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Performances that Surprised You


speedracer5
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Many actors have their breakthrough role, the role that ruined their careers, the against-type role, the miscast role, etc.

 

There are some performances where you go into the movie wondering if that person can pull it off and are pleasantly surprised when they do... and not surprised when it's apparent that they're over their head.  There are also other performances where you're enthralled at a person's outward appearance because they look so much better or worse than they usually do in their other films.

 

I'll give two of my examples:

 

In Five Came Back, I was surprised at how well Lucille Ball performed her dramatic role.  Perhaps the reason I was surprised was because this was the first dramatic role I had seen Ball in.  I had not yet seen her in The Big Street.  Anyway, in Five Came Back, I found that Ball was very effective as one of the castaways vying for one of the spots on the plane.  She also undertook a caregiver role to make sure that the young boy, Tommy, was taken care of. 

 

My other example is What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?  I was surprised at how insane Bette Davis looked.  While I'm fully aware that Davis wasn't known for aging gracefully...(I think she truly last looked her best in All About Eve) she looked absolutely batshit insane in this film--which I know was partly the point, but I was surprised at how bad she'd allow herself to look just to bring Baby Jane to life.  She was so haggard and unattractive, it was hard to believe that she was also Margo Channing from just twelve years prior. 

 

How about you? What performances surprised you in how good someone was (or on the flipside, how much they sucked), how terrible they looked (or how good), a new talent they exhibited, etc. ?

 

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Great idea for a thread, speedy.  I like this.  Carry on.  LOL

 

Seeing De Niro in 1973 in his breakthrough role in Mean Streets comes to mind for me.  It took me by surprise.  Somewhere in the middle of the film I remember thinking "who is this guy" as I was completely absorbed by his performance as Johnny Boy.

 

He so amazed me in that film that I recall consciously looking for his name in the closing credits.  At that point in 1973, I didn't know if this was just a one-off fabulous performance by a relatively unknown actor, or not.  But thankfully, it wasn't.  De Niro proved to be a huge talent.

 

Somewhere along the line though, he has consciously decided to reign in the emotion that we saw in Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter and most notably Raging Bull.

 

Someone else wrote of Brando doing the same thing.  Reigning in the emotion after the wrenching performance in Last Tango In Paris.

 

May this thread live long and prosper.

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Another one of I can think of involves dear old Errol Flynn.  I had seen The Adventures of Robin Hood many times. Even Three Sisters and Thank Your Lucky Stars.

But I was equally impressed when I finally caught his performance in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1957) as drunken Mike Campbell.  He played the same sort of role in John Huston's The Roots of Heaven (1958) but I thought he was much more self-conscious in that film and somehow less effective.

You can't help think about Errol's own alcohol problems when watching these last two films.

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Another one of I can think of involves dear old Errol Flynn.  I had seen The Adventures of Robin Hood many times. Even Three Sisters and Thank Your Lucky Stars.

But I was equally impressed when I finally caught his performance in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1957) as drunken Mike Campbell.  He played the same sort of role in John Huston's The Roots of Heaven (1958) but I thought he was much more self-conscious in that film and somehow less effective.

You can't help think about Errol's own alcohol problems when watching these last two films.

I just got The Sun Also Rises (it was $5 used and ended up being free after an in-store sale, lol) but haven't watched it yet.  I've heard that Flynn and Eddie Albert are the highlights of the film, but I've been afraid (or timid? there isn't actual deep-seated fear) to watch this, because I don't know if I can bear seeing my beloved Errol Flynn not only near the end of his life but looking much worse for the wear.  I do want to watch the film though, I'll just need to buck up and watch it.  I finally saw him in Too Much Too Soon and thought he was really good as John Barrymore.  Although, after his part in the film was over, I kind of lost interest in the film, lol.

 

I was surprised when I saw Flynn's parts in Thank Your Lucky Stars and The Sisters.  In the former, I was so excited to see Flynn in a musical and doing a musical part (cough cough Bogart cough cough, lol).  I love musicals and to see my boyfriend singing and dancing was the highlight of the film for me, lol.  In The Sisters was surprised that Flynn was able to bring such a vulnerability to his character, Frank Medlin.  While his charm and good looks were still in full swing, that wasn't enough to make him happy.  He had a wife (Bette Davis) that he deeply loved and was very depressed when he couldn't give her the life he felt she was entitled to.  I thought he was especially good in the scene where Davis is leaving for work and his pride is wounded.  At first my schoolgirl crush side marveled at how good he looked just waking up... but after I got past that, I thought he was great in conveying support for his wife but also demonstrating how depressed and hurt he was that she was forced to work to support the family and he was failing.  Flynn was a much better actor than he was given credit for.

