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Underrated Gems in Someone's Filmography


speedracer5
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Having had to get up at 5am to be at work at 6am to do Inventory Control, I've had a lot of free time this morning.  Between working for money and spending said money on stuff to fix up my house, I haven't had much time to watch any movies lately.  I may have some time this weekend to watch something, so I was thinking about what I wanted to watch.  

 

...Which brings me to this thread topic that I thought would be fun for discussion:

 

Many actors (and directors for that matter and probably other credited behind the scenes movie personnel, hence the "someone" in my thread title) have their big hit(s), the role for which they'll forever be known for and no matter what else they did in their movie career, they'll always be known for that one role, for that one film (or in a few cases, multiple roles and films):

 

Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca

Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund in Casablanca

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind

 

...just to name a few examples.

 

However, many of these people have a ton of great films in their filmographies that have been overshadowed or overlooked as a result of their big role.  

 

What are some of your favorite more underrated or lesser known films in someone's career? Something that would be worth watching, even for someone who might be unfamiliar with a person's work either entirely or outside of that one role?

 

I'll go with my two examples that I can think of right off the bat in my sleep deprived state:

 

Errol Flynn.  Forever known as Robin Hood in The Adventures in Robin Hood and to a slightly lesser extent as Peter Blood in Captain Blood, he has a lot of great films on his roster.  While frequently dismissed as a lightweight actor with a pretty face, he has a filmography that any actor would be proud to have.  While I enjoy 'Robin Hood' and 'Captain Blood', there's another film of his that I think is worth a look and I believe is airing on TCM soon: Uncertain Glory.  

 

In this film, Flynn plays a Frenchman, convicted of murder.  Flynn manages to escape right before his execution.  After seeking out the help of an acquaintance (to get new clothes, steal a few kisses with his friend's girl--Flynn moves fast, lol, and possibly leave town), he ends up being captured.  Now handcuffed to Paul Lukas, enroute back to prison and certain death, he and Lukas learn that some saboteurs have blown up a bridge and that the Germans have taken 100 people hostage.  Flynn offers to pose as one of the saboteurs in order to save the hostages.    

 

This is a wonderful film.  It's a departure for Flynn in the sense that he's playing a criminal, in the production code era, he's a "bad guy." However, his character is redeemed slightly in that he's willing to put himself on the line to save the 100 hostages.  However, he plays his character with a great sense of ambiguity, that you're not sure if he's truly sincere in wanting to sacrifice himself to save the innocent hostages or whether this is all a ploy to escape.  His usual charm is in full force, but it's a different type of role for him and a fun one to watch.

 

Another example I have is a film of Judy Garland's, The Clock.

 

Garland will forever be synonymous with Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz, but she made a lot of great films, many of which are musicals.  While I enjoy her big musicals like Meet Me in St. Louis and Easter Parade, Garland has proven time and time again, that she was more than just a great singing voice.  She was a capable actress and could perform more than the sweet, singing teenager role.

 

We've spoken about The Clock quite a few times, but I'm going to bring it up again.  Garland, primarily known for musicals, made this sweet romantic film about a marine on leave who meets a girl while exploring the city.  They "click" and fall in love in a whirlwind relationship and decide to marry.  Most of the film is a race against the clock trying to get through all the red tape to be able to marry or seeing who will waive the normal wait times and tests.  Garland doesn't sing.  There's no Technicolor or high production values.  It's simply a sweet romantic black and white film.  Directed by Vincente Minnelli, it's definitely among his and Garland's best film collaborations.

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I believe that another Errol Flynn that clearly qualifies as underrated, Speedracer, is Silver River. In fact, it's a bit of a cousin to your choice of Uncertain Glory inamuch as both films have Flynn being directed by Raoul Walsh as he explores the darker side of a character. I think his French murderer scoundrel in Uncertain Glory was the darkest character of his career but Silver River is not far behind.

 

The film is also distinguished by a superior supporting cast, with both Ann Sheridan and Thomas Mitchell as standouts. If the film's ending is weak and seems rushed, that still doesn't detract from the film's previous strongly written and played scenes about an ambitious empire builder trampling over everyone in his quest for riches and power in the American West.

