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Who was the hammiest actor in the movies?


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First, let me start off by saying I don't eat pork, but I do enjoy ham on the big screen.

 

Rod Steiger's ham in *W.C, Fields and Me* was enough to clog an artery or two. Still, I liked it.

 

Victor Mature (who I absolutely love) was quite the ham. I think he was really able to show the acting chops he did have in film noir but in those musicals with Betty Grable, the biblical Cinemascope and historical character films, he is deliciously hammy. Porky would be jealous.

 

Stephen Boyd, who I thought was great in *Ben-Hur* and *Woman Obsessed*, was such a ham in one of my top guilty pleasures *The Oscar*. The additional pork butt provided by Elke Sommer and Tony Bennett should also be noted. That whole film is so deliciously campy. I hope TCM airs it again soon!

 

 

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As someone who loves a good ham, I'll agree & add:

 

John Barrymore

Lionel Barrymore (to a lesser degree)

Charles Laughton (better in some roles than others)

 

How could you forget Paul Muni? He makes A SONG TO REMEMBER unbearable.

 

As stated earlier, I often love lighthearted song & dance ham like Eddie Cantor, Bob Hope, Mickey Rooney, Gene Kelly, Betty Hutton.

 

I think hams make the most intense dramatic actors like Jimmy Cagney to Anthony Hopkins. Or would you just call them broad actors?

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I doubt she would qualify as the "hammiest actor in the movies", but I just watched "Anthony Adverse" and WHAT the heck was up with Gale Sondergaard??? Tell me that wasn't Carol Burnett in an extended sketch on her old show? The eyes, the mouth, the moves...LOL. AND, she won the Oscar for this? I hadn't seen such over the top , ham acting in a while. Was good for some laughs ,for sure.

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Interesting your point about Jimmy Cagney. While I have a tolerance limit to hamminess or hammy roles (I didn't like Barrymore in *Twentieth Century* or Swanson in *Sunset Boulevard*), I love Cagney. He is a "broad actor", I agree with you, and somehow for me he doesn't take it over the top. I always believe him in his roles as "natural".

 

 

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I think the most offensive ham in the golden days was Reginald Owen. A perfect example of broad acting with absolutely nothing behind it. Obviously, he had a few less offensive performances, but mostly it was all on the surface.

 

Honorable mention might go to Lowell Sherman.

 

Even Lugosi's most often mentioned hamfest - Dr. Vollin in THE RAVEN - had genuine madness underneath to justify his outrageous ravings, arms flailing and all.

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Ray, I like Owen, as Scrooge, as Biffer in Random Harvest, and in several other films. He studied with Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, or at any rate at his Academy, so I think he comes from that Victorian tradition of acting, which I like (when it's appropriate). Many of the actors mentioned in this thread were highly trained theater actors before they made movies. Perhaps in some cases their directors couldn't tone them down. In other cases, the OTT treatment was totally appropriate for the role -- like John Barrymore in Twentieth Century.

 

 

 

 

 

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When I watched "Seven Days in May" last night, Edmund O'Brien had me thinking about this thread. Sometimes his character reminds me Foghorn Leghorn ("Ah say, boy, ah say, keep yuh eye on the ball!").

 

 

 

O'Brien's not an actor I normally consider to be hammy, but there are moments when his performance in this one film skirts the borders of Ham City.

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O'Brien's not an actor I normally consider to be hammy, but there are moments when his performance in this one film skirts the borders of Ham City.

 

In THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, O'Brien seems to be channeling both Charles Laughton and Thomas Mitchell, his two co-stars in HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. The problem is that he's aping the worst of both so it's not even lean ham.

 

In SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, he appears to be doing Laughton from ADVISE & CONSENT but going way past what Laughton would have considered too much. I find his is the worst performance in an otherwise remarkable ensemble. Even Kirk Douglas is restrained.

