No, No, That’s Not Your Movie, This is Your Movie!

Years ago, Hugh Hefner came across Fay Wray at a party and famously told her, “I loved your movie!”  She replied the only way she could, by asking, “Which one?”   This story has made the rounds enough times for people to think it’s apocryphal but, in fact, as told by Hefner himself in many an interview, it’s true (and is the first line of the TCM bio of her on this very site).   Most likely, Wray knew exactly which film he was talking about (King Kong, of course) but wanted to force the point home that, as a respectable Hollywood actress, she had made dozens of films (over a hundred, actually), many of them very successful.     But try as Fay may have to change the public’s perception, King Kong was her movie, forever (though I love her in Mystery of the Wax Museum and Doctor X).  I don’t know if it would’ve provided Wray with any solace whatsoever, but even the biggest names in Hollywood have always had this problem.

Many different factors come into play:  A movie’s popularity, an Oscar for the performance or just a general confusion over specific titles until an actor becomes identified with a type.   But a lot of the time, the movie most associated with an actor is not the movie I’d choose for them, if I could.  Now, in some cases, like Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind, I’d be crazy to call any other movie his movie. Gable did a lot of great work from the thirties on but nothing quite matches up perfectly to all his sensibilities as an actor than that one. In other cases, though, the call is tougher to make. The test for me is, which movie would I show a person who knew nothing about the actor to give them a definitive understanding of the actor. For several, that means a later performance, when they’ve honed all their skills and settled into their own skin so comfortably their very soul seems to be on display before the camera.

William Holden, for instance, is probably most remembered, and associated with, Stalag 17 or Sunset Boulevard. Oh sure, we movie fans remember him from many others too, including early efforts like Golden Boy and Our Town. But if I had to pick a movie to show to someone who knew nothing about Holden and say, “This is him.  This is the man,” it would probably be Network, and/or possibly, S.O.B.  I’m not as big a fan of S.O.B. as Network but both movies show the older, deeply cynical yet caring and sympathetic man that Holden seemed to be, through and through.  

Another actor that would get a couple of different movies from me to remember him by would be Burt Lancaster.  Recently I rewatched Atlantic City  and thought, “This is his best performance.”  I immediately thought of how his best performance is often considered to be Elmer Gantry, for which he won his Oscar.  And make no mistake about it, that is one great performance.  But, for me, I’d choose two other films to highlight Lancaster the man:  Sweet Smell of Success and the aforementioned Atlantic City.  In the first, Sweet Smell of Success, Lancaster shows the discipline and focus that seems a natural fit for this methodical and detailed actor and in the second, Atlantic City, he shows a vulnerability not present in most of his other work at any point in his career.

And speaking of Burt Lancaster,  another huge movie of his, From Here to Eternity, starred Deborah Kerr as well, an actress known for that film because of its popularity but mainly known for The King and I (in fact, if you type her name in IMDB it will say “actress, The King and I” before guiding you to her page).  Of course, if I had to direct someone to the movie to watch to really see Deborah Kerr, it would be The Innocents, no question.   Here, Kerr has every opportunity to display all the different facets of what could be described as Kerr-esque:  Repression, caregiving and madness just beneath the surface.  The Innocents allows Kerr to give her greatest and fullest performance.

So far, everything’s fit neatly together.  Instead of this movie, choose that movie.  Not that performance, this performance.  But for some actors, it’s a little more complicated.  James Cagney, for instance.  Cagney isn’t known for one movie any more than any other because he has so many that are great and well-remembered.    But, in a bind, if someone had to quickly associate Cagney with anything, it would be a gangster role, specifically Public Enemy.  Despite the ubiquity of the line “Top of the world, ma!” from White Heat, most casual moviegoers (so, basically, no one reading this) wouldn’t know  White Heat like they’d know Public Enemy, or, at least, know of Public Enemy.  And despite his Oscar for playing George Cohan most casual moviegoers, again, would never think of Cagney as a singer/dancer/entertainer (Aren’t you so glad you don’t know any casual moviegoers?).   But those are the two I’d go with:  Yankee Doodle Dandy and White Heat.  I know, I know, he is strongly associated with both those movies but I think it’s more of a typecasting association than a specific role association.  Either way, I don’t think there are two other movies in Cagney’s canon that say, “CAGNEY” better than those two. 

Finally, I’d like to finish up with the toughest one of them all, Patricia Neal.  Tough for a few reasons.  One, she was never a big star like Ingrid Bergman or Katherine Hepburn.  She was big and well-known, yes, but not on that level.  Two, there is no one movie that immediately comes to mind when one thinks of Patricia Neal.  She was in two hugely popular movies, The Fountainhead and  The Day the Earth Stood Still as well as several other great but not so popular movies, like A Face in the Crowd.  She won her Oscar for Hud but most folks would probably associate that with Paul Newman, first and foremost.   Besides, what it comes down to for all of these is showing the performance that they should be known for and that performance for Neal is The Subject was Roses.  Here is one of the most touching performances of the sixties.  Patricia Neal, recovering from a stroke, came back to the movies and scored a beautiful, rich and sensitive performance as a neglected wife and mother in a movie that doesn’t really work without her (both Vincent Canby and Roger Ebert agreed Jack Albertson and Martin Sheen were “obvious” and “theatrical” compared to the grace of Neal – Of course, Albertson, a great actor in his own right, won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor anyway while Neal lost her nom to a tie between Katherine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand).   In fact, I can’t think of the movie without thinking of her first and I can’t think of her without thinking of the movie.  She’s that good in it.

There are, naturally, hundreds of other actors that should have one movie they’re remembered for much more than the one they actually are remembered for but I don’t have time to go through all of them here, film by film.  However, if you really want to lose a day, find a few movie buffs and ask them to name the definitive Cary Grant movie.    Just make sure you’ve got lots of time because that argument’s going to last throughout the night.

124 Responses No, No, That’s Not Your Movie, This is Your Movie!
Posted By Peter Nellhaus : July 6, 2011 9:02 am

Kirk Douglas and Spartacus?

Posted By Peter Nellhaus : July 6, 2011 9:02 am

Kirk Douglas and Spartacus?

Posted By morlockjeff : July 6, 2011 9:55 am

I am with you completely on Burt Lancaster in ATLANTIC CITY. Of course, one reason I think it’s his greatest performance is because of having seen him in The Killers, From Here to Eternity, Elmer Gantry, Birdman of Paradise, and The Swimmer. The contrast is remarkable and at the same time he could be any of the above characters in his twilight years, looking backward, not forward. I never thought of Lancaster as a subtle actor but he is here. In fact he’s eloquent.

Posted By morlockjeff : July 6, 2011 9:55 am

I am with you completely on Burt Lancaster in ATLANTIC CITY. Of course, one reason I think it’s his greatest performance is because of having seen him in The Killers, From Here to Eternity, Elmer Gantry, Birdman of Paradise, and The Swimmer. The contrast is remarkable and at the same time he could be any of the above characters in his twilight years, looking backward, not forward. I never thought of Lancaster as a subtle actor but he is here. In fact he’s eloquent.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 10:47 am

Peter – Of course, the performance Douglas should really be known for is the other Kubrick film, Paths of Glory.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 10:47 am

Peter – Of course, the performance Douglas should really be known for is the other Kubrick film, Paths of Glory.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 10:50 am

Jeff, no, Lancaster and subtlety are not familiar with each other. I wrote a piece years ago on magnificently overacted performances and Lancaster made the list with The Rose Tattoo, a performance he delivers at decibel levels unknown to The Who in concert. But in Atlantic City he’s beautiful. And you’re right, it could be any one of so many of his past characters as an old man now, desperately reliving a past that never really existed.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 10:50 am

Jeff, no, Lancaster and subtlety are not familiar with each other. I wrote a piece years ago on magnificently overacted performances and Lancaster made the list with The Rose Tattoo, a performance he delivers at decibel levels unknown to The Who in concert. But in Atlantic City he’s beautiful. And you’re right, it could be any one of so many of his past characters as an old man now, desperately reliving a past that never really existed.

