While there are plenty of comediennes in Hollywood today, this wasn’t always the case. Most of the women who appeared in comedies were either cast as serious characters to offset the hilarity of their male counterparts (as was done in The Marx Brothers’ films) or were used only as naïve damsels who would eventually fall in love with the male main character. It wasn’t until the 1950’s when women started to have roles that could showcase their comedic talent. Shirley MacLaine was one of these women, and she has continued to support comedies to this day. With such a long and diverse career, MacLaine has managed to maintain her poise and dignity in a genre that often resorts to slapstick and lowbrow jokes to get their laughs. This week’s two films highlights some of Shirley MacLaine’s best roles.
Terms of Endearment
Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours
When it comes to awards, comedies are often at a disadvantage when compared to dramas. It is disappointing to have such a bias toward dramatic stories and roles when there are plenty of excellent comedic films. This bias is also present for the actors who play these comedic roles. Because of this challenge, the comedic actors and actresses who manage to be nominated for their work have overcome much to earn that honor. Shirley MacLaine has received nominations for Best Actress five times during her career. For three decades, she received nominations for Some Came Running (1958), The Apartment (1960), Irma la Douce (1963), and The Turning Point (1976). Finally, in 1983’s Terms of Endearment, a film that also took home Best Picture, she took home that coveted statuette for her role as Aurora Greenway.
Despite being alone, Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) readily confides in her adult daughter, Emma (Debra Winger). Both of them are practically in the same life stage: searching for love wherever it may reside. Unfortunately, as Emma finds love with Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), Aurora’s disapproval puts a wedge between them both. Meanwhile, Aurora gets to know her neighbor, Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson) and falls in love with the retired astronaut. Through some difficult times in Emma’s marriage and journey through motherhood, Aurora is always there for her. Unfortunately, there is little Aurora can do once Emma is diagnosed with terminal cancer. A mother never wants to bury their child, even if said child has had a meaningful and love-filled life up until that point.
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours
From her very first role in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry (1955), MacLaine soon found herself in many Best Picture winners. Only a year later did she have a role in Around the World in 80 Days (1956), the Best Picture for that year. Four years after that, she would appear in The Apartment (1960), also a Best Picture winner. Along with the aforementioned Terms of Endearment, MacLaine certainly has a knack for appearing in fantastic movies. Of course, when I go back and watch The Apartment, I realize how young she really was. Today, she has aged gracefully into other roles in such movies as Steel Magnolias (1989), Guarding Tess (1994), Bernie (2011), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), and The Last Word (2017). Still, one of her most iconic roles for me was as Fran Kubelik in The Apartment.
Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) is an elevator operator in an insurance office. While her job has its ups and downs, the least of which is repeated sexual harassment from some of the men, she eventually runs into Bud Baxter (Jack Lemmon). Bud asks Fran out on a date to go see The Music Man at the theater that night. Fran accepts but never shows up since she first has to meet up with her lover, Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). Coincidentally, Sheldrake takes Fran back to Bud’s apartment. Bud had been loaning his conveniently located apartment out to his co-workers so they could have their extramarital affairs in exchange for a recommendations to get him promoted. When Bud finally comes home, he finds Fran in his bed, having attempted suicide by a sleeping pill overdose. Over the next few weeks, he helps her get back on her feet, and they both fall in love in the process.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 magnificent Shirley MacLaine roles
Bacon #: 2 (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty / Joey Slotnick -> Hollow Man / Kevin Bacon)