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Movie Love

Hello, readers of The Film Experience – Matt Zurcher, here. Aside from joining in on a few recent editions of Hit Me With Your Best Shot, it’s my first time writing at The Film Experience. I want to publicly thank Nathaniel for inviting me to cover for him today. In order to introduce myself, I wanted to make a little list focused on a trademark of this site – the adoration of actresses.

Is it possible to fall in love at the movies? I’m not talking about the fleeting arousal that Hollywood manufactures so well – I’m talking about that strange, lingering fantasy. Pauline Kael’s book titles – “I Lost It at the Movies,” “Going Steady,” “Reeling,” “When the Lights Go Down,” and “Movie Love” – all render moviegoing as a sexual experience. I can’t disagree with Pauline. There is something deeply intimate going on between the viewer and the screen. Fiction isn’t so far from Fact. When we’re properly pulled in, we don’t separate our feelings for the person sitting next to us from the person whose face is 20 feet tall.

These are five performances that continue to enchant me. Who have you fallen for in the dark?

5. Teresa Wright, The Best Years of Our Lives [Wyler, 1946]

I want to give the biggest high-five to the casting director of Best Years of Our Lives. Teresa Wright was not the most beautiful or charming choice to play the romantic lead and daughter of Frederic March’s WWII veteran. But her presence in Best Years is warmer than a Snuggie. She is the ultimate girl to take home to your parents. She isn’t sexualized and creates a portrait of calm concern for her family and relationships. She plays a young woman who believes in the value of emotional intimacy. Gregg Toland’s photography can’t be left out of this discussion. It’s a perfect example of Hollywood manufacturing the impossible ideal that pushes film so close to us.

four more lovely ladies after the jump

4. Kay Francis, Trouble in Paradise [Lubitsch, 1932]

Trouble in Paradise is a magnificent beast. Made in 1932, it’s a surprising masterpiece among cinema’s weakest period.

Kay Francis plays a wealthy perfume manufacturer who is pursued by Herbert Marshall’s relentless, charming thief. Trouble focuses on Marshall’s character, but his encounters with Francis remain some of the steamiest scenes in Hollywood history. The “Lubitsch Touch” might just be a wink, but Trouble insists on sex at every possible juncture. Shots of shadows on a bed and dissolves off of a couch encourage a type of blatant sexuality made possible by the lack of a production code. Francis tells the whole story with her eyes. They’ll narrow in suggestive playfulness or widen with irresistible amusement.

3. Joan Fontaine, Letter from an Unknown Woman [Ophüls, 1948]

Letter from an Unknown Woman’s heartbreaking force is about as unavoidable as gravity. Joan Fontaine portrays a woman battered by unrequited love. Her innocent countenance has never been better recognized or exploited than it was by Max Ophüls. He understood that Fontaine’s pleading eyes and commitment would lead the audience to the eventual tragedy.

2. Eva Marie Saint, North by Northwest [Hitchcock, 1959]

Hitchcock’s obsession with sexuality is not a secret. In fact, it’s one of his most valuable traits. His most popular masterpieces all contain independent blonde actresses who aid in catalyzing the primary conflict. Eva Marie Saint doesn’t have the fire of Kim Novak or the elegance of Grace Kelly, but she might have been the only actress who could match wits with Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill. North by Northwest has the tightest script in Hitchcock’s catalog – look no further than the extended love scene between the two leads, stuffed into a small cabin.

1. Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca [Curtiz, 1941]

Is anyone able to walk away from Casablanca without bittersweet desperation? Think about the daring ending. Would we still be talking about it if Bogey got on the plane with Bergman? Is that how Hollywood might execute the ending today?

In so many ways, Casablanca is an enigma – a singularity. It is a wartime commentary, timeless romance, and pinnacle of the studio system. But one thing cannot be argued – the electric, elegant presence of Ingrid Bergman. Her eyes that shine with tears as Bogey reveals his plan – Her subdued nostalgia when talking to Sam – Her composed response to frequent flattery from Renault. Bergman delivers a stable, measured performance that is far from risky (she played some much more adventurous roles) but I can remember watching her for the first time when I was 13. She showed me what beauty looks like.

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Reader Comments (25)

1. Natalie Wood in Rebel Without a Cause

2.Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice and Silkwood

3. Bette Davis in Jezebel

4.Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun

5. Maggie Smith in The Prime of Jean Brodie

To this day my love for all of them has never wavered.

