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JOAN BENNETT: THE QUIET STAR

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CineMaven
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JOAN BENNETT: THE QUIET STAR

Postby CineMaven » August 22nd, 2013, 10:08 pm

This photo stopped me dead in my tracks and Robert Regan posted a very interesting 'food-for-thought' question over at the SSO's FaceBook page when he posted this picture:

Image
Joan Bennett in "WOMAN ON THE BEACH" - Could she have been an inspiration for Andrew Wyeth?

Robert Regan wrote:Who else in the forties could have played this character?


MAVEN ELIMINATION:

This kind of question is oh sooooooo hard because any original performer's performance, is so often burned in one’s mind, it’s hard to see anyone else in the part.

One way for me to approach Bob's question is for me to think about what it is Joan Bennett brings to the table. I’m no Bennett expert. She’s newly on my radar ( thanxx to an old friend: "The Reckless Moment" and a new friend: "Father of the Bride" ) even though I’ve seen her around for years. She’s incredibly sexy. Not in a va-va-va voom obvious way perhaps. But she’s sultry...smolders...simmers. She also has the ability to play two emotions at once. There’s an intriguing ambiguity about Joan Bennett that’s under the surface. She’s not obvious - emoting to the heavens. She is subtle; she has subtext. She has a unique niche in the pantheon of actresses from the classic era.

* * * *

No cards and letters folks, but I have to say I do not see a “peaches & cream” look for this character. I think the dark soul of a brunette fits better here. With one exception.*

A MAN’S WOMAN:

There’s got to be a mix of vulnerability and steely strength with this character. She can leave at any time; yet she stays. Some of my favorite actresses master either one of those qualities better than the other. Some of my faves are very independent and only need a man by the last reel. You know...to make it all comfortable & respectable. Some might have the looks a guy’d go gaga over, but not the chops to make an audience believe her. Some have the chops, but maybe not quite the box office clout. Some are confections while others a bit brittle. Gosh, I want to say Ella Raines so badly, but she doesn’t quite fit. I want to cast Ida Lupino in this role, but as tough ( "The Hard Way" ) and as heartbreaking ( "On Dangerous Ground" ) as she is, I don't think she has The Look that men die for. Now Linda Darnell...she's got the look and might have the depth, the ying & yang to pull this off. But I really have to make a decision now.

THE EYES...and THE VOICE HAVE IT:

Now again, let me say that Joan Bennett did a good job in ”WOMAN ON THE BEACH.” Re-reading the quotes from the movie also helped me determine my choices. I chose two pictures of each "nominee" that would exhibit a sophisticated and a softer side. A blind man ( Charles Bickford ) could see the beauty of these three actresses. I can see them all in a nightclub, in a New York-minute. And I can see them torn by their emotion ( with a little help from the director. ) My candidates are:

GENE TIERNEY:

Image Image

I’m going with preternatural beauty Gene Tierney. ( Sorry Hedy. You’ve got the beauty but I don’t quite think you’ve got the chops. ) If I were Jean Renoir, I would have Tierney be more relaxed; not use her beauty as a mask. She's got to let us see underneath. And I think she can do it. We all know that Tierney can be a terror. That performance in “Leave Her to Heaven” was masterful. I see her self-destructiveness in “Shanghai Gesture” and her vulnerability in “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” indicative that she’s got layers within her. Look how soft she can look in the photo on the right when her glacial edges are rounded. Come on out.

AVA GARDNER

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Cold? Oh yeah. Did you see her in “The Killers” and how she tells a man in a room full of his peers “You touch me and you won’t live till morning.” Remember her at the piano in this same movie when Lancaster first sees her? ( Heck, it's my laptop's screensaver! ) Watch how she tosses dismissiveness like she'd throw off her shoes. Men cannot let her go. They must possess her. Her vulnerability shines through in “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” - her love sickness was palpable. Ava can be hurt by men in movies. She’s got a soft underbelly where they strike. But cross her and see what you get. I'm going to take a chance and with a patient director, she can deliver.

ELEANOR PARKER

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* Here's my exception. And I don't think a director would have to babysit her. As we just discovered thanks to TCM, Eleanor Parker can play it anyway you want her to. She gets devastated by Kirk Douglas in “The Detective.” In “Between Two Worlds” her emotional level was heartwrenching. Sophisticated? Ha! Can’t you see her at Ciro’s or the Mocambo, laughing with that husky voice, squinting her eyes into cold hard slits as she throws a flinty glance your way? And in "Of Human Bondage" I swear there was a moment where I saw conflicting emotions flit across her face all at once. And of course...then there's "Caged." There...there now.

