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Joan Crawford: Queen Of The Silver Screen Blogathon: Sudden Fear(1952)

Joan Crawford blogathon

My friends Gabriela from Pale Writer, and Erica from Poppity Talks Classic Film, are teaming up together to host their first ever blogathon! They are honouring the life and career of Joan Crawford. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.    

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Joan as Myra Hudson. Screenshot by me.

I’m writing about Sudden Fear. It took me a while to get around to watching this film. Part of the reason it took so long to finally watch this, is that I have always much preferred Joan’s 1930’s and 1940’s films and performances to her later work. 

I have always felt that Joan’s performances in her earlier films are far more natural than her performances in many of her later films. I’ve also always found the characters she plays in her earlier work to be much more interesting than many in her later work. 

When I finally sat down and watched Sudden Fear, I didn’t know what to expect from either the story or from Joan. I was completely blown away by Joan’s performance as Myra Hudson. Joan effortlessly moves between playing a character who is a sweet and lovestruck woman, to one who is devastated, shocked and vengeful. Without a doubt Joan delivers one of her best performances in this film. Her performance here has ended up becoming one of my favourites from amongst her work.

I also like how Joan conveys to us exactly how lonely Myra is. Through her performance we see that despite being a successful, popular and wealthy woman, Myra is lonely and yearns for romantic companionship and happiness. It’s doubly cruel that she finds this long desired happiness, only for it to be snatched away in the most hideous and unexpected of ways. Joan more than deserved her third(and ultimately final)Oscar nomination for her phenomenal performance in this film. 

Sudden Fear is directed by David Miller(Midnight Lace, Lonely Are The Brave). The film is based on the 1948 novel of the same name, which was written by Edna Sherry. The screenplay is by Lenore Coffee(who would go on to write the screenplay for the gothic suspense film, Footsteps In The Fog, just a few years later) and Robert Smith. The film would be Joan’s first job for RKO Studios, this was after she had asked to be released from her Warner Bros contract earlier in the year.  

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Lester and Myra. Screenshot by me.

This film really surprised me with how it does an about face halfway through and becomes a completely different type of film. 

Sudden Fear starts off as a romantic drama and then it veers off into Noir territory. I love how the film switches genres and plays with our expectations of how the story is going to continue. 

Myra Hudson is a Broadway playwright who is watching rehearsals for her new plays. She rejects actor Lester Blaine(Jack Palance) for the lead role in the play after watching him rehearse. Lester is very hurt by her decision.

Some time later, Myra and Lester meet up again and find that they are drawn to one another. They get closer and end up marrying. Seemingly their marriage is idyllic and he has long since forgotten about the unpleasant way they first met. 

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Irene and Lester. Screenshot by me.

Unbeknown to Myra, Lester and his girlfriend, Irene(Gloria Grahame) are planning her murder so that they can get the money left in her will. Myra discovers their horrible plans, after the pair are accidentally recorded on one of the records Myra uses to record her script ideas on.

Myra is horrified, scared and devastated by what she hears them saying. She accidentally ends up breaking the record with the recording on it, and therefore she loses her proof that this plot against her is a reality. In order to protect herself from this point onwards, Myra begins to plan a murder plot of her own against Lester and Irene. Myra has great doubts about what she is planning to do though. It is uncertain who will strike first. 

Once we see the moment where Myra learns of the murder plot against her, Joan really makes us fear for Myra’s safety as much as Myra fears for it herself. Joan looks terrified, desperate, shocked, vulnerable and confused all at once. The discovery scene contains some of the best acting of Joan Crawford’s entire career in my opinion.

                                  Myra overhears the murder plot. Screenshots by me. 

In the space of just a few minutes, Joan Crawford convinces us that Myra’s world has come crashing down around her. The person closest to her has deceived her and doesn’t actually have a single shred of love or affection for her. Imagine how you would feel if you learnt this about someone you love. Myra loses her bearings upon hearing what Lester plans. Myra is completely adrift and alone at this moment. Myra doesn’t know what to do. She stumbles around the room, jumps at the slightest noise and looks as though she is about to suffer a breakdown. I love how Joan goes from displaying expressions of shock and confusion, to showing pain, grief, terror and fear. Joan really makes us feel the emotional impact of what this woman has just learnt. This scene is a real highlight of the film. 

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A shot from the sequence where Myra imagines her revenge. Screenshot by me

The other highlight of the film is the unforgettable sequence where Myra imagines her own murder plot becoming a reality.

This sequence is nightmarish and is filled with some very interesting imagery. The sequence reminds me quite a bit of Marlowe’s drug fuelled hallucinations in Murder, My Sweet (1944). 

I also love how we see Myra become more and more conflicted about what she is planning to do, but that we in the audience feel that we won’t blame her if she does go through with it. In a way her plot is a form of self-defence. The way this all plays out is very interesting and it doesn’t end the way you think it might. 

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Jack Palance. Too obvious a villain? Screenshot by me.

