Sunday, October 30, 2011

In Praise of Jeanne Crain

NoFamily enjoyed "Vicki" (1953) last night, a Film Noir goody starring Jeanne Crain, Jean Peters, Richard Boone as a nut-job cop, and a host of non-descript actors.  

It's not a great movie.  But, like most Noir, it's a thoroughly entertaining one.  Crain captivates, as she does in everything Noman has seen her in.  

Whenever the camera is on her face, which is often, the mind turns to mulling what it is that makes her so infernally beautiful.  Is it her lips, nose, eyes, hair, profile, their combination?  Who knows?  It works, though.

Vicki (Peters) is Crain's younger sister, a waitress who gets discovered in a NY diner by a good natured publicist and his columnist friend.  Vicki's got what it takes, and few scruples about using it to get ahead and leave her newfound friends and devoted sister behind.  On her way to the top, however, she gets murdered. 

The whodunnit gets interesting with the entry of Boone, a murder investigator who in fifteen years on the force has never been wrong.  That should suffice to make the viewer suspicious.

This is the kind of movie that makes you thank God for Miranda warnings, search and seizure laws and the minute code of federal criminal procedure promulgated without authority by the Supreme Court.

Special mention should be made of whoever selected Crain's wardrobe.  With the exception of a couple of funny hats, Noman spent the movie admiring the taste, fit, design, look, etc. of nearly everything she wore.  A return to 1953 movie fashions could effectuate a social revolution comparable to that provoked by the mini-skirt.  

Noman first saw Crain in "Dangerous Crossing" (1953), a very good mystery also starring Carl Betz and Michael Rennie.  She was absolutely stunning in this thriller, as the linked pictures indicate.

She is also a competent, if not stellar actress.  (FYI, Joseph L. Mankiewicz was a detractor of Cain's.)  You're with her as she wonders if she's going crazy, and as you realize that she's in mortal danger.

The multitude of stills available on Google simply don't capture the phenomena of Crain, which video reveals.  She looks the way Donna Reed would if Clarence the angel granted her most fervent wish to look her most stunning.

Crain is beautiful without being ornate, delicate without being fragile, serene without being boring, elegant without being aloof, classy without being pretentious, engrossing without being obtrusive, wholesome without being cliche...  

Noman was impressed enough to view a number of her films: "Cheaper by the Dozen" (1950 & 1952's sequel "Belles On Their Toes"); "State Fair" (1945) with Dana Andrews; "Letter To Three Wives" (1949), a marriage drama starring Linda Darnell, Kirk Douglas, Ann Sothern and Paul Douglas; and one of his favorites, "Leave Her to Heaven" (1945) a psycho-thriller with Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde and Vincent Price.

This latter film is an engrossing character study of a truly deranged person starring two of Noman's favorite Hollywood starlets.  Scenes featuring both Tierney and Crain are nearly maddening as the eye moves from one to the other engaging the mind in an irresolvable debate over which actress is the most beautiful, and why.

Crain was an oddity in Hollywood: the mother of seven children (born between 1945 and 1965) with one husband to whom she remained stormily married until death did them part.  He predeceased her by two months in 2003.  They divorced briefly in 1956, but were reconciled months later.  She was a devout Catholic.

Her bio also states that she stumped with a list of Hollywood luminaries including Walt Disney and Jimmy Stewart for the Republican cause in 1960.  The length as well as composition of the list is eye catching.  Would that Hollywood were so diverse today.

Quite a woman; quite a beauty; quite an actress.  Noman hopes that you enjoy Crain's oeuvre as much as he does.

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