JOAN BENNETT: UNDER THE RADAR

JOAN BENNETT ( I )February 27, 1910 – December 7, 1990

“The ‘Golden Age’ is gone, and with it most of the people of great taste. It doesn’t seem to be any fun any more.”  ~  [ Joan Bennett, 1984 ]

 

All eyes are on Elizabeth Taylor in Father of the Bride” ( 1950 ). Naturally. They always are. But a friend told me I should play closer attention Joan Bennett next time ‘round. Yeah, Bennett could conceivably be Taylor’s mother; both share the same birth date, and Bennett and Tracy appear together in 1932’s Me and My Gal.” Alright, so next time “Father of the Bride” comes around, I’ll pay attention to Joan Bennett. I did.

Elizabeth who?

I mean Elizabeth is cute…pretty and everything. But, she’s no Joan Bennett.

Yes, Spencer Tracy may be the star, and Taylor is definitely lovely to look at. But Joan Bennett is beautiful, and has the hardest job…she quietly supports. She’s the glue that holds things together. She swats the great Tracy down with a gentle word or a knowing glance. She stands toe-to-toe with him with little outward effort at all. Joan Bennett has to be one of the most underrated actresses from the classic era.

JOAN BENNETT ( %22GAL%22) JOAN BENNETT ( %22...BRIDE%22 )

You know how it is when you can’t UNsee a thing? Well that’s me with Bennett now in “Father of the Bride” and with any of her movies now, frankly. ( Thank you Karin. ) When I was in junior high school, all I had to do was come home straight from school, turn on WABC and see her in Dark Shadows.” But that show was not my thing. ( Youth…wasted on the young. Thank God for DVDs. ) Yes, now I have eyes wide open to Joan Bennett. If you want someone who doesn’t telegraph her emotions, who can silently relay those in-between emotions of contempt, resignation, mocking, worry etc…Joan’s your girl. She could drop-kick a line over the goal post or a give you a withering glance with the finesse of Toshiro Mifune with a Samurai sword.

Ive invited a few friends to weigh in on how they feel about Joan Bennett, just so you won’t think I’m alone and crazy in this:

     ( KAHUNA ) BENNETT ( IV )   ( KARIN 0 JOAN BENNETT

“Joan was adorable throughout the thirties, but in the forties she became as good as an actor can be. The dark hair gave her more gravitas, her maturity gave her more insight, and working with Fritz Lang, Jean Renoir, Zoltan Korda, and Max Ophüls didn’t hurt a bit. So much of her forties work was outstanding, but the two characterizations that leave me awestruck are in ‘The Reckless Moment’ and ‘The Macomber Affair.’ But then there are ‘Scarlet Street’ and ‘Woman on the Beach.’   And…..” – Robert Regan

  JOAN BENNETT ( as a child )The Bennett sisters ( left to right ), Constance ( 1904 ),    Daughters: Constance, Joan 
Joan (  1910 ) and Barbara ( 1906 )                                 and Barbara with their parents


Joan is used to being in front of an audience, her father was famed Broadway star Richard Bennett and actress Adrienne Morrison. She had two beauties for big sisters: Barbara and Constance Bennett. Joan’s been before some camera or another since she was a child. If I’m being honest, looking over her filmography early in her beginnings, a lot of her movies are pretty “Meh” and she played nondescript ingenue roles. I don’t mean this as a put-down, believe me; but it is what it is. She just didn’t have films that brilliantly distinguished her like a Bette Davis or a Stanwyck; not consistently, anyway. She was a working mother, having daughters in 1928, 1934, 1943 and 1948 which might have shaped her drive. And I get the impression she didn’t live, eat and breathe the movies, but Lived Life. I’d like to read her autobiography The Bennett Playbill and fill in my gaps on her life. ( Joan was a star in her own right, but  let me toss a little Constance on the barbie for you from my friend Wendy: )

JOAN & CONSTANCE BENNETT

“I’ll literally watch her in anything. To me she represents the 1930’s, a real STAR, she’s so glamorous. Others also represent the 30’s, but to me, Connie represents the GLAMOUR … the unreality, the studio concoctions, the beautiful unreal crazy HOLLYWOOD side of the movies that got into full swing in the 30’s. You know, she’s like the Cary Grant of women. So completely out of reach, elegance-wise. Whenever the girl in the movie theater in “Singing in the Rain” says: “She’s so refined. I think I’ll kill myself,”  I think of Constance Bennett.

