Thursday, May 07, 2020

A Birthday Tribute to Anne Baxter

Anne Baxter is probably best remembered today for her Oscar-winning supporting role in The Razor's Edge (1946) and her Oscar-nominated performance in ALL ABOUT EVE (1950), but a closer look at her career shows she starred in a great many excellent films throughout the 1940s and '50s.

Baxter, the granddaughter of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, was born in Indiana on May 7, 1923. Anne aspired to an acting career from a young age, and she was just 13 when she made her Broadway debut in SEEN BUT NOT HEARD (1936). She spent the next few years studying and appearing in various stage productions in New York and Massachusetts, then at the age of 16 went to Hollywood to test for REBECCA (1940). She was deemed too young for the role, but instead landed a contract with 20th Century-Fox, where she would work for the next dozen years.

At Fox, Baxter was often a sympathetic heroine, yet she also had a gift for creating irritating villains. She also had a talent for creating multifaceted characters undergoing major life transitions, or who aren't quite as they first appear.

Off screen Baxter's personal life was bumpy at times. She married actor John Hodiak in 1946 but the marriage ended in 1953; Hodiak died just a couple years later, in 1955. Her second marriage in 1960 likewise ended in divorce. She chronicled her years living with her second husband in Australia in her 1976 memoir INTERMISSION: A TRUE STORY. Her final marriage, in 1977, ended tragically when her new husband died suddenly after only a few months.

In her later years Baxter did a great deal of TV work, including a memorable role as Faye in the miniseries EAST OF EDEN (1981), and she starred as Victoria Cabot in the TV series HOTEL beginning in 1983. Ironically, Baxter was a replacement for her onetime ALL ABOUT EVE costar, Bette Davis, when Davis left HOTEL.

Anne Baxter was in New York when she died suddenly of a stroke on December 12, 1985. She was 62. She was survived by three daughters.

I highly recommend enjoying an "Anne Baxter Film Festival" and becoming more familiar with her work. Here are a dozen fine Baxter films which will bring hours of viewing pleasure. Please click on any hyperlinked title to read my full-length review.

THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942) - Baxter was just 18 when she appeared in this Orson Welles classic, and she's magnificent, especially in the scene where she laughingly says farewell to George (Tim Holt, seen here with Anne). Like her movie father (Joseph Cotten), Baxter's Lucy is destined for heartbreak due to love for an Amberson.

CRASH DIVE (1943) - A colorful WWII flag-waver with both Tyrone Power and Dana Andrews in love with Anne. How lucky can a girl get?

GUEST IN THE HOUSE (1944) - Anne plays Evelyn, the invalid fiancee of a young doctor (Scott McKay). He brings her to his family's seaside home for rest and recuperation, but it's soon apparent to the viewer she doesn't just have a heart condition, she's bonkers. Evelyn decides she'd rather have her fiancee's married brother (Ralph Bellamy) and is soon hard at work wreaking havoc among the entire family. This role seems to have been something of a trial run for ALL ABOUT EVE (1950)! Anne is seen here with costar Ruth Warrick.

SUNDAY DINNER FOR A SOLDIER (1944) - The antithesis of GUEST IN THE HOUSE, SUNDAY DINNER FOR A SOLDIER is heartwarming Americana. Baxter's Tessa is raising three younger siblings while living on a Florida houseboat with their do-nothing grandfather (Charles Winninger). Despite having meager resources the family wants to treat a soldier to a festive Sunday meal. John Hodiak plays the soldier, who's delighted at being part of a family for a few hours. Sparks also flew off camera between Baxter and Hodiak, who married in 1946.

THE RAZOR'S EDGE (1946) - Baxter was a standout in a large cast which included Tyrone Power (seen here), Gene Tierney, John Payne, and Clifton Webb. She memorably plays young, innocent Sophie, happily married to Bob (Frank Latimore), who ends up as a puffy-faced alcoholic when tragedy strikes. The scene where Sophie learns she's lost everything is devastating. Anne is said to have motivated herself in the scene by remembering the death of her three-year-old brother.

