Friday, October 26, 2007

Inter-War Years - Top Ten Performances

10. Charles Laughton - The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)
Awards: Won Oscar (Actor in a Leading Role)

Charles Laughton was one of the old guard: a charismatic and fearless presence on stage and screen. As Britain's most famous (or should that be infamous?) monarch he tears through his subjects and creates a rather touching portrayal of what is an essentially cruel and dislikeable leader. The film is rather hurriedly put together, and doesn't really ask too much of him, but Laughton eeks every bit of life from what was, even then, a fairly routine character.

09. Anny Ondra - Blackmail (1929)
Awards: None

The Eastern-European actress was dubbed in Hitchcock's first sound-included film, which makes her performance even more of a revelation. I'm not a fan of the film but Ondra's absorption of guilt, horror and subsequent mental collapse is raw and wholly convincing, adding dimensions to the character of Alice; Hitch's first female victim, and perhaps his best.

08. Lionel Barrymore - Grand Hotel (1932)
Awards: None

I can't help but fall in love with Barrymore's performance here as a desperate dying man trying to live out his days in the luxurious Grand Hotel. He's successful in winning you over with his hopeless, resigned, yet curiously warm persona, the vital cog within the film's message of class and community now commonly associated with the serial drama. He is crucially, and adorably, a man of the people.

07. Cary Grant - The Awful Truth (1937)
Awards: None

The wonderful thing about Grant as a comedy actor is that he can play both the unstable hapless victim (Bringing Up Baby, Arsenic and Old Lace) and the sly, scheming charmer, seen in His Girl Friday and most wonderfully Leo McCarey's The Awful Truth. Grant revels in his love/hate relationship with Dunne, and sells every wisecrack with brisk, perfect timing and unrivalled charisma.

06. Claudette Colbert – It Happened One Night (1934)
Awards: Won Oscar (Actress in a Leading Role)

Shrewdly leading while being led, Colbert gives a warm, funny and incredibly infectious performance that is the heart and soul of Capra's It Happened One Night. Thanks largely to her, even at its most heightened points of escalation, everything in the film feels like a natural, swift, and delightful jaunt.

05. Fredric March - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Awards: Won Venice, Oscar (Actor in a Leading Role)

Aside from the obvious make-up gimmick (he plays both Jekyll and Hyde), March is scrumptiously brilliant as the classic hero/villain, capturing the spiralling madness of a doctor both dismayed and excited by what he has achieved, and the subsequent struggle between his double-persona.

04. Katharine Hepburn - Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Awards: None

Her manic, frustrating inability to listen or acknowledge the concerns of, not only Cary Grant's doctor character, but indeed anyone she encounters, is both hilarious and infuriating. It takes some audacity to carry off a character like this, and expert comic timing. She has both in abundance.

03. Irene Dunne - The Awful Truth (1937)
Awards: Nominated for Oscar (Actress in a Leading Role)

It's an utter joy watching Dunne try to convince both herself and her husband that she's happy enough without him when she clearly isn't. Their one-upmanship throughout the film is enthralling, Dunne staging an act of comic genius towards the end that is the final victory in a mammoth battle of pride.

02. Cary Grant - Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Awards: None

Grant's best comes when he reacts to the ever-increasing mania going on all around him, (i.e. in Arsenic and Old Lace, possibly the finest comedic performance there's ever been). In BUB his behaviour and rationality fades in sync with this ever-maddening environment, his character eventually reduced from skepticism to acceptance in what is a rousing reversal.

01. Renee Falconetti - La passion de Jeanne d’arc (1928)
Awards: None

However hard I try I can't see past Renee Falconetti's figure of victimisation and sacrifice. As the saintly Joan of Arc she's poked, prodded, interrogated, ridiculed and eventually put to death in what is essentially a slaughter. Her plight in this way encourages us to sympathise and remember Falconetti as the martyr she's portrayed, but, likening the performance to another cinematic victim, Bjork's Selma in Dancer In the Dark (a performance I cherish), it achieves so much, without anywhere near the same quality of tools at hand, or level of characterisation. Falconetti is as exposed as any actor has ever been asked to. She is everything; the essence of injustice, the mark of faith, the truest protagonist.


Gloria said...

While I am a hardcore Laughton worshipper, and I tend to put him in my Nº1 usually, I'll say that I'll agree with your choice of Maria Falconetti at the top of the list. She made no further films, and no wonder, as such an extraordinary performance must have sucked the marrow out of her... However, with that one single performance, she secured her screen immortality.

There's a lot of actresses who have played the maid of Orleans, but Falconetti's performance is so mighty that you believe that it is the real Jeanne you're watching there.

Cal said...

Hi :)

I'd probably put Falconetti close to the top of an all-time list. It is indeed a mighty performance.

I've only seen three of Charles Laughton's performances.. Henry VIII, Barretts of Wimpole, and Witness for the Prosecution. I like him best in Prosecution. He's hilarious.

J.D. said...

Oh god, Falconetti... words can't describe.

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