Joan is more real, more tangible, more the actress. Constance is a star… first and foremost. Shes got something that makes you want to watch her…theres something rather free about her that I really love; that, not-caring-a- damn-what-people-think, attitude. – Wendy T. Merckel

stephani-joan-shelley-bennett_opt

If her work is kind of spotty, things take a turn for the better for Ms. Bennett when she becomes a brunette. This happens in 1938’s Trade Winds with Fredric March.JOAN BENNETT ( TRADE WINDS ) It gives her career a different trajectory. Hey, it’s not that she changed her subtle acting style. She’s still easy breezy. It’s probably moreso a dulled public finally woke up to her charms. She worked with some of the greats: SpencerTracy, Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Walter Pidgeon, Eddie G., Gregory Peck, Paul HenreidRobert Ryan, JOAN BENNETT ( ON BEACH )Michael Redgrave. Her work with Fritz Lang and Max Ophüls gave her career some edge. It’s Bennett playing the femme fatale that contributes to her being remembered. Scarlet Street” “The Woman on the Beach The Macomber AffairandMan Hunt are among my favorite films of Bennett. But I know there are so many more to discover.

JOAN BENNETT #2 JOAN BENNETT ( WOMAN BEACH )

“She’s an American girl, but not any American girl. She is sophisticated in every sense of the word. I’d say Joanie is the most sophisticated, continental or European actress of the American cinema. She was the toast of the European directors: Renoir, Korda,JOAN BENNETT & FRITZ LANG III Ophüls, Lang; these European emigres loved working with Bennett, perhaps because she conveys a world-weary je ne sais quoi. And she is the intellectual’s dream come true. She exudes sex; intelligent, clever, sexual allure. It’s not in your face like Marilyn or Ava. Her mind comes first and then her looks.” – Fernando Silva

JOAN BENNETT ( %22SCARLET%22 ) copyWOMAN ON THE BEACHTHE MACOMBER AFFAIR ( JOAN BENNETT )

THE RECKLESS MOMENT ( JOAN BENNETT ) THE MACOMBER AFFAIR 

STANWYCK & BENNETT - III thought she was wonderful in “The Reckless Moment” as a woman rea-lizing just how trapped in suburbia she is when she has to step OUT of it to save her daughter from a black-mailer. And in this journey, an unexpected attraction develops… Stripped of being a glamor puss in this 1949 film, if that distracts you, ( uh, meaning me ) you can see what Bennett’s made of, acting-wise. ( Here is my review but please do see this film. ) I write of The Macomber Affair as well and very highly recommend it.

JOAN BENNETT ( BLONDE - I ) JOAN BENNETT ( XXX ) JOAN BENNETT ( BLONDE III )

JOAN BENNETT ( WRITING )JOAN BENNETT ( BLONDE )JOAN BENNETT ( SLACKS )

She’s smart – no fool, Joan. She’s got a wicked sense of humor, most on display in ‘Scarlet Street.’ She’s beautiful but never acts it. She’s down to earth, as all my favorites are. She knows the tone of a piece and plays to it. She can be relaxed or arch, depending on the piece or her co-stars. I like her voice, which is an odd mix of highbrow and New York swagger. She looks as good as a brunette as she does as a blonde. Oh my gosh, what’s NOT to like about Joanie? I can’t think of a thing I DON’T like about her.”  – Wendy T. Merckel 

MISS JOAN BENNETTOne might think of other actresses first before you’d get to her name. And you’d be ( sort of ) forgiven because the bench ran deep with talent in the Golden Age of Hollywood. But when you do get to her name, pause, check her out, visit with her. She can toss a line with the best of ’em, and her glance speaks volumes. She’s wonderful to watch…and look at, quietly holding her own. I didn’t always know that, but thanks to a couple of friends, I know it now. And isnt that what counts? Its been twenty-five years since Joan Bennett passed away. I didn’t want to forget her today. And I wanted to remind you.

* * * * *

The Scar ~ “Trade Winds ~ “Scarlet Street ~ “The Woman in the Window” ~ “Confirm or Deny ~ “Father’s Little Dividend ~  “The Reckless Moment

[   H O M E   ]

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26 thoughts on “JOAN BENNETT: UNDER THE RADAR

  1. Theresa, I think one has to have lived for a while to appreciate Joan Bennett. I had been seeing her throughout my childhood and adolescence on screen and on television, but it wasn’t until my forties that I gradually realized just how remarkable she was. As good as the best and in some cases even better. Like few of the competition, she was a real woman. Not someone for a dream life, but for real life. For a while, I thought I was the only one who got her, and I am glad to see more people recognizing her achievements and her appeal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Believe it or not Bob, you started the ball rolling. A long time ago you posted this screen shot from “Woman on the Beach” and captioned it with something like: “What other actress in the forties could have played this role?” Something like that. It started a churning in my head. Then my friend Karin finished it off with her talking to me about Joan Bennett. A light bulb went off in my noggin.

      I find her strong, smart and sexy. She’s not showy. And she’s a team player…meaning she doesn’t have to have the big part. She knows what it means to be supportive in a role and how important THAT is. She looks secure enough to do anything. And the low timbre of her voice, and her beauty, especially or mainly as a brunette, well…

      You, Wendy and Fernando covered her well for my blog with your admiration. ( Thank you for the quotes! )

      Look, I always want my girls…and my boys to win an Oscar. I must look up the Academy Award competition for 1949. I thought she was so good in “The Reckless Moment.” Yes, mine eyes have been opened to Joan Bennett. I am absolutely and utterly proselytized…or may I take back the word “radicalized” and use it in a positive way?

