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Florence Bates films: Any recommendations?


DougieB
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I finally saw The Moon and Sixpence (1942), which TCM has shown a couple of times recently, and was really struck by Florence Bates in what seemed to be a somewhat uncharacteristic role. Now I'm wondering if it really was uncharacteristic, so I thought I'd ask for help. Primarily I'd known her as Rebecca's nasty, self-involved employer, a role she nailed so perfectly I'm sure it influenced what she was offered after that. But in The Moon and Sixpence she was a jovial, contented character who did a somewhat raucous hula and cried from happiness in a very convincing closeup. Truthfully, I hadn't expected that kind of range from her, so I was very pleasantly surprised. Often with character actors you don't realize how good they are at what they do until you see them do something different. In checking the data base I now realize I've seen a number of films she was in but I don't have a very clear memory of her in most of them. Do any of you have favorites you'd like to recommend, because I'd definitely like to see more of her?

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I think it's more that you have seen REBECCA (probably more than once) and audiences over-identify her with her part in REBECCA that it seems these are the only kinds of roles she would play. But the reality is that she was an actress who went to the beat of her own drum, and even if she was offered an abundance of those types of roles, she would still have only taken what appealed to her as an actress.

 

*****

 

sakallbates1a.jpg

She does a humorous bit opposite S.Z. Sakall in Warners' western SAN ANTONIO. That's where I first saw her.

 

Earlier she was in THE SON OF MONTE CRISTO as a countess.

 

She's fourth-billed in the noir THE SECOND WOMAN, starring Robert Young and Betsy Drake.

 

But my favorite role is where she plays Diana Lynn's adopted mother in TEXAS, BROOKLYN AND HEAVEN. She's very good, and she has considerable screen time. This film is available on Amazon Prime.

 

She also has a nice turn in I REMEMBER MAMA. And she's great fun to watch as Ann Rutherford's controlling mother in THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY.

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I think it's more that you have seen REBECCA (probably more than once) and audiences over-identify her with her part in REBECCA that it seems these are the only kinds of roles she would play. But the reality is that she was an actress who went to the beat of her own drum, and even if she was offered an abundance of those types of roles, she would still have only taken what appealed to her as an actress.

 

*****

 

sakallbates1a.jpg

She does a humorous bit opposite S.Z. Sakall in Warners' western SAN ANTONIO. That's where I first saw her.

 

Earlier she was in THE SON OF MONTE CRISTO as a countess.

 

She's fourth-billed in the noir THE SECOND WOMAN, starring Robert Young and Betsy Drake.

 

But my favorite role is where she plays Diana Lynn's adopted mother in TEXAS, BROOKLYN AND HEAVEN. She's very good, and she has considerable screen time. This film is available on Amazon Prime.

 

She also has a nice turn in I REMEMBER MAMA. And she's great fun to watch as Ann Rutherford's controlling mother in THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY.

I'm sure you're right that repeated viewings of Rebecca have solidified that image in my mind. I'm glad you mentioned I Remember Mama and really appreciate the other suggestions. I'll especially track down Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven, since I'm interested in Diana Lynn as well. Thanks for the detailed, quick response.

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I'm sure you're right that repeated viewings of Rebecca have solidified that image in my mind. I'm glad you mentioned I Remember Mama and really appreciate the other suggestions. I'll especially track down Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven, since I'm interested in Diana Lynn as well. Thanks for the detailed, quick response.

There are probably public domain copies of TEXAS, BROOKLYN AND HEAVEN in bargain bins at various discount stores or online. But if you can see the cleaned up copy on Amazon, you'll appreciate it more. She's wonderful in this picture, sort of a highly theatrical woman who takes Diana Lynn under her wing. They pretend to be mother and daughter so they can share a room at a boarding house run by three spinster sisters (Margaret Hamilton, Irene Ryan and Moyna Macgill). There are some hilarious scenes where Bates teaches the three repressed spinsters to play cards and let down their hair. 

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"Saratoga Trunk" (1946)--Florence Bates & Ingrid Bergman have a nice long comedy scene about halfway into the film.  

Thanks. I'll get to that one too. (I love Ingrid in comedy; Indiscreet is a favorite.) So many of the films being mentioned seem to involve comedy. Now that I think of it, Hitchcock used her impossible character for somewhat comic effect in Rebecca as well, though she would have been the butt of the joke. I also notice that she seemed kind of glam in the photo TB posted with "Cuddles" from San Antonio, so apparently she could go from glam to drab as well. In The Moon and Sixpence she was kind of unkempt and her hair was frizzed out as you'd expect in a tropical climate.

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DougieB--in "Saratoga Trunk" (1946), Florence Bates is  definitely glam--she's a society "lady" who has a discussion with Ingrid.  Any more info and I'll spoil the scene.

 

BTW--reread thread and saw you were interested in Diana Lynn films.  Lynn is The sarcastic sister in "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek" (1944) & a late film of hers, "Track of the Cat" (1954) is little known but good.  Have fun watching films. :)

 

 

Edit--"Every Girl Should Be Married" (1948) is a Lynn film showing Dec. 29th on TCM.

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DougieB--in "Saratoga Trunk" (1946), Florence Bates is  definitely glam--she's a society "lady" who has a discussion with Ingrid.  Any more info and I'll spoil the scene.

 

BTW--reread thread and saw you were interested in Diana Lynn films.  Lynn is The sarcastic sister in "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek" (1944) & a late film of hers, "Track of the Cat" (1954) is little known but good.  Have fun watching films. :)

 

 

Edit--"Every Girl Should Be Married" (1948) is a Lynn film showing Dec. 29th on TCM.