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Quote: "I know what you mean about O'Brien, Fiendish. I actually think he's hammy in every movie he's ever been in (that I've seen). Bette Davis & Glen Close also get my votes for hammiest actor."

 

 

 

 

 

Does that include "Birdman of Alcatraz" or "The Killers"? Thankfully, he seems more subdued in those two (to me, anyway, esp. in "Birdman"). I guess there is a slice of ham in his "Hunchback of Notre Dame" portrayal, but I attribute that to youth & it being his first role. Haven't seen much of his work apart from those films, so perhaps there is more hamminess yet to be discovered.

 

 

Despite being a Bette fan, I can totally see how she & Close would make the list. Both can definitely chew the scenery from time to time. I think I'll add Irene Dunne's name to the roster. I forget what movie it was, but she sounded as though she was trying to mimic Katharine Hepburn's speech patterns. A performance that was annoyingly oinky.

 

 

 

 

 

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QUOTE: "I find his is the worst performance in an otherwise remarkable ensemble."

 

 

 

(Sorry, but I can't seem to use the quote function, emoticons, etcetera with Windows 7. They used to work w/XP. Go figure.)

 

 

 

Clore, I agree. Isn't it distracting? Especially that one scene in which his character is being held against his will by the military. When he gets on the phone and begins to bluster, all I can see are rooster feathers. Kind of takes me out of the movie for a bit, since I always start laughing at a point in the story that's obviously not meant to be humourous.

 

 

 

He was in "Liberty Valance"? I just watched that last month on Jimmy Stewart's day. Are we talking about more ham? If so, maybe that's why I don't remember. I must have subconciously blocked out the performance. Weird.

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He was in "Liberty Valance"? I just watched that last month on Jimmy Stewart's day. Are we talking about more ham?

 

In LIBERTY VALANCE, O'Brien plays Dutton Peabody, the editor of The Shinbone Star. It's as if Ford said "Do it like Tommy Mitchell did in Stagecoach" to which O'Brien added even more Laughton-esque layers of bacon fat.

 

When he gets on the phone and begins to bluster, all I can see are rooster feathers.

 

i wonder if O'Brien was thinking "Gee, I got an Oscar for my big telephone scene in THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA. Let me show them what I can really do with just a prop and an accent."

 

I also have problems with marking up the posts, and the worst part is that it's not consistent. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn't. So that is why I just copy-and-paste some text and paint it red so it can be distinguished from my own contribution.

 

 

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You know an expression that I find kind of annoying, and refers to hammy actors? "Chewing up the scenery". "Scenery-chewing" I think it's over-used, and not particularly apt. Does anyone know where it originated?

(Apologies to all the posters here who like that phrase and use it.)

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Clore: Now I remember the character! I don't really know why I'd blocked that character out. Can't recall if I tasted ham while watching him in that one. Will have to re-watch (won't mind, either, 'cause I like that film. Last month was my intro to it). Re: quoting... I will try out the text colouring and see how it goes. Thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

Hi, Finance: For me, he's effective enough, but he could have taken it down a couple of notches. I really don't want to be chuckling when it's not a comedy. I will say this for O'Brien: He didn't phone it in, and that counts for something.

 

 

 

 

 

Miss Wonderly, I found this explanation of its origin on the net:

 

 

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/chew_the_scenery

 

 

Also looked for the phrase on Wikipedia proper. They don't have a main page for "chew the scenery"; it's contained in the main page entitled "overacting" and, no word of a lie, they have a single picture of William Shatner there. Too much!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I think the roles in Liberty Valance and Hunchback demand a little theatricality, so I let him off for this (besides, it is ASTOUNDING how young and innocent he looks in Hunchback utterly different from how he looked the rest of his career, always throws me off a little.) Come to think of it, the same is true for Liberty Valance - he really becomes that character and I always forget that it's him or that he was even in the movie and I've seen it several times now (a backhanded compliment I know.)