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  2. Fantastic tribute post! Although I have seen some of Bennett’s films, this post will send me scurrying to the library, in search of her films and books about her. And isn’t it amazing what a bottle of hair dye can do…..talk about a transformation!

    Liked by 1 person

    • A bottle of hair dye…you’re soooooooo right Susan. LOL! It opened up a new career for Bennett. But she always had the chops…maybe not the roles. A bottle of hair dye also helped Dorothy Malone. She was a brunette and went blonde. VOILA!! I am beyond flattered that my post on my little blog might inspire someone ( as it has you ) to check out Joan Bennett or any other actor in classic films. Thank you for saying this on the Film Noir FaceBook group, and here to me. Thank you!

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  3. Marvin.Go see Mary Poppins; you won't be sorry, and Victor, Victoria as well! See you at Gee Whiz. on said:

    Great article as usual. I love Joan Bennett as well and have always found her to be engaging, intense and versatile as well as one of the most beautiful of actresses! I particularly love her in Woman On The Beach in which she’s got me as wrapped around her (little finger) as well as Robert Ryan but Charles Bickford had her number though!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Joan Bennett thrived on good direction. When she worked with Fritz Lang in THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, she gave one of the best performances of her career. Lang directed every move, every nuance, and Bennett shines in the role. She also performed well for Max Ophuls.

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  5. Joan Bennett is criminally underrated. But you make a good point about the incredible talent during the studio era, and it would be easy to be overlooked.

    As for “Man Hunt”: yes, Bennett may not have the best British accent, but her performance is still wonderful, in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 🙂 ~ Now after you finish your Christmas shopping…and New Year’s partying…don’t forget my Star-Director Blogathon which is one month away. Can’t wait to read your thoughts on “The Letter.” 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This was a really lovely (and so truthful) tribute to Joan Bennett. I’ve always enjoyed her performances. She’s delightful as Amy in “Little Women” (1933). Director George Cukor said that he wasn’t sure she was right for the part. Then he saw her at a party, slightly drunk and silly, and he thought “Oh, yes…”. She’s especially good in the sequel to “Father of the Bride” entitled “Father’s Little Dividend” when she muses on the joys of being a grandparent. Just a small, quiet moment with her and Spencer Tracy, but so believable, so authentic. It stays with you. As you say, you cannot “unsee” it.

    I really like her in “We’re No Angels” where she holds her own opposite Humphrey Bogart. Again, she has many quiet, vibrant moments, touching…she even sings in that one!

    And to see Bennett do a wonderful flip to the more toxic side of the perfect wife/mother role she handled so well, check her out as Fred MacMurray’s self-obsorbed wife in “There’s Always Tomorrow”. So honest once again, and you can clearly see Bennett had no problem coming across as unsympathetic, another variation on the femme fatale roles she’s done so effectively in the ’40s.

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    • A flip to the toxic side…you might’ve just given me a title for a blog post, Funbud. Thank you so much for reading and commenting on my post on Joan Bennett. I’m new to appreciting her charms even though I’ve known her work since I was a kid ( “Dark Shadows.” ) WHO can trust this actress’ work to a kid. I really have to see “We’re No Angels.” A friend has suggested that to me. Guess I really oughta pay attention.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to write. Please…peruse my blog. You might find more entertaining tidbits!!

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  7. I noticed someone criticizing Joan for a bad British accent in _The Scar_. Um, problem with that is: she’s playing an American in California. I can’t quite remember if the film took place in LA or San Franciso, but neither she nor the setting were English. Now, she does talk like my mother, with the almost English broad “A” but that’s just a generational and educational thing. Anyway, this is a great tribute to a truly underrrated actress. I even used her as the inspiration for the main character in my novel, Bait and Switch!

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    • Thanks for that correction, Sharon. I’ve never seen “The Scar” but I wonder if the person was talking about Joanie in “Manhunt.”

      I’m glad you liked my tribute to the beautiful Joan Bennett. I’m a little late to the game in my admiration of her, and now I just love her to pieces. Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Joan Bennett was perfect in Trade Winds both as a blonde and then brunette. The Man in the Iron Mask is my favorite movie of the 1930s. She was front and center in House across the Bay and gave one of her best performances up to that time although some people think the story was too familiar. With the prison plot. I love her in Manhunt accent and all.She also had a British accent later that year in Confirm or Deny. My favorite of her comedy films is Twin Beds. I like the Woman in the Window. I love Macomber Affair, Scarlet Street, Woman on the Beach, Secret Beyond the Door, Hollow Triumph, The Reckless Moment best of all and The Guy Who Came Back. She’s one of the prettiest actresses I’ve ever seen and I liked her to an extreme in Dark Shadows.

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