Thursday, December 09, 2010

Bitesize Best Actress Oscar Profiles: Grace Moore

Grace Moore in "One Night of Love"
Lost the 1934 Best Actress Oscar to Claudette Colbert in "It Happened One Night"

Grade: **

Grace Moore is, on the face of it, a sprightly amalgam of Norma Shearer and Irene Dunne; if not quite as naturally magnetic a presence as either, soundly aware of how to work the screen and sexualise a role without coming across as a one-track maneater. The first shot of Moore's character, Mary, is an illuminated view from below a window, as she voices the film's title track with the operatic bravado of a musical Goddess. As it turns out, Mary's assured pipes are a fledgling, untamed beast, as she participates in and fails to win a talent competition, much to the chagrin of her parents. When she eventually decides to take the plunge and travel to Italy, she falls in love with renowned musical composer Giulio Monteverdi, who helps her develop a singing career.

As a production, "One Night of Love" evolves from a bit of harmless artistry, to a tempestuous battle over pride and power between two rashly-compartmentalised characters, but is nonetheless entertaining enough to make us care about these characters, despite their many misgivings. The problem for Moore is that the soapy levels of petulance in the script limit her performance to a bit of a flailing sideshow, too obviously facetious and throwaway in framing Mary's frustration towards her dictatorial singing coach and would-be lover. Her defiance of him feels too playful when one considers the more formally romantic inclinations of the final act, and the thoughtful, sterner approach of co-lead Carminati does little to disguise Moore's misjudgements.

She does, however, manage to channel Mary's inherent sense of performance, both in her stage scenes (well-positioned within the film), and in trying to orchestrate a finality in her relationship with Giulio. Their live-in arrangement is largely an unspoken affair, and Moore ably demonstrates Mary's inability to deal with the lover-pupil duality of their romance. Is she "performing" to make him act one way or the other? To an extent, certainly, but as eminently watchable and thoughtful an Actress as she appears to be, Moore is too susceptible to the trials of her character, and doesn't quite give Mary credit enough. A high-end two stars, but two stars nonetheless.

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