If there is a weak point to be found in the film, then I feel that it lies with the casting of Jack Palance. Please don’t get me wrong, he is a good actor and I can’t fault his performance here. It’s just that he is so well known for playing villains, that I for one have trouble accepting and trusting him as a supposedly decent guy.

This was actually only the second film he had ever appeared in, so at this point in his career he was pretty much still an unknown. I have no doubt that audiences at the time didn’t suspect him to be up to no good. If you are watching this now after being very familiar with his career as a villain, then it is much more likely that you too will consider him shifty from the beginning. 

I think that the role of Lester Blaine really required an actor who was very well known for playing good guys. If they had cast such an actor in the role, then I’ve no doubt that we would be just as shocked and confused as Myra is when she discovers the truth about him. As it is, I wasn’t the least bit surprised when Lester was revealed as the villain of the piece. Jack just seems super shifty from the beginning, which I’m sure isn’t what was intended by either the writer or director.

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Myra in fear for her life. Screenshot by me.

That casting issue aside, Sudden Fear is an excellent film, and is one which is filled with terrific performances. Joan Crawford steals all the scenes and is undoubtedly the main attraction. I can imagine no other actress playing Myra. I love how Joan captures how gentle, innocent and vulnerable Myra is. This role is very different from the many strong and confident women she had played before, and this role really highlights what a versatile actress Joan was. Gloria Grahame is also very good as Irene.

If you’re after a thrilling Noir film, then I highly recommend that you check this one out. It’s a film full of surprises and plenty of suspense. Have you seen the film? What did you think of Joan’s performance?

 

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Blogathons, Drama, Oscars, Page To Screen, Romance

The Greta Garbo Blogathon: Grand Hotel (1932)

Greta Garbo blogathon

Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood is hosting this blogathon all about Greta Garbo. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

Greta Garbo, or just Garbo, as she was so often called, was quite simply one of the most intriguing and talented film actresses that there has ever been. Her face spoke volumes. Greta was also an actress who really never needed any dialogue because  she could convey what the audience needed to know through looks and emotions alone.

Greta Garbo was perfectly suited to the Silent era style of acting, her face and eyes were her words; yet Greta was also something of a rarity in that her style of acting fit the talkie era too.Where many of her fellow Silent stars failed to make the transition to the Sound era, Garbo not only succeeded to successfully make that major transition, but she also retained the same level of fame and acclaim that she had enjoyed in the Silent era. That is a pretty remarkable achievement when you think about just how many other stars from the Silent era were not so fortunate. 

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Greta Garbo. Image source IMDb.

The only other actress I can think of who compares with Garbo for being able to make audiences so completely feel their emotion through the screen is Ingrid Bergman. Both let their faces and emotion speak for them. When you watch their films you do so to see those extraordinary faces in action.

A very private and shy woman in real life, the Swedish born Greta Garbo retired from acting and public life in 1941. Her screen persona (often a strong and independent woman)is still famous today. Greta Garbo was one of the all time greats and she continues to fascinate today. I first saw her in the tragic romantic drama, Camille, she broke my heart in that and I have been a fan of hers ever since.

For this blogathon I’m writing about Grand Hotel. It is in this film that Garbo utters that famous line which has since become her catchphrase – “I want to be alone”. That line may as well have come from Greta herself, as she also wanted to be left alone to live her own life as a private citizen.

Grand Hotel was directed by Edmund Golding, produced by Irving Thalberg, and it is based upon the 1929 novel by Vicki Baum. The novel was inspired by Vicki Baum’s own experiences working as a maid in a hotel.

grand hotel poster

When I first saw Grand Hotel,it led me to feel very differently about both Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford. I thought that Greta overacted in her role, I also felt that there was something rather artificial about her performance. This reaction really surprised me because I had been so impressed with the other performances of Greta’s that I had seen up to this point. 

It took me a couple of more views to appreciate and actually understand Greta’s performance here. Her character in this film is a prima donna, her actions and gestures are completely exaggerated, everything that she does is done purely to attract the notice of others.  Greta captures that sort of personality perfectly in her performance here. Her performance is over the top, and it is so because that is exactly what her character is like. When you watch her performance with that in mind, I do think you really begin to appreciate just how good a performance it really is.   

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Joan Crawford and John Barrymore. Image source IMDb.

I also found myself really liking Joan Crawford in this film. That was surprising to me because she wasn’t an actress who I had liked all that much up to this point. This film made me appreciate and like her a great deal more as an actress and I’ve been a fan ever since. I think that Joan was at her best in films made during the 1930’s and 1940’s, and I think that she comes across to me as being much more natural in these early films than in many of her later ones. She was a brilliant actress. Joan steals the show in Grand Hotel. 

Grand Hotel was one of the first all star films. The actors who appeared in this were among the biggest names of 1930’s cinema. I can well imagine that audiences at the time must have been so excited to see all these big stars together in one film. Greta Garbo was probably the biggest star in the film, other big names in the cast include the Barrymore brothers (John and Lionel)and Joan Crawford.

