RICK’S JOURNAL (My Film Career)
I became interested in Ashley Duke’s book A World to Play With (see last post, December 14) because of his association with Vivien Leigh. I went to the book assuming that he would write about her appearance in his play The Mask of Virtue (his adaptation of a German play by Carl Sternheim). I found A World to Play With to be collection of essays published before Dukes met Vivien Leigh. As evidenced in my last blog, I found the book provocative even though it does not discuss the most fabulous of all actresses.
Despite what she herself described as her limited range at the time, Vivien Leigh was, literally, an overnight success in Dukes’ The Mask of Virtue. Critics with reservations about the performance observed her promise, and everyone saw her grace and beauty. Something she felt she learned from other cast members and from her critical notices was that her voice needed serious improvement. She would set to work on this more in earnest a few years down the road, but she began on her problem at once during the short run of the play. You might note the very high pitch in which she yells for Prissy as she dashes back inside Aunt Pitty’s after stopping the Confederate officer on horseback during the siege sequence in Gone with the Wind. Years later audiences in London would be stunned by her first lines from the stage in Anouilh’s Antigone, following a lot of hard work on timbre and projection. This new richness was evident in her stage performances as Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire. Filmgoers can hear these deeper tones in the Streetcar film and then the mellow richness in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone and — even from her fading small frame — in the final Ship of Fools.
Vivien Leigh’s Anna In a New York Times article called “Degrees of Infidelity to Tolstoy’s Heroine” (November 4, 2012), Terrence Rafferty, comparing screen versions of Anna K before the current release, finds the 1948 Duvivier film with Vivien Leigh the “strongest” of the earlier versions. I find this a happy surprise since the picture has never been held in much esteem, and it has never been considred one of Vivien Leigh’s best performances (my collaborator BKG: “But what a bar!”). Rafferty also surprises me with his dismissal of the popular 1935 Clarence Brown/Greta Garbo effort in which he feels that Garbo was directed more as clothes horse than character.
MOVIES ARE EVERYWHERE: The narrator and anti-hero of Graham Greene’s novel The Comedians owns and manages a hotel called the Trianon in Haiti. One accomodation in the hotel is called the John Barrymore suite. “There was a large photograph of John Barrymore on the wall looking down his nose with more than his usual phoney aristocratic disdain.”
NEXT POST Friday January 4
Until then, see you at the movies.