Thursday, December 17, 2009

RIP, Phyllis Isley Walker Selznick, aka Jennifer Jones

There aren't many Golden Age Hollywood stars left, and the death of Jennifer Jones means that there are even fewer.



This is not a new sentiment at all, but I never felt that she was completely suited to the type of movies that Selznick preferred her to do. Not that he handled her career badly, since most of her films are pretty good, but he usually seemed to want actresses to take the heaviest, soapiest roles they could find. This wasn't the most desirable situation even for Ingrid Bergman, who was great at that kind of thing (but whom I would have liked to see more often in comedy). Jones could be good in a soapy film if the director and script were right, as in Madame Bovary (Minnelli) or Love Letters and Portrait of Jennie (Dieterle). But she was more relaxed and fun and appealing in comedy. Even her particular type of good looks seemed more suited to girl-next-door parts than exotic-type women. Not that she looked like the girl next door, just that she was great as a girl next door with a hint of exoticism or passion (or in Cluny Brown, "dirty" urges) in her wholesome style.

She's very funny in Beat the Devil and in Lubitsch's Cluny Brown, despite an off-again, on again British accent that rivals Kevin Costner's Robin Hood. Even Madame Bovary, while obviously not a comic part, is not a saintly Bernadette-type character either. I wish she had done a few other films like that.


9 comments:

Rick Roberts said...

I LOVE Beat The Devil, it's like the most underrated film ever and I am shocked that it still remains in the public domain.

Anonymous said...

Well, it's gonna remain there forever because once a work goes PD, it stays PD.

J Lee said...

No, PD films can get out if there are underlying copyrights on the music. That's why "It's a Wonderful Life" went from being played almost non-stop during December on multiple cable channels to a one-time Christmas airing in recent years on NBC.

The problem is that the rebirth of "Life" during the 1980s as a holiday season attraction made it financially viable to exercise a copyright claim. As fun as "Beat the Devil" is, there's not the profit there right now to justify whichever company current owning the music rights to make a copyright claim in court.

Whit said...

"Happy Birthday" was p.d. for decades.

Edward Hegstrom said...

Jennifer Jones was one of those people whose huge stardom seems incomprehensible today, given how utterly bland and uninteresting she appears onscreen. I say this even though I love Madame Bovary and especially Portrait Of Jennie, and she's quite good in both of them, but not so good as to make me seek out anything else she's done. (Van Heflin's great in Bovary, too, but does anybody seek out a movie because Van Heflin is in it?)

In that sense she seems almost contemporary, like so many movie stars of today, who are just sort of there, perfectly watchable but in no way compelling. If only Angelina Jolie could have a movie as crazy as Duel In The Sun built around her...

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Jennifer Jones was one of those people whose huge stardom seems incomprehensible today, given how utterly bland and uninteresting she appears onscreen.

Though I'm glad that she did Madame Bovary instead of Lana Turner, one of the stars who best fits that description.

Rick Roberts said...

J Lee: Thanks for the info. Too bad really, BTD really needs to be properly restored.

Anonymous said...

"Duel in the Sun" is the gold standard of Why Films Need Writers. David O. Selznick was many things but a writer (and he's credited as THE writer of DITS) he really wasn't.

Anonymous said...

I'm still a sucker for "Song of Bernadette" and "Portrait of Jennie"