Posted By moirafinnie : July 6, 2011 11:56 am

A viewer can admire the audacity it took Burt Lancaster to create the bombastic performances in The Rose Tattoo and Elmer Gantry, but when he underplays, especially as he got older, relying far less on the physical size that the actor embodied in his prime (and the menace that he could so easily suggest) and more on the concentrated grace and sensitivity that he created in some beautifully crafted character studies in The Swimmer, Atlantic City, Local Hero, and Field of Dreams, as well as the small scale, elegaic movie, Rocket Gibraltar, his presence took on a burnished glow. As his star aura and clout slipped away, Lancaster never seemed to stop learning and striving to be better, even if he realized he couldn’t control everything about his movies, his control of his own expressive gifts was enlarged and often more faceted.

Other than Jean Gabin, it’s hard to think of another big film star who had the luck and stamina to enjoy such a victory lap near the end of a storied career.

Welcome to the Morlocks, Greg!

Posted By moirafinnie : July 6, 2011 11:56 am

A viewer can admire the audacity it took Burt Lancaster to create the bombastic performances in The Rose Tattoo and Elmer Gantry, but when he underplays, especially as he got older, relying far less on the physical size that the actor embodied in his prime (and the menace that he could so easily suggest) and more on the concentrated grace and sensitivity that he created in some beautifully crafted character studies in The Swimmer, Atlantic City, Local Hero, and Field of Dreams, as well as the small scale, elegaic movie, Rocket Gibraltar, his presence took on a burnished glow. As his star aura and clout slipped away, Lancaster never seemed to stop learning and striving to be better, even if he realized he couldn’t control everything about his movies, his control of his own expressive gifts was enlarged and often more faceted.

Other than Jean Gabin, it’s hard to think of another big film star who had the luck and stamina to enjoy such a victory lap near the end of a storied career.

Welcome to the Morlocks, Greg!

Posted By Fred : July 6, 2011 11:59 am

I’m surprised no one mentioned Lancaster in The Leopard. Visconti gets a wonderfully nuanced performance out of Lancaster that I don’t think he achieved until later in his career with films like the aforementioned Atlantic City. As for Holden, I always remember him from Bridge on the River Kwai, but I’m guessing he was so overshadowed by Alec Guiness that it is hard to think of it as his film. Heck, Guiness is so overpowering, it is hard to think of anyone else from that film, except for the bridge and the theme song.

By the way, I linked over here from your other site hoping to find out helpful information about cysts. Any tips, Greg?

Posted By Fred : July 6, 2011 11:59 am

I’m surprised no one mentioned Lancaster in The Leopard. Visconti gets a wonderfully nuanced performance out of Lancaster that I don’t think he achieved until later in his career with films like the aforementioned Atlantic City. As for Holden, I always remember him from Bridge on the River Kwai, but I’m guessing he was so overshadowed by Alec Guiness that it is hard to think of it as his film. Heck, Guiness is so overpowering, it is hard to think of anyone else from that film, except for the bridge and the theme song.

By the way, I linked over here from your other site hoping to find out helpful information about cysts. Any tips, Greg?

Posted By Tom S : July 6, 2011 12:17 pm

I’d bet there’s a pretty huge number of people who remember Holden almost exclusively from The Wild Bunch- which, revisionist though it is, is actually a pretty great example of the William Holden character.

As for Lancaster, I’d say Brute Force, The Leopard, or The Sweet Smell of Success.

Posted By Tom S : July 6, 2011 12:17 pm

I’d bet there’s a pretty huge number of people who remember Holden almost exclusively from The Wild Bunch- which, revisionist though it is, is actually a pretty great example of the William Holden character.

As for Lancaster, I’d say Brute Force, The Leopard, or The Sweet Smell of Success.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 1:53 pm

Moira, thanks for the warm welcome. Lancaster really rejuvenated himself as an actor in his last few years. For me, at least, he became more human and flawed, allowing a glimpse of frailty to show through, one that he hadn’t showed before.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 1:53 pm

Moira, thanks for the warm welcome. Lancaster really rejuvenated himself as an actor in his last few years. For me, at least, he became more human and flawed, allowing a glimpse of frailty to show through, one that he hadn’t showed before.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 1:59 pm

Fred, as you and Tom both mention, The Leopard is a great film for Lancaster and should certainly be included in any such consideration.

I think plenty of earlier Holden films like Picnic and Kwai capture Holden’s character extremely well but, for me, he really carries Network and yet it’s overwhelmingly remembered for Peter Finch’s Howard Beale. I think you can get a few other actors to play Beale but only Holden could do Max Schumacher with the power and autority necessary to carry the film. By the way, I don’t have any other contenders for Beale, simply saying that Beale’s portrayal could be done any number of other ways without affecting the movie overall too much while Schumacher’s character benefits immeasurably from being portrayed by Holden, if that makes any sense.

And about those cysts. I’ve got this whole post on them I’m going to reblog soon. Don’t worry, help is on they way!

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 1:59 pm

Fred, as you and Tom both mention, The Leopard is a great film for Lancaster and should certainly be included in any such consideration.

I think plenty of earlier Holden films like Picnic and Kwai capture Holden’s character extremely well but, for me, he really carries Network and yet it’s overwhelmingly remembered for Peter Finch’s Howard Beale. I think you can get a few other actors to play Beale but only Holden could do Max Schumacher with the power and autority necessary to carry the film. By the way, I don’t have any other contenders for Beale, simply saying that Beale’s portrayal could be done any number of other ways without affecting the movie overall too much while Schumacher’s character benefits immeasurably from being portrayed by Holden, if that makes any sense.

And about those cysts. I’ve got this whole post on them I’m going to reblog soon. Don’t worry, help is on they way!

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 2:01 pm

Tom, you know, that is a great example of a Holden character. What so many of these examples have in common is the lateness in the career of the actor in which they occur. Not surprisingly since it’s only after a career of playing multiple characters that an actor can truly get comfortable enough to let go of the affectations they felt they needed when they were younger.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 2:01 pm

Tom, you know, that is a great example of a Holden character. What so many of these examples have in common is the lateness in the career of the actor in which they occur. Not surprisingly since it’s only after a career of playing multiple characters that an actor can truly get comfortable enough to let go of the affectations they felt they needed when they were younger.

Posted By Tom S : July 6, 2011 2:08 pm

Also, though it’s not at all his best movie, I’d say the definitive Grant role is To Catch a Thief- the movie is built entirely on how fun it is to spend time with Cary Grant, with almost no substance to get in the way.

I’d say Jimmy Stewart is much harder- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? The Naked Spur? Vertigo? Harvey? His character is really well defined, but it goes through a lot of interesting changes in shade and nuance- I’d say most of his roles post-30s are playing off of the Jimmy Stewart character rather than embracing it, but he did it so often that the darkened version became definitive.

