Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Birthday Tribute to Linda Darnell

The very beautiful and talented actress Linda Darnell was born 90 years ago today in Texas.

Linda Darnell, originally named Monetta, became a star as a teenager; she was just 15 when she appeared as Tyrone Power's leading lady in DAY-TIME WIFE (1939).

Darnell's looks were such that I think her acting has been underrated, when she was a skilled comedienne and quite a fine dramatic actress. The richest scenes in the classic comedy-drama A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (1949), for example, are those with Darnell and Paul Douglas, with whom she was teamed in two additional films, EVERYBODY DOES IT (1949) and THE GUY WHO CAME BACK (1951).

Darnell has long been one of my favorite actresses. A quick glance at Darnell's film credits shows that she had a rather remarkable career, working with some of moviedom's greatest directors while appearing in a long string of high-quality films, ranging from the classic swashbuckler THE MARK OF ZORRO (1945) to the superb film noir FALLEN ANGEL (1945) to John Ford's masterpiece MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946).

Rene Clair's comedic fantasy IT HAPPENED TOMORROW (1944), costarring Dick Powell, is a particular favorite.

One of Darnell's most rarely seen films, the Jerome Kern musical CENTENNIAL SUMMER (1946), is currently available on YouTube.

Linda Darnell died all too young, perishing in a house fire in April 1965. She was 41.

There's an excellent biography of Darnell, HOLLYWOOD BEAUTY: LINDA DARNELL AND THE AMERICAN DREAM by Ronald L. Davis. It can be a sad read as many things went wrong in Linda's short life, but the author did an excellent job, filling his book with a great deal of primary source research.

Stay tuned to the ClassicFlix Community, where I'll have a longer article on Darnell posted at some point in the months to come. (Update: Here is my article on Linda Darnell for the ClassicFlix site.)

Reviews of Linda Darnell films posted here to date: DAY-TIME WIFE (1939), BRIGHAM YOUNG (1940), IT HAPPENED TOMORROW (1944), HANGOVER SQUARE (1945), FALLEN ANGEL (1945), MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946), UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (1948), A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (1949), SECOND CHANCE (1953), and ZERO HOUR! (1957).

2015 Update: Here are additional reviews of THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940) -- plus a ZORRO photo gallery -- and DAKOTA INCIDENT (1956).


Blogger grandoldmovies said...

I agree with you on Darnell's talent - I think she was underrated, and she could handle comedy so well; her timing in A Letter to Three Wives is perfect. Plus she gives two of the best performances in noir in Fallen Angel and Hangover Square. And she also gives a fine, tense, dramatic performance in No Way Out with Poitier and Widmark. Really a fine, overlooked actress.

6:32 PM  
Blogger rockfish said...

She was truly talented and amazingly accomplished at a young age, yet somehow underrated -- despite as you mention being constantly put in roles that were challenging and surrounded by elite A-list actors and directors. I always found her to be various shades of subtly sexual, not quite the sleek and always-amorous all-woman that Hayworth and Gardner were. And it worked for her -- she could play the trustworthy housewife, the earnest young lady ready to match wits with her male counterpart, or the yearning lover, and still leave you hankering to see what awaited on the other side of the door. She is among my favourites too; Teresa Wright came across as that intelligent, cerebral woman who was any man's equal and life-long counterpart, but Darnell added a sexual, sensual spark that made her a good match with Ty Power and the rest. Of course that could just be my testosterone talking -- and how it likes to talk!

7:27 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

If she, Linda Darnell, was put in challenging roles and surrounded by A-list talent, then she wasn't, by definition and observation, under-rated.

9:09 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

It's great to hear from others who admire Linda's work as well! I've enjoyed hearing about each of your favorite performances. I haven't seen NO WAY OUT yet and I'm very much looking forward to it.

Barrylane, is it me or do you seem to have a bit of the contrarian in you? LOL. I agree that she was not underrated by those who worked with her and regularly put her in roles in such fine company, but my perception from various comments read over the years is that she has been underrated by audiences and critics, and it's that aspect to which I'm speaking. There was, as I think we all agree here, enormous performance ability to go along with her beauty.

Best wishes,

9:31 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...


Perception is not reality. The facts are that she had a good job at Fox and was promoted and appreciated by those who had come earlier.I think it is overly romantic to find pets of the past who did not live in imagination the way Carole Lombard and Claudette Colbert, and others have done. She was successful of her time. That some people fifty years after her death aren't in tune isn't something to base judgments of any kind on.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

"Pets of the past"? Really?

"That some people fifty years after her death aren't in tune isn't something to base judgments of any kind on."

But speaking of it may perhaps open the eyes of a viewer who hasn't given her much thought or casually dismissed her as a lovely face, leading to exploration and, hence, appreciation. As you must know by now, that is a large part of what I'm all about here, hoping to share some of the great stuff that's out there waiting to be discovered by new viewers, in hopes they too will enjoy some of the people and films I love.

Best wishes,

10:04 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Lovely tribute,Laura to a fine actress. Linda was so beautiful and had that deep,rich voice.
She is just so good with Paul Douglas in. Letter To Three Wives.
Linda Darnell lives in my imagination!

12:19 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you, Vienna! I agree, her voice is great -- wishing tonight I had time to watch some of her movies right now! :)

It's wonderful how actors we enjoy can live on, in a sense, thanks to the work they left behind.

Best wishes,

12:24 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

Very nice tribute Laura!

8:03 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Laura, Your reasoning is sound in my opinion. Go for it and aid awareness of these wonderful people...just don't make them underappreciated when they were the opposite. If they are tragic, as Darnell turned out to be, this went to life style/personal choices not that she went unrecognized. In fact, when you see talent drop off the radar you can bet anything it is a consequence of behaviour not a failure to be recognized by contemporaries.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Barrylane, it seems as though we're continuing to speak of two different things, industry appreciation at the time vs. public perception in ensuing decades. However, I think we can agree that Darnell was a wonderful movie talent as well as an incredibly beautiful woman.

Raquel, thank you so much, I'm glad to know you enjoyed the post! :)

Best wishes,

10:53 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

Linda Darnell was wonderful - I'd never realised she died so young. She is also very good in a support role in Wellman's 'Buffalo Bill'.

2:50 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Judy! I need to check out BUFFALO BILL, what a terrific cast! Thanks very much for sharing your feedback on that title.

Best wishes,

9:10 PM  

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