Hollywood actress Joan Fontaine (1917-2013)


This video is the film THE BIGAMIST (1953) Joan Fontaine – Ida Lupino – Edmond O’Brien – Edmund Gwenn.

By Hiram Lee in the USA:

The unknown women of Joan Fontaine (1917-2013)

1 February 2014

It is unfortunate that tributes to actress Joan Fontaine, who passed away December 15 at the age of 96, have largely focused on the longstanding feud between Fontaine and her sister, fellow performer Olivia de Havilland. Certain tell-all revelations included in her 1978 memoir No Bed of Roses have also been given ample treatment. For the most part, the entertainment press concerns itself with gossip and little else.

Too little has been said about Fontaine’s body of work. She was a remarkable actress who contributed performances of real depth and sensitivity to a number of Hollywood films of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. She was fortunate enough to work with many of the more interesting and talented film directors of that period, including George Cukor, Alfred Hitchcock, Max Ophuls, George Stevens, Anthony Mann, Fritz Lang, Nicholas Ray, William Dieterle, Mitchell Leisen, Jean Negulesco and future blacklist victim John Berry (she also apparently had a small, uncredited part in Orson Welles’s Othello [1952]).

Fontaine appeared opposite many talented actors as well, among them Welles, Cary Grant, Robert Ryan, Burt Lancaster, Joseph Cotten, Charles Boyer, Tyrone Power, Louis Jourdan, Dennis O’Keefe, Zachary Scott, Mel Ferrer, Mark Stevens and others.

While Fontaine had performed on stage and screen from the mid-1930s onward (including a significant role in Cukor’s The Women [1939]), her breakout role came in 1940, in Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Based on the 1938 novel of the same title by Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca tells the story of a young woman who works as the paid companion of a wealthy society matron. She meets rich widower Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) and the two fall in love. As she steps out of her class and apparently out of her depth to marry him, she soon confronts a darker reality under the surface of her idyllic marriage.

De Winter’s former wife Rebecca died under mysterious circumstances. Her presence still haunts his mansion, the gothic estate of Manderley. The frightening Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), a servant fiercely devoted to the late Rebecca, makes life hell for the young wife (known only as “the second Mrs. De Winter”).

Fontaine’s terror is strongly felt, as is the warmth of her character contrasted to the cold world of shadows and insulating wealth in Manderley. A theme emerges over the course of Fontaine’s work and it establishes itself in Rebecca. A fear and unease—a profound insecurity—dominates many of the characters Fontaine played, as fantasy turns to nightmare and promise into a prison. Something about the contradictions of the war years and the postwar period, the gap between the official “optimistic,” “democratic” version and life as it was actually, frighteningly experienced by masses of people, finds expression in her best work.

The 1940s brought several significant projects to Fontaine. In Suspicion (1941), also directed by Hitchcock, she would again play a wife for whom wedded bliss turns into a torment. Her husband, played by Cary Grant, may or may not be plotting her murder. Fontaine won the Academy Award for her performance. In Jane Eyre (1944), a strong adaptation of the Charlotte Brontë classic, featuring Welles as Rochester, Fontaine gave an especially memorable and moving performance as the title heroine.

As was evident from Rebecca going forward, Fontaine was capable of contributing something rich and thoughtful. Her face and body language, alone, could speak volumes. She was, in this sense, a very physical actress.

In a 1978 interview with Doug McClelland collected in American Classic Screen Interviews, Fontaine said “George Cukor … gave me the best acting advice I ever had, and I had been to many teachers. In films, you must think and feel, and the rest will take care of itself, he advised me. The least gesture, you see, is what counts in films. Thinking and feeling are what really matter up there on the screen.”

Her best characters do have a weight to them, an internal life which one can discern. It’s unsettling to see, for example, the machinations beneath the surface of her social climber Christabel in Nicholas Ray’s Born to Be Bad (1950). The mixture of adoration and hatred toward the very wealthy which she carries inside her, and which can turn at an instant, is communicated well by Fontaine. Christabel’s words say one thing, while Fontaine’s face tells you the truth of her motives.

Fontaine would give another of her best performances for German-born director Max Ophuls, in his beautiful 1948 film Letter from An Unknown Woman. Fontaine’s character is a young working class woman who becomes infatuated with a famous musician. Fate brings them together briefly for a short but passionate affair, which ends as suddenly as it began. While the infatuation remains for the “unknown woman,” the famed pianist fails to remember her during later encounters. In the end, he has meant everything to her and she has meant little to him.

One is moved by the awkward and unsure effort of Fontaine’s character to be seen, to be recognized as someone of value. The character’s life could almost be summed up by the last words of the letter referred to in the film’s title: “If only…”

One gets the sense that Fontaine, who grew up in the well-to-do home of successful but troubled British parents in Tokyo, knew something about wealth and success, including its more vacuous, unfulfilling and sheltered aspects and brought this to her performances. She knew, intimately, how dreams, careers and lives could be dashed. Not for nothing did the actress once candidly describe Hollywood in this way: “I realize that one outstanding quality it possesses is not the lavishness, the perpetual sunshine, the golden opportunities, but fear.”