If you have a suggestion, post 'em here...or come on over to the SSO's FaceBook page. No reason why you shouldn't be tortured like the rest of us with this exercise of "who else."
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Re: JOAN BENNETT: THE QUIET STAR

Postby JackFavell » August 23rd, 2013, 10:30 am

The problem is, no one could play smart like Joan, and yet still give the emotional wildness that she had. I have been endlessly thinking about this too, and I've come up with two choices, maybe three. However, I honestly don't think any of them could have given this role the fire and ice that Joan did. As good as they are, I still think Joan beats their imaginary performances by a mile.

My first choice is:

Gene Tierney
- because she could play an adult woman, with an adult woman's ability to shrug some things off and hold other things inside. Tierney was able to play some complex, push and pull scenes, even though she barely gets any credit. Because I see that she could steel herself and play cold, while still allowing emotion through.

Margaret Lockwood - because again, she is an adult. Lockwood at this point in time seems like she's been around the block, knows what the score is, and I could see her being the kind of person who would not make any fey attempt to hide that she enjoys nightlife and New York's (or London) social opportunities. She could get the harder side of the character, but maybe she's too hard?

The third is another Brit, Vivian Leigh. I think Viv could play anything, but somehow, I see this character as very American. Vivian has a way of sweeping you up in her passion, that I think fits this character to a T, and she could also pull off the boredom. I think she could even make us believe her quick decision in that final scene. Both she and Joan have a great sense of humor, a great ability to go for the jugular, and the self-centeredness needed. But for me, Joan has a kind of animalistic quality that none of these other great actresses have. She is kind of like my dog Lily - she can be fresh and inviting one minute, rolling over to have you pet her belly, and then turn calmly and kill a mole the next. AND be proud of it. And yet, I still like her. :D

Someone on FB posted Connie Bennett, and to me, this fits well. Not quite as well as Joan. They each get 'bitter' better than anyone, while still remaining human.

It's funny, T, because I kept going back to Linda Darnell. I wanted to cast her, but I am not sure she could handle the dialogue or the shifts back and forth from sweet to acid. And your choice of Ava? Well I'm ashamed that I didn't think of her.

I think that Joan Bennett has a ripeness, a seen-it-all-done-it-all aura that just oozes out of her... it's NATURAL, it's part of her makeup. Anyone else except maybe Tierney would be putting it on, like a new hat. She's a woman all right, and she gives the impression of having tried everything there is to try, and now being on the other side of it. But it's not a brittleness, she's still supple and movable. I don't know if this is coming out clearly or not - she's still REAL, still human in her foibles, and recognizable. This is what makes her roles in WOMAN ON THE BEACH, THE MACOMBER AFFAIR, THE RECKLESS MOMENT, and SCARLET STREET, so noteworthy. Even in her most shrewish, lazy, feline role, you can still empathize with her.

I get the feeling with Joan in her films (and perhaps in real life) that she's had to do the dirty work for men all her life, and this leaves her jaded, bitter but still longing for someone who could be stronger than she. And I think this is what resonates so powerfully with us now, looking back on her work.

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Re: JOAN BENNETT: THE QUIET STAR

Postby kingrat » August 23rd, 2013, 11:29 am

I'm loving all these comments about Joan Bennett and the other stars of the 40s. Love Robert's suggestion about Wyeth and Christina's World, too. She was most fortunate in her directors. The films JF mentions were directed by Jean Renoir, Zoltan Korda, Max Ophuls, and Fritz Lang. Not too shabby. Those films may not have been blockbusters, but they look good now.

You ought to see the beginning of I MET MY LOVE AGAIN (1938, dir. Arthur Ripley and Joshua Logan). Joan Bennett and Henry Fonda have to play young in the first scene. She does a good job of showing us a believable young girl, one who can be bold enough to take the first steps and kiss the boy she loves. She's also very good in the scene where she meets a slightly older and much more sophisticated man (Alan Marshall).

A day of Joan Bennett films, or even better, a month with Joan as the featured star, would be great.

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Re: JOAN BENNETT: THE QUIET STAR

Postby CineMaven » August 23rd, 2013, 9:19 pm

JackFavell wrote:The problem is, no one could play smart like Joan, and yet still give the emotional wildness that she had. I have been endlessly thinking about this too, and I've come up with two choices, maybe three. However, I honestly don't think any of them could have given this role the fire and ice that Joan did. As good as they are, I still think Joan beats their imaginary performances by a mile.

Gene Tierney, Margaret Lockwood, Vivian Leigh...


