Monday, 13 January 2014

Gene Tierney: My Favourite Actress

I have been a fan of Gene Tierney for years but it was only during the past few months when I decided to re-watch her films that I realised just how good an actress she was, and consequently, I now consider her my favourite. The Queen of noir excelled in her femme fatale roles but she was equally magnificent in period dramas, modern romances, and even the odd western. If it wasn't for the large following film noir has garnered over the decades, one wonders if Tierney's legacy would have faded into the background in comparison to the divas and icons of the studio era. Luckily, she hasn't faded, and although she may not be splattered all over popular culture like some of her peers, she is one of the most highly regarded, respected, and adored actresses amongst the global film community. And let's face it - she's Laura, the woman in the portrait... beat that!

Underrated during her time in films, it is a great shame that Tierney didn't live to see the wide acclaim so many filmgoers give her performances seventy years after her prime, not to mention her excellent taste in scripts/projects. When you look at her filmography, Tierney's is bursting with brilliance and variety. She never shied away from different roles but equally she didn't abandon her forte of film noir. This post will look at some of her films, with notes about her performance, the film, and of course photos showing her stunning beauty. I currently have fourteen of her films in my collection and want it to be more - I hope that the films of hers that haven't been remastered/released, or which are only available in the USA, will be available in UK soon. I recently ordered her autobiography, 'Self-portrait', so I'll be reviewing that on here in the future. For anyone who is interested, here is a short but very interesting documentary on Tierney's life which I was surprised to hear, was full of tragedy - Gene Tierney: A Shattered Portrait. She was a very strong, caring person, and I admire her as a woman as well as an actress now.

Thank you for the great performances Gene - you were an exceptional actress and an astonishing beauty. Your legacy in cinema, and particularly film noir, will be forever remembered and loved.

The Return of Frank James (1940)

This was Tierney's first film role, in which she notoriously critiqued herself as sounding like 'an angry Minnie Mouse.' I wouldn't go that far but her voice is different here, a lot higher - it suits the character though. She plays Eleanor Stone, a young and enthusiastic girl defying society by being a female journalist. Tierney is very different to how we usually see her. The character is very naiive, but strong-minded and eager to prove to her father that she has what it takes. Considering Tierney would later be so at home in the dark world of noir, she is perfect in this western role (which is considerably different to femme fatale types). Watching her here, you can see she is good, and her co-star Henry Fonda apparently remarked on it to studio head, Darryl Zanuck. I loved the banter between her and Fonda, they make a good team. The film isn't very remarkable unfortunately, enjoyable enough but not a great western. Still it was a hit at the time and was a solid stepping stone for Tierney's career to take-off from. 

Tobacco Road (1941)

I found myself quite bored with this one and I think that was down to how watered-down the plot was (the original novel is very risque apparently so the writers had to change much of the story). But there was a lot of hype surrounding it at the time, because of its daring nature and the fact that the great John Ford was directing it. Tierney has a very small part and hardly any lines, but she plays the part of Ellie May well. She plays a voluptuous, hillbilly stereotype, and the make-up/costume department did all they could to make her look as seductive as possible behind the grubby face and rags. Tierney still looks beautiful, and Ford tries to capture that with the few moments he has. For a Tierney fan, she has hardly any screen-time but she is the focal point for the all the promotion posters, etc, (funnily enough). 

Belle Starr (1941)

I haven't seen this but I really want to. Unfortunately the DVD available on Amazon UK has been reviewed as being very poor quality. This is a shame. The film is in colour so Tierney looks fantastic, but what I was really gutted about is that it's the first time Tierney and Dana Andrews work together on screen (Andrews is in Tobacco Road with Tierney but their characters never meet). I love the duo of Tierney and Andrews, so this is a real must-see for me. Belle Starr doesn't have the best reviews but it will be interesting to see Tierney in a Scarlett O'Hara type role and of course to see her and Andrews together.

