Classic Movie Legend Tribute: Patricia Neal

 

Happy Birthday to Classic Movie Legend, Patricia Neal, born January 20, 1926!

The first time I saw Patricia Neal, I was completely smitten. The film was A Face in the Crowd and I must have been in ninth or tenth grade. Now, although the film as a whole is absolutely amazing and most walk away remembering the bombastically boss performance of “pre-show” Andy Griffith, I remember being completely and utterly fascinated by Neal. For me, Neal was a different kind of leading lady. Though classic movies featured plenty of strong leading ladies, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Jean Arthur obviously come to mind, their performances always seemed to be in the world of aristocracy even when playing characters of limited financial means. They never seemed grounded to this earth, and that was their appeal. Neal, however, was always grounded.

What draws me to Neal is her ability to play well-intentioned but flawed characters. Like most people in this thing we like to call the ‘real world’, her characters are full of contradictions. Strong yet vulnerable; tough yet giving, the characters Neal brought to life seem more real than the typical ones seen in the great classic film fantasy. Not only do they struggle to do what’s right, they struggle to understand what’s even right in the first place. My favorite example of this comes from; you guessed it, A Face in the Crowd. I guess this is about the time I should say spoiler alert, so *spoiler alert.*

Towards the end of the film when Neal makes the decision to expose Griffith for the power hungry, elitist monster he has become — the dilemma of the moment is all over her face. Sure, she could allow Griffith to ride the ignorance of his fan base to heights of political power. Sure, she could join him in his contempt for the unknowing masses. Sure, she could continue to play her part in the elaborate lie, after all, it’s what she’s been doing the whole movie. But she can’t; she realizes that the horrifying truth is better than the comforting lie and exposes Griffith for the man he has become. So, to pay tribute to this legend, let us take a look at some of these flawed characters, perhaps you’ll recognize yourself in some of them, I know I certainly do.

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Andy Griffith, A Face in the Crowd face, classic Movie actor, Elia KazanPatricia Neal, despite knowing better, lets herself get caught in to the Andy Griffiths Cult of Personality in A Face in the Crowd (1957, Elia Kazan director)

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Patricia Neal plays the world weary Alma in Hud. (1963, Martin Ritt director)

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Patricia Neal as the wealthy but lonely resident of 2E in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961, Blake Edwards director)

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Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub

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