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Screwball Comediennes

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I'm carrying this discussion over from the Sally Field Essentials thread.  It evolved into a discussion of Carole Lombard and then I brought up Jean Harlow.  I thought it would be an interesting conversation. 

 

I'll admit that I've only seen one Carole Lombard movie-- My Man Godfrey, which initially I watched because it starred William Powell (who was once married to Carole Lombard.  After divorcing Lombard, he started dating and became engaged to Jean Harlow) starred in the film.  On my first viewing, I thought that Powell was excellent (as usual) and found Lombard's character shrill and irritating.  However, on subsequent viewings, I've warmed up more to Lombard and find her hilarious and endearing in the film. 

 

I had the same experience with Jean Harlow.  I was first exposed to her in Red Dust and Libeled Lady.  While I enjoyed both films on the whole, it wasn't due to Harlow.  I liked Gable in Red Dust and the Powell/Loy combo in Libeled Lady.  For some reason though, I wanted to like Harlow, so I didn't want to write her off just yet.  I've since seen her in Bombshell, Dinner at Eight, Suzy and Red Headed Woman.  I'm starting to warm up to her.  After this change of opinion on Harlow, I've seen Red Dust and Libeled Lady again and found her more enjoyable.  In fact, I own TCM's Greatest Classic Legends: Jean Harlow set, only because it contained Libeled Lady which I was having trouble locating and I wanted to complete my William Powell/Myrna Loy collection.  This collection also contains: Dinner at Eight, China Seas and Wife Vs. Secretary

 

I've also recently discovered Jean Arthur.  While she does have an unusual voice, I really like her in movies.  I especially enjoyed her in Only Angels Have Wings and Talk of the Town.  She's different than the manic Lombard and the sassy Harlow.  Arthur is more kooky and does many things that end up inconveniencing someone when she was only trying to help.  

 

I also like Myrna Loy and Claudette Colbert.  They're a different type of screwball comedienne.  They aren't manic or shrill or brassy.  They're more subdued and classy, but get involved in crazy situations.  Like Colbert on the train in The Palm Beach Story or her adventures in the farmhouse in The Egg and I.  Loy is similar in that she lives in upper crust surroundings and wears fancy gowns and such but will get mixed up with wacky characters like in Love Crazy. 

 

What other screwball comediennes do you enjoy? Or dislike?

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I'm carrying this discussion over from the Sally Field Essentials thread.  It evolved into a discussion of Carole Lombard and then I brought up Jean Harlow.  I thought it would be an interesting conversation. 

 

I'll admit that I've only seen one Carole Lombard movie-- My Man Godfrey, which initially I watched because it starred William Powell (who was once married to Carole Lombard.  After divorcing Lombard, he started dating and became engaged to Jean Harlow) starred in the film.  On my first viewing, I thought that Powell was excellent (as usual) and found Lombard's character shrill and irritating.  However, on subsequent viewings, I've warmed up more to Lombard and find her hilarious and endearing in the film. 

 

I had the same experience with Jean Harlow.  I was first exposed to her in Red Dust and Libeled Lady.  While I enjoyed both films on the whole, it wasn't due to Harlow.  I liked Gable in Red Dust and the Powell/Loy combo in Libeled Lady.  For some reason though, I wanted to like Harlow, so I didn't want to write her off just yet.  I've since seen her in Bombshell, Dinner at Eight, Suzy and Red Headed Woman.  I'm starting to warm up to her.  After this change of opinion on Harlow, I've seen Red Dust and Libeled Lady again and found her more enjoyable.  In fact, I own TCM's Greatest Classic Legends: Jean Harlow set, only because it contained Libeled Lady which I was having trouble locating and I wanted to complete my William Powell/Myrna Loy collection.  This collection also contains: Dinner at Eight, China Seas and Wife Vs. Secretary

 

I've also recently discovered Jean Arthur.  While she does have an unusual voice, I really like her in movies.  I especially enjoyed her in Only Angels Have Wings and Talk of the Town.  She's different than the manic Lombard and the sassy Harlow.  Arthur is more kooky and does many things that end up inconveniencing someone when she was only trying to help.  

