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Great Movie Performances By Child Actors


HoldenIsHere
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The discussion of PAPER MOON (particularly Tatum O'Neal's Oscar-winning performance in that movie) got me thinking about great peforrmances by child actors in movies over the years. 

 

The following are the ones that come to mind immediately.

 

 

Freddie Bartholomew    CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS

Elizabeth Taylor    NATIONAL VELVET

Natalie Wood    MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET

Brandon deWilde    SHANE

Jean-Pierre Leaud   THE 400 BLOWS

Mary Badham   TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

Tatum O’Neal   PAPER MOON

River Phoenix   STAND BY ME

Will Wheaton    STAND BY ME

Leonardo DiCaprio  THIS BOY’S LIFE

 

 

(I was tempted to include Tommy Kirk in OLD YELLER. I do think Tommy Kirk is a very good actor, but OLD YELLER is such a manipulative movie.) 

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Claude Jarman as Jody in The Yearling.  I love this movie, I don't think it's sentimental or manipulative or anything like that at all. And the boy's acting is so natural and fresh. I am not normally someone who cries at a movie, but this is one of the few that does it for me. And it's partly due to that kid's performance.

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The discussion of PAPER MOON (particularly Tatum O'Neal's Oscar-winning performance in that movie) got me thinking about great peforrmances by child actors in movies over the years. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(I was tempted to include Tommy Kirk in OLD YELLER. I do think Tommy Kirk is a very good actor, but OLD YELLER is such a manipulative movie.) 

What movie isn't manipulative?

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fallenidol.jpg

 

This actor's name would probably mean nothing to anyone. It was the only thing he did. Carol Reed recruited this youngster for FALLEN IDOL (with Ralph Richardson) and it is one of the best examples I've ever seen of a child actor in a movie. Reed used some ingenious techniques to get the child to do certain acting business, nothing untoward. It might be seem, uh, unseemly to grossly manipulate a child into doing certain things for the screen but from what I read in an interesting article on the subject, this was on the up and up. To watch this kid throughout the story is wonderful. In the photo, the youngster has been given some news about his idol, news that his idol may have indeed fallen, his young mind is trying to assimilate it as he studies this person in a new light. If you like English drama, you surely must see this, it's a real classic, it has a somewhat Hitchcockian bent to it, wonderful movie.

 

==

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Correct.

I should have said obviously manipulative.

 

Or you could of used 'manipulative on steroids'.    I feel that way about the Bette Davis movie Dark Victory.  But I still watch the film and I can't turn away and that ending gets me every time.    I haven't been able to dig flowers in the garden since!   I know I'm being played but I fall for it each time.   I believe the reason is Bette Davis.   She takes it right to the edge and sometimes a little over but I still love her for it.

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Or you could of used 'manipulative on steroids'.    I feel that way about the Bette Davis movie Dark Victory.  But I still watch the film and I can't turn away and that ending gets me every time.    I haven't been able to dig flowers in the garden since!   I know I'm being played but I fall for it each time.   I believe the reason is Bette Davis.   She takes it right to the edge and sometimes a little over but I still love her for it.

Without manipulative, a movie is pretty dull.

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My heart will always be with Sybil Jason in Little Big Shot and The Captain's Kid, but there are a starting eleven of ohers that come to mind, in a mix of brutally realistic and more typical Hollywood roles:

 

Mohamed Ben Kassen as the boy Omar in The Battle of Algiers

 

Margaret O'Brien in Meet Me in St. Louis

 

Ivan Jandl in The Search

 

Virginia Weidler in The Philadelphia Story

 

Edmund Moeschke in Germany: Year Zero

 

Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon

 

Jean-Pierre Leaud in The 400 Blows  - He never should've grown up

 

The entire cast of Our Gang, AKA The Little Rascals

 

Fernando Ramos da Silva as the title character in Pixote

 

Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz

 

Jodi Foster in Taxi Driver

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Without manipulative, a movie is pretty dull.

 

Very true.

The great filmmakers can manipulate us without us be fully aware that it is happening---at least not when seeing a movie for the first time.

 

But, as was also stated, it is possible to know we are being "played" by a movie and still enjoy it. 

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Well, speaking of "manipulative" here...I sat through the saccharine SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY a couple weeks back during this Maureen O'Hara SOTM thing goin' on for her this month, and I gotta say I THOUGHT little Connie Marshall was better and more believable than either Maureen, John Payne OR Bill Bendix in that flick!