 

It's a somewhat unique film in the Flynn canon, too, since it's one of the few films in which the actor played a man emotionally vulnerable after a woman leaves him.

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Paul Muni is a guy probably best known for I Was A Fugitive from a Chain Gang and a lot of high profile films, but I really like him in The Last Angry Man his last role. He plays a doctor in a poor area of NYC who David Wayne tries to profile on a TV show, but Muni's character wants no part of it. It's a good film, very good. He was nominated for an Oscar for it but it rarely comes up when people talk about his roles.

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I like a lot of Errol Fynn's performances: The Sisters, The Sun Also Rises, The Dawn Patrol.  Another is in a film which wasn't very good - Thank Your Lucky Stars.  He was very good at playing himself in that one.

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I believe that another Errol Flynn that clearly qualifies as underrated, Speedracer, is Silver River. In fact, it's a bit of a cousin to your choice of Uncertain Glory inamuch as both films have Flynn being directed by Raoul Walsh as he explores the darker side of a character. I think his French murderer scoundrel in Uncertain Glory was the darkest character of his career but Silver River is not far behind.

 

The film is also distinguished by a superior supporting cast, with both Ann Sheridan and Thomas Mitchell as standouts. If the film's ending is weak and seems rushed, that still doesn't detract from the film's previous strong;y written and olayed scenes about an ambitious empire builder trampling over everyone in his quest for riches and power in the American West.

 

It's a somewhat unique film in the Flynn canon, too, since it's one of the few films in which the actor played a man emotional vulnerable after a woman leaves him.

I agree.  I really liked Silver River as well.  Although I believe that the ending was a little lackluster.  I wish that they had either started working toward that ending earlier in the film, or perhaps filmed a few extra scenes building up to the conclusion.  Silver River was quite a departure from Flynn's earlier Westerns like Dodge City and Virginia City.  He wasn't the young charmer fixing up the ruthless town.  Flynn's character in Silver River was really not a nice guy, but he wasn't an awful person, he was just selfish and in the beginning, I believe he was just mad because he was kicked out of the army (or some branch of military).  I really liked the casting of Ann Sheridan.  While I like Olivia de Havilland and enjoyed the 9 films they made together,  I really like when Flynn is cast against tougher women like Sheridan and Alexis Smith, just to name a couple.  I think it makes his characters even more interesting when he has to "work for" the girl instead of having her just swoon at his feet. 

 

It's a shame that audiences wouldn't accept Flynn outside his usual persona.  I think starting with Uncertain Glory, then continuing with Silver River and That Forsyte Woman, Flynn was working toward expanding his versatility.  Had he taken better care of himself and been able to continue acting into the 60s and 70s (and maybe had been able to have better roles in the 50s) I think Flynn could have really developed into an interesting character actor, or even a more distinguished leading man type like Sean Connery did later in his career.  

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Paul Muni is a guy probably best known for I Was A Fugitive from a Chain Gang and a lot of high profile films, but I really like him in The Last Angry Man his last role. He plays a doctor in a poor area of NYC who David Wayne tries to profile on a TV show, but Muni's character wants no part of it. It's a good film, very good. He was nominated for an Oscar for it but it rarely comes up when people talk about his roles.

I first heard of Muni last year during his SUTS day, but I didn't watch any of his films.  I saw one of those little brief 2-minute spots that TCM creates in honor of someone and I did watch one on Muni.  I believe it mostly focused on 'Chain Gang.' Would you recommend his "best" film? And it looks like I should check out The Last Angry Man, I like the title, it sounds interesting.

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I like a lot of Errol Fynn's performances: The Sisters, The Sun Also Rises, The Dawn Patrol.  Another is in a film which wasn't very good - Thank Your Lucky Stars.  He was very good at playing himself in that one.

I really liked The Sisters.  It's another underrated film in not only Flynn's filmography, but co-star Bette Davis' too.  While this is obviously Davis' film, Flynn really shines in his role as n'er do well Frank Medlin.  Flynn got to show a more sensitive side.  With his charm and good looks in full swing, it is obvious why Davis' character would initially be attracted to him, even though, financially, he couldn't do anything for her.  While her sisters married for money and social status, Davis marries for love and for most of the film, is pitied by her family.  I like the emotion that Flynn brings to his character through his pride when his wife goes to work to support the family, the drama when he's on the steamship leaving Davis and San Francisco behind and he hears about the Great Earthquake and is practically ready to swim across the ocean to get back to her.  The end of the film, when he returns to Davis' hometown after two years and longingly watches her dance from up on the stairwell.  It is a very sweet film and a nice departure for both Flynn and Davis. 