 

I also like Myrna Loy and Claudette Colbert.  They're a different type of screwball comedienne.  They aren't manic or shrill or brassy.  They're more subdued and classy, but get involved in crazy situations.  Like Colbert on the train in The Palm Beach Story or her adventures in the farmhouse in The Egg and I.  Loy is similar in that she lives in upper crust surroundings and wears fancy gowns and such but will get mixed up with wacky characters like in Love Crazy. 

 

What other screwball comediennes do you enjoy? Or dislike?

 

Based on the people you mention my favorites would be Jean Arthur,  Carole Lombard and Myrna Loy.    I would add Irene Dunne to that list based on the comedies she made with Grant and Theodora Goes Wild. 

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Based on the people you mention my favorites would be Jean Arthur,  Carole Lombard and Myrna Loy.    I would add Irene Dunne to that list based on the comedies she made with Grant and Theodora Goes Wild. 

I haven't seen much of Irene Dunne.  I've seen her films with Cary Grant.  I loved The Awful Truth.  I also saw My Favorite Wife which I didn't enjoy as much. 

 

I saw Dunne in Life With Father, but I don't think that film is considered screwball.

 

I haven't seen Theodora Goes Wild, the title sounds promising.  I'll need to check that one out. 

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MY MAN GODFREY is my second favorite film of all time (guess what is first?)  After William Powell and Carole Lombard divorced they  maintained their  friendship (often  being seen together at public functions) and Powell lobbied to get his ex the Irene part in "Godfrey".  Carole plays a somewhat similar  character type in the excellent NOTHING SACRED with Fredric March. And of course there's Carole in TWENTIETH CENTURY.  I like Jean Arthur a lot too. In THE EX MRS BRADFORD  she plays very well to William Powell in a variation of a Thin Man type film.  Jean is every bit as good as Myrna Loy would have been in the role. Jean played comedienne well to many different actors,  check out THE WHOLE TOWN'S  TALKING with Edward G Robinson  (and directed by John Ford believe it or not).  You have to include Barbara Stanwyck  for THE LADY EVE and other films.  But for me, Carole's "Irene"  is always the best of all.

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Myrna Loy is funny but I wouldn't go as far as calling anything screwball.

 

Lucille Ball in her TV episodes "I Love Lucy".

 

lucille-ball-glasses-scarf1.jpg

 

 

 

Do they count in drag? :P

 

Nuttynicekids.jpg

 

 

Edited my OP because I was thinking screwball comedy in general.  oops

Edited by hamradio

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MY MAN GODFREY is my second favorite film of all time (guess what is first?)  After William Powell and Carole Lombard divorced they  maintained their  friendship (often  being seen together at public functions) and Powell lobbied to get his ex the Irene part in "Godfrey".  Carole plays a somewhat similar  character type in the excellent NOTHING SACRED with Fredric March. And of course there's Carole in TWENTIETH CENTURY.  I like Jean Arthur a lot too. In THE EX MRS BRADFORD  she plays very well to William Powell in a variation of a Thin Man type film.  Jean is every bit as good as Myrna Loy would have been in the role. Jean played comedienne well to many different actors,  check out THE WHOLE TOWN'S  TALKING with Edward G Robinson  (and directed by John Ford believe it or not).  You have to include Barbara Stanwyck  for THE LADY EVE and other films.  But for me, Carole's "Irene"  is always the best of all.

I forgot about The Ex-Mrs. Bradford.  That was a great movie.  Arthur and Powell were a good pairing.  I loved the mystery as well.  These mystery films always seem so have such strange solutions, definitely can't say they were contrived--which is what makes them so interesting.  I haven't seen Twentieth Century yet.  I recorded The Whole Town's Talking but I think I was only half-watching.  I can't remember Arthur too much.  I remember Edward G. Robinson more. 

 

I saw Stanwyck in Ball of Fire, while she was fantastic, I can never get over how much I dislike Gary Cooper.  I thought The Lady Eve was funnier.  I'll have to see that one again. 

 

I think Katharine Hepburn was pretty funny in her screwball comedies, especially the ones with Cary Grant.  My favorites are the ridiculous Bringing Up Baby and less ridiculous The Philadelphia Story.  I love the scene in 'Philadelphia' at the very beginning when Grant pushes Hepburn back into the house using the palm of his hand.  That part always cracks me up. 

