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Your Favorite Barrymore? (And I don't mean Drew!)


lydecker
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Well, any actor that could so believably range from the kindly Dr.Gillespie to that SOB Mr. Potter, has MY vote TOO, lydecker ol' boy! ;)

 

(...and yes...his bro John was often but not always the epitome of Jon Lovitz's old SNL character, Master Thespian...and Ethel was usually the opposite of that and one who usually underplayed her roles very effectively...well, at least that's my take on these three here also, anyway)

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I like Lionel, find Ethel a bit of an acquired taste, but definitely go with John by a country mile.

 

Yes, he could be over the top, at times, both during the silent era, as well as in his later efforts after 1934 when he was playing support in "A"s or was the lead in "B"s. By that time, however, he was no longer the same performer that he had been before (though he had his moments).

 

But then there was what I consider to be his prime, the pre-code period of the talkies, when his voice was no longer stiffled and before drink was his ruin.

 

The sheer scope of John's characterizations during that period is quite breath taking, ranging from villainous rogues (Svengali, Mad Genius) to debonair romantics (Arsene Lupin, Grand Hotel) to character drama (Bill of Divorcement, State's Attorney, Councillor at Law, Topaze, Dinner at Eight, a film in which he had the courage to play a role dangerously close to that of himself in many ways) to grand comedy eccentric (20th Century).

 

Barrymore had the sensitivity to superbly underplay, at times (his meek naive little professor in Topaze) as well as go delightfully over the top when he played a screwball eccentric (20th Century). Even in Rasputin and the Empress, when Lionel had the juiciest role as the villainous dark shadow looming over the Russian monarchy (a role at which John might have excelled), John did something that his brother could never have done, played a conventional leading man, and did it darned well.

 

Of his silent period, I think that John should be acknowledged as probably Fairbanks' greatest competitor as a screen swashbuckler, quite memorable in both Don Juan and The Beloved Rogue, the latter film also giving him the opportunity to demonstrate his ability at playing physical comedy, as well. He was also a memorable Jekyll and Hyde and gave arguably his finest performance of the silent period, considerably understated, for the most part, in Tempest, a tale of romance and escape during the Russian Revolution.

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I like Lionel, find Ethel a bit of an acquired taste, but definitely go with John by a country mile.

 

Yes, he could be over the top, at times, both during the silent era, as well as in his later efforts after 1934 when he was playing support in "A"s or was the lead in "B"s. By that time, however, he was no longer the same performer that he had been before (though he had his moments).

 

But then there was what I consider to be his prime, the pre-code period of the talkies, when his voice was no longer stiffled and before drink was his ruin.

 

The sheer scope of John characterizations during that period is quite breath taking, ranging from villainous rogues (Svengali, Mad Genius) to debonair romantics (Arsene Lupin, Grand Hotel) to character drama (Bill of Divorcement, State's Attorney, Councillor at Law, Topaze, Dinner at Eight, a film in which he had the courage to play a role dangerously close to that of himself in many ways) to grand comedy eccentric (20th Century).

 

Barrymore had the sensitivity to superbly underplay, at times (his meek naive little professor in Topaze) as well as go delightfully over the top when he played a screwball eccentric (20th Century). Even in Rasputin and the Empress, when Lionel had the juiciest role as the villainous dark shadow looming over the Russsian monarchy (a role at which John might have excelled), John did something that his brother could never have done, played a conventional leading man, and did it darned well.

 

Of his silent period, I think that John should be acknowledged as probably Fairbanks' greatest competitor as a screen swashbuckler, quite memorable in both Don Juan and The Beloved Rogue, the latter film also giving him the opportunity to demonstrate his ability at playing physical comedy, as well. He was also a memorable Jekyll and Hyde and gave arguably his finest performance of the silent period, considerably understated, for the most part, in Tempest, a tale of romance and escape during the Russian Revolution.

Excellent, excellent, excellent post.

