Sunday, November 22, 2009

Actress Profile: Maggie McNamara in The Moon is Blue (1953)

When I caught Otto Preminger's The Moon is Blue last month on Youtube it was mainly for Maggie McNamara, who managed a Best Actress nomination in 1953 and who I really didn't know much about, having not seen her in anything else. She actually only did four films after The Moon is Blue (her debut) and sadly overdosed at the relatively young age of 49.

This stagy comedy sees McNamara pursued by a devilishly handsome William Holden and his would-be father-in-law David Niven, one of which wants to bed her, the other to marry her. She is required to dash off some cracking dialogue in which she's very candid about sex and foreplay while simultaneously declaring her unwillingness to engage in both. Contradictory perhaps, but McNamara juggles the character's complexities with ease, and for a debut it's a remarkably assured turn, laden with some wonderful comic timing and truly inspired acting decisions.

McNamara is a tiny girl, inoffensive, not particularly pretty, but she has an undeniable presence in the film and a warm demeanor, even when she's dashing off cutting quips and generally slapping down the lapdog-style attentions of her two suitors. As the piece was originally a play (penned and adapted by F. Hugh Herbert) Maggie isn't always framed like a leading lady and lingers in the background for pockets of the action, so it's kind of surprising that she managed to emerge as such an awards favourite. The role is cute but that particular feat was definitely garnered by the performance.

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