Saturday, 23 March 2013

What if LOTR was made during Hollywood's studio era?

This blogpost is not going to be a book review or a film review, rather a 'what if' discussion. After reading LOTR and thinking about how it had been adapted for the screen, it dawned on me how it would have been near impossible to do the books justice before CGI. Thousands of orcs and uruk-hai, how to make Shelob believable, how to make the landscapes of Rivendell and Lothlorien extra magical. It would have been very hard to show the epicness of landscape and numbers in battles before Jackson embarked on his own little adventure (or at least to do the books justice).

However I did wonder this: if the films had been made during the 1920s-1940s, who would have been picked for the roles? Choosing the male actors would be very difficult because the actors of that era were so very different from the male roles in the books. I've had a few ideas like Peter Lorre to play Smeagol/Gollum (sneaky, mischievous, large eyes, cunning) but other than that it was difficult to put an actor from that time in the role of Aragorn, Legolas, or Gandalf.

On the other hand, the actresses for the female roles seemed a lot more fitting. Now before anybody criticises - yes each of these women belonged to their own studio and were in their prime at various times so technically it wouldn't have actually happened. But still, if it were possible to have these women work at the same time in the same films, and the LOTR trilogy was made during the era of the studio giants, just who would have played Galadriel, Arwen, Eowyn, and even Rosie Cotton? Here are my ideas. 

Galadriel - Greta Garbo.
This was an obvious one for me, and I'm sure that many of you will agree with my choice. Tolkien describes Galadriel in these words:

"Very tall [Galadriel and Celeborn] were, and the Lady no less tall than the Lord; and they were grave and beautiful. They were clad wholly in white; and the hair of the Lady was of deep gold… but no sign of age was upon them, unless it were in the depths of their eyes; for these were keen as lances in the starlight, and yet profound, the wells of deep memory."

Garbo has often been referred to as the most beautiful creature of the screen. Her face was one that revealed so much and yet said so little - expressing sorrow, anger, and all of the emotions more profoundly than most of her peers ever could; she told her story through her face. But aside from her physical beauty, height, and captivating eyes, Galadriel had characteristics that are resonant with many characters whom Garbo played, for example, Queen Christina. Powerful, strong, wilful, mysterious - each of these characteristics can be applied to both women. Even the final scene of Queen Christina where Garbo stares out at the front of her ship, it could easily be Galadriel on her journey to the Undying Lands. This image of Garbo from The Temptress is how I picture her as Galadriel except she would need much longer hair. Galadriel had more presence than anyone in Middle Earth with her incredible wisdom, as well as being dangerously intimidating; yet there she is hugely kind to those who are good. Nobody from that era could have played Galadriel other than Garbo.

Arwen - Vivien Leigh.

Arwen is supposed to be the most beautiful elf and being in Middle Earth; such a beauty that she is supposed to have spellbound Aragorn at first sight... who better to play this role convincingly than Vivien Leigh? To me, no actress could match Leigh's beauty therefore she has to play Arwen. When you compare Leigh's features there are certainly similarities between her and Arwen:

"...and there sat a lady fair to look upon, and so like was she in form of womanhood to Elrond that Frodo guessed that she was one of his close kindred. Young she was and yet not so. The braids of her dark hair were touched by no frost, her white arms and clear face were flawless and smooth, and the light of stars was in her bright eyes, grey as a cloudless night; yet queenly she looked, and thought and knowledge were in her glance, as of one who has known many things that the years bring. Above her brow her head was covered with a cap of silver lace netted with small gems, glittering white; but her soft grey raiment had no ornament save a girdle of leaves wrought in silver. "

The darkness of her hair, her porcelain skin - of course her eyes are a different colour but Leigh was famous for her cat-like eyes as well, so her eyes are equally convincing at being show-stoppers. Furthermore, her eyes are described to reveal much of the past and the future. In the film Waterloo Bridge, Leigh's eyes did most of the acting because they showed the emotions, sorrow, and the "sordid" past of her character. Leigh also had a very pixie like appearance with her dainty frame (see this image of her from a production of A Midsummer Nights Dream), whilst her achievements on film and stage gave her the air of royalty - it's fair to say that Leigh had presence and an enchanting quality in abundance even before her fame. To play Arwen convincingly you need to have an aura of royalty, grace, unmatched beauty, but also the sadness and wisdom of many years passed, and the knowing of the painful sacrifice you will have to make in order to be with your love, Aragorn.

Eowyn - Ingrid Bergman.
When wondering who would have played Eowyn, I couldn't think of any actresses suitable. Yes there were many actresses that could play strong, female roles, but to have that delicate balance of a flower and ice that the Lady of Rohan possessed is rare. However, when I thought about the scene were Eowyn confronts the Witch King, I could picture Ingrid Bergman (possibly because she played Joan of Arc) but Bergman played strong women in emotional turmoil so brilliantly, it suddenly became obvious that she would be perfect for the role. Because Eowyn had long blonde hair, Bergman would have to wear hers like she had it in Dr.Jekyll & Mr.Hyde, but a lot lighter.

