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In character with Aline MacMahon


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TCM is airing nine of Aline MacMahon's films today-- mostly from her days at Warner Brothers in the 1930s.

 

As evidenced by these selections, she would occasionally be granted a lead role, as we see in the original version of KIND LADY, playing opposite Basil Rathbone.

 

But I have to say I think she hit her stride in the 1940s at MGM, in supporting roles-- namely in TISH (airing today) and THE SEARCH. And for those who do not know, she delivered an Oscar-nominated performance in DRAGON SEED. 

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I love her, saw her in person once, walking in NYC.  She had an incredible theater career, right up to 1975, when she appeared in a revival of Trelawny of the Wells, with Walter Abel, Mary Beth Hurt, John Lithgow, Mandy Patinkin, and Meryl Streep.

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She is one of the several treasures that TCM 'gave me' years ago with a showing of HEAT LIGHTNING.  Then, her supporting role, twenty years later in THE SEARCH was a wonderful display of using great actresses as they age. 

 

But I also favor this version of KIND LADY with Basil Rathbone in one of his most sinister roles.  But it's Hero Donald Meek that adds the cherry on top of this wonderful film.  (He would sort of reprise these heroic moves in the Nick Carter series with Walter Pigeon, but his "hero" in KIND LADY was a wonderful tidbit for one of my favorite supporting actors).

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I love her, saw her in person once, walking in NYC.  She had an incredible theater career, right up to 1975, when she appeared in a revival of Trelawny of the Wells, with Walter Abel, Mary Beth Hurt, John Lithgow, Mandy Patinkin, and Meryl Streep.

Lucky you! I read that she began her stage career in 1921. She didn't come to Hollywood until 1931.

 

In another thread we are talking about old school versus method acting. Though MacMahon burst on to the film scene in the era of the talkies, I think she was quite a bit ahead of her time, delivering very nuanced, naturalistic performances unlike a lot of her esteemed contemporaries. As she aged and came to be relied on as a skilled character actress, she was right at home in such later films as THE MAN FROM LARAMIE and THE YOUNG DOCTORS.

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She is one of the several treasures that TCM 'gave me' years ago with a showing of HEAT LIGHTNING.  Then, her supporting role, twenty years later in THE SEARCH was a wonderful display of using great actresses as they age. 

 

But I also favor this version of KIND LADY with Basil Rathbone in one of his most sinister roles.  But it's Hero Donald Meek that adds the cherry on top of this wonderful film.  (He would sort of reprise these heroic moves in the Nick Carter series with Walter Pigeon, but his "hero" in KIND LADY was a wonderful tidbit for one of my favorite supporting actors).

HEAT LIGHTNING has the distinction of being one of Warners' very last releases before the production code was implemented. Of course, MacMahon is superb in it. 

 

She almost seems too young to be playing a frail old woman in KIND LADY-- she was still a highly attractive woman in her prime when that film was made. I guess it's a part that MGM's leading glamour gals did not want to do (not exactly the type of role that Garbo, Shearer or Crawford would have taken).

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Top, I understand the comment about Aline appearing "too young" for the role and that the 1951 version (with Ethel's was perhaps more age appropriate).

 

And it's hard for me to choose Aline over Ethel on sheer "personal favoritism" but I know that IS the case, too.  However, it's Basil Rathbone that makes this 1935 version my favorite because, in films with Good vs Evil, I discovered I enjoy a Really REALLY bad Evil Guy. 

 

So, as I dissect this 1935 vs. 1951 version, it's truly a Basil vs. Maurice choice.  And there aren't a lot of actors who nail "Sinister" better than Basil.  (I guess there are - I certainly can't name one at this moment, though... hmmm... Lee Marvin is MEAN and definitely monstrously evil in his bad guy roles.  Charles McGraw, about the same... but Slick, Slimy and Sinister?  Basil might be the top of that heap.)

 

In the 1951, we have little Donald Meeks being replaced by big ol' John Williams - who can definitely throw a punch and looks much more fitting to be the "calvary charge good-guy".  But I think that's why I prefer Donald Meeks - this little, seldom-noticed character actor who practically steals this film's climax himself.

 

Fortunately, I don't have to choose one version to the exclusion of the other.  Both are wonderful testimonials to a film fan's enjoyment.

 

(We should think about Most Sinister Characters, sometime... Basil was such a good Good Guy and such a sinister Bad Guy, and so often.)

