Spring Quiz – Joan Bennett, Robert Mitchum, Ann Blyth, Robert Ryan, Jean Hagen and Richard Widmark
There aren’t many things I love more about life than classic movie trivia. In celebration of spring, this month Noir Nook is serving up some trivial tidbits about some of my favorite noir actors and actresses and some of their iconic noir films. Enjoy!
Joan Bennett’s first noir was The woman in the window (1945) starring Edward G. Robinson and Dan Duryea and directed by Fritz Lang. The film was a critical and box-office success, and afterward Bennett, her husband, producer Walter Wanger, and Lang formed an independent film company called Diana Productions, after Bennett’s eldest daughter. The first film to be produced under the Diana Productions banner was Bennett’s second film noir. Scarlet Road (1945). As The woman in the windowthis film also starred Robinson and Duryea and was directed by Lang.
In 1947 Robert Mitchum appeared in two films noirs – the first of which was The medallion, where he played an artist tormented by an unspeakable crime committed by the woman he loved. The actor garnered wildly contrasting cues from critics. The reviewer for the Los Angeles Daily News was impressed by his performance and wrote that he “makes the cynical, sarcastic painter into a figure of some power”. The typically bitter Bosley Crowther disagreed The New York Times, who insisted Mitchum put on a “completely monotonous and deadpan performance.” There’s not the slightest hint of that rigid face of an artist’s temper, even if you concede that the fellow he’s representing is a moody type.”
For her role as a poisonous Veda in Mildred Pierce (1945), Ann Blyth was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, making her, at 17, the youngest actress ever to be honored. Blyth was expected to win, but the Oscar was instead awarded to Anne Revere for her performance as Elizabeth Taylor’s mother in National Velvet. Years later, Revere herself said she was surprised to have won the Oscar over Blyth: “My win was so excited, some of the newspapers were still dazed the next day and wrote things like, ‘Anne Revere, who played the nuisance teenager Mildred PierceShe won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress last night.’”
Robert Ryan starred in one of the best noir offerings in 1949, The facility, where he played an aging boxer who, according to one description, was “one punch away from being drunk”. Ryan didn’t have to do much acting during the boxing sequences. When he was eight his father arranged for him to take boxing lessons, and years later he became the first freshman at Dartmouth College to win the college’s heavyweight boxing championship, a title he held during his four-year intercollegiate competitions.
Jean Hagen is perhaps best remembered for two roles she played during her career: Doll Conovan in The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Lina Lamont in sing in the rain (1952). In the former, she excelled as the wannabe girlfriend of a low-life crook, imbuing her performance with steely determination, sensitivity, and pathos. After the film’s release, director John Huston said he cast Hagen for the role because “there’s a wistful, down-to-earth quality to her that’s rare on screen. A born actress.” However, most critics failed to take note of Hagen’s top-notch performance, overlooking it in favor of the flashier role played by Marilyn Monroe. In later years, Hagen quipped, “There were only two girl roles, and I obviously wasn’t Marilyn Monroe.”
Richard Widmark made his debut on the big screen kiss of death, which starred Victor Mature and Coleen Gray. Widmark played the supporting role of Tommy Udo, a psychopath with a menacing, high-pitched giggle. For his remarkable performance, Widmark won the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (losing to Edmund Gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street). “I was like, ‘Gosh, this is easy.'” Widmark later said of the numerous awards he received for his first film. “I haven’t come near since.”
Stay tuned to Noir Nook for more trivia in the coming months!
– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub
You can read all of Karen’s Noir Nook articles here.
Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on films and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and is the editor-in-chief of The Dark Sides, a bi-monthly newsletter dedicated to film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
If you are interested in learning more about Karen’s books, you can read more about them on Amazon here: