Wednesday, March 21, 2007


It's not her birthday and thank goodness, she's not dead, but for some reason I was just thinking about Dorothy Malone.

She's always been one of my favorite actresses from Hollywood's "transitional age" -- the era from the late '40s through the early '60s when the studio system was collapsing, the production code was slowly crumbling, and the whole business was in an identity crisis. She was a Warner Brothers contractee, but whereas she might have moved up the ladder if she'd come along earlier, in the postwar studio system there was no real process for this. So even after she blew everyone away with her one scene in The Big Sleep, it took her years to move up from bit roles; as late as 1953, released from Warners, she was still playing a very small part in a Martin & Lewis movie, Scared Stiff. (That's the one where she says "I'm just an average girl" and Dean replies: "Honey, if you're an average girl, I've been going out with boys.") She finally made a breakthrough by winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Douglas Sirk's Written On the Wind, but by then it was almost too late for her to move up to leading lady roles: she was only 30, but in Hollywood, a 30 year-old actress is considered slightly over the hill. She did get a couple of lead roles, like playing John Barrymore's daughter Diana in Too Much, Too Soon (with Errol Flynn playing his old friend John Barrymore), but instead of Too Much, Too Soon, her career was a case of Not Quite Enough, Not Soon Enough.

Of course she had a very fine career, even if she didn't always get the roles she deserved. She's one of those actors whom you can always count on to be good, no matter how bad the movie may be. She was sexy and smart and somehow more "real" than most Hollywood starlets; even when she was very young, she seemed like an actual human being rather than a factory product. And she had these unique facial expressions that I always associate with her; she always looks like she's breathing heavily and trying to repress her passionate feelings (feelings of love, rage, whatever), with her mouth slightly open and her eyes sort of looking sideways.

Like most people, I first became a Malone fan with The Big Sleep. I also remember liking her when watching Warner Brothers' endless, toothless war epic Battle Cry (not one of Raoul Walsh's better war movies). The cast was huge, but by far the best thing in it was Dorothy Malone as an unhappy wife who seduces young Marine Tab Hunter. (She even gets to repeat her glasses on, glasses off routine from The Big Sleep.) Malone is as she always was, and just by being as good as she usually was, she outdoes everyone else in this creakily-acted movie. But she only has like three scenes in the picture; Hunter dumps her and then she's forgotten, unless she has another scene I didn't catch. But this was one of those movies where I said: forget about the war, let alone these other soap-opera relationships; bring back the Dorothy Malone character.

By the way, off topic: notice that that entire scene is underscored with music. Max Steiner always seemed to want to put in as much music as he could into a picture, and he (and Erich Korngold, when he was at Warners) would essentially treat a dialogue scene as a sort of opera, with the orchestra as accompaniment to the actors' voices.

1 comment:

Bill Crider said...

Thanks for this scene and the comments. I enjoyed it particularly because I just finished reading reading Tab Hunter Confidential.