August 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrick

Oh man, Natalie just clubs my heart every time. So many emotional performances. Her turn in SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS will always amaze me.

August 24, 2012 | Registered CommenterMatt Zurcher

You just made a friend for life in your love for Natalie... I was 12yo when movie came out and I immediately became a man!!!!!

August 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrick

There are so many wonderful performances. I can't even start to write a list without fighting with myself, so I won't attempt it. One thing I'd like to mention -though- since Ingrid Bergman has been mentioned is that I recently revisited Gaslight, her Oscar-winning performance. I was terribly disappointed. Her fit of hysterics at the end made me cringe. Overacting at its best.
Any of the other four nominees (Stanwyck, Davis; Garson and Colbert) deserved the Oscar before she did. My favorite was Barbara Stanwyck for her crowning performance in Double Indemnity.
Wonderful piece, Matt!

August 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

I've never seen the Kay Francis movie but I have seen all of the other performances. They are all subtle performances with vivid lighting. I appreciate seeing some unusual performances on this list. What are the next five? Numbers 6 to 10?!

August 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

Tracie Thoms, Death Proof
Geneviéve Bujold, Dead Ringers
Charlotte Rampling, Stardust Memories
Oprah Winfrey, Beloved
Kathy Bates, Fried Green Tomatoes

August 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter4rtful

Vivien Leigh in "A Streetcar Named Desire"

Meryl Streep in "Sophie's Choice"

Liv Ullmann in "Face to Face"

Edith Evans in "The Whisperers"

Geraldine Page in "Sweet Bird of Youth"

August 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

@Rick, seeing her at the age of twelve is indeed a dangerous thing.

@Marcos, good call on Stanwyk. Her contribution to THE LADY EVE will always feel like one of the most bold and brilliant casting choices I can think of.

@Dave, whatever it takes, find a copy of TROUBLE IN PARADISE. I've never met someone who regretted that choice. A few honorable mentions off the top of my head would be Stanwyk in LADY EVE (as I just mentioned), Bibi Andersson in PERSONA, Marilyn Monroe in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, and Bette Davis in ALL ABOUT EVE.

@4rtful and @patryk, both great lists. especially good calls with Bujold and Ullman.

August 24, 2012 | Registered CommenterMatt Zurcher

This is very good list (love the Eva Marie Saint mention) and we do appreciate some healthy Actressing from the newbies around these parts... but I started CRACKING. MY. SHIT. when I saw Bergman's 100% cheesecake smile in that Casablanca still. "Category is..."

August 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

@Matt Zurcher
Years ago I would have put Bibi Andersson in Persona on a list like this. Then I met her in person and saw how arrogant and downright cruel she was in real life. Way much better in Persona than in person. So this is my list, filled with actresses I've never met and thus never fallen out of love with:
1. Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night
2. Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids
3. Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby
4. Stephane Audran in Babette's Feast
5. Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona and Nicole Kidman in Practical Magic and Emma Thompson in Sense and Sensibility and Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise and Isabelle Adjani in Queen Margot and Liza Minnelli in Cabaret and Maria Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc and Shirley Maclaine in The Apartment and Marilyn Monroe in River of No Return and Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves because five just won't do.

August 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpockets full of stones

And oh. my. god. Jessica Lange in Frances!

August 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpockets full of stones

@Pockets, SO MUCH GOLD. Ms. Colbert hasn't caught on with me yet, but Katherine is unstoppable in BABY. I find myself drawn to her for very different reasons than the actresses I mention. Her power. Her ability to level even the most hardened man -- like Mr. John Ford himself. And very interesting bit of information about Bibi. Thanks for posting!

August 24, 2012 | Registered CommenterMatt Zurcher

Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno in West Side Story.

Penelope Cruz in Volver and Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.

Marketa Irglova in Once

And of course, my first movie love, Jasmine from Aladdin. Two year old me never recovered.

August 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJonny

So difficult to single out individuals.

