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Lethal Little Old Ladies


CaveGirl
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I wanted to title this post, Lethal Little Old Ladies, Maternal Mavens and Dowager Queens as many of the same actresses could fit into all three categories, but thought it might be too long for the header.

 

The topic of Little Old Ladies popped into my febrile brain yesterday while watching "Arsenic and Old Lace". The type of elderly ladies who purveyed elderberry wine [which occasionally was poisoned with things like cyanide] to folks in the old movies seems to no more exist in society or films and I really miss them. Now every lady actress of septuagenarian age has probably had plastic surgery and looks at eighty like Sophia Loren. But in the olden days, the little old ladies of films were numerous and added so much to movies. They were lovable, endearing and even amusing whilst knocking off people in very quiet ways and burying their bodies in the cellar or window box. 

 

I categorize them in a few different ways. For me Little Old Ladies, in cinema would constitute a type of woman whose looks and age belie an inner strength and force that can control not only all situations but all who oppose them, as in criminals, relatives, the police, the Mafia, FBI, Scotland Yard or even Interpol. They rule with a velvet glove and even Slapsy Maxey Rosenbloom would be afraid to oppose them.

 

Now the Maternal Maven type would be everybody's and anybody's idea of a loving, perhaps overly concerned mama, who is always there for one and is constantly baking apple pies, running up alterations on the curtains or organizing the local jumble charity sale.

 

Dowager Queens are my favorite, being that they are always dressed to the gills, regal and a bit of a battleship buttinsky and think status is everything. They would have nothing to do with show people [good call!] and even Cary Grant might not be good enough for their niece [or even nephew if it be Randolph Scott!].

 

Type I, is for me personified by someone like Josephine Hull, who starred in both "Arsenic and Old Lace" and "Harvey" creating both on the stage first. Type 2 would be someone like Patricia Collinge from "Shadow of a Doubt" who is sweet and a bit daffy, and lastly Type 3 would be someone like Cecil Cunningham who played Irene Dunne's aunt in "The Awful Truth".

 

The best actresses of a certain age from those days, might be able to play parts in all three categories. For me, Estelle Winwood is my favorite older lady on film, but you may differ.

 

If you miss this type of character in films, pay tribute to them here with your favorite characterizations on film of a lost form of typecasting.

Little Old Ladies used to rule, and on classic film still do!

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Type I--Ethel Barrymore in "The Spiral Staircase" (1946), and "Moss Rose" (1947).

 

Margaret Rutherford in "Murder at The Gallop (1963) and the other three Miss Marple films.

 

Dame May Whitty in "My Name is Julia Ross" (1945)

 

Edna May Oliver in "The Penguin Pool Murder" (1932), and the other three(?) Hildegarde Withers series films.

 

 

 

Type III--Marie Dressler in "The Patsy" (1928), and "The Vagabond King" (1929)

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I agree wholeheartedly about Estelle Winwood: her demeanour, her eyes, her voice, her slightly unstable persona, both on her feet and in her reasoning; she created many a lethal little lady.

 

My favorite actress who also seems to have made a career of such characters must be Martita Hunt. She could play the interfering busybody with relish, but she did so with a disarmingly sweet nature, which furthered her sinister agendas. Her role as Miss Havisham in Great Expectations (1946) is a sympathetic character, up to a point, then the havoc she causes to everyone around her is all too evident, not to mention her total lack of interest in freshly laundered clothing, personal hygiene, periodic housekeeping and wholesome food. Martita also appeared in The Brides Of Dracula (1960) for Hammer Films, creating the campy but lovely Baroness Meinster. She might be confused about the limits of mother love, but when your son is a vampire, what is a mother to do?

 

I always imagine these ladies as steadfastly holding onto the Edwardian era, in dress and manners, well past the mid-century mark. Katie Johnson in The Ladykillers (1955) is one of these “ladies in lavender,” although not of a vicious nature, she has formidable skills when thwarting Alec Guinness and company in their hope of ill-gotten wealth.

 

Although she might not fall into any one category, as she is meant to be an amateur detective, I often wonder why Margaret Rutherford doesn’t incite more murder than she solves. I can find it difficult to suspend disbelief watching her as Miss Marple in the short-lived series of films, leaving me incredulous as to why someone, anyone, doesn’t consider her the next victim . . . slyly wicked?

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Well, Beulah Bondi sure isn't her usual little loving and oh so understanding mother type as Aunt Mollie Mathews in 1941's THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS here...

350px-TSOTH-003.jpg

 

(...in fact, she's the downright bitter and vengeful type...and excellent in this film, as usual)

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Type I--Ethel Barrymore in "The Spiral Staircase" (1946), and "Moss Rose" (1947).

 

Margaret Rutherford in "Murder at The Gallop (1963) and the other three Miss Marple films.

 

Dame May Whitty in "My Name is Julia Ross" (1945)

 

Edna May Oliver in "The Penguin Pool Murder" (1932), and the other three(?) Hildegarde Withers series films.

 

 

 

Type III--Marie Dressler in "The Patsy" (1928), and "The Vagabond King" (1929)

Five superlative performers, FL!

 

Dame May and Edna May are my two top faves.

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Well, Beulah Bondi sure isn't her usual little loving and oh so understanding mother type as Aunt Mollie Mathews in 1941's THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS here...

