Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bitesize Best Actress Oscar Profiles: Jennifer Jones

Jennifer Jones in "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing"
Lost the 1955 Best Actress Oscar to Anna Magnani in "The Rose Tattoo"

Grade: **

I'll concede to having more than a smidgeon of sympathy for actresses who suffer from inept direction, and Oscar favourite Jennifer Jones certainly falls into that category in this, the final of her five nominations. "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing" is a lifeless exercise in faux-sentimentality, and yet another Henry King film in which his leading figures become martyrs in the name of love and faith. Those two figures are William Holden as American correspondent Mark, and Jennifer Jones as mixed race Doctor Suyin, and it's an understatement to say that their meeting and subsequent relationship don't exactly set the world alight. Still, I'm sure that it'll be some comfort to fans of Arthur Hiller's Love Story that it wasn't the first film to pack limply-constructed courtship and disingenuous melodrama into 95 minutes.

Suyin is portrayed as a gracious and decent doctor, but more despite of her Eurasian descent than because of it, or because of any of her own will to succeed. Indeed, the attempts to address issues of race encompass flimsy bouts of prejudice within Suyin's professional environment. It ain't much of a shock then, to find that Jones is fundamentally unable to channel her character's position within the medical world, or a great passion for it, recalling some of Rosalind Russell's placid acceptance of duty in Sister Kenny, but otherwise a mannequin upon which the film burdens with angst and frail issues.

A scene in which Jones is required to omit the ecstasy at her husband's devotion to her by proclaiming, "He called me to tell me that he's STOPPED biting his fingernails!", handily summarises the ineffectuality of the moments where she is afforded a real Best Actress close-up. I can't imagine any actress transforming this unthinkably silly line into something meaningful, and to her credit Jones softens the end of it to accomodate a bashful hush. The successes of her performance largely emerge through senseless, child-like affectations, generating some belief that her marriage with Mark may be an appealing escape from Eastern roots. And she seems to be a much better judge of character development than Screenwriter John Patrick, or Director King are at building a story.

A JJ fan I am not, but if we're striving for superlatives, she's probably the best thing about the film (I'm not even going to discuss the title track!) But striving we'd be, and she can neither make me believe that love is splendour, or fashion the film's lamb-dressing into even a semblant of a worthy investment.

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