Monday, December 13, 2010

Van Heflin Centennial

December 13, 2010, marks a century since the birth of Academy Award winning actor Van Heflin.

Heflin wasn't precisely handsome, but what he might not have had in looks he more than made up for in charisma and acting ability. Last weekend I pulled up an old review in which I wrote that Mr. Heflin could read the phone book and make it interesting!

After doing some theater, Heflin appeared in a few RKO programmers in the late '30s, including ANNAPOLIS SALUTE (1937), then hit it big on Broadway in the original cast of THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1939). Heflin played Mike Connor, the role for which James Stewart would later win an Oscar.

MGM called -- though not for their 1940 production of THE PHILADELPHIA STORY -- and in quick succession Heflin appeared in THE FEMININE TOUCH (1941), H.M. PULHAM, ESQ. (1941), and JOHNNY EAGER (1941), for which he won the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor.

He went on to appear in KID GLOVE KILLER (1942), GRAND CENTRAL MURDER (1942), SEVEN SWEETHEARTS (1942), POSSESSED (1947), GREEN DOLPHIN STREET (1947), THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1948), ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948), MADAME BOVARY (1949), and EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE (1949), as well as many more titles than could be listed here.

I think the first role I ever saw him in must have been Athos in THE THREE MUSKETEERS, which I saw when it was revived in a Westwood theater when I was around 12. He was particularly compelling in the historical melodrama GREEN DOLPHIN STREET, a film which should be seen by all Heflin fans. He's in the middle of the action which includes an earthquake, a tidal wave, and a Maori uprising, while quietly loving married Lana Turner.

As the brief list above indicates, Heflin did everything from "B" detective movies to musicals to film noir to costume pictures.

One of his best-known roles, in the Western SHANE (1953), came after he left MGM.

AIRPORT (1970) was one of his final performances, and he passed on the following year at the age of 60.

A bit of interesting trivia is that Heflin's sister, Frances, appeared for decades on the soap opera ALL MY CHILDREN.

Tributes have been posted at Edward Copeland On Film, 50 Westerns From the 50s, and Screen Savers, which I originally linked to last weekend.

December 13, 2011: Van Heflin films reviewed in the past year: SHANE (1953) and TOMAHAWK (1951).


Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

I actually think Van would have been great in the film version of TPS. I've grown familiar with his acting since my first viewing of TPS a few years ago, and James Stewart's mannerisms in the film could be identical to Van Heflin's. For that matter, I would have loved to see what Joseph Cotten would have brought to the film, since he played Dexter on stage, and I wouldn't mind seeing Katharine Hepburn's original choices for Dexter and Mike, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, respectively.

3:59 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

One of my favorite actors! I'm always on the lookout for more of his movies. I really need to see Green Dolphin Street one of these days, but I don't think that one's on DVD. I've looked for it previously.

8:10 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Wouldn't it be nice if we could see PHILADELPHIA STORY with alternate casts, Evangeline? That's one reason I enjoy Lux Radio Theater -- it's fun to hear different actors of the same time period in well-known film stories.

DKoren, GREEN DOLPHIN STREET is only on VHS so far. I bought it several years ago. I expect at some point it will be a Warner Archive release, as they've released many other Lana Turner films in that format.

Best wishes,

9:40 AM  
Blogger Loren Williams said...

Today was Van Heflin day on TCM (his 101st birthday), and I'm ashamed to say that I was unfamiliar with his work. I just wrote an appreciation of him myself. Now I just need to see "Johnny Eager" . . .

7:28 PM  

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