Many of Fontaine’s characters had the feeling and texture of real life about them and showed us something of the anxiety and unsettled nature of her time. Her best films continue to speak to us today. Readers are encouraged to explore her work.

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J Edgar Hoover and Hollywood


This video is called McCarthyism in America.

By Steve Richards in Britain:

J Edgar Hoover Goes To The Movies: The FBI And The Origins Of Hollywood’s Cold War
by John Sbardellati (Cornell University Press, £27.95)

Monday 03 December 2012

John Sbardellati’s book on the paranoid FBI director’s impact on the US film industry is an insightful account

It’s widely believed that the communist witch hunts of the 50s in the US were the result of hysteria cynically spread by the political careerist Joseph McCarthy.

But as John Sbardellati’s detailed retrospective on the period makes clear, the real driving force was actually the genuine – if totally unfounded – fear of FBI director J Edgar Hoover. Hoover’s concern? That communism was infecting the US way of life principally, it would seem, through ingeniously subtle propaganda inserted into Hollywood films.

There is much to dislike about Hoover and the book reveals him to be a paranoid, xenophobic, racist who moulded the FBI into a weapon to combat a cultural conspiracy which only existed in his mind.

J Edgar Hoover Goes To The Movies is not a work of character assasination though. It is a meticulous and objective look at how anti-communism took a firm hold of Hollywood.

As its author points out, Hoover’s fears reflected those of a country which never seems to stop labouring under the belief that its freedom is under threat. Hoover’s part was simply to heighten and spread the anti-communist fears already existing among conservatives in the post-war US.

Aided by organisations such as the Ayn Rand-supported Motion Picture Alliance and latterly the House Un-American Activities Committee, Hoover’s FBI mounted a mammoth secret investigation of the ideological content of Hollywood cinema.

Sbardellati reveals that Hoover’s delusional G-men began seeing the veiled spectre of communist ideology everywhere in films, from the positive depiction of a Russian soldier in the anti-fascist B-movie The Master Race (1944), to the demonisation of a capitalist banker in Frank Capra‘s now classic slice of Americana It’s A Wonderful Life (1946).

As it exposes the complex history of the time the book remains admirably succinct and focused. But Sbardellati’s new information also invites a new perspective. The human suffering of those blacklisted in the film industry, such as the Hollywood Ten, has been well documented but Sbardellati hints at a massive cultural loss as well.

As a climate of fear took hold and any film with even a vaguely liberal or politicised message became associated with the communist “threat,” Hollywood became afraid of producing films which examined or criticised US society.

Sbardellati’s book is fascinating and valuable because it gives us an insight into a point when US films began to ignore social problems.

Let’s not forget that a nation’s culture has a pronounced impact on its society. Hoover was right about that at least.

Hollywood witchhunter’s son apologizes for persecution


This is the trailer of the film Trumbo; about the 1947 persecution in the film studios of Hollywood, USA.

By Bill Benfield:

Publisher’s son says sorry for paper’s role in witch-hunts

Tuesday 20 November 2012

The son of Hollywood Reporter founder Billy Wilkerson apologised today for the trade paper’s role in the 1947 witch-hunt that destroyed the careers of writers, actors and directors accused of having communist ties.

Willie Wilkerson called the blacklist era “Hollywood’s Holocaust” and wrote in the Reporter: “On the eve of this dark 65th anniversary, I feel an apology is necessary.”

He said that his father used the blacklist to get revenge against Hollywood moguls who shut him out of their club when he tried to set up a film studio in the 1920s.

Billy Wilkerson founded the Reporter in 1930 and used it as a vehicle for editorials attacking communist sympathisers and their influence in Hollywood.

“In his maniacal quest to annihilate the studio owners, he realised that the most effective retaliation was to destroy their talent,” his son wrote.

“The easiest way to crush the studio owners was to simply call their actors, writers and directors communists.

“Apart from being charged with contempt for refusing to name names, none of these individuals committed any crimes.”

Studios dominated the industry and denied work to those named on the blacklist.

Some writers worked under pseudonyms and many actors and their families were forced to move overseas for work.

Billy Wilkerson wrote on November 5 1947: “Any man or woman who, under the guise of freedom of speech, or the cloak of the Bill of Rights, or under the pseudo-protection of being a liberal, says things, causes things to be said, or who actually is involved with many of the conspiracies that have now infested this great land of ours, has no place among us, be he commie or what.

“He or she should be rushed out of our business.”

Willie Wilkerson said: “On behalf of my family, and particularly my late father, I wish to convey my sincerest apologies and deepest regrets” to the victims.