brennan roles too mushy, as Lance Mannion would say. God I hate that bit about the bee in Have or Have Not. But then I have to remember, it is the writing, not the actor, and maybe this is the point. We have to separate the actor from the role. Lubitsch and Raphaelson can make even Don Ameche likeable in Heaven Can Wait.

To me there is a dichotomy between the early Deborah Kerr and the Hollywood Kerr, and here I must stick up for the divine Ms. Dunne and her singing/acting in Love Affair. There is no contest between her and Kerr when it comes to that role. Then again, I find Dunne's almost operatic voice out of place in Roberta.

Now will someone nominate the anti-Jack Carson, a second banana that ruins films rather than makes you sit up and notice.

Eddie Selover said...

Gerard, have to second you (or is it third?) on Hugh Herbert. He's insufferable. I first saw him woo-hooing his way through The Black Cat (with another unmentionable, Broderick Crawford) and took an instant, intense dislike.

Even worse is the early-talkie Swedish-accented "comic" El Brendel. He's fortunately very obscure now, but a few minutes of his button-eyed "yumpin yimminy" shenanegins can scar you for life.

Uncle Gustav said...

Siren, I'm unable to recall a single frame of either Lured or The Dark Corner, but surely my viewings of them years ago should be perfectly adequate. As for Lucy in Stage Door, well, feh.

What was the Lucy movie where she's tied up and rolled down a hill, that ridiculous head of hers spinning out of control? I kept wishing she'd plow head-first into a tree.

Speaking of Ralph (Disorderlies) Bellamy, wasn't he the one who had a weird pronunciation of "mayonnaise" in Carefree?

VP81955 said...

Some wonderfully perceptive comments here; I too like the Lubitsch version of MacDonald as much as I can't stand the Nelson Eddy version. And the pre-Code Loretta Young was both luminous and talented -- a revelation to me, who knew her only from her later work. (Check out "Taxi!", her only film with James Cagney, a role she gained only because Carole Lombard, to her later regret, refused a loanout to Warners.)

I understand the Siren's disdain for Crosby as an actor, but as a singer, especially in his early days, the guy had a real jazz feeling. To the person who thought his work with Louis Armstrong in "High Society" was patronizing, they were longtime friends and Bing always cited Louis as an influence.

It's amazing to see how many of these names listed here had their greatest success in the 1940s, when not only was the Code in full effect, but the war infused a huge degree of sanctimoniousness onto the film industry.

Patricia Perry said...

I'm in complete agreement with you on Buddy Ebsen. He always seems to be dancing in slow motion, which annoys the hell out of me. And it's always bugged me that he titled his autobiography "The Tin Man Remembers" - I'm sure he was disappointed to have to be replaced by Jack Haley in "Wizard of Oz" but he should have gotten over that long before he penned his memoirs.

Exiled in NJ said...

Ah, but Bellamy and Ameche aged well physically. If you don't believe me, have you seen Tony Curtis lately.

I don't know if it is modern standards, or maybe that they had learned something but the two of them were hilarious in Landis' Trading Places, a film made around the corner from where I worked at the time.

Speaking of O'Sullivan, I always wonder why Milland didn't give himself up in the Big Clock, rather than go home to her.

Anyone desire to see a William Bendix festival?

Uncle Gustav said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Uncle Gustav said...

Not for nothing, but it just dawned on me that Buddy Ebsen joins Gary Cooper, Bogey and Fred Astaire in the Old-Coot-With-Audrey-Hepburn conundrum: he played her husband in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

The Siren said...

Exiled, I like Bellamy in general -- he shows dramatic ability as well as comic timing in "Hands Across the Table". And Ameche could be swell, not just with Lubitsch, although that was his best performance.

Meanwhile I am still laughing over Milland turning himself in to avoid O'Sullivan. It certainly made his eagerness to stay out way too late quite believable in the early part of the movie, though!

Flickhead -- oh dear GOD I had forgotten Ebsen in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Is there a single person, living or dead, anywhere at any time who believed that pairing? I don't care if poor Audrey was starving, there's just no way in hell ...

Karen said...

vp81955, that was me who dissed Bing with Louis Armstrong, but I didn't say he was patronizing. I was giving that as the prime example of his I-dig-the-swing-Bing slangifying, which I tended to find affected. It's not just in High Society, it's in a lot of his films: High Time, and White Christmas, and Here Comes the Groom, and a whole bunch more. He even does it in that Christmas Special with David Bowie, if I recall. And it has always, always grated on me.

I'm sorry I've ruffled so many feathers with my Dunne-phobia. I guess this would be a bad time to mention that I can't really bear Garbo, either, except in her silents?

The Siren said...

*wails* But, but Karen!! Ninotchka!

Gerard Jones said...

Okay, I have to go right at this. I keep thinking of it, then shying away in horror at my own thoughts. But someone has to say it. If not for One Particular Movie, I would have to add to this list:

Ray Bolger
Jack Haley
and Bert Lahr

Am I alone in this? Ask yourselves, if that One Particular Movie (you know the one I mean) had never existed, if you had not fallen in love with these three as children and associated them with that primal magic ever since, if they had only done those Technicolor Fox musicals and whatever else it was they did, how would they strike you? How would they REALLY strike you?

Bela said...

I agree on all your choices, except on Gina Lollobrigida: you need to see (if you haven't) Luigi Comencini's Pane, amore e fantasia. She's wonderful in that. And I think she was quite good in Notre-Dame de Paris too.

Sophia Loren was actually a superb actress, who made some bad choices. She was at her best in Italian films, of course. She's unbelievably good in Ettore Scola's Una giornata particolare with Mastroianni.

Greg said...

Gerard - You are of course referring to Serpico and I must say, outside of that one particular movie... wait a minute. You are referring to Serpico right?

I brought up Haley just last week or so here and said the same exact thing. His voice, his mannerisms - I just don't like them. Bolger and Lahr I think of as more Vaudeville performers who were in movies and as such I don't think I've really paid them much attention outside that one movie - The Hustler.

wwolfe said...

Regarding the Siren's list, I agree right down the line. Very fun, and an odd sort of tonic.

My own personal irritants:

Van Heflin!! His bug eyes, his incessant looking down and away from whoever he's acting opposite of (if I'd been the other actor, I think I would've grabbed Van by the chin and forced him to look me in the eyes during our scenes) - it was so annoying. Heflin had to be the only actor whose default acting choice was flop sweat. If I'd been Jean Arthur in "Shane," I'd have knocked Alan Ladd off his horse, jumped on, and ridden like hell in whatever direction got me away from Van the fastest and the farthest.

I'm also baffled by the fact that Wendell Corey ever got starring roles. He truly looked like Mortimer Snerd. It always seemed as though poor Lizbeth Scott always got stuck acting with Wendell. I suppose they cast Wendell because everything about him, including his sad sack name, was designed to convey "Common Humanity." So it's odd that his work always strikes me as totally phoney.

