Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Birthday Tribute to Joan Bennett

Beautiful Joan Bennett was born 101 years ago today, on February 27, 1910.


Joan Bennett was born into an acting family which included a famous older sister, Constance Bennett.

Joan's career, which began in earnest in the pre-Code era, was divided into several distinct chapters. In the '30s, she was the blonde star of a variety of films, perhaps most notably appearing as Amy in LITTLE WOMEN (1933).

She also starred with Spencer Tracy in ME AND MY GAL (1932), Bing Crosby in MISSISSIPPI (1935), Fred MacMurray in 13 HOURS BY AIR (1936), Cary Grant in the light comedies WEDDING PRESENT (1936) and BIG BROWN EYES (1936), and Randolph Scott in THE TEXANS (1938).

In 1938 Bennett appeared in TRADE WINDS (1938), which will be shown as part of an evening of Joan Bennett films on Turner Classic Movies next May 11th. Her character changes hair color from a blonde to brunette midway through the film, and from that point on, Bennett remained a brunette. (Update: Here is my May 2011 review of TRADE WINDS.)

As a brunette she appeared in adventure films such as THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1939) and the very entertaining GREEN HELL (1940). THE HOUSE ACROSS THE BAY (1940) was another notable early role as a brunette. She played British women twice in 1941, in CONFIRM OR DENY (1941) and MAN HUNT (1941).

With MAN HUNT Bennett began a collaboration with director Fritz Lang which also produced THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (1944), SCARLET STREET (1945), and SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR (1947). Bennett's appearances as the femme fatale in THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW and SCARLET STREET are among the most memorable and highly regarded roles of her long career.

Bennett was also superb in THE MACOMBER AFFAIR (1947) and THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949). In THE MACOMBER AFFAIR Bennett didn't hesitate to play a somewhat unpleasant woman who is revealed to have an unhappy marriage while on a safari.

In THE RECKLESS MOMENT, directed by Max Ophuls, Bennett's ordinary Balboa Island housewife is swept into intrigue when she tries to protect her teenage daughter, who caused an accidental death. Both films rank among her finest portrayals. Sean Axmaker has written a very good piece on THE RECKLESS MOMENT, calling it a "masterpiece of middle class America."

Unlike some actresses of her era, Bennett didn't shy away from playing the mother of teenagers as she neared 40. THE RECKLESS MOMENT and FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1950) began the next stage of her career, playing mother roles; FATHER'S LITTLE DIVIDEND (1951) and THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW (1956) are further examples.

FATHER OF THE BRIDE and FATHER'S LITTLE DIVIDEND reunited Bennett with Spencer Tracy, her ME AND MY GAL costar of nearly two decades previous. A fun bit of trivia is Bennett's movie daughter in FATHER OF THE BRIDE, Elizabeth Taylor, also played Amy in a production of LITTLE WOMEN (1949). (Update: Thanks to Irene for pointing out in the comments that Elizabeth Taylor was also born on February 27th. Quite a coincidence!)

Bennett also worked in television throughout the '50s, and in the '60s she began yet another phase of her career, appearing in the TV cult favorite DARK SHADOWS.

Her last acting role was appearing with Tom Selleck and Jane Curtin in the TV-movie DIVORCE WARS: A LOVE STORY (1982).

Joan Bennett passed away in 1990, leaving behind over half a century of excellent performances which continue to impress and be enjoyed today.

2013 Update: Here are links to additional reviews of Joan Bennett movies: THE MAN I MARRIED (1940), HIGHWAY DRAGNET (1954), and SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR (1947).

2 Comments:

Blogger Irene said...

And another tie in with Elizabeth Taylor, today is also Ms. Taylor's birthday.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's really something, Irene! Had no idea. :)

Best wishes,
Laura

3:59 PM  

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