Here we are – already almost through the first month of the year! Very hard to believe. With that said, I’ve realized that I haven’t done any favorites lists on this blog yet and thought it would be a fun way to spice things up a little. So today, I’ve decided to look at those men who helm the whole picture, opposite the fabulous leading lady of course! I’m going to list my favorites, the role(s) that made me a fan of them, and any other tidbits that I found interesting. Without further ado, let’s begin!
One of my most watched movies as a teenager was Sabrina (1954). I loved the romance of the Cinderella story, Sabrina’s transformation in Paris, and the characters that inhibit the story. Another aspect I loved about this movie was Sabrina’s crush, David (William Holden). He was charming, handsome, and had a smile that could melt any girl’s heart. I loved the song “Isn’t it Romantic” and still think about David and Sabrina dancing whenever I hear it. What came through to me in this film were Holden’s playful and romantic sides. This was my first Holden film, and it wasn’t until later that I discovered he was much more than a romantic lead.
Ah, I love this film for so many reasons! Judy Holliday is absolutely marvelous in Born Yesterday (1950) as Billie, the uneducated arm candy mistress of a criminal boyfriend. In comes Paul Varrell, (William Holden) and treats the girl as if she were a princess. He listens to her uncritically, nonjudmentally, patiently, and then teaches her to think critically for herself. The chemistry between these two is just lovely as is evidenced by both the romantic and comedic moments.
What stood out to me in this film was how kind Paul is to Billie. His innate goodness shines through the character in a way that I haven’t seen in too many other leading men. It’s so beautiful to see. A little backstory, I’ve heard that it takes leading actors a great deal of humility to take on a role where they know they are going to play second fiddle to someone with a scene stealing part and some will even refuse to “stoop down” to that level. Holden was not of that mindset and supported Holliday (in her Oscar winning role) with grace and dignity.
Clark Gable. The King of Hollywood. In my opinion, Clark Gable was one of the best personalities to ever grace the silver screen. Actually, he commanded it. I love his no nonsense attitude, his sense of humor, his calm, steady manner in times of crises, but most of all, I appreciate the vulnerability that came through in his performances. Underneath all of his bravado and machismo, there beat a gentle heart that needed love and care. In addition, he passed on his sensitive understanding of humanity to others.
Watch the scene in Red Dust (1932) when Clark is about to tell Gene Raymond how he and Mary Astor love each other. Gene Raymond tells Clark his and Mary’s plans for settling down and raising a family and of Mary’s love for their close knit family and friends. Clark’s manner and expression changes from being confident and in control, to sad and reflective, as he knows that he will have to give up Mary. It is a subtly effective, beautiful moment on film.
One of the many pleasures of watching Gone with the Wind (1939) is Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler. Rhett, besides Mammy, is the only one who sees right through Scarlett’s shenanigans and isn’t fooled by the innocence that she masquerades in front of others. He knows exactly who she is and sardonically calls her out on it, but loves her anyway. With Rhett, what you see is what you get. He is bold and honest, and respects those who are the same.
When Melanie comes to comfort Rhett after Scarlett’s accident, Clark gave us one out of the many golden scenes in Gone with the Wind. He encompasses Rhett’s guilt and pain, the tenderness and trust of his friendship with Melanie, and his doomed, tortured love for Scarlett all in one short scene.
Marlon Brando is a fairly new discovery for me. I know, I know, how can you be a classic movie fan and not know Marlon Brando? Crazy, right? I’d seen Guys and Dolls and heard about all the accolades for On the Waterfront through the years; but I wasn’t in a rush to see it as I thought it was all hype – that is, until I saw it.
In On the Waterfront, (1954) Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) is a product of his unfortunate circumstances. He is caught in the middle of his allegiance to Johnny Friendly, the corrupt union boss who rules the docks, and his own moral compass. His goodness is brought to the forefront by his love for the sweet and innocent Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint). It is through their relationship that the tender side of this tough, hard nosed ex-prize fighter comes out, which Marlon beautifully portrays with the emotional sensitivity that became his trademark.
As a sculptor molds clay or a painter wields his paintbrush, Marlon becomes Terry before our very eyes taking us through each stage of Terry’s development and his emotional journey. Throughout the film, he transitions from a victim/accomplice into a courageous man who recognizes his own personal power and embraces it despite the great danger and opposition surrounding him. Marlon won an Oscar for his performance, and it’s not hard to see why. It is a towering performance, both heartbreaking and empowering, flawless in its execution, and should not be missed.
Now it’s your turn! Who are some of your favorites?
Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!