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Here are some of the top of my head that I like.  Some of these actresses are mostly known for other genres, but IMO did well with 1930s style "screwball" comedy.

 

Definitely Jean Arthur, and for the same reasons, she's at the top of my list.  She is unique and in a good way.

 

Myrna Loy

 

Olivia De Havilland

 

Irene Dunne

 

Joan Blondell (Gold Diggers of 1933)

 

Ruby Keeler (Gold Diggers of 1933)

 

Aline MacMahon, who could play a wide variety of character types  Her pairing with Guy Kibbee in Gold Diggers Of 1933 was priceless,  While The Patient Slept (1935)

 

Zasu Pitts - In some ways I think of her as an early Lucille Ball (from her I Love Lucy days).

Sing It And Like It (1934), Breakfast In Hollywood (1946), Mad Holiday (1936) - A screen sleuth solves a shipboard mystery with the woman who writes his scripts.  A 1930's comedy/mystery caper inspired by 1930's mystery capers.

 

Ann Sothern - Maisie series

 

Glenda Farrell - Torchy Blane series

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I haven't seen much of Irene Dunne. I've seen her films with Cary Grant. I loved The Awful Truth. I also saw My Favorite Wife which I didn't enjoy as much.

 

I haven't seen Theodora Goes Wild, the title sounds promising. I'll need to check that one out.

Irene Dunne is an actress who is always worth watching, even if the movie isn't.

 

My Favorite Wife has a solid start, then goes all to pieces by the last scene- where it blatantly copies the climax of the more successful The Awful Truth.

 

Theodora is okay, but doesn't live up to the potential of the premise. She saves Cimarron from being outright awful.

 

Love Affair is a really undervalued film and performance of hers; it's not a comedy, but she's lovely and makes it work well. I also like Dunne in Penny Serenade, which is definitely NOT a comedy; ditto on both for The White Cliffs of Dover. And she's excellent in I Remember Mama. she's in only two other comedies I can think of- one called Together Again(?) from 1945. it was on recently and i didn't much like it; and her last film It Grows on Trees from 1952 which is something of a fantasy but rarely screened.

 

The film of hers I'd really like to see is Back Street from 1932.

 

As good as she was in her few comedies, Dunne had more dramatic titles to her credit, although she could certainly do both.

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I had the same experience with Jean Harlow... I've seen Red Dust and Libeled Lady again and found her more enjoyable.  In fact, I own TCM's Greatest Classic Legends: Jean Harlow set, only because it contained Libeled Lady which I was having trouble locating and I wanted to complete my William Powell/Myrna Loy collection.  This collection also contains: Dinner at Eight, China Seas and Wife Vs. Secretary.

 

I cannot recommend China Seas highly enough. It is a vastly entertaining film from right smack in the middle of the thirties and a collage of themes and styles of the era; all done at about fifty words a minute (kind of a less exotic but nonetheless beguiling version of Von Sternberg's Shanghai Express.). It moves, moves, moves and it isn't boring for so much as ten seconds. The voyage also features a delicious buffet of character actors and star performers- Gable, Harlowe and Beery as well as Hattie MacDaniell in a rare decent role and some others whose names do not come to me immediately- I've only been able to see it twice and I wish I owned it on DVD..

 

Watch it.

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I cannot recommend China Seas highly enough. It is a vastly entertaining film from right smack in the middle of the thirties and a collage of themes and styles of the era; all done at about fifty words a minute (kind of a less exotic but nonetheless beguiling version of Von Sternberg's Shanghai Express.). It moves, moves, moves and it isn't boring for so much as ten seconds. The voyage also features a delicious buffet of character actors and star performers- Gable, Harlowe and Beery as well as Hattie MacDaniell in a rare decent role and some others whose names do not come to me immediately- I've only been able to see it twice and I wish I owned it on DVD..

 

Watch it.

Thank you for the recommendation.  I love Hattie McDaniel, while I realize many of her roles are stereotypes, she's hilarious.  I loved her in They Died With Their Boots On.  I also enjoy the Gable/Harlow combination.  They made an excellent pair. 

