Tag Archives: Gloria Swanson

Your Official Pre-War Actress of the Day is…

So I’ve decided to adapt my wonderfully popular Pre-War Actress Power Rankings from my Facebook page to my blog, for all the world to enjoy.

The deal is simple, the “Official Pre-War Actress of the Day” will be rated upon the following qualities:

1. Quality – as in strength of films and performance

2. Versatilty – can she sing, dance, act, do comedy etc.

3. Ballingness – is she hot? is she sexy? is she merely cute? Ballingness=Hotness.

4. Personal Life – as I talked about at length here, I am immensely fascinated by dirt, by death, and the macabre. Points are awarded for scandal, adventure, mysteriousness, activism, and other noteworthy aspects of life. Personality counts too.

So without further ado…Your Official Pre-War Actress of the Day is…

Marion Davies

Quality – 8/10                                                                                                                                                                                                                   I’ve seen her now in 7 films I think, with almost everything being good. Her two silents with King Vidor, Show People and The Patsy are marvellous, and demonstrating Marion at her self-effacing, engaging, comedic best. Not So Dumb, her talkie with Vidor is abysmal, and the other talkies I’ve seen her in are solid, but not remarkable. It would seem her silent work is where its at.

Versatility – 7/10                                                                                                                                                                                                                 She’s a brilliant silent comedienne, probably my favorite, and she made the adaptation to talkies quite well, as she was still regularly starring in films until she retired in 1937. She could sing and dance a little too. But I’ve yet to see her do straight drama.

Ballingness – 9/10                                                                                                                                                                                                      She’s quite attractive, and she has a cuteness when she does comedy. A very expressive face, which is always cool with me.

Personal Life – 10/10                                                                                                                                                                                                   Most famous as the longtime mistress of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. He basically made her a star, and tried to establish her as serious actress. She’s the basis for the Susan Alexander character in Citizen Kane. She’s gotten a bad rap as being a talentless trophy wife, but she was actually very good at comedy, and deserves a much better legacy. Either way she was very close to a very influential man in American history. She was also a noted humanitarian, and famously gave Hearst over $1 Million dollars when he was facing bankruptcy.

Favorite Role – Peggy Pepper in Show People (1928). Marion as an aspiring actress who gets her break in comedy, but decides she wants to be a serious actress. Her mimicking of Gloria Swanson is completely inspired.

Greatest Moment –

Her Lillian Gish is astonishing.

Professional Sports Equivalent – David Beckham (overshadowed by famous partner, and both unfairly criticized for it)

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I AM big. It’s the PICTURES that got small.

31. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)

I chose this poster cos it’s all po-mo, and if you don’t know what that means then it’s T.S.(tethered swimming) for you (2 Simpsons references in one sentence).

Gloria Swanson gives one of the greatest performances ever in terms of watching someone deconstruct their public persona, and leaving themselves exposed.

A bit of backstory on Gloria Swanson: she was a massive star(she was big…Gabby Hayes big, Simpsons reference #3) during the silent era of the 1920’s. Her stardom faded with advent of the talkie. From 1934-1950 she appeared in 1 film. “Sunset Boulevard” would mark her comeback and her first film in 9 years.

So the premise of the story is this: a hack screenwriter named Joe Gillis(played awesomely by William Holden), shacks up with a delusional ex-movie queen named Norma Desmond(played by Swanson) and mayhem ensues(well not mayhem, more like well-supervised craziness: Simpsons reference #4). Desmond has visions of a big-screen comeback, and Gillis is helping her write a script.

The film also stars ex-director turned character actor Eric von Stroheim as Max, Norma’s chaffeur/butler and one time director. This is where art even further imitates life. One of Swanson’s last starring roles was in the Eric von Stroheim directed “Queen Kelly” which ran way over budget, was never officially completed, and bombed when released. It’s actually pretty awesome, but that film’s failure killed von Stroheim’s directorial career, as well helping to kill Swanson’s film career. So what you have in this film is von Stroheim, and Swanson playing versions of themselves.

It’s common nowadays for stars to parody themselves and poke fun at their celebrity, but in 1950 it wasn’t especially common, and what makes Swanson’s portrayal so incredible is that it’s not played for laughs. It’s actually pretty fucking uncomfortable. There is one scene that is as awkward as anything ever shown on “Curb Your Enthusiam“, where Norma, Max, and Joe show up to the set of Cecil B. DeMille‘s latest film. DeMille was one of Hollywood’s biggest directors from the 10’s to the 60’s. Norma thinks DeMille wants her to star in a film(he actually just wants to use her old-timey limousine for a scene) and shows up demanding the full star treatment. Everyone kind of humors her, but no one has the heart to tell her what’s going on. It’s depressing man. It’s the kind of thing you could imagine someone doing in real life.

Swanson’s willingness to completely embrace the role is what makes it so great. It takes a a hell of a lot of guts to look so pathetic on screen.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film a 9/10, but that could easily turn in to a 10(I try and be judicious and not give 10’s until I have watched a film more than once). Just a great film in every facet. I recommend the shit out of this film.