Posted By Tom S : July 6, 2011 2:08 pm

Also, though it’s not at all his best movie, I’d say the definitive Grant role is To Catch a Thief- the movie is built entirely on how fun it is to spend time with Cary Grant, with almost no substance to get in the way.

I’d say Jimmy Stewart is much harder- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? The Naked Spur? Vertigo? Harvey? His character is really well defined, but it goes through a lot of interesting changes in shade and nuance- I’d say most of his roles post-30s are playing off of the Jimmy Stewart character rather than embracing it, but he did it so often that the darkened version became definitive.

Posted By Ed Howard : July 6, 2011 2:11 pm

Great first post here, Greg!

Deborah Kerr to me will always mean Black Narcissus and, to a lesser extent, Bonjour Tristesse. The former is one of my favorites and Kerr has a rich, wonderful role that epitomizes exactly what you’re talking about as her definitive characteristics: that balance between repression and the deeper emotions beneath her reserved surface. She has a more limited role in Bonjour Tristesse, another favorite of mine, but I love her for investing a surprising amount of sympathy and decency into a character who is, for much of the film, positioned as the villainess to Jean Seberg’s naive heroine. These aren’t the films Kerr is best known for, perhaps, but they’re the films of hers that mean the most to me personally, and so they’re the ones I think of first when her name comes up.

Something similar happens for me with Cagney: no one, I’m sure, would consider One Two Three a definitive performance for him, and neither do I really, but it’s such a fun film and he delivers such a tornado-strength force-of-nature performance in it that I can’t help but think of it as one of his many highlights.

Posted By Ed Howard : July 6, 2011 2:11 pm

Great first post here, Greg!

Deborah Kerr to me will always mean Black Narcissus and, to a lesser extent, Bonjour Tristesse. The former is one of my favorites and Kerr has a rich, wonderful role that epitomizes exactly what you’re talking about as her definitive characteristics: that balance between repression and the deeper emotions beneath her reserved surface. She has a more limited role in Bonjour Tristesse, another favorite of mine, but I love her for investing a surprising amount of sympathy and decency into a character who is, for much of the film, positioned as the villainess to Jean Seberg’s naive heroine. These aren’t the films Kerr is best known for, perhaps, but they’re the films of hers that mean the most to me personally, and so they’re the ones I think of first when her name comes up.

Something similar happens for me with Cagney: no one, I’m sure, would consider One Two Three a definitive performance for him, and neither do I really, but it’s such a fun film and he delivers such a tornado-strength force-of-nature performance in it that I can’t help but think of it as one of his many highlights.

Posted By Tom S : July 6, 2011 2:20 pm

Also also- Black Narcissus is an earlier-period example of an absolutely perfect Deborah Kerr role, where she’s both exceedingly understated and projecting her emotions to the rafters at the same time. There’s actually a huge amount of continuity between Black Narcissus and the Innocents- the repression exploding outwards, the exploration of Britishness, the sense of being haunted by something you don’t believe in- and if you combined Sisters Clodagh and Ruth in the former you would get pretty close to Kerr in the latter.

Posted By Tom S : July 6, 2011 2:20 pm

Also also- Black Narcissus is an earlier-period example of an absolutely perfect Deborah Kerr role, where she’s both exceedingly understated and projecting her emotions to the rafters at the same time. There’s actually a huge amount of continuity between Black Narcissus and the Innocents- the repression exploding outwards, the exploration of Britishness, the sense of being haunted by something you don’t believe in- and if you combined Sisters Clodagh and Ruth in the former you would get pretty close to Kerr in the latter.

Posted By Greg F : July 6, 2011 2:41 pm

I pretty much avoided people like Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart because they had numerous movies that really defined their style and felt like perfect codifications of their skills and talents. Like It’s a Wonderful Life for instance. That’s a perfect Stewart performance for me. With Stewart and Grant, they’re known for all those performances so it’s tough to do. Jimmy Cagney was kind of thrown in as a nod to that kind of thing.

Another one if John Wayne. He’s known for so much but most people would pin him down for True Grit, The Quiet Man and The Searchers and I’d have to agree.

Deborah Kerr’s performance in Black Narcissus is a great choice too and one of my favorite movies of all time.

Posted By Greg F : July 6, 2011 2:41 pm

I pretty much avoided people like Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart because they had numerous movies that really defined their style and felt like perfect codifications of their skills and talents. Like It’s a Wonderful Life for instance. That’s a perfect Stewart performance for me. With Stewart and Grant, they’re known for all those performances so it’s tough to do. Jimmy Cagney was kind of thrown in as a nod to that kind of thing.

Another one if John Wayne. He’s known for so much but most people would pin him down for True Grit, The Quiet Man and The Searchers and I’d have to agree.

Deborah Kerr’s performance in Black Narcissus is a great choice too and one of my favorite movies of all time.

Posted By Kingrat : July 6, 2011 3:58 pm

Great topic and some great posts. For William Holden, try Carol Reed’s THE KEY, which falls into the category of great films people have never heard of. This is a softer Holden than SUNSET BOULEVARD, with Holden still in his prime as a romantic lead, yet with that vein of shame and self-loathing that Holden does better than any other actor.

Like Tom and Greg, I see a definite connection for Deborah Kerr between BLACK NARCISSUS and THE INNOCENTS, two of my favorite Kerr performances.

Posted By Kingrat : July 6, 2011 3:58 pm

Great topic and some great posts. For William Holden, try Carol Reed’s THE KEY, which falls into the category of great films people have never heard of. This is a softer Holden than SUNSET BOULEVARD, with Holden still in his prime as a romantic lead, yet with that vein of shame and self-loathing that Holden does better than any other actor.

Like Tom and Greg, I see a definite connection for Deborah Kerr between BLACK NARCISSUS and THE INNOCENTS, two of my favorite Kerr performances.

Posted By Rachel : July 6, 2011 4:01 pm

Nice to see you on Morlocks, Greg. And you picked a great topic to start with.

And I’m in complete agreement with the praise for Holden in Network. In a movie where everything and everyone is spiraling into total madness, he somehow manages to hold it together and come out as recognizably human. And he nails each one of those beautiful, baroque speeches.

I notice in your mention of Clark Gable, you elided Vivien Leigh. She’s in the Fay Wray category of being inescapably tied down to the Big Damn Movie. And yet, I’d put her work in Streetcar way above the BDM and if I’m feeling really contrarian, her work in the ’40s Waterloo Bridge too.

If I were picking definitive roles, I’d have a real struggle with the ones where an actor was doing their best work in a role that doesn’t encapsulate their persona. For example, I’d plump for Night of the Hunter as my favorite Mitchum performance and movie. And yet, if you tied me down, I’d probably pick Out of the Past as being closer to essential Mitchum.

Posted By Rachel : July 6, 2011 4:01 pm

Nice to see you on Morlocks, Greg. And you picked a great topic to start with.

And I’m in complete agreement with the praise for Holden in Network. In a movie where everything and everyone is spiraling into total madness, he somehow manages to hold it together and come out as recognizably human. And he nails each one of those beautiful, baroque speeches.

