Five Top Five of November — Gene Tierney

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Hello, everyone! I’m back with another installment of my ‘Five Top Five’ series, this time honoring the alluring Gene Tierney on her 96th birthday! Here I’ll be listing my top five films of hers, describing the plots, and discussing why I enjoy the films. As I mentioned in my first post in the series honoring Vivien Leigh, be sure to let me know if you enjoy these and I’ll be sure to continue the series with another Five Top Five of December!

5. Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)

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Gene and Dana Andrews, together for a second time in Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950).

This was the first film that I ever reviewed on my blog (you can check out the full review here), and because of that it holds a special place in my heart. Tierney portrays Morgan Taylor, ex-wife of Ken Paine and also unknowingly his decoy in an illegal dice game. It doesn’t take long for her to take a liking to leading man Mark Dixon, a violent but effective detective who has already been warned by his superior that his bad cop attitude will get him in trouble, but still allows his boss’ premonition to come true when he accidentally murders a suspect who he is attempting to question. Fearing for his integrity and career Dixon attempts to cover up the killing, but the plot thickens when he learns that his main squeeze Morgan’s father is to be charged with the crime. Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) is a gripping noir that walks the tightrope of right and wrong and reunites Gene Tierney with her director and leading man from Laura (1944), Otto Preminger and Dana Andrews, respectively. If you enjoy that classic at all, I would definitely recommend its equally intriguing, grittier counterpart, and the only reason why it’s so low on my list is because Gene is hardly anywhere to be found in the film.

4. The Razor’s Edge (1946)

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Gene and Tyrone Power in a publicity still for The Razor’s Edge (1946).

If you know me well enough, you should know that I couldn’t possibly make a list of great Gene Tierney films without including one of the three that she starred in with my favorite actor, Tyrone Power. In this melodrama our birthday girl stars as socialite Isabel Bradley, fiancée of Larry Darrell. Larry isn’t as impressed with the glamour of the upper class as she is, which leads him onto a spiritual ten-year journey to find himself, losing Isabel in the process. When he returns, however, Isabel seems to be still in love with her former flame and wants to be with him despite already being married to a common friend of theirs. To make matters worse, she becomes intensely jealousand spiteful when Larry begins to fall in love with Sophie, another friend in their circle who fell on hard times after he left town. I truly admire Gene’s performance in this film, and she displays her stunning range as she reveals the darker side of Isabel’s personality. It’s no wonder that author of the original novel W. Somerset Maugham placed her at the top of his list of actresses for the role. If you enjoy pictures that include stellar acting performances and a flair for the dramatic, definitely include this film in your Gene Tierney marathon today.

3. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

In this turn-of-the-century romance directed by Joseph L Mankewicz, Gene plays Lucy Muir, a widow desperately looking for a seaside home to rent so she can ditch her late husband’s rude family members. She quickly sets her sights on a picturesque manor and pays no attention to her real estate agent’s warnings that the home is haunted, even after finding out the truth for herself. Slowly but surely Lucy befriends the residing ghost, cantankerous sea captain Daniel Gregg, and the two develop an extraordinary romance as she attempts to assist him in writing his autobiography. Of course the book is considered a masterpiece and is picked up by a world-famous publisher, but along with the notoriety it also brings a suitor, a married children’s author by the name of Miles Fairley. The love that Lucy and the captain share is challenged when Miles enters the picture, and it makes both parties question their relationship and even themselves. I was a fan of this movie ever since I read the plot, and once I actually watched the film I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I doubt that there are many romantic films out there more unique than this one, and I would strongly recommend giving it a try if you enjoy well-written sentimental pictures with a twist like I do. If you do decide to catch this tearjerker, stay on the lookout for an appearance from a young Natalie Wood, who portrays Lucy’s daughter!

2. Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

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Gene in her most devilish scene in Leave Her to Heaven (1945).

Gene Tierney recieved her first and only Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Ellen Berent Harland in this film, yet another villainous socialite who just like in The Razor’s Edge (1946) becomes obsessively attached to the man she loves. Unlike her role of Isabel Bradley, however, it is more apparent that Ellen is mentally disturbed and willing to go to greater and more sinister lengths to achieve her goals. The object of Ellen’s obsession is novelist Richard Harland, played by Cornel Wilde, who coincidentally looks similar to Ellen’s deceased father and the previous victim of her preoccupation. To make matters worse her former fiancé Russell Quinton and her sister Ruth get involved in the mix and are eventually caught in the crossfire of the film’s strange femme fatale. What stood out to me the most in this film is the striking use of color created by Natalie Kalmus, art direction by Maurice Lansford and Lyle Wheeler, and most of all cinematography, helmed by Leon Shamroy of Planet of the Apes (1968) and Cleopatra (1963) fame. The visuals alone make this film worth watching, but those combined with the compelling story and characters are what make this film a classic among fans of film noir, and it’s one of the only color films to recieve such acclaim in the genre. Add it to your list of Tierney films to watch, and you won’t regret it.

1. Laura (1944)

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Gene looking radiant in a publicity still for Laura (1944).

Could I have really put any other Gene Tierney film at the top spot? Laura (1944) is the pinnacle of film noir, and quite possibly of filmmaking in general, and in it our birthday girl portrays the title character Laura Hunt, a (can you guess?) socialite who is found murdered at the beginning of the film. The first half is shown in flashback as her dearest friend Waldo Lydecker, played by Clifton Webb, reveals the story of her life to detective Mark MacPherson, in what I consider to be among Dana Andrews’ finest performances. As Mark learns more and more about the homicide victim in an attempt to solve her murder, he begins to imagine himself with her and finds her to be unlike any “broad” that he has ever known. Tensions rise when Laura’s fiancé Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) catches wind of this, and suspense builds into a thrilling conclusion of who exactly killed Laura Hunt. Despite the film’s raving success, Gene never gave herself much credit for it: “I never felt my own performance was much more than adequate. I am pleased that audiences still identify me with Laura, as opposed to not being identified at all. Their tributes, I believe, are for the character — the dreamlike Laura— rather than any gifts I brought to the role. I do not mean to sound modest. I doubt that any of us connected with the movie thought it had a chance of becoming a kind of mystery classic, or enduring beyond its generation. If it worked, it was because the ingredients turned out to be right.” And right they certainly were, especially on the part of the film’s score, composed by David Raksin, which is revered even today, and even Vincent Price believed Laura (1944) to be his finest film. Needless to say, if you’re reading this and haven’t seen this masterpiece, you absolutely must.

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