Sundown (1941)

I have only seen parts of this film and I've read that I shouldn't expect much from it, but as far as beauty goes, this is one of Tierney's most stunning looks. Her hair is very long and she is given an exotic appearance, very different from the modern, all-American look Tierney has in films noir. Regardless, she looks incredible and the film shows what a ravishing beauty she really was. 

The Shanghai Gesture (1941)

If you love how Josef von Sternberg photographed Marlene Dietrich, wait til you see how he filmed Tierney. Von Sternberg captures her exotic quality and films her beautifully. She plays Poppy - a young girl excited by the 'evil' feel of a casino in Shanghai. Unfortunately, she gets herself into a lot of trouble, firstly with a gambling addiction and then by drinking heavily. Even Victor Mature, whose character was entranced by Poppy's beauty at the beginning, becomes disenchanted with her jealous, drunk state. A reckless brat, Tierney is unrecognisable character-wise.

Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake (1942)

Setting out on an adventure to find pearls, Tyrone Power finds a different treasure in the native beauty, Eve (Tierney). Exotic, again, but this time not in a dangerous way. Eve is the most beautiful woman on the tropical island, but she's also a loving, sweet woman whom Power falls head over heels for. The scenes with him teaching Eve English and setting up house are very cute and feel like a real romance is blossoming. Considering in her later films Tierney is a very intelligent, conniving femme fatale, here she is very convincing as a young girl trying to learn, who is ignorant of the outside world and troubles Power has to face. We don't need convincing as to why Powers is drawn to her, Tierney looks immaculately beautiful and is all natural - a breath of fresh air from his troubles in England.

Rings on Her Fingers (1942)

This film is pretty difficult to get hold of. There are region 2 and region free copies available on Amazon but they're expensive. I really want to see this because it's a screwball comedy, and I've never seen Tierney do one of those before (I'm sure she is brilliant). Best of all it teams her with Henry Fonda again and they were so brilliant together in The Return of Frank James. From the stills and clips I have seen they have a lot of scenes with each other and the film looks hilarious. Can't wait to see this. Shame it's not better known, would probably be easier to get hold of then.

Thunder Birds (1942)

Enjoyable film in fabulous colour - Tierney looks terrific! She doesn't have as much screen time as some of the male characters but her presence is felt and she definitely gives the film a much-needed lift. This is just a run-of-the-mill picture that I expect Tierney had to do as part of her contract. So don't expect anything exceptional. But because of Tierney's ridiculous beauty and talent, the role and film are made more memorable.

Heaven Can Wait (1943)

Charming film from Ernst Lubitsch. Lothario Don Ameche is changed for the better by the arrival of lovely Martha (Tierney) whom he falls in love with at a book store. Although he is flawed, Martha understands and forgives him, making Ameche realise just how dearly he loves her. The role of Martha is understated, and where some actresses may have been OTT trying to steal the show from the main character played by Ameche, Tierney simply goes with the flow. Lubitsch photographs Tierney beautifully, and really emphasises her striking eyes.

Laura (1944)

Tierney's iconic turn as Laura Hunt, the mysterious beauty and "murder victim". Talk about perfect casting. Laura is supposed to cast a spell on every man who crosses her path. For the role to work, you needed an actress with a cool, mysterious allure... spellbinding beauty but also a contemporary look (nothing too regal or glamorous). Tierney had all those qualities in spades, and to top it all off, she could act the part too. Sweet and caring, but don't you dare double-cross her, Laura is a wonderful character in the world of noir. Tierney played the part so well, you can see why she was such a popular choice when it came to future leading ladies in the genre. Not to mention her pairing with Dana Andrews - those two sizzle together on screen!

Leave Her To Heaven (1945)

The only Oscar-nomination in her career, Tierney's performance as Ellen won her critical acclaim. Obsessive, cold-hearted, and conniving, Ellen is a deadly femme fatale whose actions are shocking even today. We cannot predict what she is going to do next, we do not know how her mind works... all we know is that Ellen is unstable and a dangerous woman whom Cornel Wilde may well regret bumping into on the train. Tierney's performance is outstanding. Full of depth, we truly witness the slow deterioration of Ellen's mind, as it moves from devotion to obsession.