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Well, any actor that could so believably range from the kindly Dr.Gillespie to that SOB Mr. Potter, has MY vote TOO.

I think so, too, Dargo. That's a good test of who's the better actor-- range. Lionel was able to play dignified and spineless, both with ease and without chewing scenery. Personally, my favorite of his roles is in PUBLIC HERO NO. 1, where he is the drunken doctor who manages to overcome some of his demons to help Chester Morris and Jean Arthur. 

 

I'm also partial to Diana Barrymore, who turned in several excellent performances despite her short career and life. She had a lot of artistic greatness in her.

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I Personally, my favorite of his roles is in PUBLIC HERO NO. 1, where he is the drunken doctor who manages to overcome some of his demons to help Chester Morris and Jean Arthur. 

 

 

This is my favorite LB performance as well.  Lionel makes a great reprobate.

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Excellent, excellent, excellent post.

Thanks very much, Janet. There is a tendency for some to dismiss John Barrymore with the words "drunken ham." It's a convenient stereotype.

 

Mind you, John brought some of that on himself by parodying himself as such in a few low brow comedies in his final years. It was a time when he played broad comedy a lot because it was probably easier for him than a dramatic role requiring a concentration of which he was no longer capable due to drink.

 

But a look at Barrymore's pre-code period in the talkies shows how miserably unfair it is to dismiss his career that way. It was a remarkable period of accomplishment for him (look at those titles and performances listed in my previous posting) and his versatility is quite stunning. Unfortunately, we have lost out on Barrymore's first two talkies. The Man from Blankleys is now officially listed as a lost film, but at the time of its release Jack B's comedy performance was hailed by the critics. He spends much of the film, I understand, as a character slightly inebriated, apparently to great comedic effect. And there are only pieces in existence, I believe, of General Crack, a costumer in which, again, he got good reviews.

 

But what there is left of his pre-code film work (almost all of it broadcast on TCM, fortunately), ranging from the elegance of the charming Baron in Grand Hotel to his Oscar Jaffe screwball lunatic in 20th Century to the Grand Guignol villainy (with comic overtones) of Svengali is clear evidence of his range and greatness as an actor, I feel.

 

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Svengali. This rich theatrical performance, comic and later sinister, makes me wonder what kind of Rasputin Jack might have been.

 

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The Baron in Grand Hotel. John brings a suave elegance to his role that makes him a screen jewel thief by which others can be measured. I particularly love watching him in the scenes he shares with brother Lionel. Many people think that either Lionel or Joan Crawford steal this film. And that may well be, as both are quite wonderful in it.

 

But John brings a sensitivity to his scenes with his brother (playing a dying man having a final fling) that is really quite touching. Beneath his surface elegance, John lets us glimpse a lonely man, his only companion a small dog (yes, he also gets to play grand lover with Garbo, as well as charming flirt with Crawford). It's the vulnerability that Jack brings to the Baron that makes it a memorable characterization for me.

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Ah, well, I like all three too.  However...

 

John and Ethel work better for me in certain roles, while Lionel works for me anythime.  Like Dargo said...

 

"Any actor that can so believably range from the kindly Dr. Gillespie to that SOB Mr. Potter...."

 

Well, MY choice of best example of Lionel's range is from Otto Kringelein (Grand Hotel) to that SOB Mr. Potter!  B)

 

 

Sepiatone

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Thanks very much, Janet. There is a tendency for some to dismiss John Barrymore with the words "drunken ham." It's a convenient stereotype.

 

Mind you, John brought some of that on himself by parodying himself as such in a few low brow comedies in his final years. It was a time when he played broad comedy a lot because it was probably easier for him than a dramatic role requiring a concentration of which he was no longer capable due to drink.