I'm afraid this one will ruffle feathers, but I don't get David Niven. I applaud his inspired ad lib at the Oscars, but in his movies he always seems like the guy they hired when they couldn't get either Ronald Colman or Cary Grant. Seeing Niven next to the genuine article in "The Bishop's Wife" borders on cruel.

Of today's headliners, I am baffled by the success of Joaquin Phoenix. His monotone speaking voice, apparent lack of movement in his facial muscles, and inability to imagine, create, and sustain a characterization for even a scene, much less an entire movie - well, all I can say is, if he can act, he's keeping it to himself.

Adding to the overlooked or undervalued, I'd mention Joan Blondell in the 1930s, especially through about '36 or '37. Full of life, sass, moxy, rarely indulging in gooey sentiment, plus a real looker. She and Cagney may be the most underrated romantic duo in movies. (Well, "romantic" may be the wrong word for these echt Warner Brothers stars during that studio's rowdiest era, but it'll have to do.)

The Siren said...

Gerard, I find Bolger quite endearing and really do think I would even if not for Serpico. I must be a pushover. Lahr I haven't seen in much, though of course his performance in Waiting for Godot is legendary. I wonder if there are any records of that one?

Bela, I'm afraid my irritation at Gina goes beyond her (non)acting and into "something-about-her-personality" territory. The only thing I liked about her Esmeralda was that she died. Though Come September wasn't so bad. Sophia, on the other hand, was very cute even in American movies where she was usually cruelly underused. I haven't seen A Special Day but she was wonderful in Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. **waits for Flickhead to show up**

wwolf, I do like Van Heflin (he's great in Johnny Eager and Strange Love of Martha Ivers) but I am so with you on Corey. I may have to do a part II to this list, and take poor Richard Conte off because I had forgotten about his Twilight Zone episode which was really superb.

Uncle Gustav said...

What can I say? Sophia's perfect. She chose Carlo over Cary...which makes Carlo "The Man."

The Siren said...

Adding, to Bela - I will give that Gina movie a whirl, however, just on your say-so!

Gerard Jones said...

Jonathan and Siren, I'm with you on Serpico. Were Bolger, Haley and Lahr born to play a trio of crooked cops or what?

As for Bolger, I guess I'm judging him by Four Jacks & a Jill and Babes in Toyland, both of which were lousy movies and therefore perhaps not his fault. I've never seen The Harvey Girls, where I hear he's fun. (How could I not have seen The Harvey Girls, I ask myself? I love Judy, I love Warren & Mercer, I love train movies. Am I just phobic about John Hodiak? There's a hard star to explain: John Hodiak!)

Another pattern I notice here is a lot of chipper song-and-dance men being mentioned, starting with Bing, Ebsen, Lawford and Daily on Siren's original list. I'd add a couple of others in the same genre: Bobby Van (teeth! teeth!) and George Murphy (even HE looked bored with himself!). I'm even inclined to add Donald O'Connor, except for Singin' in the Rain. (On the distaff side I'll also toss in Debbie Reynolds, except for Singin' in the Rain.)

It's as if where male musical stars were concerned, there's Astaire, then (a bit lower down) there's Kelly...and then there's nothing. Male musical stardom seemed to require obnoxiousness, often in the form of way, way too much projectile energy. (Not Bing of course, and as I've noted I like him a lot more than some of you. But he certainly had his obnoxiousness too.)

One exception, though never a "star," was Cesar Romero, whom I always find weirdly fascinating. I wasn't surprised to learn that he was one of the few openly gay actors in the business then. He broadcasts such a distinct vibration.

Karen said...

Oh, Siren, don't wail Ninotchka at me! Of course I love Ninotchka. She was wonderful in it--but then even a stopped clock is right twice a day. And she had Lubitsch and the wondrous Melvyn Douglas (why didn't we mention him when we were talking about effortless suavity without obvious good looks in the Astaire thread?), as well as the lustrous Ina Claire and Ruman/Bressart/Granach. But mostly she's kind of a deal-breaker for me, especially after seeing Mata Hari, in which she's positively risible.

I agree with Van Heflin, too, by the way, because he had a face like a Pekinese.

The Siren said...

Karen, you know all perfect couples must come to loggerheads sooner or later, and I am afraid it is here with Garbo. Queen Christina? Camille? I think she was a wonderful Anna Karenina also and I like Conquest as well.

She was at her peak in silents but I love her in everything, she fascinates me and holds a special place too for being one of the first movie stars I ever bothered to find out about, after seeing Queen Christina at an early age. (The other being Tallulah Bankhead, after seeing Lifeboat and finding out she was from Alabama. I was a weird kid, for sure.)

Bobby Van does nothing for me either. I do enjoy Van Johnson, whom I was expecting to find on someone else's "bothers me" list.

Gerard Jones said...

Van Heflin is on my "for some reason I like him" list. He was never great (though fine in Strange Love of Martha Ivers and some others), and he often seemed really out of place (Madame Bovary, Three Musketeers) but somehow I enjoy his company. Kind of that same Regular Guy with a Disturbing Twist thing as Joseph Cotten (although Cotten was better).

Van Johnson I find just bland. Bobby Van I've covered. What other Vans are there? Jean Claude Van Damme? Van Nest Polglase? Why have I never met a real person with the first or last name Van when the movies seem full of them?

Karen: I have decided to forgive you for what you said about Irene, since you at least cut her some slack for Theodora and didn't outright diss her in Roberta. And I know we all have our unpopular dislikes. Mine, for instance:


I can't watch Danny Kaye. No question that he had unique and startling talents. Boy, could he say a series of Russian names quickly. I should be so lucky as to be able to say a series of Russian names one tenth as quickly. And I know he was a good and noble man, giving up Hollywood to devote his life to UNICEF or whatever it was he did. And for that I'm grateful, because I can't stand him on screen. I'd rather watch El Brendel.

Uncle Gustav said...

Danny Kaye: I'll second that. He sucked.

Gerard Jones said...

That's what it is! I couldn't put into words exactly what it is that bothers me about Danny Kaye! He SUCKED! Thank you, Flickhead!

Karen said...

I will sleep better tonight knowing that gerard has forgiven me!

And, Siren, I have never managed to sit through either Queen Christina OR Camille. Garbo just irks. Although I love her in Flesh and the Devil.

But, because of that and Ninotchka I can't rule her out entirely.

This, clearly, is our David Lodge "Humiliation" moment!

flickhead and gerard, I'm afraid I rather love Danny Kaye, perhaps from being exposed to him at a young age. I introduced my 10-year-old twin nephews to The Court Jester and they, too, were entranced.

On other names: I do like David Niven, and I don't MIND Van Johnson, although I never buy him as anything but a character actor--never as a leading man, and certainly not as a romantic lead. He looks too much like what Archie would have grown up to look like if he weren't a cartoon. But I love him in Brigadoon.

The Siren said...

Karen, Van is the best thing in Brigadoon. I also like him in Caine Mutiny quite a lot.

And I love Danny Kaye. In fact in the blog's early days I wrote a whole piece about loving The Court Jester, which is totally effing hilarious. I am also a big fan of The Inspector General and pace James Thurber I love The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. ta-pocketa-ta-pocketa-ta-pocketa ...

