Monday, 16 December 2013

A sad week for old Hollywood

These last couple of weeks have been pretty shocking in the world of old Hollywood. Even though that era ended decades ago, the films and people of that time still thrive in the hearts and minds of fans across the globe. From those who were alive during 1930s-50s, to someone like me who discovered them at the age of 15 back in 2006, there is still a massive following for the great films and legends of those golden years. There have been a few deaths recently, but I will only comment on those actors who's films I've seen. May they each rest in peace.

Joan Fontaine (1917-2013)

Beautiful Joan. Just the other day me and my sisters were discussing how many of the 'old stars' were left, and I commented on how both Joan and her sister Olivia de Havilland (respectively) were still going strong. How shocked I was today to hear of Fontaine's passing. She is so splendid in Rebecca (1940). Few can pull off naive, innocence, and sweetness - usually it just comes across as stupid or someone can't act. But Fontaine performed the role of Mrs. de Winter masterfully. She was adorable and totally convincing as the woman to save Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) from the darkness of his previous marriage. Later in her career, she played the role of Rowena in Ivanhoe (1952) opposite Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor. She plays an older woman who loses the heroic Ivanhoe to the young and ridiculously beautiful Rebecca. For this she had to have dignity, class, and be gracious in defeat. Fontaine was perfect in this role.

I have yet to see her in Suspicion (1941) - the picture which won her the Best Actress Oscar and was her second outing with Alfred Hitchcock. Others in her filmography I am eager to see are Letter From An Unknown Woman (1948) and The Constant Nymph (1943). Thank you for the wonderful performances, Mrs. de Winter, it was always a pleasure.

Peter O'Toole (1932-2013)

I haven't always been O'Toole's biggest fan. He was never my favourite actor, but I respected him greatly and was blown away by his performance in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) when I watched it for the first time last year. Without a doubt his performance as Lawrence is one of the greatest by an actor in cinema. Absolutely outstanding.

Eleanor Parker (1922-2013)

When I watched The Sound of Music (1965) with my best friend a couple of years ago, she commented on how attractive the Baroness was and asked me if she was particularly famous. Not knowing who the actress was, I replied no. How stupid I felt when the credits rolled and I saw that it was Eleanor Parker, an actress who's name I'd seen constantly in film studies, analysis, and on DVD covers. She was really brilliant in The Sound of Music. The two leads of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer almost steal the show, but Parker really held her own and is as memorable as anyone else in the film. Her presence is strong and her character feels like a real threat to Maria and the Captain's chance of happiness. But Parker doesn't ruin the role by making herself a villainess, or acting over-the-top with jealousy. Instead she is very sweet, polite, decent, and proper, perfectly camouflaging the anger she probably feels at this nun contemplating her plans for marriage. What is so clever about Parker is that beneath that elegant facade, you can see the coldness in her eyes, like a viper, with her eyes carefully watching Maria's ever move. A wonderful performance.

I intend to watch more of Parker's films this coming year, including The Naked Jungle (1954), Caged (1950), Scaramouche (1952), and The Woman in White (1948 - a version I've been trying to catch for years).

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