Sep 3, 2013

Blonde Faith

I realized recently that one could mark the years of my young life by actress crushes: Amy Irving and Ingrid Bergman in high school, Holly Hunter and Audrey Hepburn in college, and some indeterminate years later, the only outright blonde who would make the list, the marvelous Carole Lombard. I've more or less dropped the straight-up idolization habit, in part as my film consumption has flatlined and in part as I began to have relationships with actual ladies, and I haven't missed it much. But I'm glad that last crush led me to the great, bold Lubitsch comedy, To Be or Not To Be, in which Lombard made her greatest statement on film (and tragically last, as she died in a plane crash before its release), and grateful that Backstage editor Mark Peikert asked me to write about it for their Standing Ovation column. An excerpt:
There are other Lombard performances worth a look: her definitive ditz in “My Man Godfrey”; her entirely convincing dramatic work in “Hands Across the Table”; even her sassy bride in “No Man of Her Own.” But only in “To Be or Not to Be” was she given the fullest measure of that greatest acting opportunity: the chance to show restraint, to underplay, to load subtext under a glittering surface. And what a surface: Swathed in an hourglass wrap by Irene, or with her hair laced with flowers to play Ophelia, Lombard never looked more radiantly glamorous, with the borrowed high-status grandiloquence of the classical actor. But when the dire circumstances of the plot conspire to reduce her to the actor’s more typical status of Gypsy or whore—a word Siletsky pointedly almost utters about her—the brilliant facade drops to show a still more brilliant core of resolute integrity.
 One footnote about something I noticed on this viewing: If she's playing Ophelia, then it's in a dramatically reorganized production of Hamlet, given that she entertains Robert Stack's flyboy during her husband's "To be or not to be" speech, then receives her husband in her dressing room, post-speech. But what's a nunnery speech among farceurs?

RTWT here.

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