 

Thank Your Lucky Stars is definitely not the best musical by any means, some of the performances are awful (de Havilland and Lupino, I'm looking at you) but Flynn's is one of the highlights.  He showed a knack for comedy, singing and even some light dancing.  While he was no Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire by any means, he showed that he could learn some choreography and handle singing an easy ditty.  He even did it in a Cockney accent, which wasn't that bad.   

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I first heard of Muni last year during his SUTS day, but I didn't watch any of his films.  I saw one of those little brief 2-minute spots that TCM creates in honor of someone and I did watch one on Muni.  I believe it mostly focused on 'Chain Gang.' Would you recommend his "best" film? And it looks like I should check out The Last Angry Man, I like the title, it sounds interesting.

He's a favorite of mine but he could be over the top on occasion. The films I like are

 

The Valiant (1929)

Scarface (1932)

I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

The World Changes (1933)

Hi, Nellie (1934)

Bordertown (1935)

Black Fury (1935)

The Good Earth (1937)

The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

Commados Strike at Dawn (1942)

 

He won an Oscar for The Story of Louis Pasteur but it's a pretty straight forward biography and I guess if you like stories about groundbreaking medical advances! it's okay. It's kind of boring to me. He's also in Juarez but even though he plays the title character! he's hardly in it. Bette Davis and John Garfield have the showier roles in that movie. Angel on my Shoulder is alright but not one of my favorites. He's downright hammy in A Song to Remember and I would never recommend that movie to anyone. It's pretty bad.

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He's a favorite of mine but he could be over the top on occasion. The films I like are

 

The Valiant (1929)

Scarface (1932)

I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

The World Changes (1933)

Hi, Nellie (1934)

Bordertown (1935)

Black Fury (1935)

The Good Earth (1937)

The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

Commados Strike at Dawn (1942)

 

He won an Oscar for The Story of Louis Pasteur but it's a pretty straight forward biography and I guess if you like stories about groundbreaking medical advances! it's okay. It's kind of boring to me. He's also in Juarez but even though he plays the title character! he's hardly in it. Bette Davis and John Garfield have the showier roles in that movie. Angel on my Shoulder is alright but not one of my favorites. He's downright hammy in A Song to Remember and I would never recommend that movie to anyone. It's pretty bad.

Thanks HelenBaby for the recommendations.  I will definitely look out for some of these films, especially Bordertown.  I've heard alot about it from the They Drive by Night thread.  I would probably watch A Song to Remember just to see how bad it is.  Lol.

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Don't get me started.  But limiting it to some of my all-time favorites that have generally slipped under the radar, at least outside the off-hours of TCM....

 

Wallace Beery:  Beggars of Life

 

Humphrey Bogart:  Dead Reckoning (also Lizabeth Scott's)

 

James Cagney:  These Wilder Years

 

Lon Chaney:  The Penalty

 

Montgomery Clift:  The Search

 

Claudette Colbert:  Three Came Home

 

Ricardo Cortez:  Symphony of Six Million

 

Joseph Cotten:  A Blueprint For Murder

 

Joan Crawford:  Strait-Jacket

 

Bette Davis:  Fog Over Frisco

 

Kirk Douglas:  Town Without Pity

 

Glenda Farrell:  Girl Missing

 

Glenn Ford:  Framed

 

Clark Gable: The Hucksters

 

Judy Garland:  I Could Go On Singing

 

Gloria Grahame:  The Glass Wall

 

Sterling Hayden:  Hard Contract

 

Susan Hayward:  I Can Get It For You Wholesale

 

Rita Hayworth:  The Money Trap

 

Miriam Hopkins: The Story of Temple Drake

 

Walter Huston:  Night Court

 

Burt Lancaster:  The Swimmer

 

Charles Laughton:  The Clock

 

Janet Leigh:  The Naked Spur

 

Myrna Loy:  Penthouse

 

Ida Lupino:  Road House

 

Fred MacMurray:  Pushover

 

Ray Milland: Hostile Witness

 

Paul Muni:  Hi, Nellie!