I notice in your mention of Clark Gable, you elided Vivien Leigh. She’s in the Fay Wray category of being inescapably tied down to the Big Damn Movie. And yet, I’d put her work in Streetcar way above the BDM and if I’m feeling really contrarian, her work in the ’40s Waterloo Bridge too.

If I were picking definitive roles, I’d have a real struggle with the ones where an actor was doing their best work in a role that doesn’t encapsulate their persona. For example, I’d plump for Night of the Hunter as my favorite Mitchum performance and movie. And yet, if you tied me down, I’d probably pick Out of the Past as being closer to essential Mitchum.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 4:57 pm

Something similar happens for me with Cagney: no one, I’m sure, would consider One Two Three a definitive performance for him, and neither do I really, but it’s such a fun film and he delivers such a tornado-strength force-of-nature performance in it that I can’t help but think of it as one of his many highlights.

Ed, thanks. Also, your comment didn’t approve until after I answered Tom’s response so, as you can see, I do agree on Black Narcissus. I think it works pretty damn well as a Deborah Kerr definitive role.

And the Cagney performance in One, Two, Three is too high octane for me. I don’t know, there’s just something about the pitch of that movie that doesn’t mix well with me. But I can’t take anything away from Cagney for going full-throttle with it. I much prefer an actor going too far than holding back too much.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 4:57 pm

Something similar happens for me with Cagney: no one, I’m sure, would consider One Two Three a definitive performance for him, and neither do I really, but it’s such a fun film and he delivers such a tornado-strength force-of-nature performance in it that I can’t help but think of it as one of his many highlights.

Ed, thanks. Also, your comment didn’t approve until after I answered Tom’s response so, as you can see, I do agree on Black Narcissus. I think it works pretty damn well as a Deborah Kerr definitive role.

And the Cagney performance in One, Two, Three is too high octane for me. I don’t know, there’s just something about the pitch of that movie that doesn’t mix well with me. But I can’t take anything away from Cagney for going full-throttle with it. I much prefer an actor going too far than holding back too much.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 4:58 pm

kingrat, I’ll have to give THE KEY a look. I’ve not yet seen it but would definitely like to.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 4:58 pm

kingrat, I’ll have to give THE KEY a look. I’ve not yet seen it but would definitely like to.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 5:01 pm

Rachel, thanks. And yes, Waterloo Bridge is a favorite. I think Leigh was just wonderful and she is so good in GWTW that, like Gable, I can’t knock her for it but I do prefer Waterloo Bridge and Streetcar.

And Mitchum in Out of the Past is THE Mitchum performance but a lot of people know him for Night of the Hunter if only for that damn tattoo explanation scene. So that would be a perfect inclusion here of the performance the actor is known for (Night of the Hunter) and the performance that defines them best (Out of the Past).

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 5:01 pm

Rachel, thanks. And yes, Waterloo Bridge is a favorite. I think Leigh was just wonderful and she is so good in GWTW that, like Gable, I can’t knock her for it but I do prefer Waterloo Bridge and Streetcar.

And Mitchum in Out of the Past is THE Mitchum performance but a lot of people know him for Night of the Hunter if only for that damn tattoo explanation scene. So that would be a perfect inclusion here of the performance the actor is known for (Night of the Hunter) and the performance that defines them best (Out of the Past).

Posted By Seattle Ray : July 6, 2011 5:49 pm

Does no one like Lancaster in Come Back Little Sheba? Sure, he has a hard time keeping up with Shirley Booth, but the combination of pathos and menace is surely noteworthy.

Posted By Seattle Ray : July 6, 2011 5:49 pm

Does no one like Lancaster in Come Back Little Sheba? Sure, he has a hard time keeping up with Shirley Booth, but the combination of pathos and menace is surely noteworthy.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 8:13 pm

Ray, don’t get me wrong; this isn’t about not liking any of his other performances or thinking they’re not good, just that I’m trying to determine, for me, which ones best define the actor. Like Cagney: He gaves dozens of superb performances but White Heat and Yankee Doodle Dandy really define the two sides of Cagney best.

I think Burt does a good job in Come Back Little Sheba, although it’s been years since I’ve seen it so another look is in order. I also think one of his finest performances comes in The Killers as the Swede. Lancaster had a lot of great performances.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 8:13 pm

Ray, don’t get me wrong; this isn’t about not liking any of his other performances or thinking they’re not good, just that I’m trying to determine, for me, which ones best define the actor. Like Cagney: He gaves dozens of superb performances but White Heat and Yankee Doodle Dandy really define the two sides of Cagney best.

I think Burt does a good job in Come Back Little Sheba, although it’s been years since I’ve seen it so another look is in order. I also think one of his finest performances comes in The Killers as the Swede. Lancaster had a lot of great performances.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 6, 2011 8:29 pm

For Lancaster I would have to say Sweet Smell of Success and possibly The Professionals. He’s kind of a nut in that, and kind of great for being so.

The movies I most associate with Deborah Kerr are the elegantly eerie The Innocents and An Affair to Remember.

William Holden? Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, Network…all great choices. However, Executive Suite is also at the top of my list. You mentioned how in Network he displayed cynicism, yet was sympathetic and caring. He displays all of these traits along with idealism in Executive Suite as a man who doesn’t want to head a huge furniture corporation, but reluctantly comes to realize that he is the best man for the job. His speech in the boardroom at the end is passionate about what he feels is right for the direction of the company, yet also shows how much he cares for all of the employees within. I can’t recommend that one highly enough.

Cagney? You nailed it. Mitchum? Out of the Past represents him best overall, but Night of the Hunter is a coming out party for the possibilities of Bob.

For Kirk Douglas I might have said Spartacus, but he made a movie called Ace in the Hole which exhibits his intensity, but also his cynicism and eventual humanity in the end.

For Cary Grant? North by Northwest. All facets of his being are on display in that one.

And finally, Jimmy Stewart will always be George Bailey. Please pardon my running on.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 6, 2011 8:29 pm

For Lancaster I would have to say Sweet Smell of Success and possibly The Professionals. He’s kind of a nut in that, and kind of great for being so.

The movies I most associate with Deborah Kerr are the elegantly eerie The Innocents and An Affair to Remember.

William Holden? Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, Network…all great choices. However, Executive Suite is also at the top of my list. You mentioned how in Network he displayed cynicism, yet was sympathetic and caring. He displays all of these traits along with idealism in Executive Suite as a man who doesn’t want to head a huge furniture corporation, but reluctantly comes to realize that he is the best man for the job. His speech in the boardroom at the end is passionate about what he feels is right for the direction of the company, yet also shows how much he cares for all of the employees within. I can’t recommend that one highly enough.

Cagney? You nailed it. Mitchum? Out of the Past represents him best overall, but Night of the Hunter is a coming out party for the possibilities of Bob.

For Kirk Douglas I might have said Spartacus, but he made a movie called Ace in the Hole which exhibits his intensity, but also his cynicism and eventual humanity in the end.

For Cary Grant? North by Northwest. All facets of his being are on display in that one.

And finally, Jimmy Stewart will always be George Bailey. Please pardon my running on.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 8:54 pm

dukeroberts, all great choices. I watch Executive Suite whenever it’s on and love that last scene.

And you’re right about Mitchum: Night of the Hunter exhibited a range of possibilities for Bob that never really came to pass. He remained within his comfort zone, albeit, it’s a hell of an engaging comfort zone.

And Ace in the Hole is one of the most beautifully cynical movies ever done. I’d say that and Paths of Glory exhibit Douglas’ talents quite well.

