It always amazes me to realize that Charles Coburn didn't make a film until he was almost sixty years of age but what an incredible run he had over the next 28 years, becoming one of the Hollywood's great character actors and earning three Best Supporting Actor nominations: "The Devil and Miss Jones" (1941), The More The Merrier" (1943) which won him the statuette, & "The Green Years" (1946).

" /> It always amazes me to realize that Charles Coburn didn't make a film until he was almost sixty years of age but what an incredible run he had over the next 28 years, becoming one of the Hollywood's great character actors and earning three Best Supporting Actor nominations: "The Devil and Miss Jones" (1941), The More The Merrier" (1943) which won him the statuette, & "The Green Years" (1946).

" /> It always amazes me to realize that Charles Coburn didn't make a film until he was almost sixty years of age but what an incredible run he had over the next 28 years, becoming one of the Hollywood's great character actors and earning three Best Supporting Actor nominations: "The Devil and Miss Jones" (1941), The More The Merrier" (1943) which won him the statuette, & "The Green Years" (1946).

" />

CHARLES COBURN – LIFE BEGINS AT 60!

CoburnIt always amazes me to realize that Charles Coburn didn’t make a film until he was almost sixty years of age but what an incredible run he had over the next 28 years, becoming one of the Hollywood’s great character actors and earning three Best Supporting Actor nominations: “The Devil and Miss Jones” (1941), The More The Merrier” (1943) which won him the statuette, & “The Green Years” (1946).

I first became aware of him as a teenager when I saw “The Lady Eve” (1940) for the first time. The film’s verbal wit and sexual innuendo took me by surprise and I saw a side of Barbara Stanwyck I hadn’t seen before. (At the time she was the reigning star of the TV series “The Big Valley.”) But the thing that really fascinated me was the father-daughter relationship in that film which never wasted time on their backstory. Coburn & Stanwyck were simply a traveling pair of con-artists whose mutual respect and love for each other was expressed through their high stakes card games with unsuspecting rubes. It’s hard to find a craftier or more charming card shark in the history of cinema. Coburn fools everyone with his facade of the cultivated, well-bred gentleman when he’s actually a born cheater. But he has high standards. As he advises his daughter, “Don’t be vulgar, Jane. Let us be crooked, but never common.”Ladyeve

As much as I love him as “Colonel” Harrington in “The Lady Eve” I have to say that my favorite Coburn film is “The Devil and Miss Jones” (1941) if only because he has a bigger role and is consistently delightful as a tyrannical department store owner who goes undercover to find out what his employees really think of the management and to root out and fire the disgrunted workers. Assigned to the shoe department, Coburn arouses the sympathy of co-worker Jean Arthur who feels that elderly people shouldn’t have to work minimum wage jobs to get by. Naturally, Arthur’s boyfriend, Robert Cummings, is a budding Marxist who tries to organize his fellow workers to strike for better conditions (This subplot would have been highly suspect ten years later during the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings on communist infiltrators in Hollywood). As Coburn gets to know his employees, he realizes that the store’s management really is intolerable – he is almost fired by his floor manager (Edmund Gwenn) the first day on the job for chewing gum – and begins to see things from a completely difference perspective. The film gives Coburn the chance to run the gamut from blowhard to indignant outrage to outright embarrassment and shame and even allows him a romantic interest – Spring Byington, a fellow co-worker who helps cure his stomach troubles. Coburn’s acting here is a beautifully controlled comic performance that builds slowly to its well-deserved feel good fadeout. If you haven’t seen this underrated gem, check it out the next time TCM shows it.

Coburn has been great – and sometimes the best thing – in other films too such asĀ  “Vivacious Lady” (1938), “Bachelor Mother” (1939), Ernst Lubitsch’s “Heaven Can Wait” (1943), and two comedies with Marilyn Monroe! – “Monkey Business” (1952) and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes” (1953). He’s probably better known for his comedy films but he could be downright villainous when given the opportunity. He’s truly frightening as a cruel, sadistic doctor in “Kings Row” (1942). But even here you have to love him because he had the foresight to cut off Ronald Reagan’s legs so he couldn’t run for President. Actually, that didn’t stop the Governor elect of California from entering the White House later but it’s the thought that counts.

