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Films with strong female characters from "The Golden Age of Hollywood"


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Despite there being a male dominated studio system during the "Golden Age of Hollywood", studios recognized the importance of making "woman's pictures" and stars such as Rosalind Russell, Bette Davis,  Katherine Hepburn and more played strong female characters that were smart, funny, strong and compassionate.  Do you have any favorite female characters from classic movies?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  A few of mine are:

Rosalind Russell as the quick talking newspaper woman Hildy who seeks personal success in "His Girl Friday" (1940).  My mother returned to school at a time when most women didn't do this.  She went to journalism graduate school and became a successful journalist at a big Chicago newspaper.  She told me that she liked female journalists in the movies such as Hildy and Lois Lane in Superman.  It helped opened her eyes to a career that a woman could pursue.

Barbara Stanwyck as a big city magazine writer who poses as a farmer and mother.  This is a quirky, funny movie and I love Barbara Stanwyck's style in it.

Maybe a surprise but Judy Garland as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz".  As a little girl, I loved this movie.  Unlike European fairy tales where the only solution to the female's problems is marrying a prince, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz solves her own problems and shows quite a lot of courage getting the broomstick from The Wicked Witch of the West.  i love the scene where Dorothy slaps the Cowardly Lion and lectures him because he is bullying Toto.

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Bette Davis movies feature our star playing a strong female character...

even if she's on the wrong side of the law, in THE LETTER (1940):

Screen Shot 2021-06-25 at 7.19.43 AM

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3 hours ago, TopBilled said:

Bette Davis movies feature our star playing a strong female character...

even if she's on the wrong side of the law, in THE LETTER (1940):

Screen Shot 2021-06-25 at 7.19.43 AM

Interesting here, TB. You see, I've never thought of Bette's character in The Letter as being "strong". 

Nope, I've always thought of her character as being the opposite of strong, and as in her weakness "of flesh" and in her weakness to be honest about her dire actions after being rejected by her illict lover.

(...she may have seemed "strong willed" in this film, but I've always felt this stemmed from a very fragile and weak ego)

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3 minutes ago, Dargo said:

Interesting here, TB. You see, I've never thought of Bette's character in The Letter as being "strong". 

Nope, I've always thought of her character as being the opposite of strong, and as in her weakness "of flesh" and in her weakness to be honest about her dire actions after being rejected by her illict lover.

(...she may have seemed "strong willed" in this film, but I've always felt this stemmed from a very fragile or weak ego)

Interesting take on it.

Have you seen the 1929 original with Jeanne Eagels?

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Just now, TopBilled said:

Interesting take on it.

Have you seen the 1929 original with Jeanne Eagels?

Yes, but quite a while ago, though. As I recall, Miss Eagels' portrayal lacked some of the nuance that Bette Davis was able to give to the character.

 

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Just now, Dargo said:

Yes, but quite a while ago, though. As I recall, Miss Eagels' portrayal lacked some of the nuance that Bette Davis was able to give to the character.

 

Well, I ask because Eagels (who was fragile in real life and died young due to dependency on drugs) imbues her performance with a lot of 'weakness' yet she is still strong enough to pull the trigger and get up on the stand and commit perjury to protect herself.

In the remake, Bette's character does not take the stand which gives it another dimension.

There was another version, THE UNFAITHFUL (1947) with Ann Sheridan. Of course, in THE UNFAITHFUL, she is has killed in self-defense and gets a chance to save her marriage.

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1 minute ago, TopBilled said:

Well, I ask because Eagels (who was fragile in real life and died young due to dependency on drugs) imbues her performance with a lot of 'weakness' yet she is still strong enough to pull the trigger and get up on the stand and commit perjury to protect herself.

In the remake, Bette's character does not take the stand which gives it another dimension.

There was another version, THE UNFAITHFUL (1947) with Ann Sheridan. Of course, in THE UNFAITHFUL, she is has killed in self-defense and gets a chance to save her marriage.

