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Tuesday
Aug272013

Introducing... Five Nominees From 1952

I've always been interested in the way characters / stars are introduced within their films. Sometimes you can feel the filmmaking underlining the moment: look here, you will love this character! At other times their intro is either sneaky or nonchalant as the actor waits for their key moment later on to really sell their character. We must make this a regular series I think! Let's use it now to plug this Saturday's Supporting Actress Smackdown. 

Consider the way the Oscar nominees of 1952 are introduced...
I've ranked them according to the quality of their filmed entrance though this should not be construed as a comment on their eventual ranking in the Smackdown.

Colette Marchand and Jose Ferrer in Moulin Rouge (1952)

Monsieur Monsieur, please! Say I'm with you."
-Marie's first line in Moulin Rouge

a prostitute, a  student, a nurse, a society wife and a movie star after the jump...

1. COLETTE MARCHAND as "Marie Charlet" in Moulin Rouge 
Moulin Rouge follows Toulouse Lautrec (Jose Ferrer) on a really long walk home from the title club. It's a long walk because of the artist's physical disability which tactless Marie calls him out on quickly "what's wrong with your legs. Can't you walk any faster?" but this interminable walk is mostly slowed down by numerous flashback's to his formative childhood accident. When Marie enters, darting through shadows and suddenly sidling up to him, we immediately recognize her as a volatile personality, a street smart hooker, an ingratiating "friend" and a proud free spirit  - her "please" is the only hint that she's not 100% confident that this stranger won't give her up to the cop behind her. Check that lift in her chin and the swing in her arms when she knows she's won her battle with the cop chasing her before he even grabs her arm in the next frame. This is a stagey-theatrical entrance but mostly it comes as a blessed relief that the flashbacks are over 27 minutes into the movie.

Thelma Ritter and Rory Calhoun in "With a Song in My Heart"

2. THELMA RITTER as "Clancy" in With a Song In My Heart
Thelma enters the frame 3 minutes in, shortly after the opening credits in this musical biopic about Jane Froman (Susan Hayward), though it's not really a character intro. After the title song begins we pan across the enraptured crowd until the offscreen voice sings "I behold your adorable face" and we cut to the two-shot above. If Thelma Ritter's face doesn't qualify for sung adoration, I don't know what does! It's always so great to see her. Unfortunately Hollywood's premiere Supporting Actress (six nominations in the category, the most ever) vanishes again after this as the voiceover narration begins. Since Thelma plays Jane's nurse we don't see her again until the picture needs her... and boy does it ever need her! 

Take it easy kid. You'll get water when the doctor says so and not before"
-Clancy's first line in With a Song in My Heart 

56 minutes into the biopic after the singer's brush with death in a plane accident, she reenters the picture for her true introduction with her typical salt of the earth sass as the delirious singer asks for some agua. It's a not-so secret trick of winning praise as a Supporting player to deliver a jostling wake up call to a picture that's threatening to doze off - see also even terrible performances like the Zeéeeee's in Cold Mountain.

3. Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in Singin' in the Rain

Gene Kelly & Jean Hagen enter Singin' in the Rain

Ohhh folks, this is it. THIS IS IT. The stars of tonight's picture, those romantic lovers of the screen, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont! Ladies and gentlemen, when you look at this gorgeous couple it's no wonder they're a household name all over the world like... bacon and eggs. 

But who is the bacon and who is the eggs?This meta moment, three minutes into the movie, introduces us to the stars of the picture as the stars of one of the many motion pictures within it. The scene is built with much fanfare (screaming and fainting crowds, exclamatory host, major Hollywood premiere) but it's Gene Kelly who does all the talking. Jean Hagen's performance as Lina is initially constricted to unwavering smiles. You'd mistake her for a glam robot if it weren't for those hungry darting eyes that are taking in as much of the crowd's adoration as possible. Remarkably the movie manages to keep her silent and tease the big joke of her awful awful voice for the entire first reel before you hear it. 

For heaven's sake, what's the big idea? Can't a girl get a word in edgewise?"
-Lina Lamont's first line in Singin' in the Rain 

Her first big joke 13 minutes into the picture wouldn't work without her silent introduction within the movie's noisy opening bit.

4. GLORIA GRAHAME as "Rosemary" in The Bad and the Beautiful
I forgot to snap a photo of her entrance! My apologies. This Oscar winning character is a very late arrival to her movie. We don't see her until the 83 minute mark and even then only in long shot while she's already deep into reading an anthropological paper about an island to group of society women.

