My current Top 5

My current Top 5

2/09/2010

Best Actress 1947: Rosalind Russell in "Mourning Becomes Electra"

Over the time, movies have given us a lot of dysfunctional families but it is probably hard to top the Mannon, a wealthy, Northern family during the American Civil War. They are marked by hate, betrayal, mistrust and incest love.
Mourning Becomes Electra is the story of a daughter against a mother, a son against a father and a wife against a husband. And only one will survive.

In the middle of all this is Rosalind Russell’s Lavinia. She is a very dominant, decided and suspicious woman. She mistrusts every step her mother takes and actively tries to expose her as a liar and adulteress. It is never told how the relationship between these two got so bad but whenever Lavinia and her mother share the screen, the tension can be cut with a knife. Instead, Lavinia is devoted to her father whom she expects to finally come home from the war. But when he dies in the first night of his return, Lavinia immediately suspects her mother of murder and tries to get her brother, who on his part is loyally devoted to his mother, on her side.

It’s no light fare that this 3-hour movie tells and anyone who expects a thrilling family saga couldn’t be more wrong. This movie is all talking and thus provides the actors with the kind of dream roles that are sure to attract awards attention because the tour-de-force is so obvious: the actors can deliver one monologue after another, show all kinds of emotional conditions and play characters that are always close to the edge of insanity.

So it’s no surprise that Rosalind Russell was considered the widely frontrunner for her performance. And while she certainly does an impressive job in bringing this dark tale to life and carry this melancholic story on her shoulders, time has not been too kind to this movie. While Michael Redgrave’s performance has aged very well, both Rosalind Russell and Katina Paxinou seem constantly to try to act each other of the screen with larger-than-life gestures and movements.

Rosalind Russell never really overacts but she more than once seems to think that the only acting choice for her part is too widen her eyes as much as possible and act with a certain theatrically that is better suited for the stage. For long parts, her whole performance also consists of basically only one expression which is an arrogant look with a chin put as high as possible.

But somehow, it still works. Rosalind Russell’s acting choices more than once seem rather unnatural and dated but the way she slipped into the character always impresses. Her arrogant, domineering, manipulative and slightly insane Lavinia never feels forced or calculated. Instead, Rosalind Russell slides through the movie in a way that makes it look easy but at the same she constantly tries to make sure that every viewer is aware that it’s in fact very difficult. She impressively towers above the entire cast and helps to make Mourning Becomes Electra worth seeing despite its length and dark subject.

She is able to always hint that there is much more going on inside of Lavinia than her stern face suggests. She makes all her obsessions believable and shows the restlessness in her character. And even though she portrays the hate against her mother in an authentic way she is also just as believable when she suddenly feels sorry for her after she and her brother took revenge on her lover.

Rosalind Russell makes Lavinia a merciless creature, an unforgiving goddess who rules over the old house and the last few souls in it. Her biggest achievement is to make the transition from devoted daughter to mad spinster realistic. She shows that Lavinia is a character who always tries to take control and determine her own actions but she is also influenced by the way others think or talk about her. Especially the relationship with her brother is characterized by loving devotion and mutual destruction.

Even though Rosalind Russell did a lot of things right in her performance, she also failed in various parts. As mentioned before, she too often reduces the character too some crazy looks or an arrogant pose and one can’t help but feel that the part is sometimes too difficult for her. Her exaggerated, in some parts dated acting certainly works well in the context of a movie that is exaggerated and dated itself and also filled with equally dated and exaggerated performances but it also reduces the overall impact of her own performance.

Still, it’s an remarkable achievement that gets

1 comment:

Moineau En France said...

sadly, she was just too old for the part. i think it lessens the film which is marvelous, really, in all other ways... i watch it anyway. it's just hard to get past that. i think someone like liz taylor could have pulled it off quite well...