#348. Elizabeth Taylor

The rise and fall of an actor can almost be as entertaining as watching them in a movie. Somehow we’re drawn to the drama that unfolds in real life even more than the drama captured on celluloid. While we might often forget their successes, we can almost remember where we were during their failures. If there was one actress who practically started the tabloid newspaper business, it was Elizabeth Taylor. With her multiple husbands and an epic box office failure (the exorbitantly expensive Cleopatra (1963)) to her name, we often forget that, amongst a handful of nominations, she won two Oscars for her acting. After she left the film industry, she did go on to be known for such notable interests as jewelry and perfume, but many still remember her contributions to cinema. This week’s two films highlight the change from Elizabeth Taylor, the young actress to Elizabeth Taylor, the serious starlet.

Father of the BrideFather of the Bride
Year: 1950
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 92 minutes / 1.53 hours

Elizabeth Taylor first appeared on the silver screen at the age of 10 in the film There’s One Born Every Minute (1942). The next year, she would appear in Lassie Come Home (1943) in another bit part, eventually rising up to a starring role by 1944’s National Velvet. In the films leading up to her 18th birthday, Taylor seemed to be relegated to movies meant for families, including A Date with Judy (1948), Julia Misbehaves (1948), and a remake of Little Women (1949). Having already portrayed a bride in the aforementioned Julia Misbehaves, Elizabeth Taylor certainly understood the role by the time she was cast in Father of the Bride (1950) and its sequel, Father’s Little Dividend (1951). Ironically enough, Taylor herself was married for the first time in 1950 and divorced by 1951; the first of many.

One evening during an ordinary dinner at home, Kay Banks (Elizabeth Taylor) lets slip that she’s not only in love with Bucky Dunstan (Don Taylor), but has accepted his marriage proposal as well. While this announcement throws her mother Ellie (Joan Bennett) into a wedding planning frenzy, her father Stanley (Spencer Tracy) is more than just a bit uneasy about the whole thing. Kay finds herself having to conform to age-old traditions to help calm her parents’ nerves. After taking her parents to meet the new in-laws, she is soon approached by her father after the engagement party and asked if she couldn’t consider eloping. While this tactic was meant as a cost-saving measure by Stanley, Kay starts to consider it. When Kay’s fiancé lets her know the honeymoon will be a fishing trip, she calls off the wedding, only to be reconciled with her beloved before the big day finally arrives.

A Place in the SunA Place in the Sun
Year: 1951
Rating: Passed
Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours

By 1951, Elizabeth Taylor was able to shed her child-like roles and leave them well behind her as she began to develop in her career. One of the first films to start her on this path to stardom was none other than A Place in the Sun (1951). She would go on to team up with director George Stevens five years later for Giant (1956), earning her the first of many awards. While Taylor was married to six different men during her life, she was nominated for an Oscar only five times. Her first three nominations for Raintree County (1957), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) were followed by two wins for BUtterfield 8 (1960) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). While A Place in the Sun and Giant were included in the American Film Institute’s first Top 100 list, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? managed to fill their spots in the 10-year anniversary of the list.

Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor) is a socialite who meets George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) at a social event hosted by George’s uncle, Charles Eastman (Herbert Heyes). While George does not have the immense wealth of his uncle, he is enamored by the high life, mostly because of his opportunity to be around Angela. Unfortunately, George is already tied down to a factory girl, Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), who is pregnant with his child. Spending as much time as he can with Angela, George is purposely ignoring Alice in the hopes she’d go away. When Alice learns George has been with Angela, she decides to blackmail him into marrying her. When they arrive at the courthouse, they find it to be closed due to the Labor Day holiday, thus inspiring George to suggest they go for a boat ride at a nearby lake. Since Alice cannot swim, George has a dastardly plan to get rid of her. Will he go through with it?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 terrific Elizabeth Taylor performances

Bacon #: 2 (Winter Kills / Jeff Bridges -> R.I.P.D. / Kevin Bacon)