[reading]...techniques of marriage and consummation. These are the concerns of the anthropologist rather than the of the sociologist and certainly not for the drawing room."[/reading].  Ahem…
-Rosemary's first line in The  Bad and the Beautiful 

Ahem indeed. She gets a complicit laugh from the room and continues to flirt and charm for the rest of her screen time. Which is remarkably brief for an Oscar winning role! 

5. TERRY MOORE as "Marie Buckholder" in Come Back Little Sheba

Terry Moore and Shirley Booth in "Come Back Little Sheba"

Good Morning."
-Marie's first line in Come Back Little Sheba

Marie is the first character we meet in Come Back, Little Sheba. We join her the second the credits end as she strolls on up to the sad suburban house of Mr & Mrs Delaney (Burt Lancaster & Shirley Booth) where nearly the entire movie, based not at all surprisingly on a play, takes place. Marie, a college student, is there to be see about a room for rent. And the two women have a conversation that's all small talk. The most we can figure about Marie from this scene is that she's a) very polite and b) not dumb. Mrs Delaney does her best to play gracious 'you'll barely notice me!' host but Marie, like the audience she's playing surrogate for in the first scene, is visibly sizing this housewife up and less concerned with the room then whether she wants to spend a whole movie/semester with this frumpy nervous chatterbox.

Did you perk up at these introductory scenes? Which did you like best?

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Reader Comments (14)

Thanks. This is very instructive. I still think Jean Hagen's is one of the GREAT comic creations of the screen, and I'm disappointed she didn't win, but comedy always has a hard time at awards season.

August 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFrank Kelly

I've really only paid attention to two of these performances. I've loved (and laughed with) Jean Hagen's performance for years. I always wanted to see Gloria Grahame's performance since I've always liked her and I wanted to see what beat Jean Hagen.

To this day I'm still scratching my head over this one. Please tell me what I'm missing.

August 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

Loved this.

August 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWill h

I have a feeling Jean Hagen's gonna win the smackdown. Can't wait to find out though!

As for character introductions - I so agree! Consider the likes of Nicole Kidman in MOULIN ROUGE! or any character that emerges out of shadow/darkness? Consider the first moment we see the killer in a horror movie? It can effect the entire rest of the film (Leatherface in TEXAS CHAINSAW is a horrifying intro that's impossible to forget). And then there are the likes of, say, Viola Davis in DOUBT that the film actively feels like knows will be a big thing and makes us keenly aware that we're meant to be paying attention to them.

I'd be down for a regular feature on it!

August 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

I HEART this new concept!

August 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoel

I think the real question is: does Hagen give Mo'Nique a run for her money in total star-rating dominance or not?

August 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJake D

I really like this series too. Now I'm terribly sorry I missed a screening of Moulin Rouge last spring.

August 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Peggy Sue -- the movie has pacing issues for 100% sure but i think it's better than its reputation. at least there are a lot of lovely moments to look at and Marchand is pretty great in it

August 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

Grahame's win is puzzling. Of course she's good. But her big dramatic moment arrives offscreen. A head-scratcher.

August 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Like Glenn, I would love to see a recurring feature about actor's/character's film introductions. Loved this.

August 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTravis

All 5 nominees were great this year but there are 2 reasons why Jean Hagen did not win the Oscar;-

1.Despite what a wonderful movie it is - when it was first released it didn't win over the critics or the crowds. I think it scored just 2 nominations - an obvious mistake for sure.

2. Gloria Grahame had been around for years until she scored her first nom - for the B&TB and this surely was not just an Oscar for an excellent performance but a 'sorry we took so long' oscar as well. And don't forget she also appeared - again a wonderful performance - in that years Best Picture winner - The Greatest Show on Earth. How many times has the Academy rewarded an actor for one performance when they really were rewarding them for multiple performances?

BTW - Love these nostalgia pieces. Always enjoy going back to when movies were extra good.

August 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBette Streep

GG cannot get a break this round. ;-)

August 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

All of these performances are great, although I'm always partial to a little Thelma Ritter.

Doing this series is such an awesome idea. A retro of the 5 nominees and their entrances? Awesome. Thanks Nathaniel!

August 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCharlieG

I think Judy Holiday winning 2 years earlier for a dumb blond comedic role probably cost Hagen quite a few votes. Plus Graham was kinda overdue.

August 28, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterlongtimereader

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