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And I forget how wonderful Kibbee can be as the perenial "I wanted 10 miles thru the snow" kinda dad.  Aline stands by and props up everyone in this film, too.

 

Oh.  And TISH is coming up - another highly recommended on, with Zasu Pitts, Marjorie Main getting a lot of attention, and Aline sewing everything up.  Kibbee again...

 

There just aren't too many dogs of films among Aline's catalog.  And yes, THANKS, TCM.

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the term 'slimey' should never be included when describing a sinister basil rathbone; the man was much too dashing and handsome of an actor.

if any actor could play a real dirty dog, i'd cast a vote for preston foster.

 

ollietsb typed:

And there aren't a lot of actors who nail "Sinister" better than Basil.  (I guess there are - I certainly can't name one at this moment, though... hmmm... Lee Marvin is MEAN and definitely monstrously evil in his bad guy roles.  Charles McGraw, about the same... but Slick, Slimy and Sinister?  Basil might be the top of that heap.)

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the term 'slimey' should never be included when describing a sinister basil rathbone; the man was much too dashing and handsome of an actor.

 

if any actor could play a real dirty dog, i'd cast a vote for preston foster.

 

ollietsb typed:

And there aren't a lot of actors who nail "Sinister" better than Basil.  (I guess there are - I certainly can't name one at this moment, though... hmmm... Lee Marvin is MEAN and definitely monstrously evil in his bad guy roles.  Charles McGraw, about the same... but Slick, Slimy and Sinister?  Basil might be the top of that heap.)

 

Warren Williams was also very dashing and handsome and I have heard him called slimey.    I guess it comes down to how one uses the term.   To me someone that is slick or slimy is someone that does NOT come off as being so.    That is dashing and handsome so one doesn't expect them to do you harm. 

 

A brute is someone that doesn't hide the fact that they intent to do you harm.

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I'm glad ROSEANNA MCCOY is going to be shown today. It's a Sam Goldwyn picture that was supposed to air earlier this year but TCM bumped it from the schedule at the last minute. This rarely seen film has Farley Granger and Joan Evans in the leads, but it's the supporting cast that makes it so marvelous-- Aline MacMahon, Richard Basehart, Charles Bickford, Raymond Massey, Hope Emerson, etc.

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I am a huge fan of Aline MacMahon and have been enjoying her movies today. BUT I noticed that the photo they've used to advertise her group of movies on the TCM On Demand site looks a lot more like ZaSu Pitts than Aline MacMahon!

 

Is it me? Can I get a witness?  :)

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I am a huge fan of Aline MacMahon and have been enjoying her movies today. BUT I noticed that the photo they've used to advertise her group of movies on the TCM On Demand site looks a lot more like ZaSu Pitts than Aline MacMahon!

 

Is it me? Can I get a witness?  :)

Hi Karen-- welcome to the boards. Yes, that is an image of ZaSu, not Aline. I posted two photos of Aline in the original post of this thread.

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TCM is airing nine of Aline MacMahon's films today-- mostly from her days at Warner Brothers in the 1930s.

 

As evidenced by these selections, she would occasionally be granted a lead role, as we see in the original version of KIND LADY, playing opposite Basil Rathbone.

 

But I have to say I think she hit her stride in the 1940s at MGM, in supporting roles-- namely in TISH (airing today) and THE SEARCH. And for those who do not know, she delivered an Oscar-nominated performance in DRAGON SEED. 

 

 

THE SEARCH is one of my (recently discovered) favorite movies, mostly for the performance of Ivan Jandl but Aline MacMahon is also wonderful as the UN relief camp worker. 

I see that THE SEARCH is scheduled to air on TCM on October 17.

 

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I'm glad ROSEANNA MCCOY is going to be shown today. It's a Sam Goldwyn picture that was supposed to air earlier this year but TCM bumped it from the schedule at the last minute. This rarely seen film has Farley Granger and Joan Evans in the leads, but it's the supporting cast that makes it so marvelous-- Aline MacMahon, Richard Basehart, Charles Bickford, Raymond Massey, Hope Emerson, etc.

 

Roseanna McKoy was interesting, although factually inaccurate as all-get-out; it was also dark- not dark as in subject matter, but dark as in I had to really squint to see it. I felt like the supporting players besides Charles Bickford were mostly wasted.

