Welcome to a new series I plan to continue throughout the year. A series that will be fun and light combining my appreciation for some of my favorite actresses and astrology. We will be starting with Aquarius as that is the zodiac we are in right now, it also happens to be my sign and I’m quite pleased with the company I share in it. I will give a rundown of a handful of actresses under the sign and one of their films you can try and catch. If you are a seasoned film fan you may see some old favorites or familiar titles. If you are a budding film fan who wants to get familiar with some great actresses then this should be an easy way to get that ball rolling. Either way I hope you enjoy.
January 20th – February 19th
Traits – Creative, Passionate, Progressive, Independent, Humanitarian, Eclectic
Ann Sothern – January 22nd 1909
A Letter to Three Wives (1949) – Ann Sothern plays one of the three wives from the title of this 1949 romantic drama. You may also know this as the film Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed the year before the timeless classic All About Eve in 1950. The film is a screen adaptation of a novel by John Klempner. A Letter to Three Wives is the story of three women who receive a letter from another women in their friend group who writes to say that she has run off with one of their husbands… She doesn’t say which one though and the film plays out in flashback to show each of the three marriages is strained in some capacity. Ann Sothern plays alongside Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnell as Rita who is a no-nonsense career woman who writes material for radio and soap operas. Her husband who may possibly be the one swept away in an extramarital affair is played by Kirk Douglas. A nice soapy melodrama with some very notable names speckling the cast list.
Jeanne Moreau – January 23rd 1928
Elevator to the Gallows (1958) – Here we have a French crime film directed by Louis Malle starring Jeanne Moreau alongside Maurice Ronet. This is a very interesting and intriguing crime film that incorporates heavy film noir elements as well as an impressive film score by Miles Davis. Moreau and Ronet play lovers, the only problem being that Moreau’s character is married so they plan to dispose of her husband so they can be together. The murder does not exactly go as planned and in a domino effect the movie unfolds in front of our eyes. We do not spend all of our time with Moreau and Ronet as a side story opens involving a young couple played by Georges Poujouly and Yori Bertin. As I noted the film leans heavily into film noir elements and is visually pleasing to watch and is beautifully shot by Malle. One scene in particular that stands out is a simplistic sequence where a depressed Moreau strolls the city streets at night in a heavy rain shower, no dialogue but all is said in her face and the swell of the Miles Davis score playing in tandem with the scene.
Sharon Tate – January 24th 1943
Valley of the Dolls (1967) – Valley of the Dolls is not perfect and makes it home more in the genre of cult films but it still is one everyone should see at some time. The story comes from the salacious novel of the same name written by Jacqueline Susann. The film is directed by Mark Robson who also directed Peyton Place (1957) as well as The Bridges of Toko-Ri (1955). Sharon Tate plays one of our three female leads as a character named Jennifer North, rounded out by Barbara Parkins as Anne Welles and Patty Duke as Neely O’Hara. Tate unfortunately did not have a long career in film but she is arguably the best part of this film even if she is technically a supporting role. Where others in the film jostle between hallow performances and almost cartoonish portrayals Tate offers a bit more heart and warmth to the story. Our three main girls all intersect in New York City when they are all striving to find their place and breaking into the individual careers they covet. The girls become friends and the film progresses through the years as they have highs and lows in their personal and professional lives. Sometimes the lows outweigh the highs as the film marches on. These lows consisting of egos out of control, failed relationships, drug abuse, heartbreak, sickness and suicide.
Donna Reed – January 27th 1921
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – Yes technically January is almost over and it has been over a month since Christmas but that doesn’t mean you can’t check out this classic if you haven’t already. This is one of the roles Donna Reed is most remembered for in regards to her film career alongside her award winning performance in From Here to Eternity (1953). It’s a Wonderful Life is shot by notable director Frank Capra who also produced. Obviously Jimmy Stewart is iconic in the lead role of George Bailey but Reed is equally as notable in her supporting role of his wife Mary. If you are one of the rare few who have not had the pleasure of seeing this film then I will give you a brief rundown but I encourage you to fix that as soon as possible. Here we have the story of George Bailey who we follow through different stages of his life – from youth, the ambitious and idealistic plans he has as a young adult to the weary days of a adulthood contending with multiple troubles that weigh heavily on his shoulders. When all of it seems too hopeless George contemplates ending it all before being stopped by the saving grace in the form of a guardian angel named Clarence. This encounter showing George how things could’ve played out in a world where he was never born to begin with.
