As a supporting performer with little screen time in a big epic, there is always the danger that the viewer forgets the character or that it is overshadowed by other parts or actors of the movie. But Maureen Stapleton is not even close to being in a danger like this. Her screen time may be short, but she is such a strong presence on the screen, a woman you wouldn’t want to get in an argument with!
In the first half of the movie, she is onscreen for only a couple of minutes, but she plays Emma with total determination, arguing and not caring about other people’s opinions and always with such fierce that poor Diane Keaton seems like a child when she tries to show a different side. The character is described best by Emma herself when she goes home at night and Warren Beatty tells her ‘I’ll go with you’ and she answers ‘Why? I won’t hurt anybody!’
Emma is also a woman who is not fond of Warren’s new dame Louise, something she shows when Louise sends Emma a scarf in prison (Emma is jailed for being an anarchist) and Emma couldn’t care less. Maureen Stapleton is one of those wonderful actresses who is able to say a lot with only one look or a gesture.
Maureen Stapleton’s most impressive scene comes later when Emma realizes ‘The dream that we had is dying in Russia’. In an outstanding monologue, she tells John that the new government in Russia is not what they had hoped for: ‘If Bolshevism means the peasants taking over the land and the workers taking over the factories, Russia is one place where there’s no Bolshevism…The central state has all the power! All the power is in the hands of few man and they are destroying any hope of real communism in Russia…Nothing works! Four million people died last year...They died from a system that cannot work!’
Maureen Stapleton is, in some way, the movie’s conscience but she is also a fighter, a friend, a comrade. She made it beautifully clear that there are no small parts – and she is no small actress!