Dragonwyck (1946)

Typical storyline with a very Jane Eyre feel to it. Totally at home in a period drama, Tierney is endearing as Miranda. What I really enjoyed about this film is the chemistry between Tierney and her leading man, Vincent Price. They had worked together before in Laura but Tierney's screen time is mainly with Andrews. Here she is all Price's, and they bounce off of each other wonderfully.

The Razor's Edge (1946)

For me, this is Tierney's greatest performance. Unbelievably it was her co-star Anne Baxter who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress - Tierney didn't even receive a nomination which is appalling! Even next to her leading man Tyrone Power, she totally dominates the picture. It is her character Isabel whom we remember vividly. Bitchy, drama queen, possessive, spoilt, snobbish... qualities we detest in people but adore when it's being played on screen, and Tierney pulls it off with such elegance. She is so sly in this! In Leave Her To Heaven her character is dangerous because she is mentally unstable, but here what is different and so much more powerful, is that Isabel is completely aware of what she is doing. She won't stop at anything. She has some tremendous scenes with Herbert Marshall (intense chemistry here - shame they didn't work together more). But the way Tierney walks, watching other characters closely, always analysing the situation and planning her next move... it's really masterful. I wish she had received more acclaim at the time because this is a truly great performance. Her scene walking down the stairs in a black dress is one of those superstar Hollywood moments. She looks incredible and gives the performance of her life (in my opinion).

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

One of my favourites films, a true period romance. Tierney is 100% convincing as an English widow falling in love with the ghost of a sailor (Rex Harrison). A fantastical romance, hard to pull-off in a film if you have bad actors.Thankfully Harrison and Tierney have a real spark, bringing feisty attraction to the relationship, and making the performance every inch believable. You really feel for Lucy Muir (Tierney) because she longs for something she cannot have in this life. Tierney is so real here. Her character seems of another era, mature, and a far cry from her femmes fatale. It is wonderful to see her softness, kindness, but also feisty spirit slowly tame the rude sailor, who eventually falls for her too. A must-see for anyone who loves a good romance. Definitely one of the best from the studio era.

Whirlpool (1949)

The first in a string of noirs which Tierney threw herself into at the end of the 1940s/beginning of the 1950s. Not a masterpiece for sure but enjoyable. Tierney is Ann Sutton, a woman who is being hypnotised and forced to perform tasks that eventually lead to her being framed for murder. Glamorous, confused, mysterious yet pleading her innocence, Tierney is back on familiar soil as a beautiful woman who has the police unsure of whether to believe her or not. This role is no problem for Tierney, she knows what to do, and gives the film class.

Night and the City (1950)

Acclaimed noir co-starring Richard Widmark. Tierney is his girlfriend, Mary, who is tired of his wild ambitions constantly failing and leaving her to pay for it all. The film is really Widmark's film, full of action, deceit, and a leading character who you can see is setting himself up for a big fall. Tierney's role is to simply be the woman behind the man, looking disappointed and frustrated at his insistance of still getting caught up with the wrong crowd. Her presence is felt throughout the film. We are Mary, helplessly watching Widmark dig himself a deep hole which he can't get out of.

Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)

Teamed up with Dana Andrews again, Tierney is Morgan Taylor, the daughter of a man who is taking the rap for a deed Andrew's detective, Dixon, has done. The image of goodness, stability, and everything Dixon aspires to be, she is the catalyst for Dixon changing his ways and finally doing the right thing. Dixon has been playing dirty for years, will a woman really change him? If she's Morgan then yes. Tierney makes this change of Dixon's character believable because she is so honest, good, and caring. A solid film noir and solid performances from Tierney and Andrews. They've always had remarkable chemistry and here it's no different. 

No comments:

Post a Comment