 

But a look at Barrymore's pre-code period in the talkies shows how miserably unfair it is to dismiss his career that way. It was a remarkable period of accomplishment for him (look at those titles and performances listed in my previous posting) and his versatility is quite stunning. Unfortunately, we have lost out on Barrymore's first two talkies. The Man from Blankleys is now officially listed as a lost film, but at the time of its release Jack B's comedy performance was hailed by the critics. He spends much of the film, I understand, as a character slightly inebriated, apparently to great comedic effect. And there are only pieces in existence, I believe, of General Crack, a costumer in which, again, he got good reviews.

 

But what there is left of his pre-code film work (almost all of it broadcast on TCM, fortunately), ranging from the elegance of the charming Baron in Grand Hotel to his Oscar Jaffe screwball lunatic in 20th Century to the Grand Guignol villainy (with comic overtones) of Svengali is clear evidence of his range and greatness as an actor, I feel.

 

02cb2539-d88b-4a4d-b2df-f29a303b8759_zps

 

Svengali. This rich theatrical performance, comic and later sinister, makes me wonder what kind of Rasputin Jack might have been.

 

0a49e08b-f620-4a93-bc34-14347a61bcab_zps

 

The Baron in Grand Hotel. John brings a suave elegance to his role that makes him a screen jewel thief by which others can be measured. I particularly love watching him in the scenes he shares with brother Lionel. Many people think that either Lionel or Joan Crawford steal this film. And that may well be, as both are quite wonderful in it.

 

But John brings a sensitivity to his scenes with his brother (playing a dying man having a final fling) that is really quite touching. Beneath his surface elegance, John lets us glimpse a lonely man, his only companion a small dog (yes, he also gets to play grand lover with Garbo, as well as charming flirt with Crawford). It's the vulnerability that Jack brings to the Baron that makes it a memorable characterization for me.

 

Well, after reading a number of books on Jack Barrymore this winter, I have come to the conclusion that his bizarro childhood most certainly contributed to his heavy drinking. But I have come to find him a very interesting fellow and would have loved to have seen him on the stage. He was a talented man, had many friends, and was generous. Terrible with money matters, tho.

 

I saw Twentieth Century recently. I'd been wanting to see it since TCM played it and I missed it. I was not impressed with the film all that much. Too zany for my taste, but I want to see it again and just focus on Jack's performance. Tinga linga linga ling!

 

I think he would have been great as Rasputin, but he gives a darn good performance as the prince. He upstaged Lionel in that scene where Rasputin is blathering on about something and Jack has got his back to him and toying with his sword. And the end when the prince is trying his darnest to kill Rasputin. Wow!

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Ah, well, I like all three too.  However...

 

John and Ethel work better for me in certain roles, while Lionel works for me anythime.  Like Dargo said...

 

"Any actor that can so believably range from the kindly Dr. Gillespie to that SOB Mr. Potter...."

 

Well, MY choice of best example of Lionel's range is from Otto Kringelein (Grand Hotel) to that SOB Mr. Potter!  B)

 

 

Sepiatone

 

I second Lionel for his body of work.     i.e. he was in many more film that I like than the other two.

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I think he would have been great as Rasputin, but he gives a darn good performance as the prince. He upstaged Lionel in that scene where Rasputin is blathering on about something and Jack has got his back to him and toying with his sword. And the end when the prince is trying his darnest to kill Rasputin. Wow!

Yes, Janet, I also get a kick out of that scene in which Jack toys with his sword, stealing all the attention from Lionel who has the lion's share of dialogue.

 

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Lydecker,

 

I think the thread should be about appreciating all the Barrymores-- because what's happening is it's becoming a pro-John Barrymore thread or a pro-Lionel Barrymore thread; and thus, a potentially divisive discussion.

 

Maybe you can change the thread title to reflect an appreciation of the entire family, instead of favorite members...?  Also, the way the title is written now in its current form, it does bash Drew (which seems unnecessary).
 
Just a suggestion. It's a good topic. :)
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While I've made it apparent who was my favourite of the Barrymores, I also think that Lionel, at his best, could be great fun to watch.

 

My two favourite Lionel performances are probably in Grand Hotel and On Borrowed Time. I really enjoy watching him in Duel in the Sun, as well.

