Sunday, January 24, 2010

Acting the Part

Being less than willing to go out and about at this time of year, now is the winter of our watching films.
Being a BAFTA member means I have to watch lots, but I regret to say that past great films are ever a siren call to me. Arguments rage about who was a great actor ( John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable,Spencer Tracy etc etc etc) and in truth many of the films they made are less than good, and their performances could only be described as formulaic. The films were made at a time when the studio bosses had absolute power over their stars and they did as they were told or face the consequences.
But every now and again the star got the director he deserved and something truly excellent emerged. I think of eg Wayne and John Ford ( OK I admit I love cowboy films) and Big John just has to be The American he became, but Ford had a gift for making a story come alive, and an actor mean what he said.
So it was with glee that I saw " My Darling Clementine " was on the box recently. It's not particularly accurate historically, but the effect of the direction and acting is to produce perhaps the best classic western ever. Ford is absolutely on the top of his form.
Henry Fonda has a stillness and power he lacks in many other of his films, whilst Victor Mature, never an actor I particularly liked, is better than he ever was anywhere else, and Walter Brennan as Pa Clinton has a smiling hate and avarice that belies his cuddly image from many other films.
As with all great films, there are light moments that break the menace. Today's directors would do well to remember that.
The one I particularly like in this film is when Fonda ( Earp) asks Mac the barman:
" Have you ever been in love Mac?"
" No," says Mac. " I've been a bartender all may life."
Many of us would agree.

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