It's also been a while since I've watched the Sheridan film, but I do recall that her character as being more sympathetic and due to the self-defense aspect.

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And speaking of Ann Sheridan, there's ya an actress who was always very good at playing strong women.

(...strong AND savvy, in fact)

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Ann Sheridan is great as the title character in NORA PRENTISS (1947).

Screen shot 2017-07-21 at 12.31.56 PM.png

Story is a combination of melodrama, horror and gangster picture. 

Screen shot 2017-07-21 at 12.30.35 PM.png

Sheridan is cast as a nightclub singer who falls for a married doctor and naturally should not have him. But in utter and complete defiance of the production code, she does get him.

Screen Shot 2020-06-06 at 3.41.10 PM

The sinful story features Kent Smith as the doctor, Rosemary de Camp as the doctor's wife, and Robert Alda as the gangster who wants Nora all to himself. And frankly, who wouldn't..?

Screen Shot 2020-06-06 at 3.43.44 PM

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2 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

The sinful story features Kent Smith as the doctor, Rosemary de Camp as the doctor's wife, and Robert Alda as the gangster who wants Nora all to himself. And frankly, who wouldn't..?

What I could never figure out was why Nora wanted Dr. Talbot. He was a clingy coward and she was smart, talented and compassionate. She should have gone for Phil; at least he was a man!

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I like Jane Powell's strong Millie character in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS. She takes on the whole lot of them! 😄

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23 minutes ago, sagebrush said:

What I could never figure out was why Nora wanted Dr. Talbot. He was a clingy coward and she was smart, talented and compassionate. She should have gone for Phil; at least he was a man!

This reminds me of a relationship dynamics in another film (a film that I've always very much liked and starring two actors that I've always very much liked) but could never understand what the strong, gorgeous, smart character that Hedy Lamarr played in the film H.M.Pulham, Esq. ever saw in Robert Young's eponymous buttoned-down character.

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In a different type of "strong" perhaps "stoic" is the right word, I would like to add Greer Garson as the title character in Mrs. Miniver.  As the matriarch of the family, she showed strength when her husband was away doing his part for the British military.  And she stays strong when held at gunpoint by a wounded German pilot, who demands a coat and food.  She even keeps her cool and disarms him when he passes out.  

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9 hours ago, Swithin said:

I think Marlene Dietrich in most of her roles in the Von Sternberg movies is strong.

 

Yes!  I love Marlene Dietrich's strong personality.  I'm also fascinated by the beautiful lighting and framing of Von Sternberg's films.  Dietrich was lucky to have him as a director.

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12 minutes ago, speedracer5 said:

In a different type of "strong" perhaps "stoic" is the right word, I would like to add Greer Garson as the title character in Mrs. Miniver.  As the matriarch of the family, she showed strength when her husband was away doing his part for the British military.  And she stays strong when held at gunpoint by a wounded German pilot, who demands a coat and food.  She even keeps her cool and disarms him when he passes out.  

Yes - Greer Garson's character had to hold herself together during the terrible stresses of bombing in Mrs. Miniver.

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The first ones which come to my mind:

 

Would any person say that Judith Anderson played a weak woman in: Rebecca (1940) or Lady Scarface (1941)?

Greta Garbo in Queen Christina (1933), Mata Hari (1931), Anna Christie (1930).

Greer Garson in Madame Curie (1943), Julia Misbehaves (1948), Her Twelve Men (1954).

Ginger Rogers in A Shriek in the Night (1933), The Thirteenth Guest (1932), Kitty Foyle (1940).

Ruth Chatterton in Female (1933), Frisco Jenny (1932), The Lady of Scandal (1930).

Joan Blondell in Blondie Johnson (1933).
Maureen O'Hara in The Quiet Man (1952).
Patricia Laffan in Devil Girl from Mars (1954).
Izolda Izvitskaya in The Forty-First (1956).
Dominique Wilms in Poison Ivy (1953).
Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy (1950).
Leslie Brooks in Blonde Ice (1948).

