Jump to content
 
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...

Mary Astor: What a Revelation!


whistlingypsy
 Share

Recommended Posts

TCM is, of course, a great resource for fans of every film genre. There is the opportunity to see newly restored or newly discovered films. There is also the opportunity, as tastes or interests change, to ?discover? films that previously held no interest. These films offer a chance to discover stories that are new and fresh, and a chance to see certain actors of actresses in a new and fresh light.

 

Mary Astor is probably best known for her role as Brigid O?Shaughnessey in ?The Maltese Falcon,? and for her roles as the matriarch in sentimental favorites such as ?Little Women? and ?Meet Me in St. Louis.? She also turned in strong performances in ?Red Dust? and ?The Hurricane.? Earlier in her career she had small roles in fun films such as the Philo Vance mystery ?The Kennel Murder Case? and the Perry Mason mystery ?The Case of the Howling Dog? (but have you seen her as Pat, the sympathetic drunk, in ?Act of Violence? with Van Heflin?) In recent months, I have seen two films featuring Mary Astor that have caused me to see her in a different light. I have always thought that she was a graceful actress in enjoyable films, but I can?t say that I watched any film specifically for her.

 

The two films that caused me to change my modest opinion towards Mary Astor are, ?Dodsworth? and the silent film ?Beau Brummel.? I saw her in the role of Edith Cortwright in the film ?Dodsworth? several months back, and while it is neither a stunning performance nor a stunning film, she is so much softer and approachable than her O?Shaughnessey character?quite a counter-point to Ruth Chatteron as Dodsworth?s scheming and faithless wife. I was engaged enough in the relationship between Huston and Astor?s characters that I found myself, unlike the ending of The Maltese Falcon, hoping that she ends up with the leading man. I found myself talking to the television and encouraging Huston to ?get off the ship, get off the ship.?

 

I watched the newly scored silent film Beau Brummel when it aired last Tuesday night. I am a big fan of silent films, so any opportunity to see a newly restored or newly scored film is a big treat. I was thrilled at the thought of seeing this John Barrymore film for the first time, but the real revelation was Mary Astor. I was vaguely aware that she appeared in silent movies, but this was my first opportunity to see one of her silent titles. She plays the love interest of the title character but their love is doomed when she is forced to marry another. Her early scenes with Barrymoore are brief but heartbreaking, and I believed that his love for her could remain throughout his ?reckless? life (the two apparently carried on an affair for years after the film.) She was but seventeen at the time she appeared in this film and she is simply stunning?in one scene she reminds me of the painting ?Mrs. Siddoes as the Tragic Muse? by Joshua Reynolds. . .all I can say is: Mary Astor is a true revelation.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm so glad to see that you've discovered Mary Astor in Dodsworth, my favorite role in her career. Her performance in that film is a beautifully realized blend of subtle longing and resignation to life's pain and momentary joys. I think I love best the scenes when she tries to help the Mrs. Dodsworth (Ruth Chatterton), by just saying, "Don't, my dear". The other great moment comes in the last scene when she looks out on the Bay of Naples and her expression changes as she realizes who is coming back to her.

 

I watched Beau Brummel with the same curiosity about Mary Astor's appearance with Barrymore. I was aware that meeting him changed the course of her life for better or ill, I can't judge, and neither could Mary, as she described in her two autobiographies--both of which amply demonstrated her intelligence and are among the best Hollywood autobiographies I've read. They are called My Story and A Life On Film.

 

In any case, she was the one woman in Beau Brummel who wasn't a caricature of selfishness or venom, but the relatively small role gave her several good moments to sketch a character who was trapped by her social position. Unlike many period films, I could believe that this person might act one way in public and feel another in private while still harboring an idealistic concept of love. I had the impression that her presence later in the film made Barrymore's decadent hypocrite ashamed of all his petty pursuits. It was very interesting to see the two of them together. Their rapport did not last of course.

maryastoryouth.JPG

Mary around the time of Beau Brummel, (above).

 

maryastordonjuan.jpg

Mary Astor during the filming of Don Juan, a much less happy experience for her opposite John Barrymore.

 

I see what you mean about the resemblance of Mary Astor in this period to Reynolds' Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse, a detail of which shows the expressiveness of both figures. I think the unmistakable resemblance is in that brow.

sarasiddonsastragicmuse.jpg

 

Btw, did you know that while Astor brilliantly acted as the prostitute in Act of Violence she was simultaneously playing Marmee in Little Women? Talk about a range!

maryastoract.jpg

Mary Astor (above and below) embodying sacred and profane love, of sorts, in Act of Violence with Van Heflin and in Little Women (1949).

maryastorlittle.jpg

 

While I recognize the exceptional quality of Astor's work in a film in the middle part of her career, such as The Great Lie (1941), I can't help but wish that she hadn't chopped her hair off to the degree that she did in those films from the war years. I'm often struck thinking how severe it made her appear. Astor, who often liked to lament about being cursed with her "doll-like" face, may have been at her most beautiful and romantically tragic in The Prisoner of Zenda--at least I thought so.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I first became "aware" of Mary Astor in "Meet Me In St. Louis". I couldn't believe it was the same actress as the one in "Maltese Falcon". (I was about 12 at the time). After viewing "Dodsworth" the first time, I became an instant Astor fan. Her facial and body expressions in the last scene of "Dodsworth" are a joy.

 

One of my favorite roles for her is in "Across the Pacific". She and Bogart seem to be having so much fun, and it really shows. Their sarcastic repartee is deliciously wicked.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

moirafinnie, Thank you so much for your discerning and insightful response. Your comments and the photos that you posted really bring my original ideas to life! I am learning so much about Mary Astor?s career: I was not aware that she played Marmee at the same time she played Pat in ?Act of Violence.? You are absolutely right about her range from the scared to the profane. I will certainly add ?The Great Lie? to my list of Astor films to watch.

 

Thanks again,

 

Karin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

knitter45, Thank you for your response and your recommendation. I likewise found her performance in ?Dodsworth? a real discovery after years of seeing her only as the character from ?The Maltese Falcon.? Her performance encouraged sympathy for the role of the ?other woman,? a role often marginalized or caricatured (hmm, is that a word?), and I was genuinely glad when Huston?s character returned to her. I will also add ?Across the Pacific? to my list of films to watch.

 

Thanks again,

 

Karin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

© 2023 Turner Classic Movies Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Cookie Settings
×
×
  • Create New...