Hi Wendy - I LOVE your reasons for your picks and the eloquent way you expressed it. I also picked Gene Tierney but I loved your reason better than mine. Margaret Lockwood is inspired casting too. I haven't really ever seen much of her other than "The 39 Steps" and that Dirk Bogarde movie "Cast A Dark Shadow." Your three choices certainly have the dark beauty that I think noir requires. I saw the movie from beginning to end today, and I'm now convinced that Joan Bennett could have played Cathy in "Wuthering Heights." Or is she too urban ( "Little Women" notwithstanding ) ??

* * *
kingrat wrote:I'm loving all these comments about Joan Bennett and the other stars of the 40s. Love Robert's suggestion about Wyeth and Christina's World, too. She was most fortunate in her directors. The films JF mentions were directed by Jean Renoir, Zoltan Korda, Max Ophuls, and Fritz Lang. Not too shabby. Those films may not have been blockbusters, but they look good now....

For the sake of accuracy, I have to tell you that the Wyeth reference was mine own, Brother Rat. With Bennett, those non-blockbusters she made were a many layered thing. I'm wondering do you have any other actresses you'd put up in that role of Peggy in "Woman on the Beach"? I'm curious.

You ought to see the beginning of I MET MY LOVE AGAIN (1938, dir. Arthur Ripley and Joshua Logan). Joan Bennett and Henry Fonda have to play young in the first scene. She does a good job of showing us a believable young girl, one who can be bold enough to take the first steps and kiss the boy she loves. She's also very good in the scene where she meets a slightly older and much more sophisticated man (Alan Marshall).

I've got to give this movie another chance. I hadn't liked the idea of her character impulsively running off and leaving nice Henry Fonda, so the movie didn't sit well with me. Now that Bennett is firmly in my sights...I know now Joanie must have had her reasons. I've got to see it again.

A day of Joan Bennett films, or even better, a month with Joan as the featured star, would be great.

I wholeheartedly agree. And while we're putting our orders in, I say we need a day...a month with CHARLES BICKFORD. He did a great job in "Woman on the Beach."
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Re: JOAN BENNETT: THE QUIET STAR

Postby intothenitrate » August 23rd, 2013, 10:39 pm

It's funny talking about Joan Bennett as a forties star. I recently got a copy of Disraeli from 1929 where Bennett plays a plucky ingenue. She's pretty green and not given a lot to do, but she holds up her corner of the screen pretty well. What's remarkable is how little she seems to have aged in her later pictures.

I also wonder how being the sister of Constance conditioned her approach to her work. CB is so flashy, so larger than life.
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Re: JOAN BENNETT: THE QUIET STAR

Postby CineMaven » August 24th, 2013, 8:50 am

Nitrate - I'm no Joan Bennett aficionado. But I have a friend who is. You've raised a good question and I'll see if I can find out for you how much Constance influenced her little sister. Joan Bennett is newly, consciously on my radar. And like a kid with a new toy, I'm now all about Joan. :oops:
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Re: JOAN BENNETT: THE QUIET STAR

Postby ChiO » August 25th, 2013, 6:04 am

Joan Bennett is #2 on my list of favorite actresses, so it's tough for me to say that any other stars of the '40s had her combination of savviness and emotion on the screen. But there is one ahead of her, and one just behind.

Barbara Stanwyck - Of all the men, women, children and critters ever to appear on screen, she's my favorite. Smart, sexy, sassy, and able to turn from hot to cold (and back) on a dime.

Ida Lupino - Wouldn't you like to have a drink with her?
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Re: JOAN BENNETT: THE QUIET STAR

Postby CineMaven » August 25th, 2013, 4:26 pm

That's a mighty fine short list you have there ChiO. Mighty fine.

When they played hard, they were very very bad. But...


ImageImage

...they could be soft too.
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rerun
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Re: JOAN BENNETT: THE QUIET STAR

Postby rerun » November 9th, 2013, 3:56 pm

I enjoy reading about everyone's thoughts of Joan Bennett and the parts she could play. No one has mentioned 'indifference'.
When she was married to Walter Wanger she would go to the polo games and sit in a box to watch him play. She would read a book!
When Walter made a good shot or even a goal heavens forbid she had someone with her that would nudge her and she would look up and clap
a few times. Sigh . . . and then go back to her book. My father captained the polo team and it was his job to get the ball out in front so Walter could make a goal.
So, I watched this many times. She was a cool, cool, cool lady for sure. Which makes her acting all that much better as it was usually so different from the person she was
that I saw give the same performance so many times.
Avatar: John Cantarini (Martha's husband) on future world record holder Crazy Kid. He won six in a row
on him.


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