 

Ethel is a tougher performer for me to get excited about. However, an eerie scene she has in The Spiral Staircase, stays with me. That's the one in which, while bed ridden, she is talking about having once seen a man standing still beside a tree at night. "As a girl walked past, the tree moved," she says in an electrifying, incredibly tense, closeup, signifying her witnessing a murder of the girl by a psychopath.

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Lydecker,

 

I think the thread should be about appreciating all the Barrymores-- because what's happening is it's becoming a pro-John Barrymore thread or a pro-Lionel Barrymore thread; and thus, a potentially divisive discussion.

 

Maybe you can change the thread title to reflect an appreciation of the entire family, instead of favorite members...?  Also, the way the title is written now in its current form, it does bash Drew (which seems unnecessary).
 
Just a suggestion. It's a good topic. :)

 

 

Oh, for the love of...

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While I've made it apparent who was my favourite of the Barrymores, I also think that Lionel, at his best, could be great fun to watch.

 

My two favourite Lionel performances are probably in Grand Hotel and On Borrowed Time. I really enjoy watching him in Duel in the Sun, as well.

 

Ethel is a tougher performer for me to get excited about. However, an eerie scene she has in The Spiral Staircase, stays with me. That's the one in which, while bed ridden, she is talking about having once seen a man standing still beside a tree at night. "As a girl walked past, the tree moved," she says in an electrifying, incredibly tense, closeup, signifying her witnessing a murder of the girl by a psychopath.

Good post.

 

I like JB when he's not on a tear (especially with children). The JB film I like best, which nobody else likes, is the one he made with Kay Kyser near the end: PLAYMATES. I love his interactions with Patsy Kelly in that film...and I feel it's a very knowing commentary about himself, more than Fox's THE GREAT PROFILE. JB is sort of subverting the dialogue with his mannerisms and truly having a big laugh at himself.

 

As for Ethel-- I love her-- but-- I think she was often typecast in movies during the 40s and 50s. I'm curious about her stage work and possible radio work. She really doesn't get to play a great range in her films, though I believe her version of KIND LADY is quite good.

 

I mentioned my admiration for Lionel and Diana in a previous post. 

 

I do like John Drew (especially in QUEBEC and THE BIG NIGHT)...and Drew (in some of her films, not all of them). It's a talented family all around. I am wondering if Drew's kids will be actors, too...? Probably.

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I like John when he's not on a tear (on screen and off, especially with children). The JB film I like best, which nobody else likes, is the one he made with Kay Kyser near the end. I love his interactions with Patsy Kelly in that film...and I feel it's a very knowing commentary about himself, more than Fox's THE GREAT PROFILE. JB is sort of subverting the dialogue with his mannerisms and truly having a big laugh at himself.

 

 

Yeh, you're talking about Playmates, Jack's last film. I'll say one thing for him, grotesque R-rolling self parody that it is, at least he's not boring doing it.

 

But that kind of performance is a sad commentary on what his life had become at the end because parodying himself as a drunken ham (on radio, as well as in films) sold with audiences looking for a laugh. He acted like he was in on the joke with them.

 

Orson Welles, a Barrymore admirer, got to know him to some degree in his final years. He later said that John knew he was embarrassing his family and friends by his antics both on and off screen. Welles speculated that when Barrymore acted like it was all a great joke to him (his ham act) he was, in fact, giving a great performance to cover up his own pain at what he had become.

 

There's a poignant moment in the film version of Barrymore, as magnificently played by Christopher Plummer. All through the film Plummer as Barrymore is laughing and ribald and singing and acting as if everything is a grand joke. But there's a great scene towards the end in which Plummer lies on the floor and says to himself, words to the effect, "Oh God, I've p i s s e d it all away. And there's no one to help me." He weeps and looks like a man staring into the abyss.