Glenda Farrell in the Torchy Blane series.
Margaret Rutherford in the Jane Marple series.

 

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10 hours ago, Toto said:

Despite there being a male dominated studio system during the "Golden Age of Hollywood", studios recognized the importance of making "woman's pictures" and stars such as Rosalind Russell, Bette Davis,  Katherine Hepburn and more played strong female characters that were smart, funny, strong and compassionate.  Do you have any favorite female characters from classic movies?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  A few of mine are:

Rosalind Russell as the quick talking newspaper woman Hildy who seeks personal success in "His Girl Friday" (1940).  My mother returned to school at a time when most women didn't do this.  She went to journalism graduate school and became a successful journalist at a big Chicago newspaper.  She told me that she liked female journalists in the movies such as Hildy and Lois Lane in Superman.  It helped opened her eyes to a career that a woman could pursue.

Barbara Stanwyck as a big city magazine writer who poses as a farmer and mother.  This is a quirky, funny movie and I love Barbara Stanwyck's style in it.

Maybe a surprise but Judy Garland as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz".  As a little girl, I loved this movie.  Unlike European fairy tales where the only solution to the female's problems is marrying a prince, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz solves her own problems and shows quite a lot of courage getting the broomstick from The Wicked Witch of the West.  i love the scene where Dorothy slaps the Cowardly Lion and lectures him because he is bullying Toto.

I'm assuming the Barbara Stanwyck movie you're referring to is 1945's Christmas in Connecticut?

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I love Ethel Waters' Petunia character in CABIN IN THE SKY. She's a loyal, generous, hard working lady who is nobody's fool!

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2 hours ago, sagebrush said:

What I could never figure out was why Nora wanted Dr. Talbot. He was a clingy coward and she was smart, talented and compassionate. She should have gone for Phil; at least he was a man!

Totally agree.  What was Nora Prentiss thinking????

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2 hours ago, SansFin said:

The first ones which come to my mind:

 

Would any person say that Judith Anderson played a weak woman in: Rebecca (1940) or Lady Scarface (1941)?


 

Judith Anderson was very strong (in a disturbing way) as the Mrs. Danvers character in Rebecca.   in fact, Mrs. Danvers was a force to be reckoned with.  Her presence seemed to  make the Joan Fontaine character fall apart.  It's interesting the way Hitchcock filmed the Danvers character suddenly appearing in rooms (rather than being seen entering through a doorway) giving this character a ghostly quality.   I loved Judith Anderson's performance in this film.

All the Wrong Reasons to Remake “Rebecca” | The New Yorker

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While I know she's a real, well you know, in much of the film, I'm kind'a surprised that no one as yet mentioned this young lady (although another character in the film would disagee vehemently with the term "lady" being ascribed to her here) who got her strength from the red earth of Tara...

Gone-With-the-Wind-vivien-leigh-21285080

 

(...although maybe I should've waited until our friend leighcat spotted this thread)  ;)

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Stanwyck in her Westerns like The Furies and Forty Guns.  In both films, she will not let anyone take over her territory. 

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6 hours ago, TopBilled said:

Ann Sheridan is great as the title character in NORA PRENTISS (1947).

Screen shot 2017-07-21 at 12.31.56 PM.png

Story is a combination of melodrama, horror and gangster picture. 

Screen shot 2017-07-21 at 12.30.35 PM.png

Sheridan is cast as a nightclub singer who falls for a married doctor and naturally should not have him. But in utter and complete defiance of the production code, she does get him.

Screen Shot 2020-06-06 at 3.41.10 PM

The sinful story features Kent Smith as the doctor, Rosemary de Camp as the doctor's wife, and Robert Alda as the gangster who wants Nora all to himself. And frankly, who wouldn't..?

Screen Shot 2020-06-06 at 3.43.44 PM

Love that "I've Got This" Vibe that that top pic imbues

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