Rita Hayworth as Gilda in Gilda (1946)
Glenn Ford & Rita in Gilda
Gilda was an enormous success for Columbia in 1946, so much so that Rita Hayworth’s agent demanded a share of the profits of all subsequent films made by her. Columbia head Harry Cohn point blank refused. Her agent was none other than Johnny Hyde, the gnomish little man who would later become Marilyn Monroe’s agent and lover. So, Rita called in ‘sick’ for several days on her next film for Columbia, until Cohn reluctantly agreed to give her 25% of the net profits of her remaining films on her contract. No doubt ‘creative accounting’ ensured the ‘net’ profits would be minimal, if at all. During the making of Gilda, her turbulent marriage to Orson Welles was going through one of its numerous separations, so she took the opportunity to embroil herself in an intimate relationship with co-star Glenn Ford. Cohn, ever wary of adverse publicity, had both their dressing-rooms bugged, but the sound department tipped off the lovers. As for the movie, I found it lacked something but was watchable enough, simply because Rita was at the peak of her beauty and allure. She truly was a screen goddess. Her famous, oft-repeated comment that men she knew, ‘fell in love with Gilda and woke up with me’, sprang to mind as I viewed the picture.
Virginia McKenna as Violette Szabo in Carve Her Name with Pride (1958)
The real Violette Szabo
In Carve Her Name with Pride, Virginia McKenna is wonderful as Violette Szabo, an extraordinarily heroic British woman who volunteered to be dropped behind the lines in Nazi-occupied France as an operative with Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War. Fans of the 1966 feature Born Free will recall Virginia and Bill Travers playing Joy and George Adamson and their affection for a lioness named Elsa. During the 92 days required to film Carve Her Name with Pride, Virginia took just two days off to spend with Bill on their brief honeymoon! The blonde, blue-eyed actress bears little resemblance to the real Violette (she was a 5’5” brunette with dark eyes), but playing Miss Szabo affected Virginia deeply. ‘There are some roles you can put out of your mind the moment you get home’, she said, ‘but not this one. It’s the part of a lifetime.’ In 2000, at the age of 69, Virginia performed the opening ceremony of the Violette Szabo Museum in Herefordshire.
Yul Brynner as Chris in The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Whenever conversation turns to great westerns, the 1960 classic The Magnificent Seven invariably crops up. And rightly so. Personally, I think it runs a distant second to The Searchers (1956) with daylight back to third spot. Everybody in The Magnificent Seven does well, but the star of the picture is clearly Yul Brynner. Despite Steve McQueen’s endeavours to upstage him, Brynner reigns supreme. His character dominates throughout and he gets to speak most of the best lines. And there are plenty of those. This movie is one of those rarities that have snappy scripts, eye-catching performances from a host of interesting characters, magnificent, widescreen photography, sharp editing and a score to die for. Brynner was rarely dull or boring to watch in his movies, being possessed of a rich, deep voice and a commanding presence. Similar to Lee Marvin, he seemed to project strength and power effortlessly. He had an arrogance that did not endear him to his male colleagues, but that same arrogance seemed to be catnip to most of his female co-stars.
Jack Nicholson as J.J. Gittes in Chinatown (1974)
Jack Nicholson has won three Oscars and been nominated for nine more. The man is a seriously good actor. Chinatown (1974) was one of the nine that got away. Set in 1937, the picture captures the era superbly thanks to brilliant direction from Roman Polanski and a smooth, effortless portrayal of private investigator J.J. Gittes by Nicholson. A year after making this picture he picked up one of his Academy Awards for the much showier role of R.P. McMurphy in 1975’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but his underplaying here holds the film and the story together and is a far more absorbing performance, in my opinion. There is not a single scene in all of Chinatown that does not have him in it and the movie is all the better for that. I have seen this picture numerous times and am forever discovering something new with each viewing. I have no time for Polanski as a person, but he certainly knew how to draw a performance from his leading man. Many would not agree, but I find this to be Nicholson’s best film by a considerable distance.
Julie Walters as Rita in Educating Rita (1983)
A great many movie fans back in 1983 thought that Julie Walters was a newcomer when she wowed audiences and critics alike with her performance as Rita in Educating Rita. It was indeed her first big screen role, but she had already enjoyed her own TV series (Wood & Walters in 1981), and had collected the Variety Critic’s and London Critic’s Circle Awards for her portrayal of Rita on the London stage. When it came to making the movie she was already well-versed in the role and it came as no surprise when both she and co-star Michael Caine were nominated for Academy Awards. Shirley MacLaine beat her with Terms of Endearment, a hometown decision if there ever was one. Julie’s performance was refreshing and unique, enough to land her a Golden Globe but not an Oscar. The movie’s producers very nearly did not give her the part anyway because they wanted a ‘bankable’ star in the title role. Believe it or not, Dolly Parton looked like getting it until Caine came on board and wiser heads prevailed.
Jeff Daniels as Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in Gettysburg (1993)
The real Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
Gettysburg (1993) is a 271- minute labour of love directed by Ron Maxwell. Military historians love it, but for the average movie-goer it is way, way too long. As a reconstruction of this iconic battle it is a work of art, beautifully enhanced and humanised by the performance of Jeff Daniels as the battle’s great hero Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Of all the many truly great acting performances in movies, his stirring depiction of this gentle and courageous man is one of my all-time favourites. It is that good yet, when it came time for doling out awards, he received just one solitary nod of approval. Not from the Academy, not even for a Golden Globe, but from the Chicago Film Critics Association who nominated Daniels for Best Supporting Actor. He didn’t win. As for the actor himself, he considers Colonel Chamberlain to be his favourite character of all those he has played in his impressive career, one that has included four Golden Globe nominations.
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