Gerard and Flickhead are in distinguished company, however, as Mr. Biographical Dictionary himself, David Thomson, cannot stand Danny Kaye. In fact, if you ask me, his entry on Kaye is just a highfalutin' version of what we are doing right here: "I don't like him, so THERE." Or, if you prefer, "He sucks."

I also love David Niven and always found him quite sexy.

Eddie Selover said...

I dunno, I liked Danny Kaye when I was 10. At that same age, I hated and feared Joan Crawford. Last month I saw Humoresque and she blew me away... and I realized that I had to grow up to appreciate her. She's like aged bourbon, and I guess Kaye is like pop rocks. So maybe some of these actors aren't so much good or bad as they are good at different life stages.

Except Anna Neagle. I saw her in Irene recently. She really sucks.

Uncle Gustav said...

Karen, you must be smoking mad trees: Queen Christina is off the chain.

I seldom avoid movies based on my dislike for a certain star...except Nicholas Cage. I appreciate Moonstruck and Wild at Heart, but after that...oofah.

Gerard Jones said...

I've learned in life that there are Danny Kaye People and there are Danny Kaye Sucks People. It's like Clinton People and Obama People. We'll never be able to make the others see what we see. We can only come together for the common good.

I suppose that's a testament to the power of Danny's personality. No one ever confuses him with another actor or asks, "Was he the guy in the Music Man?" or says, "I don't really have an opinion on him one way or another."

It's sure liberating to see Lucille Ball on people's boring list. She's another one the world tells us we ought to praise. I once wrote a book about sitcoms and found myself having to talk a lot about her--in fact, if you ever see the American Masterpieces on Ball you'll see me talking blah blah blah about her historical importance. And she WAS very important to the history of TV, for which we should give her her props. (That's what the kids are saying these days, right? "Props"?)

But as a potential fan, I think she's one frustration after another. There's a moment in Stage Door where the gals are sitting around wise-assing, and Ball cracks up, doing some little shtick with a cigarette in her hand, and it blew me away. She showed a kind of naturalism that you just don't see in the '30s, a kind of naturalism you still rarely see in movies, self-possessed and crackly and neurotically smart and sexy without trying to be.

But from then on she started cultivating that "amusing glamor girl" persona of hers, that frozen smile and those vacant eyes, that effect of calculating every action but never inhabiting a character. I like her a lot in Dark Corner, where her hardness worked for her, where she moved almost into Lizabeth Scott territory, but there's so little of that in her career. I think that was just a stopping point on the way "down" to TV.

Then her first season on TV that other Lucy came back: urban, jagged, wound-up, aggressively witty, sometimes really funny. But again she went for a persona that was wrong for her, this time "Lucy you nut," the crying fool. And it was all downhill from there. My God, her '60s movies!

It's as if she didn't just fail to show up as herself, she seemed afraid of being herself. That fits with her life, of course: always trying to be the perfect suburban mom (and hold Desi trapped in a suburban dad role he was grossly unsuited for), trying to distance herself from the aggression and business instincts that served her so well.

But there I go again...blah blah blah. I should just say: Yes! Lucille Ball as a movie star was a total stiff! Just shows that boringness isn't just a function of what actors really had, but how they were used, too.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Alan Ladd officially gets my thumbs up now that I know he posssesed a large homoerotic collection (this info lends an entirely different meaning to This Gun For Hire- hell, even Saswatchewan sounds more salacious to me now). Oh yeah, I never had too much of a problem with his low-keyed acting, either.

Loretta Young's never bugged me at all, but I've only seen her in about three movies (and, yes, Siren, I admit they include her Oscar-winning role, which I find her charming in, thick accent and all).

Totally agree concerning Morgan's Creek, but I don't think anyone's mentioned Hutton in Annie Get Your Gun, so I will. She really pushs herself, emotionally-speaking, as far as she can go, and I think's there's great truth in her performance (listen to Ethel Merman on the Broadway cast album, then Hutton on the soundtrack, and it's clear Hutton got at least as much out of the material as "the Merm").

Ruby Keeler is a one-of-a-kind star, and I agree with Pauline Kael that her ineptitude is exactly what makes her "impossible not to like." She is what she is, and there's not an ounce of phony airs to be found in her work.

I don't like to give the thumbs down too much, but I think regarding a lot of the choices mentioned here (both in the post and the myriad of comments) the punishment should be allowed to fit the crime, as the barbs are warranted.

peg said...

siren -

miriam hopkins was always an impediment to great movies, as far as i am concerned. i know the studios ruled, but i would ALWAYS have preferred loy or colbert in almost any role she played. and she was singularly ill-suited to thackery.

as far as i'm concerned, heston's greatest role was battling flesh-eating ants in "the naked jungle".

this thread has been eye-opening in the same way as finding out a dear and decent friend voted for bush... it never even occurred to me that a person could dislike irene dunne.

Gerard Jones said...

And Garbo. She also dislikes Garbo. Probably kicks puppies, too.

Uncle Gustav said...

Gerard, unless I'm mistaken, "props" is generally considered ghetto at this point in time.

Gerard Jones said...

Typos, typos, typos. Of course I meant American MasterS above.

Eddie Selover said...

My wife dislikes Garbo. She thinks she's affected, gawky and flat chested. On the other hand she loves Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, and Helena Bonham Carter. One thing marriage teaches you is when to just shut up.

Rocket Video said...

What a great list. What a blast!
I would totally agree with almost all your picks.

I might stick up for RICHARD CONTE, he was an interesting as character actor, much of his best work supposedly was on TV and is now lost. And he grew into an even odder actor doing Spaghetti Gangster flicks in the 70s.

And GINA LOLLOBRIGIDA, yeah she rarely was in a decent flick, but shallow-me has had a crush on her ever since watching Trapeze on TV as a kid.

What about Tim Holt and Farley Granger? Some good movies, but they are so dull.

Yeah, GLENN FORD, what a bore and he managed to pop up in some interesting films that could be a lot more watchable with some one else in them

With the exception of BING CROSBY most of your picks, have not stood the test of time and in retrospect are only minor blips on the Hollywood history radar (or like Reagan are remembered for other reasons).

Boy your friend Amy-Jeanne, had a crazy list, lotsa icons Bogart? Chaplin? And Grant, Stewert, and Garland Wow. Silly. I wanna know who she does like?

My list of actors from that period who ‘just don’t do it for me’
would have John Wayne
Clark Gable (except in Gone With The Wind and It Happened One Night)
Bing Crosby
Katherine Hepburn (my number-one “I don’t get” person)
David Niven
Joan Crawford
Gary Cooper
And more, I can’t stop.... Betty Grable, Mickey Rooney, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Judy Holiday, Claudette Colbert, Ginger Rogers and Rock Hudson and maybe even Barbara Stanwyck (and Fred MacMurray, Of course excluding their performances in the wonderful Double Indemnity).


Karen said...