#347. Spencer Tracy

It is a rare talent to not only be a prolific actor but one who has appeared in numerous classics. Add to this, several Oscar nominations for acting, and you’re left with an incredible legacy. Spencer Tracy was just such an actor. He excelled in comedy as well as drama, a challenging feat for any actor. Of course, one does wonder if collaborations with other actors and directors helped Tracy to truly shine. After all, it’s easier to act when you’re comfortable with the other people on stage, let alone the people behind the camera. Spencer Tracy worked with plenty of famous actors and directors over the years, but two individuals stand out as frequent collaborators: Katharine Hepburn and Stanley Kramer. This week’s two films examine the lengthy, varied, and oft-recognized career of Spencer Tracy.

                                                      Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
Year: 1967
Rating: Unrated
Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours

Over almost four decades, Spencer Tracy managed to rack up an astounding 75 films to his name, often performing in two or more films every year. With this statistic in mind, it then becomes evident that Tracy enjoyed collaborating with Katharine Hepburn. The two of them starred in nine films together: Woman of the Year (1942), Keeper of the Flame (1942), Without Love (1945), Sea of Grass (1947), State of the Union (1948), Adam’s Rib (1949), Pat and Mike (1952), Desk Set (1957), and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967). These nine films comprised 12% of Tracy’s career. While rarely acknowledged officially, Tracy and Hepburn were significant to each other, both on and off camera. Sadly, mere weeks after the conclusion of filming Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Spencer Tracy died of a heart attack at the age of 67.

Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy) is surprised when his daughter, Joanna (Katharine Houghton) comes home early from her vacation. Not only is her arrival a surprise, but the fiancé she has brought with her is unexpected as well. John Prentice (Sidney Poitier) is a black man, which gives both Matt and his wife, Christina (Katharine Hepburn) an uneasy feeling, even though they taught their daughter racial equality. Matt struggles with giving his blessing for the upcoming nuptials as he recognizes the interracial couple will have many challenges ahead of them. Through the convincing of his friend, Monsignor Mike Ryan (Cecil Kellaway) and his wife, Matt eventually relents as he realizes the truth of the matter: all marriages will have hardships, but what matters most is that the two individuals getting married love each other.

Father of the BrideFather of the Bride
Year: 1950
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 92 minutes / 1.53 hours

Considering the prestige that comes with being nominated for an Oscar, Spencer Tracy has racked up the most prestige over the years. Tied with Laurence Olivier for most nominations, Tracy received nine nods for Best Actor. After his first nomination for his role in San Francisco (1936), he would then go on to win the next two years via the films Captains Courageous (1937) and Boys Town (1938). It then took almost a decade before he was nominated again. This nomination was for Father of the Bride (1950), at which point the nominations started to flow again for films like Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), The Old Man and the Sea (1958), and Inherit the Wind (1960). With Inherit the Wind, Tracy teamed up with director Stanley Kramer, earning himself two more nominations for the three additional films they did together, Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967) being slightly more auspicious than It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

Marriage seems to be a favorite theme with Spencer Tracy films, as evidenced by Father of the Bride. No matter how much Stanley T. Banks (Spencer Tracy) could prepare for it, eventually his daughter, Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) would grow up and marry someone she loves. While he’s fine with it now, his anxiety affected the whole engagement process as he drank too much and passed out in the home of his future son-in-law’s parents’ house. Not wanting to spend too much money on this wedding, Stanley soon realizes the whole thing is ballooning out of his control. Murphy’s Law is in full force as the clock ticks down to the big day, with last-minute reconciliations between the bride and groom merely mirroring the number of conflicts and problems revolving around the wedding reception at the Banks’ house. With the wedding now over, Stanley watches as his little girl drives off for her honeymoon.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 stupendous Spencer Tracy roles

Bacon #: 2 (The Mountain / Robert Wagner -> Wild Things / Kevin Bacon)