Thursday, January 13, 2011

Claudette Colbert

This was an actress I already knew by name but always struggled not to confuse with other actresses of the era. I just watched three movies with her as the lead, so hopefully I can keep her straight from now on. Those three were Cleopatra (1934), Imitation of Life (1934), and Since You Went Away (1944), all best picture nominees.

1934 was a big year for Ms. Colbert. She starred in three best picture nominees. In addition to the two listed above was It Happened One Night, one of the best movies ever made. And that's not just my opinion. It was #35 on AFI's original top 100 list, #8 on their all-time comedy list, and currently ranks #140 on IMDb . The film won best picture and was the first to sweep the five major categories: best picture, best writing, best director (Frank Capra), best actor (Clark Gable), and best actress (Claudette Colbert). It was to be her only Oscar win, but she was also nominated for Private Worlds (1935) and Since You Went Away.

As successful and beautiful as she was, my brief research shows her to be rather insecure. According to IMDb, she "was so convinced that she would lose the Oscar to write-in nominee Bette Davis that she didn't attend the ceremony originally." And once she gained clout, she insisted on being filmed only from her left side and constantly worried about proper lighting, the effects of colorization, etc. (wikipedia).

Cleopatra was a fairly accurate, if rushed, account of Cleopatra's life and death with respect to her role in Roman affairs, specifically her relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. It made one major omission however - the son she had with Caesar is never shown or mentioned in any way. The Egyptian queen must do what is best for herself and her kingdom while sincerely (at least within this film) falling in love with these Roman leaders.

In Imitation of Life, Colbert plays an entrepreneurial widow who strikes it rich with the help of the secret pancake recipe of her black house keeper. The movie is interesting in that there is no one single plot thread through the entire film, but it still works as a slice of life in the 1930s. Colbert juggles raising her daughter, running a business, and nurturing a social life. Her house keeper fights for the love her own daughter who, as a very light-skinned black, wishes to live the much easier life of a white person (keep in mind this is 1934).

Colbert showed great range in 1934. In her three Oscar nominated films of that year, she played a runaway heiress, a successful business woman, and the Queen of the Nile.

Ten years later, she played the mother of two teenage girls in Since You Went Away. It is the middle of WWII and her husband has just enlisted and shipped out. He is never seen the entire movie except for in two photographs at the beginning, not surprising given the film's title. The focus is on the home front and we see the family trying to make ends meet, dealing with their various romances, and constantly on edge about any correspondence regarding the war.

In total, Claudette Colbert was in five best picture nominees. In addition to the four I've discussed here, she also starred with Maurice Chevalier in The Smiling Lieutenant which I have already mentioned in this blog. In the photograph above she sits between Frank Capra and Clark Gable.

83 to go...

No comments:

Post a Comment