THE LUCK OF THE IRISH (1948) - Another film with Tyrone Power, this time a light and charming romantic comedy with fantasy elements. It even has scenes tinted in green! Perfect for St. Patrick's Day.

YELLOW SKY (1948) - One of my favorite Anne Baxter films, this William Wellman Western also stars Gregory Peck and Richard Widmark. Anne plays a courageous, but lonely, tomboy who's attracted to Stretch (Peck), an outlaw who might just be interested in reforming. Widmark memorably plays Dude, the outlaw leader. This atmospheric film was beautifully shot on location in Lone Pine, California, by Joe MacDonald. A must for Western fans.

ALL ABOUT EVE (1950) - What can one say about this delicious classic with its razor-sharp dialogue and memorable portrayals? I return to it every few years, and it never grows old. Anne, in the title role, initially draws viewer sympathy, just as Eve receives from actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis) in the film, but before too long Margo and the viewer both want to claw Eve's eyes out!

I CONFESS (1953) - This is considered one of Alfred Hitchcock's "lesser" films, yet even his relatively minor works are interesting and worthwhile. Anne plays a woman who was once loved by a priest (Montgomery Clift); said priest is in a jam when a man admits to him during Confession that he murdered someone who was blackmailing both the priest and his one-time love.

THE BLUE GARDENIA (1953) - A nifty crime film wherein a lonely long-distance telephone operator (Baxter) wakes up from a hangover to discover that the man who was her bad date the previous evening (Raymond Burr) has been murdered. Will a newspaper reporter (Richard Conte) be able to clear her or will he put her in jail? An entertaining film, with a sequence where Anne "has dinner" with her absent love which is especially sad and memorable.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956) - A colorful role for Anne as the shapely Nefertiti, who becomes the queen of Rameses (Yul Brynner, seen here). There were a few moments where I thought Baxter and Brynner overdid it and briefly teetered on the edge of camp, but director Cecil B. DeMille was not exactly known for subtlety anyway, and they reel it back in. And they're nothing if not entertaining!

CHASE A CROOKED SHADOW (1958) - Anne plays a wealthy young woman who returns home to Barcelona after a long absence. She's soon faced with an incredible problem: a man (Richard Todd) claiming to be her dead brother moves into her home and refuses to leave, but she's never seen him before in her life! Who is he, and what does he want? Baxter expertly portrays the gradual unraveling of a woman who might not be "all there," and who also might be unnervingly calculating.

This post is adapted from an article originally published by ClassicFlix in 2014. Please note the originally published column has a typographical error for Anne's birth date.


Anonymous Jim McKay said...

A great actress from the Golden Age. Yellow Sky and The Razor's Edge are two of my favourites.

Jim McKay

10:08 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Anne Baxter is slowly becoming a favorite. One good movie that deserves mention is Five Graves to Cairo. Really worth watching.

About The Ten Commandments, it doesn't only briefly teeter on the edge of camp, it is firmly entrenched in it. And I love it for it. I like the first part with Brynner and Baxter the most, they may be campy but generate a lot of heat. So does Chuck, before he gets religion, and a beard. Those two things are usually a bummer. :) Oh well, can't have everything.

3:48 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Fine tribute,thank you Laura. My favourites are All About Eve (of course) , guest in the House and Yellow Sky.

1:55 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Great to hear from you, Jim! I especially love YELLOW SKY, filmed in my beloved Lone Pine. :)

Margot, I need to see FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO! I haven't gotten to that one yet -- I also enjoy Franchot Tone so I'm curious about it. I enjoyed your take on THE TEN COMMANDMENTS! :)

Vienna, thank you! I also especially love ALL ABOUT EVE and return to it every few years.

Thank you all for sharing your favorite Anne films!

Best wishes,

9:31 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

My favorite classic actress ❤️

2:53 AM  

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