#350. Dead on Release

A variety of reasons can exist for an actor to not be alive by the time their movie is released. Some actors are old and die from more natural causes (like Spencer Tracy, who died 17 days after the end of filming Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967)). Others might be involved in accidents either on the set (like Brandon Lee in The Crow (1994)) or in the course of living their life (like Anton Yelchin from the Star Trek reboots). The entertainment community mourns the lives taken so early on in their careers, but many actors have died via suicide due to either their approach to acting or the pressure of acting influencing their decisions. Sometimes a mental illness that gives an actor their creativity can also drive them into a suicide as well. This week’s two films highlight some actors who died before their films were released.

GiantGiant
Year: 1956
Rating: Approved
Length: 201 minutes / 3.35 hours

At the age of 24, James Dean was a star to be reckoned with. In four short years, he appeared in a handful of uncredited roles, but he also earned two back-to-back nominations for Best Actor in 1955 for East of Eden and in 1956 for Giant. The trick with his nomination for Giant was that he had been killed in a car accident late in 1955, thus making this nomination the first of its kind to be given posthumously. Not only did Dean die before the release of Giant, but he also died before the release of his most iconic role in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). One can only speculate the amount of prestige such an actor would have accrued over a lifetime of acting. Even with only three credited movies to his name, the American Film Institute still placed him as #18 on their list of 50 top actors of the last century.

Jett Rink (James Dean) is a farmhand who works for Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) on his Texas ranch. When Bick brings home a lovely wife in Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor), Jett is immediately stricken with her. He helps show her the ropes of the property, thus inspiring her to change some of the living conditions for the migrant workers. After the accidental death of Bick’s sister, who also ran the household and had a spat with Leslie, Jett is bequeathed a small portion of the property. After Jett finds oil on his land, he manages to become wealthier than the Benedicts. Jett, still enamored with Leslie, eventually starts dating her daughter, which further sours the relationship between him and Bick. After realizing his children will not follow in his footsteps, Bick finally allows Jett to drill for oil on the remainder of the Benedict property.

The Dark KnightThe Dark Knight
Year: 2008
Rating: PG-13
Length: 152 minutes / 2.53 hours

Some actors die before their movies finish filming, leaving a noticeable gap in their performance. Actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman are noticeably absent from certain scenes in movies like The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015). Some actors have their performances digitally completed and adjusted using CGI, or even sometimes completely created decades after their death (as was the case with Peter Cushing in Rogue One (2016)). While Heath Ledger had completed filming on The Dark Knight (2008), none of his scenes were altered after the fact by director Christopher Nolan. Ledger died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs, but some feel his “method acting” approach helped push him over the edge via his role as The Joker. He is only one of two people who have posthumously won a Best Actor Oscar, the other being Peter Finch of Network (1976) fame.

After Batman (Christian Bale) has raised the stakes for Gotham’s crime-fighting, a new force has appeared to oppose him with a gospel of violence and chaos: the Joker (Heath Ledger). As Batman tries to rid the city of crime via his vigilante actions, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) tries to do so within the confines of the law. The Joker, having taken control of the majority of Gotham’s gangs, continues to escalate the situation to get Batman to reveal his true identity. Eventually, Batman finds himself in a corner as the Joker makes him decide between the lawful justice of District Attorney Harvey Dent, or Batman’s girlfriend, Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal). On top of this life-or-death decision, the Joker pits a ferry full of tourists against a ferry full of terrorists in a game of “Who will die first?” Batman, finally able to catch the Joker via an ingenious use of technology, must now retreat to the shadows.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 young actors gone too soon

Advertisements

#349. George Stevens

Modern audiences may not know about George Stevens or the films he directed from the 1930’s to 1970. Some of the names of his movies might not be familiar to them either, but many of these films are classics in their own rights. He worked with some of the best in the industry at the time. Cary Grant (Gunga Din (1930), Penny Serenade (1941)), Fred Astaire (Swing Time (1936), A Damsel in Distress (1937)), and Katharine Hepburn (Alice Adams (1935), Woman of the Year (1942)), just to name a few. By the end of his career, he even directed a film from his own production company, the Biblical epic, The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). Throughout his directing career, he earned many nominations and awards, but most people on the street probably couldn’t say why. This week’s two films highlight some of the greatest films directed by George Stevens.

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

Throughout the early 1930’s George Stevens directed mostly short films and comedy sketches. By 1941, he had picked up his first nomination for Best Picture with The Talk of the Town. While he did not direct this film, he would earn two more nominations the following year, for Best Picture and Best Director for The More the Merrier (1943). His first win at the Oscars would come almost a decade later with A Place in the Sun (1951). This film was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, but only garnered Stevens the golden statue for the latter category. The legacy of this film was recognized in 1997 as one of the American Film Institute’s top 100 films, being placed at #92. It is also included as one of the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, for similar reasons, not the least of which was Stevens’ expert directing.

George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) has not had nearly the amount of success his uncle, Charles Eastman (Herbert Heyes), has enjoyed. When the two meet at random, Charles offers George a job in his factory as a way to help his struggling nephew. George takes to the work and finds himself being noticed by management for his good ideas. Consequently, Charles invites George to his estate for a dinner with high society. At the party, George is immediately enamored with Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor). Unfortunately, George has already gotten himself involved with one of the factory girls, Alice Tripp (Shelly Winters). Alice senses George’s flightiness and informs him that she’ll expose him if he doesn’t marry her since she is carrying their bastard child. In a twist of fate, the courthouse is closed for Labor Day, so George suggests they take a boat out on the lake, knowing Alice cannot swim.

GiantGiant
Year: 1956
Rating: Approved
Length: 201 minutes / 3.35 hours

After his Best Director win in 1951, George Stevens would have another set of Best Picture / Best Director nominations for the western, Shane (1953). He lost that year to From Here to Eternity (1953) but would be nominated for the set again with The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), losing to Ben-Hur (1959) in that year. His second win at the Oscars was for Best Director with Giant (1956), which itself lost Best Picture to Around the World in 80 Days (1956). One wonders if the inclusion of Elizabeth Taylor in Giant helped to earn Stevens his Best Director wins, except that his last film ever directed was The Only Game in Town (1970), which featured Taylor but did not earn him a nomination. Following his film career, he founded the American Film Institute. One does wonder if the two top 100 lists produced by AFI were biased, as four of his films have appeared on them over the years.

Yet again, Elizabeth Taylor portrays a socialite in Giant as Leslie Lynnton. She is swept off her feet by Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) and brought back to his ranch in Texas as his bride. Now that she’s a part of the farm, she becomes involved in its operations, somewhat stepping on the toes of Bick’s sister, Luz (Mercedes McCambridge). In retaliation, Luz hurts Leslie’s horse and is bucked off to her death. As a result, the ranch’s handyman, Jett Rink (James Dean), inherits a small portion of the property. He has had feelings for Leslie since she first came to the ranch, but respected Bick enough to keep his distance. When Jett discovers oil on his patch of land, he becomes wealthier than the Benedicts, thus upending the social order between these two neighbors. His persistent requests to drill for oil on the rest of the Benedict ranch are eventually granted as Bick realizes his children will not continue his legacy.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 stupendous George Stevens classics

Bacon #: 3 (Shane / Alan Ladd -> Paper Bullets / John Archer -> The Little Sister / Kevin Bacon)

#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 a large box office failure with the 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 at 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 initial 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 that she’d go away. When Alice learns that 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)