 

Kim Novak: The Middle of the Night

 

Al Pacino:  The Panic in Needle Park

 

Vincent Price:  The Baron of Arizona

 

George Raft:  Red Light

 

Edward G. Robinson:  All My Sons

 

Rosalind Russell: Roughly Speaking

 

Robert Ryan:  House of Bamboo

 

George Sanders:  The Whole Truth

 

Lizabeth Scott:  Dead Reckoning (also Humphrey Bogart's)

 

Zachary Scott:  Whiplash

 

Norma Shearer:  A Lady of Chance

 

Ann Sheridan:  Nora Prentiss

 

Anne Shirley:  Boy Slaves

 

Barbara Stanwyck:  So Big

 

Robert Taylor: The Power and the Prize

 

Spencer Tracy:  They Gave Him a Gun

 

Lana Turner:  Homecoming

 

Orson Welles:  Trent's Last Case

 

Richard Widmark:  Time Limit

 

Loretta Young:  Zoo in Budapest

 

Robert Young:  They Won't Believe Me

 

The beauty of these films for me is that I'd never even heard of about 80% of them before being hooked on TCM.  I think about this every time I feel like complaining about their schedule.

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I like a lot of Errol Fynn's performances: The Sisters, The Sun Also Rises, The Dawn Patrol.  Another is in a film which wasn't very good - Thank Your Lucky Stars.  He was very good at playing himself in that one.

I think Flynn's amusing spoof of himself as a war hero is the best thing in Thank Your Lucky Stars. He not only demonstrates considerable charm but has a serviceable singing voice and a few dance steps, performing the "That's What You Jolly Well Get" number with a decided wink in the eye. He exuded the nonchalant air of a man without a care in the world at a time when both his life and career were on the line with a statutory rape trial.

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I am a huge fan of The Clock- that was the second Judy Garland film I saw. 

 

Underrated gems (trying to list): 

 

Norma Shearer: Marie Antoinette

 

Greer Garson: Blossoms in the Dust

 

Katharine Hepburn: The Sea of Grass

 

Bette Davis: Watch On The Rhine

 

Barbara Stanwyck: Meet John Doe

 

Lena Horne: The Duke Is Tops

 

Dorothy Dandridge: The Decks Ran Red

 

I have more, but I will have to think more on them as I cannot pull them out of my head at the moment. 

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Henry Fonda has several iconic performances for which he is remembered. Imho, he should've won the Oscar for THE GRAPES OF WRATH, instead of his friend James Stewart; it was widely believed Jimmy got it as a consolation prize for not getting it for MR. SMITH the year before.

 

Anyway, Fonda always hated the fact that Darryl F. Zanuck got him to sign a long term contract with 20th Century Fox by dangling GRAPES in front of him; previously, he had worked often at that studio, but on a freelance basis. He felt he was forced to do a lot of c r a p p y movies under that 7 year indenture, and when compared with the roles he is best known during this period, the aforementioned TGOW, THE LADY EVE, THE OXBOW INCIDENT, or MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, they are.much less distinguished, definitely less celebrated. But none of them are that bad.

 

In 1940, Fonda.starred in two big budget Technicolor films: THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES and CHAD HANNA. Both are very good, IMO. FRANK JAMES is a sequel to the previous year's huge hit, JESSE JAMES. This time, the surviving brother is hiding out, but recognized by newspaperwoman Gene Tierney (in her film debut). It is nearly as good as JJ, with Fritz Lang's direction as notable as Henry King's in the earlier film. King directed CHAD HANNA, where small town canal hand Chad follows circus rider Dorothy Lamour to the big top. Both he and Linda Darnell end up joining the small outfit traveling in 1840s Upstate New York. Colorful and leisurely, it is enjoyable even in it's deliberate pace.

 

He did two late screwball comedies: RINGS ON HER FINGERS, and THE MAGNIFICENT DOPE, both 1942. In the former, Gene Tierney is hired by Laird Cregar and Spring Byington to romance and fleece millionaire bachelor Fonda. In the latter, it is Don Ameche and Edward Everett Horton trying to get Fonda, as the winner of their "World's Laziest Man" contest to promote their "Be a Success" course, with Ameche's fiancée Lynn Bari as the bait. Both are very enjoyable romantic comedies.