Dorothy Malone – January 30th 1925
Written on the Wind (1956) – Douglas Sirk was a maestro in regards to perfecting melodrama; capturing a truly aesthetic 1950s on film that is swathed in decadent technicolor. Written on the Wind is my particular favorite from his filmography and a great vehicle for Dorothy Malone who plays a delightfully devious character. The film came out in 1956 and has quite the roster of notable names including Lauren Bacall, Rock Hudson and Robert Stack. As with any Sirk film the salacious is not skimped on as we are invited into this world. Our plot circles around the destructive behavior of two siblings of a rich Texas oil barron. These adult children being Marylee (Dorothy Malone) and Kyle (Robert Stack). Kyle rushes into a marriage with secretary Lucy (Lauren Bacall) and the troubles ensues from there. Kyle who is an alcoholic with anger issues that simmer under the surface at first finds solace in his relationship with Lucy but this is not to last as things begin to unravel when Kyle and Lucy are unsuccessful in trying to conceive a child. Meanwhile Kyle begins to feel a hostile jealousy towards his childhood friend Mitch (Rock Hudson). The jealousy born from his father favoring the upstanding Mitch over his children and the fact that Mitch is secretly in love with his wife. Things come to a boil when a drunken Kyle is convinced a now pregnant Lucy had an affair with Mitch and assaults her. In his rage he later tries to retrieve a gun to kill Mitch, although his plan fails there is still tragic results.
Jean Simmons – January 31st 1929
Hamlet (1948) – As the title suggests this is one of the film adaptations of William Shakespeare’s play of the same name. This one is directed, produced and adapted by Laurence Olivier who also stars in the title role of Hamlet. This is one of the most prestigious of the many Hamlet adaptions and for good reason. It is also the recipient of the Academy Award for Best Picture. Jean Simmons was a pretty notable British actress and stars here in the role of Ophelia who is the love of Hamlet. I need not give you the whole rundown as I should think that most have read the play already and if you haven’t it is arguably one of the Bard’s best so you should get on that. Simmons does well as Ophelia and playing out the role of the tragic lover who ultimately goes mad and loses her life in the process. This is one of my favorite adaptations of Hamlet even if some purists have problems with Olivier’s handling of the source material.
Ida Lupino – February 4th 1918
The Hard Way (1943) – This film is an interesting sampling and is a drama with musical elements to it with aspects of the story revolving around the lives of performers and the drama that ensues. Starring we have Ida Lupino, Joan Leslie, Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson. Lupino plays a highly ambitious woman named Helen who will go at any lengths to escape the poverty that her and her sister Katie (Leslie) live in. Keen to take any opportunity that may lead to a better life Helen encourages her sister to marry a performer named Albert (Carson) who Katie has no interest in. She relents though and the two are wed but trouble comes when Katie has a break and eclipses Albert by becoming a popular singer and actress. Meanwhile her husband’s celebrity flounders and his partner Paul (Morgan) is observant of the strings Helen is pulling and is worried for his friend. Tragedy strikes and as time goes on Katie’s ego gets the best of her as her stardom continues to rise and soon she attracts the romantic attention of Paul which doesn’t come without ultimatums due to his disapproval of Helen’s actions.
Lana Turner – February 8th 1920
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) – Here we have one of the most memorable samplings from the best of 1940s film noir. The story of the film originates from the mind of James M. Cain who you may know as the man behind the original stories for Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce. Starring in the film we have Lana Turner, John Garfield and Cecil Kellaway. We enter the story with Frank Chambers (Garfield) who is a relatively good natured drifter who is making his way in the world and hitching rides as he moves along. After one ride he is dropped off in a very rural area at a small service station that also includes a diner. The owner of the diner is a cantankerous older man named Nick Smith (Kellaway) and his young and glamorous wife Cora. It doesn’t take long for romantic attraction to bubble up between Frank and Cora who slip into a secret affair. Cora is tired with her lot in life, living in a dead end place and married to a man she has no love or affection for. With the help of Frank the two begin to plan ways to kill Nick which at first fail until they soon become successful though not in a cut and dry way that they had hoped for. With Nick gone their problems only seem to grow and follow them around causing strain in their relationship. Things take a turn when karma comes back to greet them.
Kim Novak – February 13th 1933
Vertigo (1958) – One can’t easily talk about Novak without the conversation turning back to Vertigo. Of course this is another great outing by Alfred Hitchcock who directed and produced. This psychological thriller stars Hitchcock favorite Jimmy Stewart as John Ferguson who goes by “Scottie”. Scottie is a detective who is endlessly haunted by the death of a police officer which was a tragic accident that resulted from his vertigo and fear of heights. Tormented by this incident and the guilt Scottie retires from his job and desires to overcome the fears that plague him. During this period he is tasked with utilizing his detective skills once again to follow the wife of an old friend who believes she may be in danger. Scottie agrees to this and begins to tail Madeline (Novak) which leads him to observe her in places that add to the curiosity he has for her and a bit of a mystery and conspiracy revolving around her. This being the connection believed to be possibly shared between Madeline and the subject of a portrait named Carlotta Valdes. Soon Scottie sees that Madeline may be a troubled soul and saves her after she takes a dive into the San Fransisco Bay. After this they begin to spend more time together and a budding attraction between them develops until Madeline makes a suicidal leap off a Mission bell tower. Overcome with grief Scottie tries to acclimate himself back into the real world after a break down and being overcome with depression. Things take a turn though when an uncanny resemblance makes Scottie question everything… (C’mon this is Hitchcock if you haven’t seen the film I’m not going to spoil it here.)