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I just got The Sun Also Rises (it was $5 used and ended up being free after an in-store sale, lol) but haven't watched it yet.  I've heard that Flynn and Eddie Albert are the highlights of the film, but I've been afraid (or timid? there isn't actual deep-seated fear) to watch this, because I don't know if I can bear seeing my beloved Errol Flynn not only near the end of his life but looking much worse for the wear.  I do want to watch the film though, I'll just need to buck up and watch it.  I finally saw him in Too Much Too Soon and thought he was really good as John Barrymore.  Although, after his part in the film was over, I kind of lost interest in the film, lol.

 

Speedracer, if you've already seen Too Much Too Soon and liked Flynn in that, you have no reason to be afraid of Sun Also Rises.

 

The Barrymore film is a sadder affair, and Flynn shows the darker side of alcoholism in one scene in it.

 

Sun Also Rises has Flynn showing the various sides of an alcoholic, and he's marvelous at it though at the time he dismissed his own performance by saying he was playing himself.

 

Unlike the Barrymore film, Flynn's character has some drunken fun in SAR during the running of the bulls sequence. In contrast to that, there is also the vulnerability and loneliness that he has the opportunity to convey in a bedroom scene. Flynn get fourth billing in the film but, like Too Much Too Soon, he walks away with the movie. He gives a touching performance, and it was the only time in his career that there were rumblings of an Oscar nomination. That didn't happen, of course, but that takes nothing away from his portrayal.

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Well, seein' as how you've brought this up here, Speedy. I've always wanted to ask the following...

 

What's a nice man like THIS doin' in a movie like THAT?...

 

 

henry-fonda-once-upon-a-time-in-the-west

 

Doin' very well, actually!

 

I'll never forget the first time I watched this usual "Ah shucks" Every-Man" gun down that poor little kid and at first think I'm not sure I'm gonna believe him in that role, but then after the movie was over being surprised how well Hank pulled it off.

 

(...but then of course, this one is a pretty easy pick, as this role being played by this actor is pretty much considered by many as a prime example of your thread's premise...I'll see if I can think of another and maybe less obvious one later)

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Well I'm going to say Tyrone Power in Nightmare Alley just to beat everyone else to the punch.

 

But I really want to give my selection some though so I don't just provide an 'out of character' type of reply (since that topic was covered a while back in another thread).

 

  

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I'm going to list two performances from actors I've never cared much for, and the unusual thing is that the performances were at the beginning of their careers, indicating promise that IMO was never fulfilled.

 

I've always found Robert Redford to be the epitome of the bland blond pretty boy -- "Throw a stick in Malibu" the Hollywood saying goes, "and you'll hit a hundred of him". Somehow Redford seemed to get even duller as he got older. His boring presence has come close to ruining some otherwise good films, notably The Hot Rock.

 

So you can imagine my shock when about 10 years ago I saw him in the TV production of The Iceman Cometh (1960) and at the age of 24 he gave a fine performance as the confused young red-diaper baby. In many ways he's just as effective as Jeff Bridges in the 1973 version (the '60 has Jason Robards recreating his legendary stage triumph as Hickey -- his final soliloquy is a tour de force --  but a miscast Larry in Myron McCormick. If only Robards could have teamed up in the '73 with Robert Ryan).

 

My other selection concerns an actor who is probably admired by many on here: Albert Finney.

 

As for me, I've always found Finney to be off in just about everything. He never seems to tone it down when necessary. Some consider his Poirot definitive -- I found it irritatingly hammy. His acclaimed performance in Under The Volcano was the same. Finney is hammy in the bad sense -- mannered instead of entertaingly over the top.

 

So I was surprised when I finally saw his breakthrough film, Saturday Night And Sunday Morning (1960). He manages to keep his theatricality under control, and while he is never quite believable as a North Country working man, but he does give it a respectable try.

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Off the top of my head, Marilyn Monroe in "Don't Bother to Knock".

 

That is a very good selection and one I can relate to.   The first time I saw this film I was surprised by her performance since it was so much different then the other performances I had seen her in.  

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Well, seein' as how you've brought this up here, Speedy. I've always wanted to ask the following...

 

What's a nice man like THIS doin' in a movie like THAT?...

 

 

henry-fonda-once-upon-a-time-in-the-west

 

Doin' very well, actually!

 

I'll never forget the first time I watched this usual "Ah shucks" Every-Man" gun down that poor little kid and at first think I'm not sure I'm gonna believe him in that role, but then after the movie was over being surprised how well Hank pulled it off.

 

(...but then of course, this one is a pretty easy pick, as this role being played by this actor is pretty much considered by many as a prime example of your thread's premise...I'll see if I can think of another and maybe less obvious one later)

 

Darg, the first time I saw Once Upon a Time in the West I didn't even realize at first that it was Henry Fonda. I just couldn't believe it. (Obviously I hadn't read much about the film.) Talk about being surprised !

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Darg, the first time I saw Once Upon a Time in the West I didn't even realize at first that it was Henry Fonda. I just couldn't believe it. (Obviously I hadn't read much about the film.) Talk about being surprised !

