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Notable performances by women in classic films

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In no particular order, thought I'd recognize some performances by women in the movies that are exceptionally good.

Feel free to add your own ideas...

*****

Let's start with these five:

Luise Rainer as O-Lan in THE GOOD EARTH (1937)

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Grand, simple, powerful. Quite different from the role that earned Rainer her first Oscar.

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Eleanor Parker as Baroness Elsa von Schraeder in THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)

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Her best role? Better than the work she did in CAGED..?

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Emma Thompson as Margaret Schelegel in HOWARDS END (1992)

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She brought classic to 1990s art house cinema.

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Ingrid Bergman as Karla Zachannassian in THE VISIT (1964)

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A showy role as a treacherous diva. Perfectly realized.

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Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952)

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Her most lauded performance, as phony Lina Lamont, is the real deal.

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Very commendable inquiry. However, I think it is very hard to judge in an objective fashion. We all have our personal favorite performances by the distaff line...but what does that amount to? How to tell a hard-working and effective actress from a casting-couch hussy? I sure dont know.

Anyway. One minor question, who th' heck is  'Emma Thompson'? This name not known t' me at 'all ! :) Some contemporary trollope or strumpet I imagine?

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8 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Very commendable inquiry. However, I think it is very hard to judge in an objective fashion. We all have our personal favorite performances by the distaff line...but what does that amount to? How to tell a hard-working and effective actress from a casting-couch hussy? I sure dont know.

Anyway. One minor question, who th' heck is  'Emma Thompson'? This name not known t' me at 'all ! :) Some contemporary trollope or strumpet I imagine?

Does it have to be objective? 

As far as the casting couch stuff goes (same applies to nepotism), it's not about how they got the role, but what they did with it on screen.

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My goodness I was in no shape to reply coherently to this thread last night. I was (as they say), 'stupid with drink'. (Or just plain stupid!)

Let me see what I can do now that my wits are clearer.

First I would say I am a fan of the 'ungainly' women of early cinema; the kind you don't often see in this era. Marie Dressler for example. Just look at that face and that figure. Seems like today, everyone on screen is slim, slender, and unrealistic. I gotta give props to someone like Dressler.

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p.s. March is Women's History month! As well as National Frozen Foods Month...and this is also the International Year of the Coral Reef is it not?

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Some more that stand-out:

Julie Harris as Frankie Addams in THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING (1952)

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She never serves the plot. She uses the plot to gain insights about character and make us relate to her and what her character is going through. This technique is very evident in THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING.

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Marie Dressler as Min Divot in MIN AND BILL (1930)

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She was given some great roles. Like the one in MIN AND BILL, which netted her an Oscar as Best Actress. You have to be darn good to win this type of award and become the country's biggest box office attraction. Especially when you look like you've just been hit by a truck.

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Joan Crawford as Myra Hudson in SUDDEN FEAR (1952)

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The performance she gives in SUDDEN FEAR is without question one of her most brilliant. There's an incredible sequence where she realizes her husband is a murderer and plans to make her his next victim. It's a master class in on-screen emotion, and Joan Crawford uses all the tricks she learned during the early part of her career in silent films.

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Jean Harlow as Lola Burns in BOMBSHELL (1933)

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Harlow absorbs the plight of the character and exaggerates it for comic effect. She must’ve had attention deficit disorder, way before it was ever diagnosed in people. She’s extremely energetic, sexy, funny and strong in this movie.

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Jane Wyman as Belinda MacDonald in JOHNNY BELINDA (1948)

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Is she playing a modern-day Virgin Mary? This performance is simplistic yet emotionally complex.

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Joan Crawford was fabulous in Sudden Fear.  I just watched that the other day on TCM.  One of my favorites would be Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde.

 

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Some more--

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Ethel Barrymore as Mrs. Warren in THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1946)

Have you ever seen an Ethel Barrymore movie you disliked? Me neither. She blows you away with her performances, quite literally. In THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, Ethel Barrymore plays a woman in peril who takes control of the situation.

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Margaret Sullavan as Klara Novak in THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940)

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She received male in the form of Jimmy Stewart.

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Barbara Stanwyck as Jessica Drummond in MY REPUTATION (1946)

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Never gives a bad performance. When we watch her on screen we see the real-life Ruby Stevens, before she became movie star Barbara Stanwyck: a girl who survived the abuses of foster homes and is making the world see how tough she is. MY REPUTATION was her own personal favorite.