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But, as was also stated, it is possible to know we are being "played" by a movie and still enjoy it. 

 

Hmmmm...kinda sums up the feelings I've had for a certain Christmas perennial about a guy who wishes he was never born and since I first started watching it YEARS before NBC jumped on the bandwagon and purchased the rights to show it every year!

 

(...yep, I ALWAYS knew Capra was doin' what he was doin', but DANG IT, I fall for that flick of his every single time 'cause it's done SO darn well) 

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Hmmmm...kinda sums up the feelings I've had for a certain Christmas perennial about a guy who wishes he was never born and since I first started watching it YEARS before NBC jumped on the bandwagon and purchased the rights to show it every year!

 

(...yep, I ALWAYS knew Capra was doin' what he was doin', but DANG IT, I fall for that flick of his every single time 'cause it's done SO darn well)

 

I love It's a Wonderful Life more than almost any Hollywood movie I know, and I think it's because in this movie, Capra shows that he knows the difference between "honest" sentimentalism and the phony kind.  Can anyone think of a film that better blends the spirit of a strong personality with the spirit of community?   Of course the whole thing is aspirational rather than statistically realistic (not even mentioning the Angel bit), but it's one of those movies that beautifully expresses the possibilities of what we stupid humans can accomplish if we'd only open up and listen to our better selves and tell the Mr. Potters of the world to take a hike.  I only wish that NBC hadn't bought it up and stuffed it with commercials, but fortunately there are still plenty of inexpensive DVDs floating around to provide an alternative. :)

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Great child performances? Brigitte Fossey in Forbidden Games is heartbreaking. She's OK as an adult actress (The Man Who Loved Women), but not with the special quality she had as a child.

 

Alan Barnes, the non-professional who plays Hayley Mills' little brother in Whistle Down the Wind, is pretty great, too. And Hayley Mills is not too shabby herself.

 

Among more recent child performances, the little boy abandoned by Julianne Moore in The Hours is also heartbreaking.

 

 

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I haven't seen a lot of the movies that have been mentioned here, but I can think of a few that I've seen that haven't. The first that comes to mind is a boy named Luciano De Ambrosis in The Children Are Watching Us (1944) by Vittorio De Sica. Apparently he was only 5 years old when he starred in this movie. I have never seen such a heartbreakingly honest performance from such a young child. From anyone, really. Every tender emotion can be seen in his eyes. This movie is mostly from his point of view, and we can see every person the way he wants to see them, and the way they really are, which his young mind struggles to deny. We see the affect of his mother's betrayal, and his fear and hatred of her lover who took her away from him. (Just to write this I feel a little like crying. Moving on...)

 

Another movie that leaps to mind is an entirely different case: Truffaut's The Wild Child (1970) and the title performance by Jean-Pierre Cargol. I don't know how old this boy was when he made this. Possibly 11-ish? This would be a difficult performance for anyone, I think; to act more like a wild animal and forget everything about the proper way to act. What a feat this is, and how wonderfully this boy pulls it off. It is truly mesmerizing to watch. I don't know if this is a testament to Truffaut's incredible ability as a director, or his incredible luck.

 

There are more, but I'm such a slow writer I'm going to stop here. This is a great topic. I've thought about it quite often. Children are some of the greatest actors in film, I believe. (Even if it is morally questionable to use them.)

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Children are some of the greatest actors in film, I believe. (Even if it is morally questionable to use them.)

 

Employ them might be a more positive way to think about it.

 

What a strange world of movies it would be if there were no children in any of them.

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600full-enzo-staiola.jpg

 

"Hey! Wassamatta you people, huh?! You'a forget'a 'bout me and'a my Papa when'a we look'a for his'a stolen'a bicycle in Roma or'a somethin'?!"

 

(...Enzo Staiola was his'a name'a, btw)

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Employ them might be a more positive way to think about it.

 

What a strange world of movies it would be if there were no children in any of them.

 

That might be a more positive way to think about, but I don't know if it necessarily more accurate. Children are typically not professionals, and those that are professionals have been denied their right to merely be children even before they have the proper knowledge of their profession. It always takes adults to employ children. Children don't have consent, or the proper knowledge to give it. It's a tricky subject, I believe, and so far as I know there is no entirely "right" way of doing it.

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Children don't have consent, or the proper knowledge to give it.

 

But their parents do, and that's the way it's been since the beginning of time. Parents direct their children in everything - including chores and work - and if we didn't trust in the rightness of that concept we'd have to eliminate parental decision-making and turn all children over to....... what?

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