Wednesday, June 4, 2014

2 with Rosalind Russell

Just for kicks, I've got a Rosalind Russell double feature tip for you.  You can find both these films in the Warner Archive DVD collection and both films have  a common bond.

The first one is a 1938 Warner Brothers release called Four's a Crowd.  Not a famous Roz Russell movie but one that's worth a look.  Why?  Because it's sort of a demo reel.  It shows that she had the right stuff to play the top-notch newspaper reporter opposite Cary Grant the rapid-fire 1940 comedy classic, His Girl Friday.  In Four's a Crowd, Rosalind Russell plays a newspaper reporter out to get the story any way she can.

It's the kind of working female character that became her specialty in the 1940s.

Four's a Crowd stars Errol Flynn in top hat, white tie and tails.  This might be the only screwball comedy he ever did and he did it opposite frequent Warner Brothers co-star, Olivia de Havilland.
Olivia seems to be borrowing Claudette Colbert's bangs in this comedy.  When dog-bites-man, that's not news.  When man-bites-dog, that's news.  Flynn's top-hatted character bites a dog in Four's a Crowd.  This kind of newspaper scandal vs rich people entertainment was done better at MGM in 1936's Libeled Lady with William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow.  But Rosalind Russell wasn't getting the opportunities for screwball comedies at MGM that Loy was.  The cool thing about Four's a Crowd is seeing Rosalind Russell rev up to kick her movie image and opportunities to a higher level.  She wouldn't be limited in high society lady roles again.  Think of Roz in 1935's China Seas with Gable and Harlow and Fox's 1936 French Foreign Legion drama,  Under Two Flags.  The other male lead in Four's a Crowd is played by handsome Patric Knowles.
That's Knowles on the far left next to Olivia de Havilland.

Knowles didn't have the movie star fame that Flynn had but he was a most serviceable leading man opposite other females stars such as Irene Dunne and Claudette Colbert.  Also, his career lasted longer than Flynn's did.  Knowles had a juicy supporting role along with Burgess Meredith in the 1972 made-for-TV drama, The Man, based on the best selling novel of the same name.  James Earl Jones starred as the first black President of the United States.  Rosalind Russell and Patric Knowles get laughs in 1938's Four's a Crowd.

Twenty years later, they teamed up again and got even bigger laughs in Auntie Mame.
After her Broadway triumph in the role, Roz recreated it onscreen for Warner Brothers.  This is one of the best female comedy performances in a Hollywood classic.  For her dynamic work as the Manhattan sophisticate who embraces diversity and a parent-less little nephew, Russell got a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actress of 1958.

Patric Knowles played her longtime loyal friend and occasional suitor, Lindsay.  In the life of Mame's sweet nephew, Lindsay is a beloved member of Auntie Mame's chosen family.

There you have it.  A Rosalind Russell double feature with a co-star common bond.

Roz got four Oscar nominations in her career.  If you're a fan, you'd probably think that she got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her scene-stealing comic fabulousness as the gossipy Sylvia Fowler in The Women...

...and a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her ace reporter in His Girl Friday.

Wrong.  Those two performances are in the "must-see" category for anyone who seeks to become a serious Rosalind Russell fan, but they didn't get Academy Award attention.

Besides Auntie Mame, her other Best Actress Oscar nomination for comedy work came for My Sister Eileen (1942).  Her other two Best Actress nominations were for dramas -- she played the famous Australian nurse called Sister Kenny (1946) and she took on the film adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's drama Mourning Becomes Electra (1947).

Rosalind Russell was one of the few Hollywood actors to star in a Broadway musical version of a film she did -- and to have another success playing the same character.  In the 1950s, My Sister Eileen became the Broadway musical comedy hit, Wonderful Town.  In My Sister Eileen and Wonderful Town, Roz played Ruth, Eileen's big sister.  On Broadway in Wonderful Town, Rosalind Russell's leading man was actor/singer George Gaynes.  Gaynes played the soap actor in 1982's Tootsie who was the soap opera's "Dr. Brewster" and serenades Dorothy outside her/his apartment window one night after work singing "I'll Know."

Here some more trivia for you.  George Gaynes is 97 and has been married for over 50 years to Allyn Ann McLerie.  She's the singer/dancer/actress who co-starred with Doris Day as "Katie Brown," the best friend in the Warner Bros. musical comedy, Calamity Jane.

Enjoy the Roz Russell double feature.

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