Gosh! Rocket Video puts the kibosh on Gary Cooper, Ginger Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck, AND Claudette Colbert, and you guys are beating me up over Irene Dunne and Garbo??

There's no justice.

I introduced a young friend to The Palm Beach Story this weekend; love at first sight.

peg said...

ok. i may have to stop following the thread because i'm really confused. first irene dunne and greta garbo and now judy holliday and "maybe even barbara stanwyck"?! not to mention the most beautiful (young) man who ever lived (give or take tyrone power and alain delon), gary cooper.

i'm so confused.

peg said...

oy... AND colbert?!?!

i'd use "you say tomato..." but a ginger rogers disparager might not get the reference. and, besides, no one really says tomahto.

Gerard Jones said...

Karen, please don't feel unfairly treated. It's just that I'm so stunned by Rocket Video's list that I can't respond. I try to type a response and my fingers begin to shake.

So instead I will thank you...yes, YOU, Karen, you with your heretical views of St. Irene...for sticking up for George Brent. I used to put the big lug down too, based on Jezebel and Dark Victory and those other times when he managed to be the dullest thing in an otherwise good movie. Then I really started getting into early '30s Warner Bros: The Keyhole, The Rich Are Always with Us, The Purchase Price, Baby Face, Female, Stamboul Quest...and I said, "Hokey smoke! This guy can sizzle!"

Now I happily toss Brent in with Loretta Young, Pat O'Brien, and Jeanette MacDonald as actors who really had something going in the early '30s and got duller and duller as movies became more expensive and respectable. I'd throw some more in there, too: Norma Shearer, Robert Montgomery.

Heck, I'd even throw Stanwyck in there, to a point. Not that she was ever less than impressive, just that she was so electric in the early '30s but by the time of Stella Dallas she'd become so much more measured. (The difference with Stanwyck being that she started getting those incredible scripts and directors in the '40s, starting with Lady Eve, enabling her to create a whole new kind of movie woman.)

I'm guessing it was more than just professional burn-out and the Code. I get the sense that the early '30s were such an unpredictable, wide-open, dangerous moment for the studios, still trying to figure out how to use sound, bringing in hundreds of new people with stage experience, inviting new styles of storytelling, always at the edge of bankruptcy, having to crank out all those cheap 60 and 70 minute movies and make sure they had enough punch and content to get people to the theater. The actors must have thrived on that too. No one knew how to be a talking-picture actor yet, and at the same time no one knew if they'd still have a job in a month. In the early going, even someone like Lyle Talbot or Ann Dvorak is fun to watch, just because you don't know what they're going to try.

Then the money got better, production times got longer, the styles were set, everything became much more professional but also more predictable. The really good ones rose (like Stanwyck, like Davis). But it seems like a lot just started showing up for work.

Maybe this would make for other fun lists. Actors who started off exciting and then got dull. And then actors who started off dull and suddenly revealed something you never knew they had (Jean Arthur!).

So you're all right in my book, Karen. A gal who likes George Brent can't be all bad.

peg said...

well,looks like i'm going to have to track down earlier george brent flicks.

and, just because you brought her up, jean arthur taught at my college for a year ('71, i think) and, though i never aspired to acting (in fact, was terrified at the thought of getting up in front of an actress), i signed up for her class just to meet her. it got to the point where she'd drag me along for all events on campus because when ever anyone asked her about her movies, i was the only one who knew the trivia well enough to prompt her. it was kinda like an unpaid internship in gophering, i guess.

once her memory was jarred, she told fabulous stories, though she seemed to have absolutely no warmth about much of her experience. it was a fun year (and my parents covered my phone bill all year so that i could tell them every detail)... hanging with one of my favorite movie stars.

mndean said...

Okay, I agree about Jeanette MacDonald. There's nothing to warm to about her. Although I find Dunne occasionally arch, I like her in most of her films.

Someone actually mentioned Stanwyck? Wow, I may not have liked her much as a person, but her acting always was great, from Baby Face to Annie Oakley to Lady of Burlesque to her Sturges movies and Double Indemnity. She didn't make many clinkers in my book.

I guess this really is a personal likes/dislikes thing. Sometimes I can't really justify my choices (they really are just personal dislikes) but I can explain them if asked. Some actors and actresses I find so dull I wonder how they ever got a part (like Harriet Hilliard for one), others that have been slagged here I don't agree with because I've seen enough of their work to have seen the good parts of it (like George Brent). My guess is every actor in Hollywood would appear eventually on someone's Do Not Like list.

Frank Conniff said...

Only one major disagreement: Betty Hutton. Love her. Otherwise, you're right on the money. I've seen all of these actors in movies, but it was only on reading your post that I realized that a lot of them hardly leave an impression, so I admire that you could conjure memories of their performances enough to even write about them. As for Red Skelton, well, when he died, I said to a friend, "At last, our long national nightmare is over."

Gerard Jones said...

My God! I'm actually alternating post comments with a person who knew Jean Arthur! How exalting and humbling at once.

My only encounter with the Golden Age of Hollywood was meeting Regis Toomey in a diner in the San Fernando Valley sometime in the mid-'80s. And I didn't even know it was Regis Toomey until too late. I was with a friend and this old guy suddenly started talking to us. Only after he left did the waitress come over and say in a tone of awe, "Do you know who that was? That was Regis Toomey! He was one of the great ones!"

(Interestingly, that friend and I are now writing a humor book set in '40s Hollywood that I'm posting on my web site. I think that haunting encounter with the great Toomey all those years ago may be the seed from which it sprang.)

Anyway, please share any Jean Arthur anecdotes you can. I suspect this will be a receptive audience. I've also heard that she didn't look back on her Hollywood days with fondness. Sounds like she never took to movie acting. But hoo-boy, was she good at it.

Now I'm worried that I've built George Brent up too much. It's not like he's another Cary Grant or anything. But compared to his later bores, his early selves had a lot of charm. I guess I recommend The Keyhole most...

Eddie Selover said...

Talkin George Brent got me thinking about him, as much as that's possible. His ordinariness is so overwhelming that the catfights over him featuring Bette Davis and her unlucky rivals (Miriam Hopkins, Mary Astor) acquire an extra dimension of poignancy: that's the best they can do?

Have to say that post-code, he was interesting on a few occasions. Dark Victory gets a real boost from his sensitivity and commitment; maybe the fact they wanted Spencer Tracy for his part put a little fire under him. In Jezebel, he's very amusing as a certain kind of macho chump you run into -- he thinks his gallantry is catnip to the ladies, but he's just a tool. In The Rains Came, he puts across his character's moral dissolution very subtly, and he's wonderful in a long scene where he and Myrna Loy have what Erica Jong called a zipless fuck. And in International Lady, he strikes up a cute bantering rapport with Basil Rathbone, of all people.

Still, most of the time: dullsville. Recently TCM showed Christmas Eve, a late 40s programmer in which his brothers are George Raft and Randolph Scott -- the tedium came off the screen in waves. He's particularly inadequate in the remake of One Way Passage, playing the William Powell role. Brent is to Powell what Miller Lite is to Hendrick's gin.

