Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wendy Hiller

This may be the first time I'm highlighting an actor I was completely unfamiliar with before venturing through all these movies. I guess I hadn't heard of Maurice Chevalier, but he was (seemingly) the inspiration for Pepe le Pew, so I was familiar with his essence, I guess.

Dame Wendy Hiller was primarily a stage actress but still starred in plenty of film and television over her nearly 60-year career. She was in five best picture nominees: Pygmalion (1938), Separate Tables (1958), Sons & Lovers (1960), A Man for All Seasons (1966), and The Elephant Man (1980).

The two I had not seen until recently are Pygmalion and Sons & Lovers. Mrs. Hiller was nominated for best actress as Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion. I wish I could fairly compare this movie to My Fair Lady, but unfortunately I have not seen the latter since I was in high school and was indignant about even the concept of watching a musical at school. So, for the moment, Pygmalion destroys My Fair Lady on all fronts in my book.

Sons & Lovers was fun as it's done in the style of 1930's literary adaptation, even though it came out in 1960. Hiller plays the mother of the sons in question, though the protagonist is 24-year-old Dean Stockwell (yes, Sam from Quantum Leap) as the angsty, mamma's boy artist trying to figure out what he wants out of women and of out life in general. The characterizations are, for the most part, far more nuanced than, I think, they would have been (or could have been) in the 30's. Stealing the show, however, is Trevor Howard as the alcoholic, coal-mining father of the family. He is simultaneously the comic-relief, the villain, and the redeemer in this story.

Hiller's Oscar win came for Separate Tables as Burt Lancaster's mistress and the hotel manager. I haven't seen it recently enough to recall her performance specifically, so I am eager to revisit it now that I'm more familiar with her larger body of work.

59 to go...

Kitty Foyle (1940)

This film earned Ginger Rogers her one and only Oscar nomination and win, though it was far from a token award. She portrays the titular Kitty from a precocious 15-year-old to a mature woman hardened by the realities of life.

Two social factors play into the story that give an interesting look into America at the time. The first is class distinction as Kitty is from a poor family and that becomes the main obstacle between her and Wyn Strafford VI in their on-and-off relationship. The issue isn't so much how Wyn views her or even necessarily his family, but how the city of Philadelphia will view their relationship since the Strafford's are so "important." They debate moving elsewhere, anywhere else, where Wyn's family is not prominent.

Second, the "other man" in the story is a poor, struggling doctor. Obviously, there's no money in helping people, he just enjoys making a difference.

I don't give enough away here to make it unsafe to add that, at the end, she also does not make the decision you expect.

61 to go...