 

A minute or two later, having regained his composure, Plummer as Barrymore is singing and joking to himself and acting like it's all one drunken party. But for a moment, that "Oh God, I've p i s s e d it all away" moment, Plummer lets us glimpse what he believes was the real John Barrymore at the end of his life.

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Yeh, you're talking about Playmates, Jack's last film. I'll say one thing for him, grotesque R-rolling self parody that it is, at least he's not boring doing it.

 

But that kind of performance is a sad commentary on what his life had become at the end because parodying himself as a drunken ham (on radio, as well as in films) sold with audiences looking for a laugh. He acted like he was in on the joke with them.

 

Yes, PLAYMATES. I had a temporary brain freeze and needed to look it up (I went back and inserted the title in my earlier post for clarity). 

 

I will admit I did not like PLAYMATES the first time I watched it. I couldn't tell if the focus was supposed to be on JB or on Kyser-- and I also shuddered at how unkempt and strange JB looked, as well as acted. But when I watched it a second time, it occurred to me how brilliant JB's performance is in it. I think pickled brain and all, there is a deep intelligence that is able to self-satirize and find merriment where others much more serious cannot find it. So on that note, I think he's victorious and it really is a fun performance. But it works in large part because you get these deadpan reactions from Patsy Kelly, and it's clear she cares about him, mothering him almost. Kyser's musical numbers provide the frosting on the proverbial cinematic cake.

 

I have PLAYMATES on a disc called 'Good Sports' because I feel JB is quite the good sport, giving this cheeky performance.

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  Also, the way the title is written now in its current form, it does bash Drew (which seems unnecessary).

 
 

 

I had every intention of bashing Drew while saluting her illustrious ancestors.  Clearly, I succeeded.

 

Lydecker

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I had every intention of bashing Drew while saluting her illustrious ancestors.  Clearly, I succeeded.

 

But Drew is a much better actor than her ancestors, so your bash isn't really successful at all - it's a misfire.

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I had every intention of bashing Drew while saluting her illustrious ancestors.  Clearly, I succeeded.

 

Lydecker

 

Hey lydecker, and speaking of Drew and her illustrious ancestors...

 

Betcha didn't know that when Drew flashed her breasts at Dave Letterman on his show that time, she was just following an old Barrymore family tradition.

 

Uh-huh...yep! Word is in the mid-'50s her then 75 year old great aunt Ethel once did the same thing to Arthur Godfrey on HIS show, but somehow the kinescope of it has been lost to history. ;)

 

(...not that anybody would ever like to see it, of course!) 

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Bravo!  To even put Drew in the running would be hopeless...

 

As to the initial question, I think I'd have to side with Lionel.  A large body of work.  The ability to play both good and evil. (how many people can pull that off?)  And just a wonderful persona.... And while it shouldn't matter, his ability to act while sitting in a wheelchair for much of his later career is more than most actors could manage!

 

I do like them all though,  and John had a style all his own, though he didn't "age well." That said, his likable portrayal vs. his brother, "Mr. Kringelein," in "Grand Hotel" stays with me, as does his turn in "Arsene Lupin."

 

And though Ethel did fewer films overall, her performances also made an impact, including her delicate, knowing turn in "A Portrait of Jennie" and a totally different performance in "The Spiral Staircase." 

 

At the end of the day, it's a very difficult call!

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I understand Godfrey immediately ran out and got a vasectomy after that.

 

OH, so you've heard the story TOO, have ya dark?!

 

Yeah, and so then you probably ALSO have heard that while rushing to the doctors to get that vasectomy, Julian La Rosa accidentally ran into Godfrey causing him to fall down, which then adding injury to insult, further inflamed Godfrey and thus the TRUE reason for Julius' abrupt firing from the Godfrey show!

 

Yep, that whole thing about La Rosa hiring a manager being the reason for his dismissal was just your usual show business whitewashing of historical facts. Yep, Ethel Barrymore was the REAL, though admittedly indirect, cause of all that!

 

(...but then again, you probably already knew all this too, didn't ya) ;)

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