Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dames to Watch Out For: Gloria Grahame

Its my birthday as I begin this post, so I'm going to indulge myself and return to that old standby of "Dames In the Media the League Once Dug", which at this URL, we call "Dames to Watch Out For".

In this edition: Ms. Gloria Grahame

You may think you don't know Gloria Grahame, but if you owned a TV in the 1980's and 90's in the month of December, it means you saw It's a Wonderful Life.  Grahame played Violet Bick, the woman who seems a lot more interesting than Donna Reed who George gives some money to so that she can leave town and start a new life (its also shown she had eyes for George Bailey, and he had no idea.  We think George may have missed the boat on that one.)

see, you know this person
She also appeared in Oklahoma! as Ado Annie, a sort of naive, man-crazy problem-child.  Grahame was in her 30's by the time the movie was released, but was playing someone around 17 or 18, I'd guess.  Go figure.

If you've seen Oklahoma!, she's the crazy one who is often seen in a terrible hat.

the hat alone should warn the farmers and the cow mans that she's 10 kinds of crazy
But that's not the Grahame we're here to talk about.  Today, we want to discuss the Noir-centric Gloria Grahame.

Grahame gives Ford a couple of things to think about
In doing my research I stumbled across a great post about Grahame at Bright Lights Film Journal, and I'd recommend it as a good read.

I haven't seen all that many films with Grahame, but its hard to ignore her in either Crossfire or The Big Heat.

It seems Grahame actually received accolades for her work in Crossfire, and its not hard to see why.  Its a heartbreaking role as a taxi dancer, caught up in the murder of a Jewish US Soldier.  Ginny's role isn't the focus, although pivotal, and Grahame breathes a lot of life into the character, worn out and tired, and rightfully certain she's barely counted as a person any more.

I'll discuss Crossfire at another point.  I've seen it twice, and while somewhat dated in its approach, its still a great, tight film and uses the genre to share messages that were on the mind of America in the wake of World War II.

Also like a loaded gun?  A loaded gun.
Grahame would receive an Academy Award nomination, but it wouldn't lead to her becoming part of the Hollywood Pantheon of stars best remembered from the eras she crossed, from Hayworth to Monroe, or their later peers.

I have discussed The Big Heat, which I'll reiterate here is just a terrific movie.

this fills so many check boxes for me on a great noir scene, my brain is kind of exploding
For me, the standout role for Grahame is likely in The Big Heat, which is the source of the image above.  This is a movie about tough/ righteous police, corrupt cops and their spouses, sociopathic henchmen, ruthless mobsters, etc...  and Grahame manages to go toe-to-toe with all of them.  Including Lee Marvin.  Lee.  Marvin.

Grahame's character (a bit like descriptions I've read of Grahame herself) is a particularly bright woman who also likes to have a pretty darn good time.  She may intellectually know she's hanging out with hoodlums, but it seems to be working out pretty well for her.  The character takes a drastic turn, and Grahame handles the metamorphosis terribly well for what could have been an awkwardly melodramatic performance in lesser hands.  It may not be a femme fatale role, but its also an interesting female role from the era (as many are once you head into the world of noir).

publicity still from "The Big Heat"
Unfortunately, as with her peers such as Veronica Lake, Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe, Grahame's personal life seemed fit for its own big screen treatment if it hadn't featured a lot of material that likely wouldn't have met production codes back in the day.

Grahame had her fair share of romantic entanglements and married four times (including to Nicholas Ray and, later, Ray's son, so....  yeah, there's a story there), and died at the age of only 57.

For my birthday I received a film noir box set from Jamie featuring Human Desire from 1954.  Its one of the movies up next in my queue, so expect to see more Grahame in the near future.

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