Now, for me to exhibit full-on crazy: Can I convince anyone else to join me in singing the praises of Marlon Brando in Reflections in a Golden Eye and Burn!. Seriously, I think those are two of his performances more people should know about. Of course, not everyone agrees with that. I especially like his …Golden Eye performance.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 8:54 pm

dukeroberts, all great choices. I watch Executive Suite whenever it’s on and love that last scene.

And you’re right about Mitchum: Night of the Hunter exhibited a range of possibilities for Bob that never really came to pass. He remained within his comfort zone, albeit, it’s a hell of an engaging comfort zone.

And Ace in the Hole is one of the most beautifully cynical movies ever done. I’d say that and Paths of Glory exhibit Douglas’ talents quite well.

Now, for me to exhibit full-on crazy: Can I convince anyone else to join me in singing the praises of Marlon Brando in Reflections in a Golden Eye and Burn!. Seriously, I think those are two of his performances more people should know about. Of course, not everyone agrees with that. I especially like his …Golden Eye performance.

Posted By Earl B : July 6, 2011 11:02 pm

THE SEARCHERS and THE QUIET MAN are the two movies I show to people who don’t particularly like John Wayne. They always come away impressed.

Likewise, while Gary Cooper seems linked in most minds with HIGH NOON, I find that SERGEANT YORK gives a much better representation of his talent/persona.

Posted By Earl B : July 6, 2011 11:02 pm

THE SEARCHERS and THE QUIET MAN are the two movies I show to people who don’t particularly like John Wayne. They always come away impressed.

Likewise, while Gary Cooper seems linked in most minds with HIGH NOON, I find that SERGEANT YORK gives a much better representation of his talent/persona.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 11:45 pm

My favorite Gary Cooper is Fountainhead. Most definitive for me is hard to say. There’s the Cooper of High Noon, the one you mention in Sergeant York, the comedic one in Ball of Fire, the hometown hero in Mr Deeds Goes to Town and so on. He’s harder to pin down than you’d think but any one of those works for me.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 6, 2011 11:45 pm

My favorite Gary Cooper is Fountainhead. Most definitive for me is hard to say. There’s the Cooper of High Noon, the one you mention in Sergeant York, the comedic one in Ball of Fire, the hometown hero in Mr Deeds Goes to Town and so on. He’s harder to pin down than you’d think but any one of those works for me.

Posted By missrhea : July 7, 2011 11:14 am

I keep thinking about actors whose television careers seemed to eclipse their excellent movie careers. One of my husband’s favorite films is THE APARTMENT w/ Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray. I always say it’s a good thing I was a fan of MY THREE SONS before seeing this movie (or DOUBLE INDEMNITY) because I never would have watched MacMurray’s tv show. Robert Young (my favorite) was excellent in both CROSSFIRE and THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME but said himself that the public just couldn’t accept him in those roles (esp, TWBM).

Posted By missrhea : July 7, 2011 11:14 am

I keep thinking about actors whose television careers seemed to eclipse their excellent movie careers. One of my husband’s favorite films is THE APARTMENT w/ Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray. I always say it’s a good thing I was a fan of MY THREE SONS before seeing this movie (or DOUBLE INDEMNITY) because I never would have watched MacMurray’s tv show. Robert Young (my favorite) was excellent in both CROSSFIRE and THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME but said himself that the public just couldn’t accept him in those roles (esp, TWBM).

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 7, 2011 12:56 pm

Or Fred MacMurray in The Caine Mutiny where he’s about as cowardly and snivelling as a character can be. He played the heel well. So well, in fact, it’s very odd for me, who didn’t watch My Three Sons very often, to see him in a role like that or in The Absent-Minded Professor. Because I know him primarily from the movies, it’s those later roles that seem odd.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 7, 2011 12:56 pm

Or Fred MacMurray in The Caine Mutiny where he’s about as cowardly and snivelling as a character can be. He played the heel well. So well, in fact, it’s very odd for me, who didn’t watch My Three Sons very often, to see him in a role like that or in The Absent-Minded Professor. Because I know him primarily from the movies, it’s those later roles that seem odd.

Posted By missrhea : July 7, 2011 2:25 pm

Interesting that you brought up THE CAINE MUTANY

Posted By missrhea : July 7, 2011 2:25 pm

Interesting that you brought up THE CAINE MUTANY

Posted By missrhea : July 7, 2011 2:35 pm

Interesting that you brought up THE CAINE MUTANY (which my husband hates). MacMurray’s character is pretty awful.

I’ve seen some of the Morlocks do articles on actors/films we “love to hate” but I wonder if anyone has gone a step farther and done actors we love but also hate like MacMurray (or even hate to hate)? (Maybe this article fits that but not quite. This one seems to be comparing well-known roles to lesser-known ones.)

Posted By missrhea : July 7, 2011 2:35 pm

Interesting that you brought up THE CAINE MUTANY (which my husband hates). MacMurray’s character is pretty awful.

I’ve seen some of the Morlocks do articles on actors/films we “love to hate” but I wonder if anyone has gone a step farther and done actors we love but also hate like MacMurray (or even hate to hate)? (Maybe this article fits that but not quite. This one seems to be comparing well-known roles to lesser-known ones.)

Posted By missrhea : July 7, 2011 2:36 pm

(Oops…sorry for the double start and the misspelling.)

Posted By missrhea : July 7, 2011 2:36 pm

(Oops…sorry for the double start and the misspelling.)

Posted By Marilyn : July 7, 2011 4:05 pm

Greg – Well, I see my cysts will have to wait for another day.

This is a fine and very fun post for your most welcome debut on the Morlocks. Lots to think about. The first Deborah Kerr film that came to mind with The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp in which she gets to play three roles. The second one was Tea and Sympathy. But The King and I and Black Narcissus are her most defining roles, IMO.

I like your Cagney choices and agree completely with them. I’m rather a Cagney aficionado, so take that as an official endorsement.

Cary Grant, um, Arsenic and Old Lace for his comedic side and North by Northwest for his serious side.

What about Peter Sellers? Would you choose a Pink Panther movie or Dr. Strangelove? I can’t imagine anything else.

Posted By Marilyn : July 7, 2011 4:05 pm

Greg – Well, I see my cysts will have to wait for another day.

This is a fine and very fun post for your most welcome debut on the Morlocks. Lots to think about. The first Deborah Kerr film that came to mind with The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp in which she gets to play three roles. The second one was Tea and Sympathy. But The King and I and Black Narcissus are her most defining roles, IMO.

I like your Cagney choices and agree completely with them. I’m rather a Cagney aficionado, so take that as an official endorsement.

Cary Grant, um, Arsenic and Old Lace for his comedic side and North by Northwest for his serious side.

What about Peter Sellers? Would you choose a Pink Panther movie or Dr. Strangelove? I can’t imagine anything else.

Posted By Kingrat : July 7, 2011 4:21 pm

Greg, I don’t think Brando’s bad in BURN!, but by that phase of his career he no longer interacts much with other actors and is not often in the same shot with them. (Also true of THE GODFATHER, a performance I don’t much like.) This is a big change from the 50s performances like ON THE WATERFRONT.

For Gary Cooper I’d want a trifecta: BEAU GESTE for his early good looks, BALL OF FIRE for comedy, and THEY CAME TO CORDURA for later gravitas. I’m not too fond of some of his better-known performances.

