Technically, there are three scenes that feature Beatrice Straight – but we can skip her second scene right away because all you see is the back of her head while she is watching TV. In her first scene, Beatrice Straight also might not do anything remarkable – but watch closer! She gets out of bed and finds that Howard Beale, a friend of her husband, has left their house at night and wakes her husband up to tell him. It’s not much of a scene but in this short moment Beatrice Straight gives a lot of impressions that will be very important in her final scene – she obviously loves her husband (expressed only by Beatrice Straight’s way of delivering one sentence to him – a remarkable achievement), she’s elegant and intelligent, she’s not involved in her husband’s work too deeply but she is also not an outsider.
But in the end, it all comes down to her big ‘money-scene’ when her husband confesses his affair to her and she begins her monologue about love and betrayal, about her desperation and finally her acceptance. She basically expresses all the reactions that should come in weeks and weeks in only a couple of minutes. ‘Then get out! Go anywhere you want, go to a hotel, go live with her, but don’t come back. Because after 25 years of building a home and raising a family and all the senseless pain that we have inflicted on each other, I’m damned if I’m gonna stand here and have you tell me you’re in love with somebody else. Because this isn’t some convention weekend with your secretary or some broad that you picked up after three belts of booze, this is your great winter romance, isn’t it? Your last roar of passion before you settle into your emeritus years. Is that what’s left for me? She gets the winter passion and I get the dotage. What am I supposed to do, am I supposed to sit home knitting and purling while you slink back like some penitent drunk? I’m your wife, damn it! And it you can’t work up a winter passion for me than the least I require is respect and allegiance! I hurt, don’t you understand that? I hurt badly!’
I have often complained about characters that lack depth, show no development or are simply pushed too much aside – well, on the one hand Beatrice Straight would be the best example for all this. Her character only exists to mourn the end of her marriage in a scene that even could have been left on the floor of the editing room and nobody would have noticed. But even though – how can one deny all the brilliance that went into this characterization? Her suffering wife is much more touching than that of Jennifer Connelly despite the fact that there are worlds between the lengths of their roles. In one short scene, Beatrice Straight displays almost all human emotions, going from one extreme to the other, shouting and crying, suffering silently and smiling. All the lack of character and depth prevent her from going up further in this ranking but she definitely used her big scene to perfection.
What is also so impressive is the fact that the audience doesn’t know anything about her – her first scene surely went unnoticed by most people and a wandering husband isn’t anything new to the cinema. So why should the audience care for this unknown character when Faye Dunaway is so deliciously crazy in her role? But then all of a sudden, you see the wife’s face on the screen. All her hurt feelings, her desperation, her anger are shown in one second and you don’t even need any dialogue to know what is happening at this moment. From one moment to the other, the perspective completely changes and suddenly the wife, that nameless wife, has a face, she has emotions, she has a life, she is a real person. Her breakdown symbolizes all the breakdowns of cheated wives, she makes her monologue to something monumental.
Basically, Beatrice Straight is the only real human being in Network. All others seem like egoistic, rating-obsessed maniacs who don’t care for anyone or anything. Louise Schumacher shows us that there are also other people in this world, people with feelings, people who hurt.
It’s basically a very thankless part but Beatrice Straight turned it into gold and gave probably much more than was ever intended for this part.