Phil Dyess-Nugent said...

Put me down as one more vote for "Zoo in Budapest." I don't know where those other lucky ducks saw it, but the Fox Movie Channel shows it about once a year, usually around 3 A.M., just like "Orchestra Wives." I finally made a tape in case they ever go all-Sonja Henie. Let me know if you ever want to borrow it for the Siren Archives and I'll start digging.

If, as your introduction seems to suggest, having once been brilliant in something would seem to let Betty Hutton and (especially) Dan Dailey off the hook, though to be honest I;m not sure that I've ever seen either of them in anything besides "Morgan's Creek" and "It's Always Fair Weather." On the other hand, I like "Scarface" as much as anybody, and I still can't stand Paul Muni. I sort of wish he were better remembered today just so I could scandalize more people by bad-mouthing his pompous ass.

Karen said...

Yes! The Rains Came! Brent's positively sexy in that, which is literally unimaginable once you pass, say, 1939.

Gerard, bless you for your forgiving heart.

deeluzon, I am consumed with jealousy. Man, I love me some Jean Arthur. Someone up top mentioned a "I'll watch anything with..." topic, and she's definitely a candidate for mine. After she sang "Iow-ay" in A Foreign Affair, I couldn't get it out of my head for about 2 months. But she's just fantastic in everything: Talk of the Town, The More the Merrier, Easy Living, all the IMDb lists her in a mess o' silents and pre-Codes, none of which I've seen, alas alas. I'd also heard she wasn't crazy about her profession, in part because she suffered from crippling stage fright--I don't know how true that is.

Exiled in NJ said...

Did I hear someone say Tim Holt? Only in Ambersons does that hysteria tinged voice work; he sounds like a Robert Walker without boyish charm.

I suspect the Rocket is an agent-provocateur, but put almost any great in the wrong role and see how you cringe. Did not even the Siren pan the miscasting of Claude Rains as a Brooklyn detective? And I've mentioned elegant Herbert Marshall playing 'Scott Chavez' in Lust in the Dust, an all time favorite for the development of dislike of actors. Find The Pride and the Passion and you will almost hate Cary Grant and Sophia Loren. Only the miscasting of Sinatra saves them. Under Capricorn, Hitchcock's American Jamaica Inn, would make you dismiss Bergman.

So I say it is the role, not the person (but then what other role could Esther Williams or Sonja Henie play?

Greg said...

I have completely lost track of who likes or dislikes whoever the hell were talking about. At this point this comment thread needs to be reconfigured under the Dewey Decimal system.

Although I must say RocketVideo, that your list stands out - I mean, wow, who do you like?

Re: Jean Arthur - I never met or was taught by a famous Hollywood actor but I do have an autographed photo of Jimmy Stewart that I got at a thrift store years ago. I've acted with people who have shown up in small roles in current movies but, alas, none have gone on to big fame.

By the way, Karen, after a showing of an Irene Dunne movie on TCM a couple of months ago, I can't remember which, Robert Osborne told the story of his friend Roddy McDowall's friendship test. Roddy would always ask someone he had just met, once they started talking about movies, if they liked Irene Dunne. If they said no he knew he could never be friends with them. As Osborne recounted, "Roddy would say, 'How can you not like Irene Dunne?'"

But hey I don't have any weird tests like that myself. Maybe I'll start though. I'm going to start asking people if they like Adolph Menjou. I don't what answer I'm looking for yet and how I will then judge that person but it's a start. Adolph Menjou, yes or no? That seems like a solid enough foundation to build a friendship on.

Jeff Flugel said...

Great reading, as always, Campaspe! I especially applaud your choice of June Allyson, my all-time least favorite Golden Age actress. She absolutely ruins films I'd normally really enjoy, like THE STRATTON STORY or THE GLENN MILLER STORY (to name two Jimmy Stewart vehicles she's derailed). And that ridiculous duck-tail bob of a hairstyle she always sports drives me batty.

Gerard Jones said...

Karen: I've seen a few early Jean Arthurs and was really disappointed. I'd say, "Don't even bother," except of course you'll have to see for yourself, not take my word for it. (I like Irene Dunne, after all. What do I know?) But she's like the opposite of these people who were good in the early '30s and then got dull. She's like a different person until around 1935, when she suddenly bursts from her cocoon.

Thanks for mentioning Foreign Affair! I love Foreign Affair! Wilder and Arthur--I wish we'd gotten more of that.

Jonathan: I vote "yes" on the Menjou Question. From The Great Lover (with Irene Dunne!) to Paths of Glory, I always like seeing Menjou come on screen. I can't wait to hear what this says about my personality and likability.

Jeff: You don't like Paul Muni?! What the hell is wrong with YOU?! (I hope that was gratifying.)

Campaspe: I have to rank myself among those who like Ruby Keeler because she's just so...weird. She's so inexplicable as a movie star that she fascinates me. Were people really so different then?

Something that startled me was realizing--after years of assuming she was Hollywood's attempt to foist a phony musical-comedy star on the public before they had any standards for musicals--was reading that she was actually very popular on stage. Real New Yorkers used to ride to Broadway and pay money to watch her dance and act. I'm sure Jolson's promotion helped, but there's a part where the Broadway audience can't be hoodwinked, right? Again, people must have been seeing different things then.

Apparently she was considered a good tap dancer back when there weren't many white or female tap dancers. And she came to it through Irish Step Dance, which is a very different tradition from the black style we're more used to. But still...

Have you noticed that Joan Crawford also looks at her feet when she Charlestons? And she was a prize-winning Charlestoner. I guess maybe looking at one's feet was fashionable in the '20s?

Now I'd like to propose a new category of awfulness: The Girl with the Curl in the Middle of Her Forehead Memorial Award. Actors who cannot be dismissed in toto but who had the ability to reach dizzying heights of horridness.

My first nominee: Mickey Rooney. I often really like the Mick. I love the Andy Hardy movies for all their goofiness. He impresses me for still chugging in his 80s. But man, when he was BAD! Breakfast at Tiffany's...and when he'd get maudlin in the '60s...amazing!

peg said...

i'll work on jean arthur anecdotes (including the time i got her to smoke dope); i promise.

joanathan - in the 70s i used to test people's sensibilities with the question, "whom do you dislike more, shirley jones or florence henderson?" most people were wrong.

i'm quite sure that my grandfather would've considered disliking paul muni evidence of membership in the nazi party.

Karen said...

More Arthur and Wilder! gerard, I think I love you.

Perhaps we all need to admit our scandalous dislikes and clear the air. And I propose another category: people we can't stand but still watch with a sort of horrified fascination. I nominate Norma Shearer. She almost succeeds in wrecking the spectacularly brilliant The Women, especially in her revolting final scene, but I can't look away. At the moment, I am watching her mangle her delirium scene in Their Own Desire. Blech.

Adolphe Menjou? I've always loved his performances, but since I learned of his political tendencies it's rather tempered my affection.

Paul Muni--love him. I could watch I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang until the cows come home.

