SUtS: Ethel Barrymore

Brandie’s choice: None But the Lonely Heart (1944)

Airing 8:00PM EST

I must admit that I wish I were suggesting another movie to you right now, a movie featuring the delightful Ethel Barrymore in one of her more effective supporting roles: 1947’s The Farmer’s Daughter, co-starring Loretta Young and Joseph Cotten. I adore this movie with every fiber of my being, and I am saddened that TCM did not put it on the schedule today in honor of Barrymore. Nor is it on their schedule in the near future, which is equally heartbreaking.

But I will console myself with this little gem, a dramatic deviation from Cary Grant’s typical comedic fare.

Now, to the depths that Carrie adores Gregory Peck, my heart flutters with wild anticipation whenever a Cary Grant movie is nigh. Was there ever such a combination of erudite sophistication and baffling tomfoolery to ever grace the screen? He could play high class and low with equal verve. He could tumble across the floor or flip over a couch without blinking, or stand in the street with his heart breaking in his eyes. He could sex you up and cool you down almost in the same breath.

Whew. What a man.

None But the Lonely Heart, adapted by playwright Clifford Odets (who also directed the film) from a book by Richard Llewellyn, stars Grant as Ernie, the Cockney son of a pawnbroker mother (Barrymore) who is secretly dying of cancer. Sounds maudlin already, right? Oh, it gets even better. Ernie falls in love with the ex-wife of the town’s most vicious mobster, while spurning the affections of the “girl next door” who has loved him from afar for years. When Ernie gets drawn into the dark world of organized crime, he must figure out how to turn his life around before it’s too late.

Grant was never fully given the opportunity to stretch his dramatic wings; as audiences greatly favored his comedic performances, studio heads in Hollywood were reluctant to allow their funny star to branch out and test his talents in other genres. None But the Lonely Heart gave Grant his chance to demonstrate that he was more than a pratfalling mugger, but at the time, critics were unimpressed, saying he had been miscast in the role. But, strangely enough, the character was so similar to Grant’s childhood in England, when he was known by the somewhat less debonair name of Archibald Leach, that Grant could have played the part in his sleep, and if you allow yourself to watch Grant’s performance without bias, you see that he nailed it. As melodramatic as the story ultimately is, this is the role that should have won him the Oscar.

Instead, the film brought a much-deserved Oscar to Barrymore, for Best Supporting Actress. By this time, Barrymore had built quite a reputation for herself; she was considered one of the greatest actresses of her generation, and of course the Barrymore surname denoted her membership in one of the most talented acting families ever to grace stage or screen.

After spending years trodding the boards on Broadway and making a name for herself on the stage, Barrymore moved to Hollywood, appearing in more than a dozen silent films and a handful of sound pictures before appearing in None But the Lonely Heart in 1944. That role began a second phase of her career, as she would go on to appear in supporting, often matronly, roles in such films as the above-mentioned Paradine Case and Farmer’s Daughter, Portrait of Jennie (1948), Pinky (1949), and Young at Heart (1954) before her death in 1959.

Even if you’re not in the mood for a melodramatic examination of defeated humanity (you mean you don’t feel like being depressed tonight?), give this movie a shot. At the very least, come for that Cary Grant charm, and stay for, among other things, Barrymore’s smooth, shrewd portrayal of a woman who will do anything it takes to help her hopeless son find a new lease on life.

Carrie’s choice:  The Paradine Case (1947)

Airing 8:00AM EST

To begin, let’s be up front. I love, love, love Gregory Peck. He’s my HiH, as is Cary Grant (isn’t he everyone’s?).  Hitchcock fans might recall his performance in Spellbound (my favourite Hitchcock, which, I think is also coming on this month.)

The Paradine Case from 1947, however, places Gregory Peck in his well-used role of attorney (think Atticus Finch, but without the wisdom beyond his time), or rather, British barrister.  He defends a newly-widowed woman accused of murdering her husband. Unfortunately, he falls in love with her, despite being happily married, and so begins the numerous twists and turns that creates the thriller genre.

Ethel Barrymore plays the wife of the judge hearing the case.  As such, she’s not as directly involved in the twists and manipulations that make this a Hitchcock piece. However, she assumes a commentary role, showing us, the viewers, the various viewpoints about the case. She sets up the frame for the twisted and conflicted characters to move about freely.  This allows the audience to follow the internal conflict better, because the facets of the case have all views expressed. Voicing the views becomes essential in aligning and re-aligning sympathy, which, as is true for many crime and trial stories, is part of what creates the drama and tension. We see this technique in everything from 12 Angry Men (the Henry Fonda version to be shown later this month) to the ever popular Law and Order. It also allows Hitchcock to accomplish the layers of manipulations, ideas, and metaphors that gave him his fame.

Barrymore and Peck perform alongside such illustrious names as Charles Coburn, Charles Laughton, and Ann Todd, making this one worth viewing for the cast, if no other reason.

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