Greta Garbo plays Grusinskaya, a shy and acclaimed ballerina who is staying at the hotel while she performs on stage in the city. John Barrymore plays Baron von Geigern, a kind and good man, who has unfortunately squandered his fortune and now has to resort to playing cards and being an occasional thief in order to support himself. The Baron is planning on stealing Grusinskaya’s jewels, but he doesn’t plan on falling in love with her, or for her to return his feelings. Their growing love has a tragic edge to it which makes it all the more poignant as we see it unfold.

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The Ballerina and the Baron. Image source IMDb.

Lionel Barrymore is Mr. Kringelein, a loveable, weary, gentle and sick man, who is looking after himself for a change. He befriends the Baron and (possibly for the first time in his life)has a lot of fun. Joan Crawford plays Miss. Flaemmchen, an outgoing and ambitious stenographer who has been hired to work for a guest in the hotel. She befriends the Baron and Mr. Kringelein, and she falls in love with the Baron. He has great affection for her, but his heart is with the ballerina. Mr. Kringelein also develops great affection for the young woman, and there is a possibility that he has fallen in love with her too.

Wallace Beery plays Director Preysing, a wealthy, tyrannical, and hard hearted industrialist, who hires Miss Flaemmchen to assist him as he closes an important deal at the hotel. He is also the employer of Mr. Kringelein. Lewis Stone plays the hotels doctor, Otternschlag, a dignified man who was terribly disfigured during WW1. Jean Hersholt plays the dedicated and overworked hotel manager, Senf. He is eagerly awaiting news of his wife, who is about to give birth to their child. Rafaela Ottiano plays Suzette, the devoted and demure ladies maid to Grusinskaya.

These characters will all interact with one another during their stay at the hotel. Hearts will be won, hearts will be broken and lives will be forever changed. This will be one hotel stay that will never be forgotten by any of our characters.

It is the characters that give this film its heart and soul. We are made to feel for them deeply as the film goes on. We want the best for them, and we come to care about some of them very much indeed. I like that they all come across as believable and very real people, they are filled with flaws, quirks, and shades of light and dark. It is the characters that draw me back time and again to this film.

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The Baron, Miss Flaemmchen, and Mr. Kringelein. Image source IMDb.

My favourite characters in this are the Baron, Miss Flaemmchen and Mr. Kringelein. I love the bond that slowly develops between their trio, and some of the funniest and most moving scenes in the whole film feature these three. They become like a surrogate family and each provide the others with the kindness and acceptance they have all missed out on up to now. I also have to say how much I love it when the Baron calls Flaemmchen “funny one”. The Barrymore brothers and Joan Crawford all do such a terrific job of making their characters affection for one another seem completely genuine. We completely believe and feel their emotional connection.

The Baron in particular is the films heart. He is the character who connects the most with all the others. He brings happiness and also a sense of security into the lives of Flaemmchen, Grusinskaya and Kringelein. What happens to him later in the film is shocking, disturbing and heartbreaking. John Barrymore is certainly at his best in this role, conveying a weary, decent and gentle soul forced to do something morally wrong in order to survive. This performance has become my favourite from among John Barrymore’s many films.

The characters I feel the most sorry for are Kringelein, the Baron and Grusinskaya, they are each a sad person in different ways, and they all suffer a great deal of pain and heartbreak as the film goes on.

My favourite scenes are the following. The Baron meeting Flaemmchen for the first time. The entire sequence in the bar. The scene between Flaemmchen and Mr. Kringelein where she says she will stay with him(this never fails to make me go teary). The Baron comforting a distraught Grusinskaya. The introduction sequence. The phone ringing in the Baron’s empty room and we see his dog waiting on the bed for him to return.  😦  Grusinskaya not being told the truth about the Baron at the end, but deep down inside herself we see that she appears to know something is very wrong.

This one is a real character piece and I think that the story gives all the actors their chance to shine at some stage of the film. The cast all deliver solid performances. I think that Joan Crawford, Barrymore brothers, Greta Garbo and Lewis Stone deliver the best performances in the film. Despite the good story, the memorable characters, and the many stars which appear within it, I do think it is fair to say that it is Greta Garbo who has become the best remembered part of this film. 

Greta’s role in this film is the one that has become the most famous out of all of her screen work I’d say. As the decades have passed us by, the name of Garbo, and the title Grand Hotel have become forever linked to one another.

           Some facts about the film.

  • Buster Keaton was the first choice for the role of Kringelein. I would love to have seen him get the chance to play this more serious and tragic role. While it is intriguing to imagine Keaton in the role, I do think that in the end the right casting choice was made with Lionel Barrymore.

 

  • The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It wasn’t nominated for, and nor did it win, any other awards in any of the other categories.

 

  •  John Barrymore and Greta Garbo were very nervous about working alongside one another in this film. When they eventually met they both ended up getting along really well. 

 

  • Buster Keaton wanted to make a parody of this film with himself playing Kringelein. It would have been set in a New York flophouse, and it would have starred a number of other comedians in the key roles. I would so love to have seen this.

 

Any other fans of Grand Hotel? Please leave your comments below. What do you think of Greta Garbo in this film?