“It was an evil doom that set her in his path. For she is a fair maiden, fairest lady of a house of queens. And yet I know not how I should speak of her. When I first looked on her and perceived her unhappiness, it seemed to me that I saw a white flower standing straight and proud, shapely as a lily and yet knew that it was hard, as if wrought by elf-wrights out of steel."

This idea of fragility and steel is embodied in Bergman. She has a fairness, warmth, and soft appearance, yet there is definite strength and coldness visible in her features and expressions that give her a warrior like feel. Bergman challenged the star system - she didn't want to be typecast, she wanted a challenge; characteristics not to far from those belonging to Eowyn who thought it unfair that she should not fight in battle because she was a woman.

Rosie Cotton - Rita Hayworth.
Rosie Cotton has a very minor role in the books, but she is given importance in the films because she is Sam's sweetheart. At the beginning we see that he has a crush on her, and at the end of the film where he stands on the brink of doom, his thoughts are of her. This just made me think of those Second World War stories, where pin-up cards were sent to soldiers to help them hope that back home a beautiful woman was awaiting their return. Rita Hayworth of course was the second most popular pin-up of the war, and with her glorious red curls (Hobbit-like) and beautiful face - was there a more lovelier woman for Sam to come home to? I pictured Hayworth as Rosie from this photo of her in a dream sequence from the film You'll Never Get Rich. Hayworth was a terrific dancer meaning she would catch Sam's attention at Bilbo's birthday like in the film, and even though she was a sex symbol of her time, there was a wholesomeness to Hayworth that suits the homeliness and purity of the Shire.

If you have any thoughts or preferences of who you think would be more suitable, please let me know in the comment section. As I said, this isn't anything enlightening or analytical, I just thought I would share my thoughts on the subject and see if anybody had thought of it before too.


  1. Really interesting post, I think an old-school Hollywood film would have made something some whimsical and poetic! But Hollywood would have been able to pull it off and have made an innovative film with it. In order to secure such a big epic, I can only see David O'Selznick as producer, he had the grandeur and the extravagance and the drive for such a towering epic. As for director, William Wyler would have got the best from such a diverse cast, or even Powell and Pressburger, with Jack Cardiff's sublime photography would have lit the screen! xoxo

    1. I agree Steph. Although I think someone like Selznick would have done what he could to bring the books to life as much as possible, the focus would definitely have been less on the battles. It would have been interesting to see!

  2. After reading your post and watching the films, I completely agree with your choices. And awesome call on Peter Lorre as Gollum. As I watched The Fellowship of The Ring, I couldn't help but picture Errol Flynn as Aragorn because he played such strong heroic leaders like Peter Blood and Robin Hood. I honestly think he could've pulled it off like Viggo Mortensen did.

    1. Wow - thanks, Abbi! So glad to hear you agree. I suppose given his screen persona, Flynn would be the ideal choice for Aragorn. He certainly was tall enough too!

    2. You're welcome. I had other actors come to mind afterwards for instance Olivier, but like you say given Errol's screen persona he seemed to me the perfect choice for Aragorn. All he would've needed was a dark brown-colored wig. Do you have any preferences as to whom could've played Aragorn? It is quite a hard task thinking of actors then who could have played the roles. Btw-Aragorn is my favourite from the trilogy..I adore him!:)

    3. I also think Errol would have made a good Legolas because he was so elegant and pretty. But then again Flynn is the closest who would fit Aragorn - his build, athleticism, regal quality, Flynn could also portray sadness very well. The character of Aragorn is so different to the men of Hollywood back then. Other ideas I had were Henry Fonda for Frodo and James Stewart for Sam. Laurence Olivier as Elrond perhaps. It's so hard!

    4. PS I love Aragorn in the trilogy too - he's gorgeous of course, but really admirable and heroic. I love Legolas though - he's just too cool. I think Gandalf is probably my favourite.

  3. I could totally see Laurence Olivier as Elron! As for Legolas, Tyrone Power came to mind. It would have been fascinating viewing the LOTR films had they been made during the studio era. Thanks for a wonderful discussion, Claudia! This topic is certainly an interesting one. Have a lovely day..

    1. P.S I love the idea of Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda as Sam & Frodo. They would've, no doubt, displayed the close bond between Frodo and Sam beautifully..seeing as they were actual bestfriends.

    2. Exactly! Their off-screen relationship would come across on-screen beautifully. Fonda has a natural goodness, upright, understated hero thing about him, and he has beautiful blue eyes which would show the struggle of Frodo well. Whilst Stewart is equally upright, underdog hero etc, he has a cute, 'aww shucks' thing about him, which would suit the role of Sam. Thanks for starting the discussion, Abbi! Nobody really responded to this post and I really wanted to know peoples thoughts! Stay in touch, have a great Sunday xx