But now I see that the all-wise Siren has a new post up on the delicious and talented Jimmy Stewart, so I am floating on a cloud of happiness, and don't know if I can still talk about actors I hate.

The Siren said...

Karen, I spent almost all day with Stewart yesterday, alternating with reading as we all got our Classic Hollywood Irritants out of the system, and I had to write something. I saw Cluny Brown over the weekend so I am on something of a Lubitsch bender.

Gerard Jones said...

Oh, Karen! You make my head spin! And I know just what you mean about Menjou's politics. Although we must remember that Gary Cooper was a "friendly witness" for HUAC too. Sometimes we just have to compartmentalize. It's true that Menjou's testimony was far more obnoxious than Cooper's, but I think that was mainly because Cooper decided to play Sgt. York on the stand.

(And should I mention that Irene Dunne was also a staunch Republican, or would that completely shatter your dawning regard for me?)

And DeeLuzon: yes, you've got to give us Arthur anecdotes! I don't think people will even care what comment-thread it's on. Jean Arthur smoking muggles! How adorable is that? (Now I'm picturing Babe and Mr. Deeds toking in the makes a lot more sense of the garbage-can-lid scene....)

Now, I suppose it is time to move on to Siren's wonderful Shop Around the Corner/Stewart post. From the ridiculous to the sublime is but a click. I'll have to save my opinions of Doris Day for another time....

Karen said...

Mmmmmmm....Cluny Brown. That film lives permanently on my DVR until the DVD Gods come to their senses and release it.

Siren, you're OK with Peter Lawford there? He's really quite endearing as Andrew, I think.

Hazel said...

Oh thank you for listing June Allyson - I used to think it was a cultural thing that she left me cold.

I have just had a lively discussion with my husband and we flung around names like John Wayne, Spencer Tracy, William Holden, Danny Kaye, Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly but we both went, of course! when we hit upon Audrey Hepburn.

It is a mystery to me that she was such a huge star because she was such a wooden actress with an irritating voice. It doesn't help as someone mentioned above that she was in more than I can stomach spring-autumn romances. Sabrina is one of the most charmless romances I have seen.

mndean said...

Thanks for reminding me of Shearer. She was a major irritant to me today on TCM in the film Strangers May Kiss. Her mannerisms and her acting whenever she has to be noble are such that I want to throw things at her.

ajm said...

As for Danny Kaye: I was never won over by him -- and from everything I've read about him, he was quite a jerk in his private life -- but you have to be impressed that he directly influenced Tom Lehrer and Jonathan Miller, two of the more influential (and still highli funny) comedians of the 1950s.

On a related topic... Harry Shearer devoted one of his recent LE SHOW public radio broadcasts to pay tribute to the late Brian Clewer, a Los Angeles DJ from the UK who introduced generations of West Coasters to English comedy. Shearer played cuts from Flanders and Swann, Peter Cook/Dudley Moore and Peter Sellers. Shearer confessed that while being a Sellers fan (Sellers' mock rockers presaged THIS IS SPINAL TAP), he simply never understood The Goon Show. Sacrilegous as it sounds, I never found the Goons very funny either.

Noel Vera said...

The two Hepburns, Bogart and the like can take care of themselves, I suppose.

Would like to speak up for Van Heflin. He was essential to the chemistry in 3.10, that caught in the headlights of Glenn Ford look. It just makes the movie's tension (and is what was so totally lacking in Mangold's slack remake).

Bellamy--well, either he was genuinely dumb, or so smart he played dumb better than anyone. I can't believe how brilliantly dumb he was in His Girl Friday. He made Margaret Dumont look practically omniscient.

Walter Pidgeon I liked in two things at least: Advise and Consent, and as the incestuous father in Forbidden Planet.

The one I don't get is Gregory Peck. He's nice in nice roles, but ye gods, was he a bore when he tried to be naughty. I think he ruined Moby Dick just by showing up, and I was never a fan of Kill a Mockingbird (thought Intruder in the Dust was much more interesting). That said, he was the perfect punching bag for Mitchum to vent his frustrations on, and he made a fine, nonthreatening lover for Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Oh, Campaspe, I am so disappointed I didn't get here any earlier than this. I loved this post and will be linking to it tonight, so hopefully this discussion is not over yet. I just wanted to say thanks for including June Allyson on this list. I don't mind Gina (though why see Buena Sera, Mrs. Campbell when you could see Sophia in More Than a Miracle or just about anything else?) And I think I might save a spot on the sidelines for Richard Conte, if only for his stony, graphic presence. But I'll never forgive June Allyson for sullying the memory of Carole Lombard with her infantile take on My Man Godfrey. I look forward to taking the two or three hours it's going to take to read this entire comments thread! What a brilliant idea!

Hazel said...

In my effort to be contrarian I forgot to defend Ralph Bellamy who was I just love in His Girl Friday and my favourite The Awful Truth and, while I can understand the Miriam Hopkins’ dislike, I liked her a lot in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Trouble in Paradise, Design for Living, These Three and Old Acquaintance.

The Siren said...

Well, this comments thread has gone so far beyond what my posts usually draw that I'm gonna need Tenzing Norgay just to find my way out of it. As my beloved ex-roommate Michael used to say, "People just love to hate things," so many thanks to all the new commenters for showing up.

Hazel, I was all set to go into a large snit about the very IDEA of dissing dear Audrey but then you up and defended the fabulous Miriam and now all's right between us. In all fairness there are definitely critics out there who don't get the Hepburn charm.

And I wish I could remember the name of the critic who began an entry on Barbara Stanwyck by complaining that she couldn't play upper-class and always sounded Brooklyn no matter what the role. That book must have been lost in some long ago move ... perhaps donated because Barbara RULES, of course.

I'm sad that Wolcott doesn't like Danny Kaye either (except for "Choreography," which we agree is genius) but apparently he's more of an acquired taste than I thought.

Noel, your description of Bellamy is perfect for those two films. I know what you mean about Peck although he did occasionally wake up and sing, as it were. I recommend The Gunfighter again and again, have you seen it? his best movie, I think.

Exiled, not just Ambersons but also Treasure of the Sierra Madre strike Holt off my list. Callowness that all-encompassing just HAD to be acting of a very high order.

Dennis, thanks so much for the link! Suuuuure, you forgive Gina because of "Mrs. Campbell." Mmm-hmm. And I love Tyrone Power for "Lloyd's of London." :D I do think I shouldn't have listed Conte now; I mentioned way up in the backwaters of this thread that I had forgotten his Twilight Zone episode, which was a fine piece of acting by him in my opinion. Not fair to put him on when Jeff Chandler really belonged there. I will have to do a part II at some point.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Conte for Chandler is a good trade in general, I think, but having just seen Sam Fuller's Merrill's Marauders (and on the big screen, no less), I was terribly moved by what Chandler brought to that role, his last.

And I suppose you've gone and proved what I was always told growing up-- Gina love makes one awfully transparent, don't it? :)

Gerard Jones said...

