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...

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