For Coburn watchers, there are some more opportunities to see him during 31 Days of Oscar. Check out “Vivacious Lady” on 2/21 and “Edison the Man” on 2/25 and “Princess O’Rourke” on 2/28.

12 Responses CHARLES COBURN – LIFE BEGINS AT 60!
Posted By MDR : February 17, 2007 3:14 pm

Coburn has been great – and sometimes the best thing – in other films tooI couldn't agree more, and the first movie I thought of was Heaven Can Wait (1943), which would have been an ordinary Lubitsch film (which is to say, still pretty great) without Charles Coburn's performance.  One B movie worth seeing because of this actor's title role performance is Unexpected Uncle (1941) with Anne Shirley and James Craig.I've yet to see The Green Years (1946); Coburn is top-billed yet he received a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination?  Anyway, since it's an MGM film, perhaps we can hope to see it on TCM one day soon!

Posted By MDR : February 17, 2007 3:14 pm

Coburn has been great – and sometimes the best thing – in other films tooI couldn't agree more, and the first movie I thought of was Heaven Can Wait (1943), which would have been an ordinary Lubitsch film (which is to say, still pretty great) without Charles Coburn's performance.  One B movie worth seeing because of this actor's title role performance is Unexpected Uncle (1941) with Anne Shirley and James Craig.I've yet to see The Green Years (1946); Coburn is top-billed yet he received a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination?  Anyway, since it's an MGM film, perhaps we can hope to see it on TCM one day soon!

Posted By Jeff : February 17, 2007 4:53 pm

One of his least known but entertaining films is the black comedy HOW TO KILL A RICH UNCLE which is similar in tone to an Ealing comedy like "Kind Hearts and Coronets." And it features an early screen appearance by Michael Caine.

Posted By Jeff : February 17, 2007 4:53 pm

One of his least known but entertaining films is the black comedy HOW TO KILL A RICH UNCLE which is similar in tone to an Ealing comedy like "Kind Hearts and Coronets." And it features an early screen appearance by Michael Caine.

Posted By Mrs. Rutledge : February 18, 2007 3:09 pm

I love Charles Coburn and am happy to see him honored here. Among his great performances, I'd like to add his subtle and creepy turn as Bette Davis' uncle in "In This Our Life" (1942). Decades before there was public discussion of incest, you can tell there is something latent and very strange in Cobern's affection for his grown-up niece. And, the ending is devastating. What a great actor he was!

Posted By Mrs. Rutledge : February 18, 2007 3:09 pm

I love Charles Coburn and am happy to see him honored here. Among his great performances, I'd like to add his subtle and creepy turn as Bette Davis' uncle in "In This Our Life" (1942). Decades before there was public discussion of incest, you can tell there is something latent and very strange in Cobern's affection for his grown-up niece. And, the ending is devastating. What a great actor he was!

Posted By ann : February 19, 2007 9:56 pm

I loved Coburn in George Washington Slept Here.  It is too bad that truly funny movies like this one are so difficult to find.  I suppose itlacks "sophistication"   S

Posted By ann : February 19, 2007 9:56 pm

I loved Coburn in George Washington Slept Here.  It is too bad that truly funny movies like this one are so difficult to find.  I suppose itlacks "sophistication"   S

Posted By Tina : February 19, 2007 11:21 pm

The More the Merrier would have been less than perfect without his performance. Even though I love Cary Grant, the remake Walk Don't Run doesn't hold a light to the original in 1942.

Posted By Tina : February 19, 2007 11:21 pm

The More the Merrier would have been less than perfect without his performance. Even though I love Cary Grant, the remake Walk Don't Run doesn't hold a light to the original in 1942.

Posted By TCM's Classic Movie Blog : September 23, 2010 9:33 am

[...] alone in wartime crowded Washington, D.C.; she sublets her apartment to a wealthy businessman (Charles Coburn, in his Oscar winning Supporting role) who becomes a matchmaker for the young working girl and Joel [...]

Posted By TCM's Classic Movie Blog : September 23, 2010 9:33 am

[...] alone in wartime crowded Washington, D.C.; she sublets her apartment to a wealthy businessman (Charles Coburn, in his Oscar winning Supporting role) who becomes a matchmaker for the young working girl and Joel [...]

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