My list would include:

Meryl Streep, Sophie's Choice
Katharine Hepburn, A Lion in Winter
Elizabeth Taylor, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
Emma Thompson, The Remains of the Day
Maureen Stapleton, Interiors

August 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

Well, from what I've seen recently:

Ava Gardner, The Night of the Iguana
Holly Hunter, The Piano
Michelle Pfeiffer, The Fabulous Baker Boys
Meryl Streep, A Cry in the Dark
Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

Hi everyone & thanks for guest blogging Matt. True story about Trouble in Paradise. I'm not a big "rewatcher" and the first time I saw it (rental) I watched it again the very next morning before returning it because I was so crazy in love .,

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

My favourite perfs in Wyler's BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES are Dana Andrews and Virginia Mayo's, so Wright's paramour and his wife

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMirko

There is no way that the year of Trouble in Paradise, Love Me Tonight, Fanny, The Most Dangerous Game, Vampyr(!!), The Old Dark House, Horse Feathers, Freaks (!!), Grand Hotel, I Am A Fugitive from A Chain Gang, Kuhle Wampe, Shanghai Express, Scarface (!!), Red Headed Woman etc etc could be considered part of the weakest period of anything (the entirety of the 1980s holds that distinction for eternity).

But beyond that, your give choices are fabulous and make me wanna be friends with you.

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Only five, that's tough but these are the five I have the most vivid memories of loving at first sight and having it stick.

Linda Darnell-I saw her in Blackbeard the Pirate when I was a young kid and thought God she's so beautiful then I saw A Letter to Three Wives and she was sassy, smart and talented. I've loved her ever since.

Julie Christie-Fahrenheit 451. So subtle but always conveys so much.

Susan Hayward-The President's Lady. Silk and sandpaper.

Judy Holliday-The Solid Gold Cadillac. That voice, the gentleness in every movement what's not to love?

Glynis Johns-The Court Jester. A bewitching woman.

Actually that's the same film I fell for Angela Lansbury & Mildred Natwick too. There could be so many more, Barbra Streisand-Funny Girl, Jacqueline Bissett-Airport, Suzanne Pleshette-The Birds, Priscilla Lane-Saboteur, Jane Fonda-Cat Ballou...the list goes on and on.

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Jane Wyman - Johnny Belinda
Irene Dunne - The Awful Truth
Loretta Young - The Farmer's daughter
Jean Arthur - A foreign Affair
Jean Simmons - All the way home

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFrancesco

Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl and The Way We Were
Anna Magnani in Rome Open City
SophiaLoren in The Sunflowers and Two Women
Monica Vitti in L'avventura
Vanessa Redgrave in Julia
Deneuve in Umbrellas of Cherbourg

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

No one has mentioned actors yet - my big three in this category would be Robert Redford in Out of Africa (I saw this for the first time when I was about 13, and I don't think I ever got over it), Cary Grant in North by Northwest, and Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. I'd always been a big fan of Murray's, but LiT made me see him in such a different way.

As for actresses, I'd choose Anouk Aimee in La Dolce Vita, Juliette Binoche in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious, which was, I think, the first time I saw her.

Thanks, Matt!

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

1. Donna Reed - clearly #1 in "It's a Wonderful Life" - I loved her just as much as George did.
2. Diane Keaton in "Annie Hall"
3. Ann-Margret - "Bye Bye Birdie" - just the opening song sequence did it for me.

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJimmy

oh.....I agree about Natalie Wood in "Splednor in the Grass".....do you still love him Deenie? augh. Deenie, you need a hug.

possibly Zooey in "500 Days of Suumer" - sining Sugartown.....too too cute.

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJimmy

@goran, You have a point. I'd certainly concede that when 1932 is laid out like that, it looks like a behemoth of greatness. I guess this might be the pivotal year between those early sound experiments that are so miserable and the beautiful maturation of sound film that would happen with Lang, Lubitsch, etc. in the late 30's. I've seen a lot of bad movies from between 1927 and 1932. Attribute it to growing pains. But we can certainly celebrate the existence of TROUBLE IN PARADISE (and many of the films you mentioned) as a perfect antidote.

@David, O-M-G. CATHERINE DENEUVE IS ACTUALLY AN ANGEL. really, she came very close to making my list with BELLE DE JOUR, one of the great performances in Bunuel's catalog.

@Suzanne, I'm so glad you named some actors! Comedy performances are so often ignored -- it's wonderful to see you giving Bill Murray some credit. He has been working on a high level for a long time. And his comedy is always rooted in something deeply tragic, too. GROUNDHOG DAY, for example -- a titanic performance. He's doing comedy, but he it's coming from a dark place.

August 26, 2012 | Registered CommenterMatt Zurcher
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