 

I've never seen Seven Days in May but it is interesting to note that he was the only member of the cast who was nominated for an Oscar that year (Best Supporting Actor, 1964). I'm not saying the AMPAS is right and you're wrong, just pointing it out is all.

 

I also think he's fine in The Killers It's an understated performance and the whole, heavy film rests squarely on the shoulders of his character.

 

But The Barefoot Contessa ? That film is a veritable buffet of pretentious, loathsome characters, ham acting, and clunktacular dialogue. O'Brien is awful, Gardner stinks, and even Bogie can't make it work (a rare instance.) O'Brien was a fine actor (IMO) but yeah, his work in that film is one of the worst performances to ever win an Academy Award. There are times where I find it unwatchable.

 

(At least to me.)

 

Edited by: JonnyGeetar on Sep 28, 2011 5:16 PM

 

Edited by: JonnyGeetar on Sep 28, 2011 5:17 PM

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I have found a copy of the earliest known source of "chewin' the scenery", but I still don't know what it literally means.

 

Right column, halfway down, the sentence starts with "Lads..."

 

I hope this long link works:

 

http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=cent&cc=cent&xc=1&idno=cent0047-4&g=moagrp&q1=chewin&q2=scenery&node=cent0047-4%3A4&view=image&seq=521&size=100

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To be fair, I think there's good ham and there's bad ham, there's giving people their two bits worth and there's devouring something alive and/.or outight ruining it.

 

I guess it's a matter of debate as to who belongs in the "good ham" category (although I think most would agree John Barrymore deserves a place of honor.) But when it comes to bad ham, the worst is Rod Steiger.

 

There is this gesture that he actually makes in several of his movies ( The Big Knife and Al Capone among them):

 

He's stooped over, snarling, sticking his lower jaw out, and his right hand is raised in front of him with clenched fingers. THAT is a gesture that NO ACTOR should EVER make in ANYTHING, EVER , unless of course he is playing a hopelessly untalented HAM ACTOR.

 

And Steiger had one of the most woreful post-Oscar careers of any actor before Cuba Gooding Jr,- some of his eighties and nineties B-projects are an utter embarassment (see: Modern Vampires and especially The Specialist )

 

Bad, salty, stinky, fist-clenhing H-A-M.

 

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I've never seen Seven Days in May but it is interesting to note that he was the only member of the cast who was nominated for an Oscar that year (Best Supporting Actor, 1964). I'm not saying the AMPAS is right and you're wrong, just pointing it out is all.

 

Oh no, I knew that he was nominated, that was why I made that earlier crack about his taking an Oscar-baiting attitude toward his telephone scene. But if there's anything that the academy loves, it's drunks, whores and the afflicted. I'm being serious here, so many nominations and wins for having one of those character traits. In Claire Trevor's case, she had two out of three.

 

O'Brien was a marvelous actor, one who could be subtle when he wanted to be. But he did have his demons - he did like to drink and he had his infirmaries - he had severe cataracts that at times had him memorizing lines by having them read to him. His hamming it up may have had an effect on Douglas and March, both of whom were not exactly the most subtle of actors. It may also hae been related to his periods of sobriety.

 

 

As far as who's right, me or the Academy... that's what makes a horse race. We're just having dfiscussions here, I'm not out to win anything, just have some fun. But you are right, that youing man in HUNCHBACK looks almost nothing like the Senator in SEVEN DAYS. Heck, even by the time of WHITE HEAT, he already seems to have aged 20 years. Look at him in BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ and Lancaster in the earlier part of the same film. For Burt it seems as if only ten years passed since THE KILLERS, it looks at least twice that for O'Brien.

 

 

But Ava Gardner didn't age too well either - maybe she was out drinking with Eddie. ;) Too many Tom Collins for Kitty Collins.

 

 

 

 

 

BTW - the "O'Brien" part is correct, it's the "Edmond" part that seems to be misspelled.

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