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Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers in REBECCA (1940)

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Dame Judith brings a level of precision to the movies. There are no false moments with her. She seems to think ugliness and dementedness are more interesting to the audience than beauty and normalcy. She's probably right. She sees character roles as starring roles. While REBECCA contains her most famous performance, she's just as memorable as a hideous southern matriarch in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF.

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Cicely Tyson as Rebecca in SOUNDER (1972)

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A performance you remember for years after seeing the movie.

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One of the unquestionably great performances from an actress in this category is Eleanor Parker in "Caged".  

 

 

 

 

 

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How about--

Claudette Colbert as Agnes Newton Keith in THREE CAME HOME (1950)

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In the 1940s and 1950s, Claudette Colbert appeared in war films and other social message dramas. She renders a moving performance as a woman separated from her husband in SINCE YOU WENT AWAY. And there's an even more involving performance in THREE CAME HOME, where she is again separated from her husband, this time on foreign soil.

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Diahann Carroll as Elzora in EVE'S BAYOU (1997)

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Nobody holds a candle to Diahann Carroll. She's stylish and ghoulish as a fortune teller witch in EVE'S BAYOU. She should have had an Oscar nomination.

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Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan in THE MIRACLE WORKER (1962)

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If you sit down to have dinner with this woman, you'd better have acceptable table manners.

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May Whitty as Mrs. Hughes in MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945)

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Dame May Whitty was sweet and dangerous. In NIGHT MUST FALL she played a lovable elderly woman who fell prey to psychotic Robert Montgomery. But in MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS, she was the villain, torturing poor Nina Foch.

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Eleanor Parker in the 1950 movie "Caged".  In the beginning of the movie she has this adorable, innocent, girlish, vulnerable and caring persona.  By the end of the movie she is hardened, callous, unemotional, somewhat sinister, and uncaring persona.  Eleanor Parker showed what a magnificent actress she was at that time with her depiction of how being incarcerated can poison a person physically and psychologically over time.

Ingrid Bergman in the 1944 movie "Gaslight" is also worthy of notice.  Her character is a timid and vulnerable woman in the beginning of the movie who by the middle of the movie is questioning her sanity.  By the end of the movie she is a strong, confident and independent woman. 

Both of these actresses had me believing they were the characters they were depicting which made me take note of their respective magnificent Oscar winning performances which they so richly deserved.   

 

 

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6 hours ago, thomasterryjr said:

Eleanor Parker in the 1950 movie "Caged".  In the beginning of the movie she has this adorable, innocent, girlish, vulnerable and caring persona.  By the end of the movie she is hardened, callous, unemotional, somewhat sinister, and uncaring persona.  Eleanor Parker showed what a magnificent actress she was at that time with her depiction of how being incarcerated can poison a person physically and psychologically over time.

Ingrid Bergman in the 1944 movie "Gaslight" is also worthy of notice.  Her character is a timid and vulnerable woman in the beginning of the movie who by the middle of the movie is questioning her sanity.  By the end of the movie she is a strong, confident and independent woman. 

Both of these actresses had me believing they were the characters they were depicting which made me take note of their respective magnificent Oscar winning performances which they so richly deserved.   

Thanks Thomas. Actually Parker never received an Oscar (she was nominated three times). The year she was in CAGED (1950), the Oscar went to Judy Holliday. Maybe they should have tied..?

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Bette Davis as Leslie Crosbie in THE LETTER (1940)

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Bette Davis presents caricatures of women, like Regina Hubbard in THE LITTLE FOXES and Charlotte Vale in NOW VOYAGER. But within her performances are very strong decisions about the character and the character's motivation.  She also brings an ironic sympathy to parts where she is supposed to be hardened, like the killer she is playing in the remake of THE LETTER. We might dislike the woman she is appearing as on screen, but we never dislike Bette the actress.

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Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine in THE LION IN WINTER (1968)

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Kate Hepburn hides in all her roles. She takes a line, puts some sass into it, and glibly thinks she has you fooled. And she has herself fooled half the time, then her real nature takes over, and we get this dynamic imprint of a troubled personality bursting with goodness. This happens in Kate's films all the way through her career. She never really outgrew her childlike persona. Even when she's playing a matriarchal royal figure in something like THE LION IN WINTER.

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Jean Simmons as Charlotte Bronn in HOME BEFORE DARK (1958)

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Jean Simmons is similar to Katharine Hepburn in that she is unable to remove her little girl persona. And in fact, it makes her performances more interesting. As a lost woman finding herself again in HOME BEFORE DARK, she's fragile yet hopeful. You start to believe she had just been released from a mental institution. I think Simmons understood women who had experienced breakdowns, maybe having experienced some of this off-screen.