 

It's a shame that Harlow died so young.  I would have been interested to see how her persona evolved and how she would have grown personally (as an actress) throughout the WWII era of filmmaking and beyond.  I think she would have been great in noir.  I feel that eventually she would have ditched the platinum blonde/thin eyebrow look and went with something more natural.  What was Harlow's natural look? Was she brunette? dishwater blond?

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There are plenty of great screwball comediennes from the 30's and early 40's.  Lombard, Arthur, Loy, Stanwyck, GLENDA, Blondell, Roz Russell, Hepburn and Miriam Hopkins, who aged faster than a housefly but who was beyond perfection in Trouble in Paradise.  There are probably more I can't think of right at the moment.

 

But IMO the undisputed Queen of Screwball was Jean Harlow.  What distinguishes her from all the others is the way she so perfectly combined cluelessness, brashness, righteous indignation, and a fair amount of common sense, all rolled into one. And the funny thing is that only two of her films---Bombshell and Libeled Lady---can really be considered pure screwballs.  But Harlow didn't need the screwball genre to demonstrate her comic genius, all she had to was to open her mouth and let the words fly fast and furious.  Think of her ongoing war with Wallace Beery in Dinner at Eight, and the straight lines she delivered with such perfection to Marie Dressler.  Take Harlow out of that movie and it would have collapsed like a deflated football.

 

Harlow's persona is different from the more refined or verbally eloquent comediennes like Lombard and Hepburn.  There was more of an edge to it, conveying the feeling that someone was always trying to take advantage of her, which leads her to outbursts of comic indignation of the highest order.  Think of her classic "That's arson!"* line in Libeled Lady, surely one the greatest throwaway lines ever uttered in cinema, and try even to imagine any other comedienne being able to deliver such a line with any credibility.  Her unique performance in those two screwballs was comedy of the highest order.

 

*Julia Louis-Dreyfuss's "SvenJOLLY" line in one of those Seinfeld episodes comes pretty close to "That's arson!", but there's a difference between a clueless mispronunciation of an uncommon name from the past and not knowing the difference between arson and bigamy.  But if Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and some of the other great comediennes of our time had been around in the 30's, they would have been right up there with the best of them.

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Myrna Loy is funny but I wouldn't go as far as calling anything screwball.

 

Lucille Ball in her TV episodes "I Love Lucy".

 

Edited my OP because I was thinking screwball comedy in general.  oops

Many of Lucille Ball's pre-I Love Lucy performances show how adept she was at screwball comedy.  One film I can think of in particular is Miss Grant Takes Richmond with William Holden.  Holden is the straight man to Ball's craziness.  She has many funny scenes showing how gifted she was with props.  There is one scene where she fights with a printer ribbon.  Holden was an excellent foil.  However, nobody was as good a straight-man to Lucy as Desi Arnaz.  His reactions to Lucy's shenanigans are priceless.

 

Another Lucy screwball comedy I enjoyed was The Fuller Brush Girl with Eddie Albert.  TCM rarely plays it. 

 

There's also a very early Lucille Ball film from 1938 called The Affairs of Anabel.  Even though the film was average (the sequel was so-so) Ball demonstrates her skill in comedy. 

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There are plenty of great screwball comediennes from the 30's and early 40's.  Lombard, Arthur, Loy, Stanwyck, GLENDA, Blondell, Roz Russell, Hepburn and Miriam Hopkins, who aged faster than a housefly but who was beyond perfection in Trouble in Paradise.  There are probably more I can't think of right at the moment.

 

But IMO the undisputed Queen of Screwball was Jean Harlow.  What distinguishes her from all the others is the way she so perfectly combined cluelessness, brashness, righteous indignation, and a fair amount of common sense, all rolled into one. And the funny thing is that only two of her films---Bombshell and Libeled Lady---can really be considered pure screwballs.  But Harlow didn't need the screwball genre to demonstrate her comic genius, all she had to was to open her mouth and let the words fly fast and furious.  Think of her ongoing war with Wallace Beery in Dinner at Eight, and the straight lines she delivered with such perfection to Marie Dressler.  Take Harlow out of that movie and it would have collapsed like a deflated football.