I said I wouldn't come back here after SOMEONE dissed Audrey, but somehow I knew that she would redeem herself (just as Karen did after revealing her inexplicable dislike of Irene Dunne), and sure enough:

Thank you, Hazel, for sticking up for both Miriam Hopkins and Ralph Bellamy. Both are wonderful when they are doing exactly what they ought to be doing. In the former's case, the over-avid weirdo, e.g. Trouble in Paradise; in the latter, as the perpetually Wrong Suitor.

I also really like Miriam in Jekyll. Actually very sexy at times, which I wouldn't have expected of her, but a scary, rotten sexy that left me quite unsettled for a while. I think if they'd never tried to turn her into a noble heroine she'd have been much better regarded. The key to Miriam in her good roles is that you're not supposed to like the character, you're only supposed to understand why the schmuck hero is obsessed with her. Surely we know that Kay would be better for Herbert in Trouble, but he just isn't grown up enough for her, and that's the wonderful tragic truth of the story.

(Oh, and I think I got "avid" as the perfect Miriam word from somewhere else. Maybe R. Thomson. Don't want to steal credit.)

Bellamy in his early starring roles bores me, and as FDR forget it. But as the Oklahoma mama's boy in Awful Truth? One of the great supporting character turns in Hollywood history. That sappy grin alone was a work of genius, and don't tell me he didn't know exactly what he was doing. And he's not as great but just fine as a series of chumps and bores in Carefree, Favorite Wife, Hands across the Table, Girl Friday, etc.

And Campaspe, We Who Sit at Your Feet thank you for lifting Dick Conte from the list. There are many of us who wait eagerly for his every entrance, even if there's no way to argue for his talent. He's like the Jack LaRue of his generation. You can just slide Bob Cummings right into his spot.

But I differ with you on Danny Kaye as an acquired taste. I think it's deeper than that. Like cilantro: some with excellent palates retch on it, and it seems to be a genetic trait. I think some of us are just born with an aversion, and I don't know that the therapy has been devised that can get us over it.

Karen said...

You're braver than I, Gerard! I don't actually trust myself to speak about the dissing of the lustrous, limpid Audrey.

But I will happily hop on the Miriam bandwagon, and not just for Trouble in Paradise, which may well be the most perfect film ever made. I'll join the cheering throngs for her performance in the early Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which I think is the best version of that story ever made. I love how explicit it is in that film that Jekyll's sexuality is what turns him into Hyde. When he desperately, panicked, pleads with his fiancee to move up the date of their nuptials, knowing that the wedding night would finally let him put paid to Hyde? RrrrrrrRRRRrrrrrrrrrrrr!! That's entertainment!

Some might find Miriam Hopkins a trifle mannered, with that odd, trilling voice midway between Kay Francis and Billie Burke, but I find her delicious. She is absolutely on my "I'll watch anything with..." list!

Oh, and as an aside, Gerard, I just realized that you're the Gerard Jones of The trouble with girls, both volumes of which I've just ordered for Columbia's collection. I'm very much looking forward to reading them!

Noel Vera said...

Audrey? Skinny, bony, not my type. But I give her a pass because, well, she's Audrey.

Like Ingrid Bergman, she can become emotional as easily and naturally as she'd flash a smile. It's why they love to break her heart in her pictures--she's such a great weeper. Like she's translucent and you can see right through her. That kind of emotional vulnerability is rare.

Gerard Jones said...

Well, Karen, had I realized you were in a position to increase my royalties I would never have mocked your opinion of Irene Dunne. Still, it all balances out: we're together on early Ginger Rogers, "Never Gonna Dance," Miriam Hopkins and Vivacious Lady. (And anyway, I know you'll come around on Irene sooner or later.)

Your comment about buying comics for Columbia made me check out your website...and what a learning experience that is! Such an intriguing career you have, and such an intriguing brain must be driving it. I'll keep exploring. Just remember, when reading Trouble with Girls, that I wrote that stuff in 1987 (the same year you were posing for really hot pictures in bars). Whatever you don't like, blame it on my youth. Whatever you do like, I'll insist I still have it, with the help of regular exercise and a sensible diet.

But I shouldn't bore the rest of the Sirenhood with this. I'll just encourage everyone to find "Karen Green" on Siren's link list and check out, if nothing else, the Karen Green movie collection. Indispensable, especially on '30s rarities.

Here I will conclude by seconding you on Dr. Jekyll. The only adaptation I've seen in which they caught what Stevenson was trying to say but wasn't allowed to make explicit. It's as if no one else stopped to ask, "Just would a Scottish writer in the mid 19th Century mean by 'darker impulses'?" And that shot of Miriam on the bed! Caramba!

Vito Marzullo said...

I agree with many of the points made above.

It was truly disorienting and upsetting when I learned in early adulthood that seemingly decent, discerning people had no regard for Danny Kaye. Yes these people tended to be "Gentiles", so some allowances had to be made, but still.

Danny could be mawkish and also less than convincing in his on-screen romantic pairings. But the Court Jester is an amazing tour de force. And he had good bits in other movies as well, the "Choreography" number the Great Wolcott cites being just one. It's been quite a while since I saw "Wonder Man", but I think that has its inspired moments.

The other thing people should bear in mind is that unlike some of the people mentioned above, Danny Kaye wasn't just about movies. He was almost TOO multi-talented, frenetic and a bit too intense for film, so he sometimes ended up doing this saccharin thing by default. His recordings of the Grimm Bros. and other children's stories, done some time in the late 1960s, in which he did all of the voices, were amazing. I liked him on the Muppet Show too.

On the overrated side, I think there needs to be some reconsideration of William Holden. Unwatchable? No. Yes, he is more interesting than Glenn Ford and was less annoying than Mickey Rooney and some others who've been mentioned. Yes, he was in more than one picture of lasting merit which his presence did not fatally undermine. Yes, some of his characters had "anti-hero" qualities in eras not known for this. But Billy Wilder gets the credit for that, not him. I find him a bit too smug in his characterizations be they cynical or righteous.

If we had a category of "not totally unwatchable but what's the fuss?" I think we could place him under that heading.

Gerard Jones said...

I think I do have to back off my anti-Danny-Kaye sentiments a bit. I feel a bit like the person who said she doesn't like Irene Dunne...except for Awful Truth, Theodora, Roberta.... I do enjoy him in White Xmas, with some uncomfortable moments. Some of his frenetic pure-comedy stuff is funny. But that saccharinity is hard to escape. Much like Jerry Lewis. Very funny moments...but then it goes horribly wrong...

Noel Vera said...

Whoa--William Holden in The Wild Bunch was anything but smug.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Couldn't agree more about Ebsen (the poor man's Ray Bolger, with creepy politics too) and Lawford (the poor man's David Niven). Also can't stand Bob Hope -- in the "Road" movies I thought Crosby was the funny one. I wouldn't grab the remote if Glen Ford came into view, unless it was that horrible remake of "Lady For a Day," but I wouldn't seek him out. I'm indifferent to Loretta Young, but ROBERT Young makes me question the studio system. My particular bete noir is Frank Morgan -- did he ever deliver a line without a minimum of two chortles? I think he's the reason I never embraced "The Wizard of Oz" as all true movie lovers are supposed to.