Posted By Kingrat : July 7, 2011 4:21 pm

Greg, I don’t think Brando’s bad in BURN!, but by that phase of his career he no longer interacts much with other actors and is not often in the same shot with them. (Also true of THE GODFATHER, a performance I don’t much like.) This is a big change from the 50s performances like ON THE WATERFRONT.

For Gary Cooper I’d want a trifecta: BEAU GESTE for his early good looks, BALL OF FIRE for comedy, and THEY CAME TO CORDURA for later gravitas. I’m not too fond of some of his better-known performances.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 7, 2011 4:39 pm

missrhea, there’s no doubt that I love to hate MacMurray in both The Apartment and The Caine Mutiny. I missed the blogathon here on him last year but would’ve loved to contribute.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 7, 2011 4:39 pm

missrhea, there’s no doubt that I love to hate MacMurray in both The Apartment and The Caine Mutiny. I missed the blogathon here on him last year but would’ve loved to contribute.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 7, 2011 4:43 pm

Marilyn, I agree that Kerr is terrific in Blimp but it’s so far from being her movie (despite having three roles, she’s not given much to do in any of them) that I didn’t consider it. Now, the others you mention, yes, and I can see those being thought of as her defining roles as well.

I thank you for your official endorsement of Cagney, by the way, or anything for that matter.

Sellers really shows what he can do in Strangelove so that would definitely be my choice.

I’ll get you the cyst info later. Thanks for the warm welcome, Marilyn.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 7, 2011 4:43 pm

Marilyn, I agree that Kerr is terrific in Blimp but it’s so far from being her movie (despite having three roles, she’s not given much to do in any of them) that I didn’t consider it. Now, the others you mention, yes, and I can see those being thought of as her defining roles as well.

I thank you for your official endorsement of Cagney, by the way, or anything for that matter.

Sellers really shows what he can do in Strangelove so that would definitely be my choice.

I’ll get you the cyst info later. Thanks for the warm welcome, Marilyn.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 7, 2011 4:48 pm

kingrat, in The Godfather, Coppola frames Brando with the other actors throughout. Even in the famous opening, he gets up to walk around the desk to the undertaker. All his scenes, except the garden, perhaps, are shot with other actors in the shot that he’s interacting with, so not being in the same shot doesn’t really apply to that one. Having said that, let me say that Al Pacino is the movie and to this day I don’t understand why Brando and Pacino’s nominations for Best Actor and Supporting weren’t flipped (that’s rhetorical, of course, I actually do understand – star power).

The thing with Brando, I think he gave as many clunker performances as good ones but I’m oddly drawn to his weird performances in the sixties, particularly Reflections in the Golden Eye.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 7, 2011 4:48 pm

kingrat, in The Godfather, Coppola frames Brando with the other actors throughout. Even in the famous opening, he gets up to walk around the desk to the undertaker. All his scenes, except the garden, perhaps, are shot with other actors in the shot that he’s interacting with, so not being in the same shot doesn’t really apply to that one. Having said that, let me say that Al Pacino is the movie and to this day I don’t understand why Brando and Pacino’s nominations for Best Actor and Supporting weren’t flipped (that’s rhetorical, of course, I actually do understand – star power).

The thing with Brando, I think he gave as many clunker performances as good ones but I’m oddly drawn to his weird performances in the sixties, particularly Reflections in the Golden Eye.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 7, 2011 7:12 pm

Fred MacMurray was great as the sniveling coward in The Caine Mutiny. That’s a great movie though, tarnished only by the young couple’s love scenes that are so extremely wooden and saccharine. I cringed each time one of them spoke. “Oh darling”. Oh, blech! Was that junk in the play or was it added for the movie? Does anyone know? I’d say that’s Van Johnson’s best part in that one.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 7, 2011 7:12 pm

Fred MacMurray was great as the sniveling coward in The Caine Mutiny. That’s a great movie though, tarnished only by the young couple’s love scenes that are so extremely wooden and saccharine. I cringed each time one of them spoke. “Oh darling”. Oh, blech! Was that junk in the play or was it added for the movie? Does anyone know? I’d say that’s Van Johnson’s best part in that one.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 7, 2011 9:24 pm

Welcome Greg! Enjoyed your first post.

I have a really tough time narrowing down my favorite performances from my favorite actors because I often appreciate little things they do in so many films. I also have a tough time separating the film from the actor. In other words, if I actively dislike a movie I have a hard time just watching it for the “performances.” As much I appreciate good acting, it’s not the only thing I watch movies for so my response to a performances is kind of complicated I suppose.

As much as I enjoy Lancaster in ATLANTIC CITY or even THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCESS for example, I just prefer him in THE SWIMMER and THE LEOPARD based on the quality of his work in those two movies as well as how much I love those two films. And I love THE SWIMMER and THE LEOPARD a lot.

Variety is the spice of life of course so if we all preferred the same Lancaster films the world would be a pretty dull place. Vive la differences!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 7, 2011 9:24 pm

Welcome Greg! Enjoyed your first post.

I have a really tough time narrowing down my favorite performances from my favorite actors because I often appreciate little things they do in so many films. I also have a tough time separating the film from the actor. In other words, if I actively dislike a movie I have a hard time just watching it for the “performances.” As much I appreciate good acting, it’s not the only thing I watch movies for so my response to a performances is kind of complicated I suppose.

As much as I enjoy Lancaster in ATLANTIC CITY or even THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCESS for example, I just prefer him in THE SWIMMER and THE LEOPARD based on the quality of his work in those two movies as well as how much I love those two films. And I love THE SWIMMER and THE LEOPARD a lot.

Variety is the spice of life of course so if we all preferred the same Lancaster films the world would be a pretty dull place. Vive la differences!

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 7, 2011 10:45 pm

duke, my sentiments exactly. The young couple in love/shore leave segment is torture and utterly stops the movie’s momentum. Fortunately, it picks back up but, although I can’t say for sure, I’m almost positive that’s not in the play. The novel, maybe, only because novels always have much more backstory than a movie can due to time constraints (and utterly different ways of telling their stories) but, no way that’s in the play.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 7, 2011 10:45 pm

duke, my sentiments exactly. The young couple in love/shore leave segment is torture and utterly stops the movie’s momentum. Fortunately, it picks back up but, although I can’t say for sure, I’m almost positive that’s not in the play. The novel, maybe, only because novels always have much more backstory than a movie can due to time constraints (and utterly different ways of telling their stories) but, no way that’s in the play.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 7, 2011 10:50 pm

Kimberly, The Leopard is a movie I’ve been itching to see again for a while now. I might give it a rent from Netflix soon. But from what I remember, Lancaster was great in it so I don’t think much will change for me there. I like how almost everyone has latched onto Lancaster for this comment thread because he’s the one, after rewatching Atlantic City, that inspired this post.

And thank you for the warm welcome, Kimberly! It’s great to be writing here, really, it is. Couldn’t be more thrilled.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 7, 2011 10:50 pm

Kimberly, The Leopard is a movie I’ve been itching to see again for a while now. I might give it a rent from Netflix soon. But from what I remember, Lancaster was great in it so I don’t think much will change for me there. I like how almost everyone has latched onto Lancaster for this comment thread because he’s the one, after rewatching Atlantic City, that inspired this post.

