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Hollywood is filled with stars, but these stars come in different forms. There are the stars who continuously burn strong and bright over the years and seldom disappoint (How ya’ doing, Meryl Streep?). There are the ones who explode dynamically when they hit the scene, only to burn out, little by little, flickering only occasionally (How’s it hangin’, Matthew McConaughey?). Finally, there are those stars who initially appear with great brilliance and promise, only to crash and burn and either fade away or hang on, only to be listed occasionally in one of those “Where Are They Now?” articles (I’m looking at you, Tatum O’Neal!).
I love good character actors…their light may be dimmed a bit by the Big Stars they support, but it burns, much like Polaris, the Northern Star, with smooth, dependable consistency.
Companion piece to the Dogville Shorts review in Cinema Misfits, episode 18. For those who doubted such a series could exist, go ahead and stare in disbelief and wonder at the stills and clips. And for those who just can’t get enough of Dogville (and you know who you are, even if you won’t admit it), we offer Nancy’s appreciation of the series.
Ah, the Dogville Shorts. I clearly recall stumbling across one of these gems on a hot summer afternoon about ten years ago. It was quietly tacked on the end of a TCM film offering, and when it appeared, unbeknownst and unexpected by me, my first reaction was unmitigated incredulity. Was it the heat, I pondered. Was I dreaming? Did I need to adjust my medication? Or could this be real…dogs of all shapes, sizes, genders, and breeds, dressed as humans, acting out parodies of popular film genres?
Film and stage actor, Carleton Carpenter, is featured in episodes 17 and 18 0f the Cinema Misfits Podcast. I interviewed Carleton for “The Islander,” a segment where I get to know interesting people by asking them what ten films of DVDs they would take with them if they were stranded on a deserted island.
Here’s Carleton with Debbie Reynolds (in her film debut) in a number from the MGM musical Three Little Words (1950). Check out the podcast to hear Carleton discuss his Islander film choices as well as his career during the golden age of the Hollywood musical.
In its heyday, Hollywood showcased dozens upon dozens of wonderful character actresses. As with their male counterparts, most of them fell into “types,” roles for which they were well suited and extremely competent and reliable. Looking for a ditzy dame? Call upon Joyce Compton (The Awful Truth , Christmas in Connecticut ) or Barbara Nichols (Sweet Smell of Success , Pal Joey ). Need a high-toned, fussy society woman? Get in touch with Florence Bates (Heaven Can Wait , The Devil and Miss Jones ) or Edna May Oliver (Ann Vickers , Pride and Prejudice ). Want the ultimate kind, gentle, and understanding mother? Look no further then Fay Bainter (Young Tom Edison, The Human Comedy ) or, if the child in question is Jimmy Stewart, Beulah Bondi (Stewart’s onscreen mother in a record four films: Vivacious Lady, Of Human Hearts , Mr. Smith Goes to Washington , and It’s a Wonderful Life ).
And that’s fine. It’s the way it should be. As an audience, we look to these women to fulfill a specific role with great competence and gentle dignity (yes, even the ditzy dames).
What we don’t often see is the onscreen growth from one type of character into another. And another. But that’s exactly the sort of metamorphosis that character actress Lee Patrick achieved throughout the course of her long tenure as a bona fide character actress in Tinsel Town.
When writer/producer David Jacobs joined me recently on “The Islander,” he had a lot to say about some of the films he loves, including why he is fond of them and what makes them stand-out cinematic achievements. In this bonus audio clip, David uses his same keen understanding and appreciation of movies to discern what went horribly wrong with three films that should have been great but weren’t: The Chase (1966), The Cotton Club (1984), and Angela’s Ashes (1999).https://imrud.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/jb-what-happened-mp3.mp3″
The great character actors of Hollywood’s “Golden Era” (a time I’d place from the 1930’s to the 1950’s, give or take a few years on either side) filled an important niche in the films cranked out by the major studios. They were a dependable group of “types”: ditzy blondes, bombastic fatheads, loopy old maids, smart-aleck loudmouths; once their image was imprinted on the celluloid and projected on the screen, you knew what you were getting. Moreover, you could be assured that what you were getting would be good. The plot might be weak, the leading actors sub par, the direction lackadaisical, but the great character actors always delivered. Were they often typecast? Well, of course. But they portrayed, and portrayed excellently, a type that filmgoers then and today grew to love and respect.