Victor Mature! At least he inspired one of Groucho's greatest cracks: of Mature and Hedy Lamarr in "Samson and Delilah" he said, "The trouble is, he has bigger tits that she does."

And now for the blasphemy: I do not like Paul Muni. Kosher ham.

Mandrake said...

Random thoughts:

Hear, hear on Glenn Ford. As a huge Fritz Lang fan, I've always found it hard to muster the proper enthusiasm for "The Big Heat", solely because of the bland, stolid presence of Glenn Ford in the leading role. Watch Spencer Tracy in Lang's "Fury" for an idea on how the role should be played.

I would recommend picking up the excellent Eclipse Series release of "Lubitsch Musicals", after which, I think, Jeanette MacDonald would disappear pretty quickly from your list.

Please add Stewart Granger.

Pat O'Brien is another actor that fare much better if you check out more of his pre-code work. Plus, for me, being one of the fastest talkers - if not THE fastest talker - in Hollywood history counts for something. Check him out with JImmy Cagney in "Ceiling Zero", and hang on for dear life.

Red Skelton always struck me as someone who attempted to use humor (fruitlessly) to mask the fact that he was a mean bastard. On a more minor level, I've always gotten the same feeling from supporting player Regis Toomey, and he didn't even bother to make any attempt at humor.

Gerard Jones said...

Just back from seeing Bordertown with Paul Muni, Bette Davis and Margaret Lindsay at the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto, CA. (A beautiful venue that makes even ordinary movies look glamorous, entirely dedicated to old Hollywood--anyone visiting the SF area should take an evening for the Stanford.) And yes sir, could that Muni ham it up. Of course, the fact that he was assigned to play a thickly accented Mexican-American hooligan didn't help, but even then, compared to, say Spencer Tracy in Tortilla Flat (plenty hammy too), he did an awful lot of eye popping and brow bobbing and lip curling and head dipping.

But even for all that, I liked watching the guy. He had some kind of charisma. And for the first time I think I known where Kirk Douglas got that little tic of growling at the end of a sentence. In fact, I saw a lot of Kirk Douglas in him, bared teeth and all. Some actors just make hamming fun. Or maybe it's just that personal emotional connection again--I'd rather watch Muni, even while I can see how he's overacting, than a lot of actors I can defend better intellectually.

peg said...


i always thought there was a straight line from muni to garfield to douglas (with garfield being my way fave of the three and douglas my least). from the 30s through the 50s, no matter what role they were playing, they were the angry, sexy jews (adding "neurotic" would have just been redundant) when all others were... not.

paciono & de niro took over in the 60s and that characteer became the angry, sexy italian.

surly hack said...

I'll stop laughing long enough to write that I agree with sooo many of these.

surly hack said...

You've got me thinking...I've always been repelled by Gene Raymond. And Conrad Nagel was a stiff.

My dad loved Danny Kaye and would do an impression of him and play his records, so I'm prejudiced. At the same time, I'm a film buff, and Kaye was smothered in lots of Goldwyn junk. But on radio and record he was a wonder.

tangobaby said...

I have to say that if you can see Loretta Young in her early, early work, not only Zoo in Budapest, but Midnight Mary (where she pays a gangster's moll) and Employee's Entrance (with the impeccably wonderful Warren William), you might just change your mind about her.

I don't like her in the later films but these three are enough for me.

I love your blog. I have to remember to get over here more often.

Juanita's Journal said...

GLENN FORD - Reliably dull. Adequate, but never more, in a number of excellent movies."

You found Glenn Ford dull? Glenn Ford? Huh.

Diana Cournoyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diana Cournoyer said...

I love the internet! I was sitting at my kitchen table and for some weird reason the song "Pettin' in the Park" popped into my head and got stuck there, which just made me so mad because it made me have to think of Ruby Keeler whom I loathe and who I wish was not in so many movies that I love! It got so bad that I had to sit down and google "Ruby Keeler overrated annoying" (or something like that), because I really needed to read something snarky about her to make myself feel better.

And I found your awesome blog post.

And I read it and loved it.

And then I read every one of the 130 comments, and loved them.

And now it's like 2 hours later and I'm no longer pissed about having Ruby Keeler pop in my head. I must read more of your blog, but will have to do that tomorrow!

Oh, and I also must read your friend whom you linked to at the beginning of your post. If she dislikes Bogie and Chaplin, she can't be all bad!

{Sorry for posting - deleting - reposting. I wrote something in my first comment that I thought better of once I hit 'post'.)

The Siren said...

Many thanks for the kind words, Ursula, although you now have Pettin' in the Park stuck in MY head. That's okay, I forgive you, and I hope you continue to stop by. Cheers!

Brian Paige said...

One thing that is important to note about Keeler is that the roles she played were often of the "inexperienced chorus girl or amateur" variety. So if she sorta sucks that is part of the charm. Powell carried her.

I might take some heat for this one but here's someone I never totally got: Sylvia Sidney. It's not even that she's BAD really, but I don't quite get why she was this huge star. In Dead End she gets this huge billing over McCrea and Bogart, and also gets top billing over March, Raft, etc. in other films. She was a total product of Depression era Hollywood, and once the Depression ended so did her quality roles.

I might also get some heat for this, but Gary Cooper is someone I run hot and cold on. Try and watch his early talkie roles...he sucked. High Noon is also a movie that gets a little worse every time I see it.

As for underrated, guys like McCrea and Warren William have been mentioned, but how about Lee Tracy? It's almost a shame most people remember him now for his goofy turn in Doctor X (which is still one of my favorite movies), but watch him in other 1932-33 pre code fare and he rules the universe. I would have loved for him to recreate Hildy Johnson in The Front Page, maybe opposite Cagney. Though Tracy seems more the Walter Burns type really. Put him as Burns with Cagney as Johnson and the screen might have combusted.

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

I totally disagree about two actresses included in your list: first of all, I find Loretta Young charming in comedies such as "Cafe Metropol" or "Love is news". She and Tyrone Power sparkle anytime they appear together (and they were the most beautiful couple of the 30's).
I will also stand for Dolores del Rio. Her beauty isn't "manly", her strong features are racial, a beautiful resemblance of her indigenous heritage. Have you seen her in her silents? She was ravishing as Ramona, Evangeline and Charmaine. And your must see her in her Mexican films. "Maria Candelaria" (awarded in Cannes) and "Flor silvestre" show her as a Mexican native and you see her in all her splendor (beautifully photographed by Gabriel Figueroa). I think you can say the same thing about Gina Lollobrigida or Sophia Loren: they are much better when they act on their native tongue.
I also like Jeanette McDonald in her Pre-Code period. Four Lubitsch's and "Love me tonight"? Come on!
PS: Van Johnson shall be in your list. I can't stand him (wanted to blow him out of the screen in "The last time I saw Paris"). And I don't get the Wallace Beery-Jackie Cooper team neither the George Burns-Gracie Allen one.