Claire Bloom – February 15th 1931
The Haunting (1963) – I’ve always found The Haunting to be a very interesting film as it is a superb British horror film though you may be surprised when you realize the director (Robert Wise) was the man behind The Sound of Music and West Side Story. You wouldn’t expect someone behind such iconic musicals to helm such an ideal horror film yet here we are. Our cast here consists of Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn. These people who have no other connection to one another are invited for a stay at the notorious and mysterious Hill House. A home that has a wicked reputation and our group comes for a stay to help in a paranormal investigation into the dark past of the property. When our story opens Hill House has stood empty but has a long history of insidious incidents and a long line of deaths within its walls. Dr. John Markway (Johnson) has a desire to study and learn more of the suspected paranormal activity reported at Hill House. He cultivates a small group to accompany him for a stay – the current heir of the estate (Tamblyn), a psychic (Bloom) and the nervous Eleanor who is invited for the experiences with the supernatural as a child. They are not there long before the house begins to act up and live up to it’s reputation but despite this Eleanor slowly begins to develop an odd connection with the place that seems to fascinate her. This fascination soon grows into an obsession which begins to concern the others as Eleanor continues to fall under the spell of Hill House. An obsession that grips and results in tragic conclusion.
Vera-Ellen – February 16th 1921
On the Town (1949) – On the Town is a very nice and pleasing musical romance that has a very star studded cast which consists of Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Ann Miller, Betty Garrett and Vera Ellen. The film is co-directed by Gene Kelly as well as Stanley Donen. Donen whose name may ring a bell if you are familiar with some notable films he was behind such as Singin’ in the Rain (also co-directed with Kelly), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Indiscreet, Funny Face, Charade and Two for the Road to name a few. What we have here is a light, simplistic and effervescent 1940s musical that is enjoyable to see. We follow along for a 24 hour shore leave of three sailors – Gabey (Kelly), Chip (Sinatra) and Ozzie (Jules Munshin). The soundtrack is still pretty memorable and many will likely be familiar with “New York, New York” which became a popular solo Sinatra tune later on. As they are starting their day Gabey spots a picture featuring an attractive young woman called Miss Turnstiles. The boys set off around the city on a search for this mysterious girl who has captured Gabey’s heart not yet knowing she is actually Ivy Smith (Ellen). During this quest they come across and are soon assisted by two women named Claire (Miller) and Hildy (Garrett). Naturally Ozzie and Chip become involved with these two – Ozzie with Claire and Chip with Hildy. Claire is an anthropologist and Hildy is a taxi driver. Now with the inclusion of the girls the group is a bit more well rounded which leads to a few exuberant song and dance numbers as they continue on their search. Finally they track down Ivy which leads into another musical sequence as she meets and starts to fall for Gabey as he has for her. As in any light musical comedy a little bit of mild drama has to be thrown in to stir the pot but after a period of the blues all is well after another song plays and we leave everyone on a hopeful note.
Merle Oberon – February 19th 1911
Wuthering Heights (1939) – One can’t think of Merle Oberon without thinking of her memorable turn as Catherine Earnshaw in this 1939 film adaptation of Wuthering Heights. This adaption was directed by the notable William Wyler and alongside Oberon we have Laurence Olivier and David Niven. Wuthering Heights and its dark and melancholic romance may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I believe it is a book everyone should read once and when you follow-up with a film this is the one should seek out. Of course literary purists find fault in most adaptations of memorable novels, but an adaptation should be lauded when it captures the essence of a story as this film does in spades. Of course here we follow along on the story of Heathcliff (Olivier) and Cathy (Oberon). Their tragic story is a long one that stretches out many years from their first encounter as children to the growth of their connection as they go into adulthood. Heathcliff is the brooding and tormented lead in typical Bronte fashion and the one who has his heart is the tempestuous and willful Cathy. The romantic attraction they have for one another leads to years of misunderstandings, heartache and tragedy for them and for all of those who surround them. But even if life bore them nothing but pain and anguish the end promises peace in another way.