 

Fonda didn't like these movies, usually because he resented always being cast as a small town rube. But they are all pleasurable in themselves, and I would recommend them to classic film fans wholeheartedly.

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Song and Dance man Van Johnson in 1951's GO FOR BROKE.

 

Based on real events, he plays a WWII U.S. Army officer assigned against his will to train and command a unit of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team consisting of Japanese-American volunteers who have enlisted despite them and their families being relocated to camps and treated by their government as "suspect".

 

I always thought Johnson portrayed his role very well as a man who eventually comes around to respect and admire the men under his command.

 

(...as many of you may already know, the 442nd was the most highly decorated U.S. Army combat unit during that conflict...during my school years in the Los Angeles area in the 1960s, I had two classmates who's fathers fought in that unit)

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Song and Dance man Van Johnson in 1951's GO FOR BROKE.

 

Based on real events, he plays a WWII U.S. Army officer assigned against his will to train and command a unit of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team consisting of Japanese-American volunteers who have enlisted despite them and their families being relocated to camps and treated by their government as "suspect".

 

I always thought Johnson portrayed his role very well as a man who eventually comes around to respect and admire the men under his command.

 

(...as many of you may already know, the 442nd was the most highly decorated U.S. Army combat unit during that conflict...during my school years in the Los Angeles area in the 1960s, I had two classmates who's fathers fought in that unit)

This sounds like a really good movie! For some reason, I never take Van Johnson seriously.  I really don't know why.  Maybe it's the type of films he appeared in or the type of persona he seems to have.  For example, in the remake of Libeled Lady, called Easy to Wed, Lucille Ball (in the Jean Harlow role) is easily the best thing about the film.  Van Johnson is in the William Powell role, and he does not bring any of the charm Powell did to the role.  

 

Maybe there's a different side to Johnson that I don't know about.  I did like his appearance playing himself in an episode of I Love Lucy.  He and Lucy must have been friends seeing that they appeared in many programs together during their respective careers.  

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I really liked The Sisters.  It's another underrated film in not only Flynn's filmography, but co-star Bette Davis' too.  While this is obviously Davis' film, Flynn really shines in his role as n'er do well Frank Medlin.  Flynn got to show a more sensitive side.  

 

I was just going to post about Flynn in The Sisters; then I saw your post. I agree -- it's an underrated film (an epic, really) with a great cast. It may be my favorite Flynn performance. And I think he looks better without his mustache!

 

Another lesser-known gem for me is History Is Made at Night, with Charles Boyer and Jean Arthur. Those two actors are much better known for other films; however, they are brilliant -- and have amazing chemistry -- in this underrated gem.

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This sounds like a really good movie! For some reason, I never take Van Johnson seriously.  I really don't know why.  Maybe it's the type of films he appeared in or the type of persona he seems to have.  For example, in the remake of Libeled Lady, called Easy to Wed, Lucille Ball (in the Jean Harlow role) is easily the best thing about the film.  Van Johnson is in the William Powell role, and he does not bring any of the charm Powell did to the role.  

 

Maybe there's a different side to Johnson that I don't know about.  I did like his appearance playing himself in an episode of I Love Lucy.  He and Lucy must have been friends seeing that they appeared in many programs together during their respective careers.  

 

I know Van Johnson is often considered by many as sort of a "lightweight" when it comes to his dramatic acting skills, Speedy, but I have to say the more I see of him in those kinds of roles the more I think he gets somewhat of an undeserved rap.

 

The seemingly under-appreciated film I just offered up as an example in your interestingly premised thread here is one of the reasons I feel as I do about the guy. I also have always thought he's very good in the better known films THE CAINE MUTINY, COMMAND DECISION and STATE OF THE UNION. In the latter two of these and while only in support of the main characters in them, I always thought he brought a wonderful sense of sly humor into the stories by delivering his lines effectively and believably.

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I was just going to post about Flynn in The Sisters; then I saw your post. I agree -- it's an underrated film (an epic, really) with a great cast. It may be my favorite Flynn performance. And I think he looks better without his mustache!

