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?
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.
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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:
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.
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.
* 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."