 

Harlow's persona is different from the more refined or verbally eloquent comediennes like Lombard and Hepburn.  There was more of an edge to it, conveying the feeling that someone was always trying to take advantage of her, which leads her to outbursts of comic indignation of the highest order.  Think of her classic "That's arson!"* line in Libeled Lady, surely one the greatest throwaway lines ever uttered in cinema, and try even to imagine any other comedienne being able to deliver such a line with any credibility.  Her unique performance in those two screwballs was comedy of the highest order.

 

*Julia Louis-Dreyfuss's "SvenJOLLY" line in one of those Seinfeld episodes comes pretty close to "That's arson!", but there's a difference between a clueless mispronunciation of an uncommon name from the past and not knowing the difference between arson and bigamy.  But if Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and some of the other great comediennes of our time had been around in the 30's, they would have been right up there with the best of them.

I agree that the 30s-40s screwball comedies were at their peak at this time.  I haven't seen anything with Glenda Farrell.  I don't even know what she looks like (okay, I googled her, now I know what she looks like).  I'll have to check her out next time her films air.  Thanks for the tip!

 

I'm not a fan of Miriam Hopkins.  I really loathe her in Virginia City.  However, I am curious to watch her films with Bette Davis because I know that they hated each other so much.  I'll check out Trouble in Paradise when it airs again. 

 

Harlow is beginning to grow on me.  I liked her sassy lines in Dinner at Eight.  The deflated football analogy? Lol. Good one.  I'm going to have to binge on Jean Harlow and watch all four films of hers that I have.  Then I'll look out for more on TCM. 

 

I really like Rosalind Russell.  She's a different type of screwball personality.  I notice she usually plays single career driven women who assert themselves to get ahead.  His Girl Friday is hilarious. 

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I love Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame. I'm not sure if it is considered a screwball comedy but it is hilarious to me. Who wouldn't like to have an Aunt like her? Life would never be dull.

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I love Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame. I'm not sure if it is considered a screwball comedy but it is hilarious to me. Who wouldn't like to have an Aunt like her? Life would never be dull.

I really like Auntie Mame too.  I don't know if it's really screwball, but Russell is fabulous.  It's a shame she didn't win an Oscar.  I loved how vivacious she was and how she didn't care what anyone thought of her, she was just "Mame."

 

When I bought this film, it was classified as a musical and for some reason, I always think it's a musical (even though I know it's not) and then when I'm watching it, waiting for Roz to sing, I remember that it's not a musical.  For whatever reason, it seems like it should be.

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I would think the first person ANYONE thinks of when they hear that term is Carole Lombard. Anyone think of someone else? (and this is not a compliment to Lombard, whom I really don't care for.)

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I'm not sure how this will go over here, but I'm going to do it anyway. I think some props have to be given to Marilyn Monroe in this department. She wasn't always asked (or allowed) to show this side of her screen persona but I think the good-natured obtuseness she brought to some of her (mostly early) roles would definitely qualify her as a screwball comedienne. I'm thinking of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and "How to Marry a Millionaire" of course, but also particularly of Howard Hawk's "Monkey Business", where she was a worthy foil for Cary Grant in their scenes together. I'm tickled every time by her straightfoward delivery of lines like "Mr. Oxley has been complaining about my punctuation, so I'm careful to get here on time" and her explanation to that same boss (Charles Coburn) that she was "showing him my acetates" when he walks in on her adjusting her stockings in front of Cary Grant, "acetates" being a prototype nylon stocking the firm is developing. Her character's obliviousness in these situations shows a subtle gift for comedy and was definitely an actor's choice. Unfortunately, it was so convincing that much of the public thought of her as only a "dumb blonde", which the studio was prepared to perpetuate endlessly but which Marilyn herself felt she needed to escape. Escape it she did, but later roles such as "The Seven Year Itch" and "Some Like It Hot" showed her gift was still intact.

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I would think the first person ANYONE thinks of when they hear that term is Carole Lombard. Anyone think of someone else? (and this is not a compliment to Lombard, whom I really don't care for.)

GASP!

 

Don't you KNOW?  That in the "classic movie" realm, not caring for Carole Lombard is as big a SIN as not caring for AUDREY HEPBURN? (whom I never really cared too much for)  :o

 

 

Sepiatone

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I agree that the 30s-40s screwball comedies were at their peak at this time.  I haven't seen anything with Glenda Farrell.  I don't even know what she looks like (okay, I googled her, now I know what she looks like).  I'll have to check her out next time her films air.  Thanks for the tip!

