Spring Trivia – Joan Bennett, Robert Mitchum, Ann Blyth, Robert Ryan, Jean Hagen, and Richard Widmark
There aren’t many things I love in life more than classic movie trivia. In celebration of spring, this month’s Noir Nook is serving up some trivial tidbits on some of my favorite noir actors and actresses and some of their iconic noir films. Enjoy!
Joan Bennett’s first noir was The Woman in the Window (1945), starring Edward G. Robinson and Dan Duryea, and directed by Fritz Lang. The film was a critical and box-office success, and afterward, Bennett, her husband, producer Walter Wanger, and Lang formed an independent film company, called Diana Productions after Bennett’s oldest daughter. The first film produced under the Diana Productions banner was Bennett’s second film noir, Scarlet Street (1945). Like The Woman in the Window, this film also starred Robinson and Duryea, and was helmed by Lang.
In 1947, Robert Mitchum appeared in two films noirs – the first of these was The Locket, where he played an artist who is tormented by an unspeakable crime committed by the woman he loved. The actor earned wildly contrasting notices from critics. The reviewer for the Los Angeles Daily News was impressed by his performance, writing that he “makes the cynical, sarcastic painter a character of some force.” The typically acerbic Bosley Crowther disagreed in The New York Times, however, insisting that Mitchum gave a “completely monotonous and inexpressive performance. There is not the slightest hint about this rigid face of the temperament of an artist, even granting that the fellow he is representing is a moody sort.”
For her role as the venomous Veda in Mildred Pierce (1945), Ann Blyth was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, making her, at age 17, the youngest actress up to that time to be honored. Blyth was expected to win, but the Oscar was awarded instead to Anne Revere for her performance as Elizabeth Taylor’s mother in National Velvet. Years later, Revere herself said that she was surprised to have won the Academy Award over Blyth: “My winning was such an upset, some of the papers the next day were still dazed and wrote things like: ‘Anne Revere, who played the troublesome teenager in Mildred Pierce, won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award last night.’”
Robert Ryan starred in 1949 in one of noir’s best offerings, The Set-Up, where he played an aging boxer who was, according to one description, “one punch away from being punch-drunk.” Ryan didn’t have to do much acting during the boxing sequences. When he was eight years old, his father arranged for him to take boxing lessons, and years later, at Dartmouth College, he became the first freshman to win the college’s heavyweight boxing championship, a title he held throughout his four years of intercollegiate competition.
Jean Hagen is perhaps best remembered for two roles she played during her career: Doll Conovan in The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Lina Lamont in Singin’ in the Rain (1952). In the former, she was outstanding as the would-be girlfriend of a low-level hood, infusing her portrayal with steely determination, sensitivity, and pathos. After the film’s release, director John Huston said that he cast Hagen in the role because “she has a wistful, down-to-earth quality rare on the screen. A born actress.” However, most critics failed to take notice of Hagen’s first-rate performance, overlooking her in favor of the flashier role played by Marilyn Monroe. In later years, Hagen would quip, “There were only two girl roles, and I obviously wasn’t Marilyn Monroe.”
In his big screen debut, Richard Widmark was featured in Kiss of Death, which starred Victor Mature and Coleen Gray. Widmark played the supporting role of Tommy Udo, a psychopath with a menacing, high-pitched giggle. For his notable performance, Widmark won the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (he lost to Edmund Gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street). “I thought, ‘Geez, this is easy.’” Widmark later said of the numerous accolades he received for his first film. “I haven’t come close since.”
Stay tuned to the Noir Nook for more trivia in future months!
– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub
Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
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