 

Another lesser-known gem for me is History Is Made at Night, with Charles Boyer and Jean Arthur. Those two actors are much better known for other films; however, they are brilliant -- and have amazing chemistry -- in this underrated gem.

The Sisters is a great film.  I think Flynn showed another side to his acting skills, I believe this film was either right before or right after The Adventures of Robin Hood.  It must have been different for him to not have to swing a sword or wear some type of period costume for once.  I like a majority of Flynn's films where he wears contemporary clothing.  In The Sisters, he demonstrated a real knack for drama.  I agree, I think he looks better without the mustache, although he makes the pencil mustache look pretty damn good.  Lol.  Not many men could carry off that look with as much panache as he did.  

 

I also really enjoy his performances in the comedies Four's a Crowd and Footsteps in the Dark.  While definitely not the greatest movies, I find them entertaining, although I find Olivia de Havilland and Patric Knowles' characters slightly annoying in the former.  Anyway, in both of these films, Flynn demonstrated comedic skills as well.  His impression of a "Texas accent" in Footsteps in the Dark is hilarious.   

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I know Van Johnson is often considered by many as sort of a "lightweight" when it comes to his dramatic acting skills, Speedy, but I have to say the more I see of him in those kinds of roles the more I think he gets somewhat of an undeserved rap.

 

The seemingly under-appreciated film I just offered up as an example in your interestingly premised thread here is one of the reasons I feel as I do about the guy. I also have always thought he's very good in the better known films THE CAINE MUTINY, COMMAND DECISION and STATE OF THE UNION. In the latter two of these and while only in support of the main characters in them, I always thought he brought a wonderful sense of sly humor into the stories by delivering his lines effectively and believably.

He's actually quite good in Battleground(1949) as the world weary guy who just wants to do what he wants to do & go home. But he steps up when he has to. I'm not a big fan of war films but this is a good one.

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I thought Alan Bates made one of the great film Claudius' in Franco Zefferili's Hamlet (1990).  That was the one with Mel Gibson.

Bates was a fantastic actor.  I wish I could have seen some of his stage work.  Swithin ....?

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He's actually quite good in Battleground(1949) as the world weary guy who just wants to do what he wants to do & go home. But he steps up when he has to. I'm not a big fan of war films but this is a good one.

 

Yep Helen, I agree. In fact and wouldn't ya say the whole cast of Wellman's film is excellent in it?!

 

(...and most especially perhaps James Whitmore?)

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I thought Alan Bates made one of the great film Claudius' in Franco Zefferili's Hamlet (1990).  That was the one with Mel Gibson.

Bates was a fantastic actor.  I wish I could have seen some of his stage work.  Swithin ....?

Bogie, you are quite right to assume I've seen Alan Bates on stage -- four times, if I remember correctly:

 

Life Class by David Storey

Otherwise Engaged by Simon Gray

Melon by Simon Gray

A Patriot for Me by John Osborne

 

I remember him most vividly in Otherwise Engaged and A Patriot for Me. The latter was one of the most memorable productions I've ever seen. It was later the basis for the movie, Colonel Redl. Bates was brilliant. Here's some information about that production:

 

http://alanbates.com/abarchive/stage/patriot.html

 

TCM showed Far From the Madding Crowd a few months ago. I'd never seen it. Bates and the scenery are the best things in it. I'm afraid I didn't much like Julie Christie or Terence Stamp. The film has just been remade, though I hear it's inferior to the 1967 version.

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One movie I don't recall anyone every mentioning is Three Wise Girls with Jean Harlow and Mae Clark.   GET-TV had this movie on yesterday and I enjoyed it.    This is a 1932 pre-code and while Harlow brings her sassy persona she also shows a subdued side of her persona,  which I also like.    So I call this an underrated gem since it isn't one of Harlow major pictures. 

 

 

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Henry Fonda: The Long Night (one of his three or four best performances; excellent film)

 

Ida Lupino: Deep Valley

 

Faye Emerson: The Mask of Dimitrios

 

Eleanor Parker: The Very Thought of You

 

Jean Simmons: Home Before Dark

 

Paulette Goddard: Diary of a Chambermaid

 

 

 

 

 

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