 

I actually watched the entire Eddie Cantor Story- which was compelling in spite of its flaws (the lead actor did waaaay too much mugging and the guy playing Durante was bad.) I noticed that in the Leonard Maltin review tacked on to the schedule, he singled out Aline's performance as "Gram Esther" as bad enough to make the viewer quit watching.

 

Aline was quite good- her unpretentious, vanity-free, rather touching in spite the tsunami of schmaltz performance was the main reason I sat through the first hour of the film and Leonard Maltin is a dipsh*t.

 

seriously: why do they use his reviews again?

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Roseanna McKoy was interesting, although factually inaccurate as all-get-out; it was also dark- not dark as in subject matter, but dark as in I had to really squint to see it. I felt like the supporting players besides Charles Bickford were mostly wasted.

 

I actually watched the entire Eddie Cantor Story- which was compelling in spite of its flaws (the lead actor did waaaay too much mugging and the guy playing Durante was bad.) I noticed that in the Leonard Maltin review tacked on to the schedule, he singled out Aline's performance as "Gram Esther" as bad enough to make the viewer quit watching.

 

Aline was quite good- her unpretentious, vanity-free, rather touching in spite the tsunami of schmaltz performance was the main reason I sat through the first hour of the film and Leonard Maltin is a dipsh*t.

 

seriously: why do they use his reviews again?

I'm not a huge fan of Keefe Brasselle, so the Cantor biopic held little interest for me and I did not record it. 

 

My copy of HEAT LIGHTNING did not turn out too well so I hope they play it again.

 

I have a special fondness for ROSEANNA MCCOY. I first watched this film years ago on AMC at my grandparents' home with them. I love the whole atmosphere/ambience of the picture, and anything that seems mostly filmed outdoors or on location from the late 40s is something I appreciate. In some ways, this story seemed more like a project that Republic would have filmed, not Sam Goldwyn.

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I actually watched the entire Eddie Cantor Story- which was compelling in spite of its flaws (the lead actor did waaaay too much mugging and the guy playing Durante was bad.) I noticed that in the Leonard Maltin review tacked on to the schedule, he singled out Aline's performance as "Gram Esther" as bad enough to make the viewer quit watching.

 

Aline was quite good- her unpretentious, vanity-free, rather touching in spite the tsunami of schmaltz performance was the main reason I sat through the first hour of the film and Leonard Maltin is a dipsh*t.

 

seriously: why do they use his reviews again?

I watched the Eddie Cantor film, on and off. I agree that Aline was quite good. Not a very good movie, Brasselle was annoying, but it was nice to see the real Eddie and Ida at the very end of the film. 

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I have a special fondness for ROSEANNA MCCOY. I first watched this film years ago on AMC at my grandparents' home with them. I love the whole atmosphere/ambience of the picture, and anything that seems mostly filmed outdoors or on location from the late 40s is something I appreciate. In some ways, this story seemed more like a project that Republic would have filmed, not Sam Goldwyn.

 

Nice.

 

I think it was maybe The History Channel that did a long miniseries a few years back called The Hatfields and The McKoys- it starred Kevin Costner, but it's still good anyway. Bill Paxton plays the head of the other family and he was really, really good. It's long and violent and bloody, but compelling and has some lovely scenery (it was actually filmed near Transylvania, Romania.)

 

In real life, things did not end happily for Jonesy and Roseanna, or either family.

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I watched the Eddie Cantor film, on and off. I agree that Aline was quite good. Not a very good movie, Brasselle was annoying, but it was nice to see the real Eddie and Ida at the very end of the film. 

 

It was nice. I seem to recall The Eddie Cantor Story was directed by Alfred E. Green- who I think was a WB contract director. He directed Bette Davis and (I think) George Arliss in roles for which they won Oscars, but I don't think he knew a thing about acting and was- at absolute best- merely a competent director. Anyone who knew what the hell they were doing would've reigned in Brasselle on day one, because as he is, he is bad (and all that make-up!)

 

Green later directed Invasion: USA, (an independent film I think) that details a communist invasion of America. It was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and is pretty darn funny.

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 Aline MacMahon, I must confess that I am not familiar with many of her films and yet I recognize her name and face. I guess that means she made a strong impression on me. I notice that her first film is  FIVE STAR FINAL starring the great Edward G. Robinson. She has  strong supporting role in that one.  I also notice her  in the James Stewart western  THE MAN FROM  LARAMIE.

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