Last Christmas I got a (not legit, I'm sorry to say) copy of Out of This World with Diana Lynn, which I'd been wanting to see again for years. She leads an all-girl band and oversells an interest in their crooner, Eddie Bracken, a-la The Producers.

 

The biographical info on Florence Bates in the data base is a little sketchy, but I'll look at other sources. Seems she's one of those people who sort of fell into acting at a late age, like Charles Coburn.

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So many of the films being mentioned seem to involve comedy. Now that I think of it, Hitchcock used her impossible character for somewhat comic effect in Rebecca as well, though she would have been the butt of the joke. 

I would say comedy was her specialty. But in something like THE SECOND WOMAN, where she plays Betsy Drake's aunt, I don't remember her being too comical. It was a noir, after all. So she did have some more dramatic-type roles.

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I love Florence Bates as Vera-Ellen's ballet teacher, Madame Dilyovska in On the Town.  She's hilarious.  I love when Gene Kelly is trying to ask Vera-Ellen to accompany him and his friends out on a night on the town and Bates shoos him out of the room saying, "Move along bell bottom!" 

 

Not a movie, but a TV Show, but Bates appears as Miss Pettebone, in the "Pioneer Women" episode of I Love Lucy.  She appears as the leader of the "Society Matrons League," a snooty women's club that Lucy and Ethel want to join.  Bates shows up, unannounced, on the Ricardos' doorstep to "inspect" her prospective members and see how they really live.  Of course, it was the absolute worst time that she could have shown up.  She was very funny in this role, especially when she places her lorgnette opera glasses up on her face to "inspect" Ricky.  

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I love Florence Bates as Vera-Ellen's ballet teacher, Madame Dilyovska in On the Town.  She's hilarious.  I love when Gene Kelly is trying to ask Vera-Ellen to accompany him and his friends out on a night on the town and Bates shoos him out of the room saying, "Move along bell bottom!" 

 

Not a movie, but a TV Show, but Bates appears as Miss Pettebone, in the "Pioneer Women" episode of I Love Lucy.  She appears as the leader of the "Society Matrons League," a snooty women's club that Lucy and Ethel want to join.  Bates shows up, unannounced, on the Ricardos' doorstep to "inspect" her prospective members and see how they really live.  Of course, it was the absolute worst time that she could have shown up.  She was very funny in this role, especially when she places her lorgnette opera glasses up on her face to "inspect" Ricky.  

I'll be sure to rewatch On the Town on Dec. 16. I'm trying to remember the character, but I think I'm getting it confused with Constance Collier's drama coach in Stage Door.

 

I don't remember the Lucy episode but it sounds like fun. It seems like she was good at snooty; not everyone can pull off a lorgnette. She was apparently a go-to person when they wanted an imperious type, probably a legacy of the Rebecca role.

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I'll be sure to rewatch On the Town on Dec. 16. I'm trying to remember the character, but I think I'm getting it confused with Constance Collier's drama coach in Stage Door.

 

I don't remember the Lucy episode but it sounds like fun. It seems like she was good at snooty; not everyone can pull off a lorgnette. She was apparently a go-to person when they wanted an imperious type, probably a legacy of the Rebecca role.

You may want to look specifically at the pre-REBECCA roles to see if she was already typed a particular way before Hitchcock cast her. The imperious comic roles may have been her calling card in earlier film and stage roles. She just honed it as she went along. But in something like TEXAS, BROOKLYN AND HEAVEN, she is not snooty at all (that falls to Margaret Hamilton as the more domineering of the three spinster sisters). Instead, Bates is much more bohemian and relaxed, especially when she is interacting with Diana Lynn's character. 

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You may want to look specifically at the pre-REBECCA roles to see if she was already typed a particular way before Hitchcock cast her. The imperious comic roles may have been her calling card in earlier film and stage roles. She just honed it as she went along. But in something like TEXAS, BROOKLYN AND HEAVEN, she is not snooty at all (that falls to Margaret Hamilton as the more domineering of the three spinster sisters). Instead, Bates is much more bohemian and relaxed, especially when she is interacting with Diana Lynn's character. 

Bohemian is an interesting choice of word, because that's exactly how she struck me in The Moon and Sixpence, where she ran a tropical hotel and affected a native-style dress and lifestyle. The fact that Margaret Hamilton is in it makes me want to see Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven even more.

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You might be interested in an article I wrote about Florence Bates and an interview I did with her family: https://suesueapplegate.wordpress.com/2013/11/10/florence-bates-its-a-grand-feeling/

She was a character!

I loved your article. It seems like she really hit the ground running as far as her acting career went. The idea that she started as Mrs. Bates in a stage production of Emma really tickles me. How perfect. Her granddaughter's observation that she "walked the world in character" tickles me too. Only knowing her through some of her work, I can still see how that would be true. Thanks so much for the great background info. 

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I got a kick out of seeing her in an old I Love Lucy episode the other night on Metv.It was about Lucy and Ethel wanting to join some society league of women and having to be inspected by Florence and her cohort. By the way they did not pass the inspection.

That seems to be the "Pioneer Women" episode speedracer was talking about. Sorry I missed it. I'm jealous. Lucy was newly arrived in TV from films at that point, so she would have been aware of the great character actors available.

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That seems to be the "Pioneer Women" episode speedracer was talking about. Sorry I missed it. I'm jealous. Lucy was newly arrived in TV from films at that point, so she would have been aware of the great character actors available.

Unfortunately, though, a woman of Bates' caliber as an actress, will be more remembered for a mindless sitcom episode than the extraordinary performances she gave in classic film. There is no comparison, in my view, between a dated TV program and Hitchcock's timeless REBECCA.

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