350px-TSOTH-003.jpg

 

(...in fact, she's the downright bitter and vengeful type...and excellent in this film, as usual)

That lady could be sweet as sugar and snarky as a snake!

 

Great actress for sure. When she was mean to Jimmy Stewart and said if he knew Uncle Billy he must be a bad guy too, well she scared the heck out of me also.

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Lemme toss NORMA DESMOND onto that pile.

 

 

Sepiatone

Sepiatone

Okay, Sepia now just how does Norma Desmond fit into this crowd of little old ladies, I have to ask.

 

Poor old Gloria Swanson was only like fifty years old when she played her, and even in my stretching of the meaning of "old" I can't put her in the little old lady category.

 

But if you can convince me, I'll wait to see what you have to see.

 

I will admit she was "lethal" and probably "little" but a "lady" and "old" I'm not so sure.

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Does this qualify? :lol:

 

Caution: mild profanity.

 

 

So wonderful and heartwarming to see my almost most favorite actress of all time.

 

Well, yes it definitely puts the lethal in old lady.

 

I will have to say though, that even knowing Ruth qualified age-wise for being called a "little old lady" there was always something so youthful about her. Thanks, Ham!

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Leopoldine Konstantine aka Madame Konstantine who played Madame Sebastian in Notorious was damn scary!

 

Lydecker

Oh, gee Lydecker, that is one marvelous choice.

 

Now Leopoldine Konstantin is one of those incredible people, who when I see in a movie I immediately would go get out all my film encyclopedias and try to look her up. I remember doing so once as a teenager after seeing "Notorious" because I wondered why this amazing actress was not more familiar to me. Often one will find that such a person perhaps was not in too many films for various reasons, but one cherishes any other opportunity to see them in something else. As I recall she was perhaps Austrian, and did not have an extensive film career,  which reminds me of another actress from there, Helene Thimig who I also found a bit spooky, when I saw her in "Isle of the Dead". Now they were both from similar backgrounds, but one more lady of the screen who I immediately tried to find a bio on was Katina Paxinou when I saw her as the slightly evil, Christine Mannon in Eugene O'Neill's most depressing play, "Mourning Becomes Electra". All of the above are supremely talented but not very familiar to a general public, probably even one composed of film buffs, although at the TCM board, they may be more well known of course.

 

Thanks, Lydecker!

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I agree wholeheartedly about Estelle Winwood: her demeanour, her eyes, her voice, her slightly unstable persona, both on her feet and in her reasoning; she created many a lethal little lady.

 

My favorite actress who also seems to have made a career of such characters must be Martita Hunt. She could play the interfering busybody with relish, but she did so with a disarmingly sweet nature, which furthered her sinister agendas. Her role as Miss Havisham in Great Expectations (1946) is a sympathetic character, up to a point, then the havoc she causes to everyone around her is all too evident, not to mention her total lack of interest in freshly laundered clothing, personal hygiene, periodic housekeeping and wholesome food. Martita also appeared in The Brides Of Dracula (1960) for Hammer Films, creating the campy but lovely Baroness Meinster. She might be confused about the limits of mother love, but when your son is a vampire, what is a mother to do?

 

I always imagine these ladies as steadfastly holding onto the Edwardian era, in dress and manners, well past the mid-century mark. Katie Johnson in The Ladykillers (1955) is one of these “ladies in lavender,” although not of a vicious nature, she has formidable skills when thwarting Alec Guinness and company in their hope of ill-gotten wealth.

 

Although she might not fall into any one category, as she is meant to be an amateur detective, I often wonder why Margaret Rutherford doesn’t incite more murder than she solves. I can find it difficult to suspend disbelief watching her as Miss Marple in the short-lived series of films, leaving me incredulous as to why someone, anyone, doesn’t consider her the next victim . . . slyly wicked?

I was going to mention Katie Johnson in my original post, since seeing her is what made me think about lethal little old ladies on film to begin with, but wanted to see if anyone else chose her, so thanks, WG!

 

Martita Hunt is beyond compare in her thespian abilities and can lift even the most banal show umpteen levels in style and importance. I recall her being exemplary in an episode of the show "Thriller", with that incredible visage and speaking voice. As you say, her performance in "Great Expectations" is iconic, and being a Hammer fan I've seen "The Brides of Dracula" and she is just mindbogglingly entertaining in this slick horror flick. In some ways, if they had only cast her as the sister of Edith Evans in anything, I could have died happy but alas, such was not to be. Edith Evans to my mind, does qualify too as the essential dowager queen, particularly as Lady Bracknell in  Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" but I digress.

 

I forgot to mention that Martita is also great in the film "Queen of Spades" based on the Pushkin story. I bought it on a dvd with "Dead of Night" and both are so much fun to watch.

 

Your erudite thoughts are appreciated as always, WhistlingGypsy!

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Speaking of lethal old ladies,  someone should make a horror movie about this serial killer grandma, Tamara Samsonova.whom claims to  be a cannibal. :o

 

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3185423/Did-EAT-victims-Serial-killer-Granny-Ripper-kept-diary-11-people-dismembered-cannibal.html

 

GRANIBAL-636x395.jpg

 

 

Yikes, she makes Crippen look like a piker!

 

I'm telling you though, if Helen Mirren can come up with a proper Russian accent, she would be fab in the part of this cannibalistic killer.

 

Anyone for some head cheese?

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