And thank you for the warm welcome, Kimberly! It’s great to be writing here, really, it is. Couldn’t be more thrilled.

Posted By Medusa Morlock : July 8, 2011 8:53 am

Welcome to the Morlocks, Greg!

It is nice when performers mature into something deep and truly talented, gaining both strength and vulnerability as they age.

I was, as a kid, so struck by Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr in “Heaven Knows Mr. Allison”, which though probably a broad piece with stereotypical characters, rather captured each one’s essence. Not subtle, but effective! Plus I’ve always had a thing for nuns! (Which means I should put “Black Narcissus” at the top but I’m sure I’d not seen it anytime close to when I saw “HKMA” so I have to hold back.)

Holden? I really do like him in “Sunset Boulevard” but you’ve gotta love him when he’s older and wiser. You can understand why Stephanie Powers was his real-life companion at that time and till the end — still handsome and appealing, with such strength but also with a vulnerability that no doubt manifested in his drinking. Also maybe we kind of project our sadness at the circumstances of his death into this late performances; there should have been more of them.

Patricia Neal? So great in so many things, but the kid in me loves her down to earth secretary in “The Day The Earth Stood Still” — she practically saved the world.

So great to have you here, Greg!

Posted By Medusa Morlock : July 8, 2011 8:53 am

Welcome to the Morlocks, Greg!

It is nice when performers mature into something deep and truly talented, gaining both strength and vulnerability as they age.

I was, as a kid, so struck by Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr in “Heaven Knows Mr. Allison”, which though probably a broad piece with stereotypical characters, rather captured each one’s essence. Not subtle, but effective! Plus I’ve always had a thing for nuns! (Which means I should put “Black Narcissus” at the top but I’m sure I’d not seen it anytime close to when I saw “HKMA” so I have to hold back.)

Holden? I really do like him in “Sunset Boulevard” but you’ve gotta love him when he’s older and wiser. You can understand why Stephanie Powers was his real-life companion at that time and till the end — still handsome and appealing, with such strength but also with a vulnerability that no doubt manifested in his drinking. Also maybe we kind of project our sadness at the circumstances of his death into this late performances; there should have been more of them.

Patricia Neal? So great in so many things, but the kid in me loves her down to earth secretary in “The Day The Earth Stood Still” — she practically saved the world.

So great to have you here, Greg!

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 8, 2011 9:14 am

Thanks, Medusa! The more I think about it, the more I think I definitely should’ve included Black Narcissus along with The Innocents for Deborah Kerr. I mean, it’s one of my favorite films, which somehow must have been blinding me to the fact that it really is a definitive Kerr performance.

And Patricia Neal is great in everything she does but in The Subject Was Roses she saves more than the world, she saves the movie. If all you had was the “playing to the rafters” performances of Sheen and Albertson, that movie would be a wash.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 8, 2011 9:14 am

Thanks, Medusa! The more I think about it, the more I think I definitely should’ve included Black Narcissus along with The Innocents for Deborah Kerr. I mean, it’s one of my favorite films, which somehow must have been blinding me to the fact that it really is a definitive Kerr performance.

And Patricia Neal is great in everything she does but in The Subject Was Roses she saves more than the world, she saves the movie. If all you had was the “playing to the rafters” performances of Sheen and Albertson, that movie would be a wash.

Posted By MDR : July 8, 2011 9:51 am

Welcome from a (former) high hurdler Greg; an auspicious beginning to be sure!

Years ago on TCM’s message boards, mongo started a thread that attempted to capture the definitive roles of most of the classic film stars. It’s probably still out there, somewhere, and your article reminded me of it.

I think that anytime you think of an actor and are (instantly) reminded of two or more of their performances – as is the case with Cagney, Douglas, Kerr, Lancaster, etc. – that there really isn’t a defining role per se. And while Sunset Blvd. (1950) may mark Holden for some, it’s sad that Billy Wilder’s classic is perhaps the only Gloria Swanson movie most will ever see, and is their one exposure to Erich von Stroheim (as an actor!) as well.

I’ve found that it’s also interesting (though sometimes tragic) that an actor’s film debut – http://classicfilmguide.com/indexe66a.html – or final role – http://classicfilmguide.com/index4ca4.html – can come to define them in the mind of so many film fans … except among the movie mavens (that read this blog, of course;-)

Posted By MDR : July 8, 2011 9:51 am

Welcome from a (former) high hurdler Greg; an auspicious beginning to be sure!

Years ago on TCM’s message boards, mongo started a thread that attempted to capture the definitive roles of most of the classic film stars. It’s probably still out there, somewhere, and your article reminded me of it.

I think that anytime you think of an actor and are (instantly) reminded of two or more of their performances – as is the case with Cagney, Douglas, Kerr, Lancaster, etc. – that there really isn’t a defining role per se. And while Sunset Blvd. (1950) may mark Holden for some, it’s sad that Billy Wilder’s classic is perhaps the only Gloria Swanson movie most will ever see, and is their one exposure to Erich von Stroheim (as an actor!) as well.

I’ve found that it’s also interesting (though sometimes tragic) that an actor’s film debut – http://classicfilmguide.com/indexe66a.html – or final role – http://classicfilmguide.com/index4ca4.html – can come to define them in the mind of so many film fans … except among the movie mavens (that read this blog, of course;-)

Posted By missrhea : July 8, 2011 11:02 am

As I’m thinking more about this, I wonder if what we know about the back-story of a role subconsciously contributes to our opinion of the actor? I like William Holden in lots of different roles but reading/hearing how much Jennifer Jones tried to sabotage their kissing scenes (by eating garlic) in LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING makes me enjoy him even more. Sort of along the same line as Medusa’s love of nuns (me, too!).

Posted By missrhea : July 8, 2011 11:02 am

As I’m thinking more about this, I wonder if what we know about the back-story of a role subconsciously contributes to our opinion of the actor? I like William Holden in lots of different roles but reading/hearing how much Jennifer Jones tried to sabotage their kissing scenes (by eating garlic) in LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING makes me enjoy him even more. Sort of along the same line as Medusa’s love of nuns (me, too!).

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 8, 2011 12:18 pm

MDR, I was watching Queen Kelly for the second time just last week and thinking that very thing. There are so many Swanson movies to see, including Queen Kelly and Sadie Thompson that are now available on DVD or streaming. And Stroheim, too, as a director with Queen Kelly as well but also Greed, severely truncated against his will though it may be.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 8, 2011 12:18 pm

MDR, I was watching Queen Kelly for the second time just last week and thinking that very thing. There are so many Swanson movies to see, including Queen Kelly and Sadie Thompson that are now available on DVD or streaming. And Stroheim, too, as a director with Queen Kelly as well but also Greed, severely truncated against his will though it may be.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 8, 2011 12:20 pm

Missrhea, backstory definitely affects me. I try not to let it but sometimes it does. With Holden, seeing that clip of him at the Oscars with Barbara Stanwyck, stopping everything to tell everyone that he never would have had a career without her and she was one of the greatest dames he’d ever known, instantly made him a lifelong favorite.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 8, 2011 12:20 pm

Missrhea, backstory definitely affects me. I try not to let it but sometimes it does. With Holden, seeing that clip of him at the Oscars with Barbara Stanwyck, stopping everything to tell everyone that he never would have had a career without her and she was one of the greatest dames he’d ever known, instantly made him a lifelong favorite.