I heard (I think in the Fonda on Fonda documentary that was on last month) that in this film, Fonda really wanted to play up the bad guy angle of his character.  From the sounds of it, it sounded like he was really looking forward to playing a character that was so unlike the ones he'd played previously.  On the first day of shooting, Fonda showed up to the set wearing brown contact lenses.  The director asked Fonda what was up with his contacts and Fonda stated that he thought a bad guy should have dark colored irises.  He thought his bright blue eyes would undermine the idea that his character was supposed to be the villain.  The director countered by saying that the bright blue eyes would make Fonda's character look even more dangerous.  Fonda acquiesced to the director's desire and removed the brown contacts.  I'd have to agree with the director.  The piercing blue eyes seem a little more sinister coming from a villain.

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Jim Varney in 'The Beverly Hillbillies' (1993).

 

Seriously.

 

When I watched it with my kid back in the day, I was expecting a typical "Ernest" zaniness to be present in his performance.

 

But he played the part straight - with reserve and dignity. I was pleased by his rendition of Jed.

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The first time I saw THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, I thought, through the first 45 minutes or so of it that  it was nothing more than a typical JACK LEMMON movie.  Which too, I didn't see anything wrong in that.  But when his alcoholic struggle got darker, I saw a more consumate actor emerge.

 

And that scene in the padded cell still  mesmerizes me!  His eyes when the sedative starts taking effect speaks volumes.

 

 

Sepiatone

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I've mentioned this before but Fay Wray in The Affairs of Cellini (1934) was a complete revelation to me.  She is hilarious.  Fredric March is trying to have his way with her throughout the film and she just comes out with these innocent zingers that stop him in his tracks.  Very funny stuff and well written.

It's the type of character who is not supposed to be too smart but her observations somehow are bang on the money.  Monroe was good at doing that sort of thing in Seven Year Itch.

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The first time I saw THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, I thought, through the first 45 minutes or so of it that  it was nothing more than a typical JACK LEMMON movie.  Which too, I didn't see anything wrong in that.  But when his alcoholic struggle got darker, I saw a more consumate actor emerge.

 

And that scene in the padded cell still  mesmerizes me!  His eyes when the sedative starts taking effect speaks volumes.

 

 

Sepiatone

Thanks for the recommendation Sepiatone! This film is on TCM later this week.  I'm a fan of Lemmon and haven't seen this one yet.  It'd be nice to see a different side of Lemmon. 

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Yes, Jack Lemmon plays the role of the alcoholic in THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES very well as does Lee Remick. 

The scene where he's  searching for the bottle he'd hidden in  one of the pots is one that really struck me.

 

But seeing this movie once was enough for me.

 

Knowing people in real life who've suffered from substance abuse issues, the movie hit too close to home.   

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I was really impressed by Gong Li when I saw Raise the Red Lantern, a 1991 film by Zhang Yimou.

Of course, the imdb has their names as Li Gong and Yimou Zhang.  I see the Chinese names displayed both ways.

 

After Red Lantern I saw two of her earlier films, Red Sorghum (1987) and Ju Dou (1990) which are also well worth seeing.  And she went on to make a number of other good films.

 

But she plays a complex character in Red Lantern.  She arrives as a newlywed at a rich man's estate only to find that she is one wife of many.  She joins in the rivalry for the husband's attention and in fact is just as cruel as her competition.

 

It is a beautiful film with great performances all round.

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Paprika Steen.  A Danish actress born in 1964.  It is only in the last few years that I have seen several films that she is in and had to take notice of.   They were in supporting roles.

 

The first was in Thomas Vinterberg's 1998 film, Festen, or The Celebration.  The film itself is about a family reunion on an estate where the patriarch is celebrating his 60th birthday.  One of the black sheep of the family chooses this occasion to reveal that Pop molested them as kids.  It has some very good black humour in it.

 

The second Paprika Steen film that she excelled in was Open Hearts, a 2002 film by Susanne Bier.  Steen plays a woman who has seriously injured someone in an automobile accident.  And in a bizarre turn of events her own husband gets romantically involved with the victim's spouse.

 

Steen gave two very good performances in these films.  They surprised me as previously I didn't even know who she was.

 

And for me, these two supporting performances were the best given by an actress in these two years.  

 

 

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Jay C. Flippen, who plays Henry "T-Dub" Mansfield in They Live By Night (1940).  Flippen was always someone I never really took much notice of until I saw him in this Nicolas Ray film.  He had a really great edge in this film.  

Farley Granger  and Cathy O'Donnell star.

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Jay C. Flippen, who plays Henry "T-Dub" Mansfield in They Live By Night (1940).  Flippen was always someone I never really took much notice of until I saw him in this Nicolas Ray film.  He had a really great edge in this film.  

Farley Granger  and Cathy O'Donnell star.

 

Although Robert Altman's THIEVES LIKE US (1974)  is truer to the source material, I prefer THEY LIVE BY NIGHT, which actually surprised me because I love movies from the early 1970s.

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