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Adolph Menjou in Forbidden


traceyk65

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I finally watched Forbidden yesterday and I was most impressed with Adolph Menjou. I'd only seen him as either a sort of shady older man type (Stage Door, The Easiest Way, Morning Glory, Roxie Hart, State of the Union) or as a Josef von Sternberg stand-in (Morocco). I had no idea he could pull off a romantic role like this. He was actually, dare I say, cute in the early scenes with Stanwyck. Who knew?

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Hi Tracey,

I had the exact same revelation about Adolphe Menjou when I saw Forbidden (1932) for the first time last year, which I wrote about [here|http://forums.tcm.com/jive/tcm/thread.jspa?threadID=86712&start=15&tstart=0] . He was romantic, playful and full of regret and sorrow as he faced his own dilemma and his need for hypocrisy. Prior to seeing this film, I've wondered if Menjou ever took off the spats, vest and homburg long enough to be as human as he appeared to be in Frank Capra's film, (which I suspect is infused with some of the passion and frustration Capra may have felt in his reported real life love for Stanwyck).

 

I've since tried to watch him in as many roles as possible, hoping to catch another glimpse of the good actor inside the dandy. One of those regarded as a failure for the most part, but an interesting attempt, was the 1940 version of A Bill of Divorcement with Maureen O'Hara in the Katharine Hepburn role and Adolphe in the Barrymore part. Under John Farrow's rather uninspired direction the film only fitfully springs to dramatic life, and apparently Farrow's amorous, unwelcome pursuit of O'Hara did not help matters, (according to the actress' rather acerbic autobiography, "'Tis Herself"). No, he didn't nail the part as well as John Barrymore did, but Menjou did seem more vulnerable and genuinely confused than JB appeared to be in his turn.

 

I liked Roxie Hart (1942) for his fast-talking lawyer character, but thought he went off the rails a bit in some of the courtroom scenes and that he was a shade old for the part. Ginger Rogers really knocked me out in that movie, however, as did the collection of character actors who added their own unique sass to the Wellman movie.

 

One of the better, late career performances of Menjou's that I like is in Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957), in which his deeply cynical French general is excoriated by Kirk Douglas at one point (which may have made those who were hurt by Menjou's comments to HUAC during the rise of McCarthy feel a twinge of hope and triumph). As he's being reamed by Douglas, you see for a moment that his suave, worldly character is more fragile than he appears.

 

I hope that if you discover any performances to rival his in Forbidden(1932) you'll post it here in the future. Strange, how such a familiar, almost mechanically smooth character actor should have what seems to be a hidden depth--at least once in a long career.

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Moira & Tracey,

Believe it or not, one of my favorite Menjou performances was in *"Pollyanna"* as the crusty old curmudgeon who winds up adopting one of the orphans. Cranky, foul tempered, and ultimately a big softie for a little boy. He looked like he'd never seen a hairbrush, and razor??? forget it.

 

Nancy

 

Message was edited by: knitter45

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Knitty, you are so right! I forgot about how much fun Menjou seemed to be having in that movie...and Adolphe is almost unrecognizable under the whiskers, as he also was in Across the Wide Missouri (1951) as the ragged Pierre, a mountain man/trapper with a yen for whiskey and a specious French accent.

 

I like the part of Pollyanna (1960) when that "glad girl" (Hayley Mills) shows him the colors of the prism on his wall. Have you had a chance to see Forbidden (1932) yet? If not, it's on again on TCM on Oct 13th at 7:15AM EDT.

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there are so many lovely character actors in that movie. Agnes Moorehead and Adolph Menjou are both so good in their parts. Both cranky, and both fall in love with the Glad Girl. One of my favorite Disney live-action movies of the time.

 

Thanks for the heads-up on "Forbidden". I will definitely watch!

 

Nancy

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Well, yes, he did treat Stanwyck kind of badly. He should have told her he was married. But while we were still rooting for him, he pulled off a terrifically romantic man in love.

 

I've never seen Pollyanna. Does it ever get played on TCM?

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"I've never seen Pollyanna. Does it ever get played on TCM?"

 

Hi Tracey,

TCM seems to have acquired the rights to many of the Disney baby boomer childhood era flicks lately. Pollyanna (1960) is being broadcast on Oct. 5th at 8pm and again on Dec. 7th at 10:15pm.

 

"Adolphe Menjou was a cad in FORBIDDEN! Shame on Barbara Stanwyck for putting up with him!"

 

Gee Prince Saliano,

One of the dramatic strengths of Forbidden and Menjou's performance to me is that his character is a flawed human being, caught up in power, social hypocrisy, and his desire for Barbara Stanwyck's love over the years. He knows that what he is doing is wrong, and destructive for Stanwyck and dangerous for him and his family. Stanwyck sees things as they are much more clearly than Menjou, but she still loves him. She is not a victim, but chooses her life.

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They try to break it off a few times, with both of them too drawn to one another to completely free themselves. This may not be a healthy or desirable situation, but it is a very human one and occurs all the time in life, though it seems to me to rarely be treated well on film. Usually it's given the full blown soap opera treatment, as in the later versions of *Back Street* (the Margaret Sullavan-Charles Boyer version is the best and least accessible to classic cinema fans). I thought that the somewhat small scale, matter of fact approach of Capra's movie made it more touching.

 

The nuanced approach to what is a tawdry situation when viewed from the outside of the experience is one of the reasons why pre-code films still seem fresh in many instances. The social and sexual attitudes inherent in the film's story may be quaint, (though recent revelations about politicians contradict that), but the strengths and weaknesses of the characters were, I think, well expressed through the performances and within the context of a movie of that period. Of course, we all respond differently to films, and I in no way intend to disrespect your viewpoint--this is just my subjective interpretation.

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