Posted By rhsmith : July 8, 2011 2:06 pm

Many people consider Criswell’s turn in Plan 9 From Outer Space to be a career tentpole but for me his most revealing work is in Orgy of the Dead. It pleasures me!

Posted By rhsmith : July 8, 2011 2:06 pm

Many people consider Criswell’s turn in Plan 9 From Outer Space to be a career tentpole but for me his most revealing work is in Orgy of the Dead. It pleasures me!

Posted By Tom S : July 8, 2011 2:17 pm

I’m sure no one will dispute that The Room is the definitive Tommy Wiseau performance, though

Posted By Tom S : July 8, 2011 2:17 pm

I’m sure no one will dispute that The Room is the definitive Tommy Wiseau performance, though

Posted By Greg F : July 8, 2011 2:39 pm

I believe Criswell’s performances on The Tonight Show were truly defining. However, your mention of Orgy of the Dead certainly arouses interest in Criswell’s storied career.

Posted By Greg F : July 8, 2011 2:39 pm

I believe Criswell’s performances on The Tonight Show were truly defining. However, your mention of Orgy of the Dead certainly arouses interest in Criswell’s storied career.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 8, 2011 2:42 pm

Tom, that may be the definitive performance, period, in the history of cinema. Never before has anyone so effectively used the “chicken chirping” noise, and so repeatedly, in one performance.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 8, 2011 2:42 pm

Tom, that may be the definitive performance, period, in the history of cinema. Never before has anyone so effectively used the “chicken chirping” noise, and so repeatedly, in one performance.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 8, 2011 10:02 pm

RHS- I think you commented on the wrong article. Oops.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 8, 2011 10:02 pm

RHS- I think you commented on the wrong article. Oops.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 8, 2011 10:02 pm

And….you deleted it. Now I look stupid.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 8, 2011 10:02 pm

And….you deleted it. Now I look stupid.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : July 8, 2011 10:08 pm

Ha ha!

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : July 8, 2011 10:08 pm

Ha ha!

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : July 8, 2011 10:08 pm

(Mine does still work, though.)

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : July 8, 2011 10:08 pm

(Mine does still work, though.)

Posted By Vanwall : July 10, 2011 5:17 pm

Great start! I think of “The Roaring Twenties” when I think of Cagney, tho, and I think part of the issue with whether certain actors seem to lack subtlety is the Studio influence – still alive and kicking – that sort of pigeonholed actors to fit their production aspects, which was Tyrone Powers’ fate, Lancaster, and a lot of others; they suffer from the audience’s projection of previous roles a little, or a lot. “The Crimson Pirate” and “Go Tell the Spartans” watched back to back would confound Lancaster’s usual reputation, which has sort of been Captain Vallo’ed to a great degree, rather than using his work in “The Train” and other films that were written and played in more realistic manners. I recommend “Go Tell the Spartans” if you haven’t seen it, it’s possibly the best film about the Vietnam War. I see Neal in “A Face in the Crowd” mostly, altho “The Subject was Roses” starts me down the path of deserved Oscars rather than awarded Oscars, a depressing journey. For me, Fred MacMurray will always be “Double Indemnity” Walter Neff, with a little of Jim Larsen/Ray Kincaid form “Face of a Fugitive”.

Posted By Vanwall : July 10, 2011 5:17 pm

Great start! I think of “The Roaring Twenties” when I think of Cagney, tho, and I think part of the issue with whether certain actors seem to lack subtlety is the Studio influence – still alive and kicking – that sort of pigeonholed actors to fit their production aspects, which was Tyrone Powers’ fate, Lancaster, and a lot of others; they suffer from the audience’s projection of previous roles a little, or a lot. “The Crimson Pirate” and “Go Tell the Spartans” watched back to back would confound Lancaster’s usual reputation, which has sort of been Captain Vallo’ed to a great degree, rather than using his work in “The Train” and other films that were written and played in more realistic manners. I recommend “Go Tell the Spartans” if you haven’t seen it, it’s possibly the best film about the Vietnam War. I see Neal in “A Face in the Crowd” mostly, altho “The Subject was Roses” starts me down the path of deserved Oscars rather than awarded Oscars, a depressing journey. For me, Fred MacMurray will always be “Double Indemnity” Walter Neff, with a little of Jim Larsen/Ray Kincaid form “Face of a Fugitive”.

Posted By Tom S : July 10, 2011 5:29 pm

If you want to see Tyrone Powers in a really excellent- albeit totally uncharacteristic- role, see the carney noir Nightmare Alley sometime.

Posted By Tom S : July 10, 2011 5:29 pm

If you want to see Tyrone Powers in a really excellent- albeit totally uncharacteristic- role, see the carney noir Nightmare Alley sometime.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 10, 2011 6:00 pm

Tyrone Power is great in Nightmare Alley, but I really love The Mark of Zorro. That final swordfight with Basil Rathbone is fantastic! I also greatly enjoyed The Black Swan. He was very funny along with being swashbuckling in that.

Posted By dukeroberts : July 10, 2011 6:00 pm

Tyrone Power is great in Nightmare Alley, but I really love The Mark of Zorro. That final swordfight with Basil Rathbone is fantastic! I also greatly enjoyed The Black Swan. He was very funny along with being swashbuckling in that.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 11, 2011 1:43 pm

I recommend “Go Tell the Spartans” if you haven’t seen it, it’s possibly the best film about the Vietnam War.

Vanwall, I’ve heard that from a couple of other people in discussions of Vietnam flicks but I’ve still not seen it. Mainly because every time it’s brought up I forget about it by the time I want to watch a movie and don’t know what to watch. I’m going to start a list, dammit!

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 11, 2011 1:43 pm

I recommend “Go Tell the Spartans” if you haven’t seen it, it’s possibly the best film about the Vietnam War.

Vanwall, I’ve heard that from a couple of other people in discussions of Vietnam flicks but I’ve still not seen it. Mainly because every time it’s brought up I forget about it by the time I want to watch a movie and don’t know what to watch. I’m going to start a list, dammit!

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 11, 2011 2:16 pm

I think Nightmare Alley is Power’s best performance.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 11, 2011 2:16 pm

I think Nightmare Alley is Power’s best performance.

Posted By iluvcinema : July 16, 2011 2:16 am

I just recently found out about Burt Lancaster in The Leopard. It is now in my Netflix queue.

When I think of Deborah Kerr, I also think of Black Narcissus.

This is a fun game to play.

Posted By iluvcinema : July 16, 2011 2:16 am

I just recently found out about Burt Lancaster in The Leopard. It is now in my Netflix queue.

When I think of Deborah Kerr, I also think of Black Narcissus.

This is a fun game to play.

Posted By iluvcinema : July 16, 2011 2:19 am

When I think of Tyrone Power I think of Alexander’s Ragtime Band :)

Posted By iluvcinema : July 16, 2011 2:19 am

When I think of Tyrone Power I think of Alexander’s Ragtime Band :)

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 16, 2011 6:03 pm

iluvcinema, he certainly is good in ARB. I really like that movie a lot. The Razor’s Edge isn’t bad either, or Witness for the Prosecution for Tyrone.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 16, 2011 6:03 pm

iluvcinema, he certainly is good in ARB. I really like that movie a lot. The Razor’s Edge isn’t bad either, or Witness for the Prosecution for Tyrone.

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Posted By Weekly Twitter Updates : September 1, 2011 4:46 am

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