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'Sudden Fear' hasn't worked for me so far, as a viewer. Crawford --unlike someone more delicate-seeming like Jean Simmons--its rare that I sympathize with her characterizations. Seeing her play opposite the hulking Jack Palance I could only wonder why did she choose to consort with him at all? He's the size of a house. She could just step out her front door and find some other man not hiding pathological violence.

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24 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

'Sudden Fear' hasn't worked for me so far, as a viewer. Crawford --unlike someone more delicate-seeming like Jean Simmons--its rare that I sympathize with her characterizations. Seeing her play opposite the hulking Jack Palance I could only wonder why did she choose to consort with him at all? He's the size of a house. She could just step out her front door and find some other man not hiding pathological violence.

Good point. Yes, Crawford is almost miscast, because she's too strong to be fooled or held down by a guy like Palance. But I think we're supposed to believe that she was lonely and vulnerable when she met him, that she was attracted to younger men who were not weak, and that she sincerely wanted to believe in the marriage. He had charmed her, and falling for him was nearly a fatal mistake. He had more in common with Gloria Grahame's character.

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Thanks for the explanation. Oh well--regardless of how I personally react to grand dames like Davis and Crawford, I nonetheless salute their talent, their long and illustrious careers, and the obvious contributions they made to their industry, their gender, and the culture of their country.

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13 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Thanks for the explanation. Oh well--regardless of how I personally react to grand dames like Davis and Crawford, I nonetheless salute their talent, their long and illustrious careers, and the obvious contributions they made to their industry, their gender, and the culture of their country.

On some level it's a cautionary tale about women who put their careers ahead of marriage. Because she waited so long, she ended up with a guy like him. 

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Sophia Loren in "Marriage, Italian Style" - a great, memorable performance.

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Is that the one where two Roman citizens stay at home one day during a fascist demonstration?

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Katharine Hepburn in "Holiday" (1938):

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I like Kate in the majority of her films I've seen, but this one stands out. She was simultaneously funny and sad. There was a nice balance to her character. 

Bette Davis in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962):

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What can I say about this except for the fact it terrified me the first time I watched it. Bette was so deliciously unstable in this one; I was very scared for Joan Crawford the entire time. I love that Bette wasn't afraid to look undesirable in order to put on a good show. 

Gene Tierney in "Leave Her to Heaven" (1945):

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I find this to be one of the more unique roles Gene played. She went from being an innocent in "Laura" (1944) to being an emotionally underdeveloped and possessive woman in this one. 

Anne Revere in "National Velvet" (1944):

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I first watched this film when I was around 4 or 5 years old, and I loved every second of it. It wasn't until I got a little older that I realized how warm and dependable Anne Revere played her character. She was a firm, but loving matriarch. 

 

 

 

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14 minutes ago, NickAndNora34 said:

Gene Tierney in "Leave Her to Heaven" (1945):

Image result for gene tierney leave her to heaven

I find this to be one of the more unique roles Gene played. She went from being an innocent in "Laura" (1944) to being an emotionally underdeveloped and possessive woman in this one. 

Yeah, such an interesting performance. A well-deserved Oscar nomination. This film made a ton of money at the box office.

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Thelma Ritter and Jean Peters in Pickup On South Street

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Bette Davis in Beyond The Forest (1949)

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Yvonne de Carlo in Criss Cross (1949)

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Marie Windsor in Narrow Margin (The) (1952)

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Thanks Joe. I agree that Marie Windsor is vastly underrated. Some of the best actresses were the ones who were never nominated for an Oscar.

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On 2/8/2019 at 11:08 PM, TopBilled said:

Feel free to add your own ideas...

Some of my favorites:

Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind

I'm surprised nobody mentioned this yet. I think it is the best performance by an actress ever. She may be bratty, scheming, tough, manipulative but always human. There are other great performances in the film but she is the most memorable one.

Elizabeth Hartman in A Patch Of Blue

A heart breaking performance as the abused blind girl. We experience her joy, loneliness, curiosity by her wonderful acting in this great film.

Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby

She is great as the sweet, though naive young wife. She is totally believable as she gets more and more suspicious of her seemingly helpful neighbors and our sympathy for her is constant.

 

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Ruth Gordon in 'Harold and Maude'. Who today (I ask you) would dare to take an unflattering role like that? Today's actresses are afraid to step out of their penthouse unless someone airbrushes them.

In fact, I am not sure if there's even any real life people left like that to write movies about. Everyone is fake jpg's and status updates instead of just being who they are.

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