 

There's just something about GLENDA that made me fall for her right from the start.  I first noticed her in a straight role in the Sybil Jason showcase Little Big Shot, where Jason steals the show, but then I caught her in Hi, Nellie! with Paul Muni and I was completely hooked.  She's not quite on Harlow's comic level, and unlike Blondell she didn't get to play romantic leads in too many big time features, but I guarantee that the more you see of her, the more she'll grow on you.  You might want to start with Girl Missing, Havana Widows, and any or all of the Torchy Blane series with Barton MacLaine and Tom Kennedy.  Those last movies fall into the comic detective genre, where she plays a reporter who's forever solving her detective fiance's crimes for him, in spite of his constant attempts to domesticate her.

 

She was also in a fair number of dramatic roles later in her career, most notably (IMO) as Kim Novak's overly protective mother in the 1959 film The Middle of the Night, but it's in her 1930's movies that she really made her mark.

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Another really good Glenda Farrell title would be the 1932 Warner's film Mystery of the Wax Museum, an early Michael Curtiz joint. She's very funny and a nice contrast to Fay Wray. Sadly she is underused in the second half, but it's an interesting watch and you can often find it on youtube in full for free.

 

The film came out befre the end of Prohibiton and she factors in a very funny scene involving some confiscated hooch.

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GASP!

 

Don't you KNOW?  That in the "classic movie" realm, not caring for Carole Lombard is as big a SIN as not caring for AUDREY HEPBURN? (whom I never really cared too much for)  :o

 

 

Sepiatone

There goes my last chance to co-host "The Essentials".

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I'm not a fan of Miriam Hopkins.  I really loathe her in Virginia City.  However, I am curious to watch her films with Bette Davis because I know that they hated each other so much.  I'll check out Trouble in Paradise when it airs again. 

 

The film that will win you over to The Mims' Side is Becky Sharp from 1935; it's a partial adaptation of Thackery's Vanity Fair and she got her only Oscar nomination for it. She is fantastic and it is shot in gorgous color.

 

I saw it on AMC 10,000 years ago and recall quite distinctly loving it.

 

Don't recall it ever showing on tcm though.

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Mira Sorvino as the hooker in Woody Allen's movie "Mighty Aphrodite."  She could say lines like no one else.  She had to say goodnight to him in one scene and he asked her to stay with him.  She said, "I can't.  I've got six dates."  For some reason just that line and the way she delivered it knocked me over.  She also mentioned in one scene that her dress was by "Versayss."

 

There was a girl who appeared in a Steve Martin movie, "The Man with Two Brains" ... he was looking for someone willing to give up her life so he could get a good brain ... she said, on learning what he was up to, "I don't mind ..." and she was convincing.  She was downright hilarious.  I don't know her name, however.

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There's just something about GLENDA that made me fall for her right from the start.  I first noticed her in a straight role in the Sybil Jason showcase Little Big Shot, where Jason steals the show, but then I caught her in Hi, Nellie! with Paul Muni and I was completely hooked.  She's not quite on Harlow's comic level, and unlike Blondell she didn't get to play romantic leads in too many big time features, but I guarantee that the more you see of her, the more she'll grow on you.  You might want to start with Girl Missing, Havana Widows, and any or all of the Torchy Blane series with Barton MacLaine and Tom Kennedy.  Those last movies fall into the comic detective genre, where she plays a reporter who's forever solving her detective fiance's crimes for him, in spite of his constant attempts to domesticate her.

 

She was also in a fair number of dramatic roles later in her career, most notably (IMO) as Kim Novak's overly protective mother in the 1959 film The Middle of the Night, but it's in her 1930's movies that she really made her mark.

Thanks for the tip.  I'll look out for her.  It looks like she's in a bunch of films coming up: Little Caesar (which I think I actually own on a Edward G. Robinson set I have.  If it's not on there, it's on one of the 4 Gangster film collections I have); Johnny Eager, I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, Life Begins, and Mary Stevens, M.D. I'll keep an eye out for "Torchy," I've heard it (read it?) mentioned often on these boards.

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