Yup, it's that day of the week...Twice a Best Actress Day!!! I can't believe that we're almost done with this whole project. Only one more week. Yup, we close things out next Friday with Katherine Hepburn's second pair of wins. I have loved every minute of this experience and am sad to see it come to a close, but all good things must end.
So let's talk Vivien Leigh!
Here's the panel:
Andrew from The Films the Thing
Drew from A Fistful of Films
Fritz from Fritz and the Oscars
Josh from The Cinematic Spectacle
Kevin from Speaks in Movie Lines
Sati from Cinematic Corner
It was the role of a lifetime and virtually every young actress in Hollywood was looking to score it. From Katharine Hepburn (who lobbied unsuccessfully for the part) to Bette Davis (who was the public's number one pick), even the surprising choice of Lucille Ball - they were all in the running to play Margaret Mitchell's fiery heroine Scarlett O'Hara in David O. Selznick's epic film adaptation of Gone With the Wind. The search went on for over two years and was such an event itself that a nationwide casting search looked at over 1,400 young hopefuls all hoping that they had what it took to play the part. But with the casting of a relatively unknown British actress named Vivien Leigh, Selznick took a huge risk and ended up securing the film's greatest asset. Instantly iconic, Leigh's Scarlett is unforgettable. So indelible is Leigh's portrayal of Scarlett, it's impossible to imagine anyone else playing the Southern Belle. Tackling the demands of such a large central role, the film is a showcase for Leigh who gets to display a flirty comedic side along with the fist-shaking melodrama (larger than life stories demand larger than life emotions, after all) and every shade in between. But she is always in control of the behemoth, her relative inexperience in Hollywood belying an unmistakable confidence and commitment. Knowing precisely how to play each emotion and beat, in scene after scene, the weight of the film rests on her slender but very capable shoulders and Leigh shows that she is ready, willing, and able to fulfill all that is asked of her and more. Willful, determined, and stubborn, Leigh effortlessly embodies Scarlett's strongest qualities, but is never demanding of the audience's sympathy or understanding - likability is not her priority. But Leigh challenges the viewer not to side with what is essentially a selfish manipulator, by making her interesting, complex, and, frankly, damn alluring. A performance for the ages.
My Grade: A
I have an odd relationship with Gone with the Wind. I respect it, because I can see so many of its great qualities, and I like it, for it is a very enjoyable cinematic experience that flows so beautifully (and swiftly) despite its notorious running length, and yet I don’t love this film. I have it rest comfortably in the B-Grade range, and it wouldn’t even make my top 15 of the film year that was 1939 (which was an exceptional year for film). There are some really specific reasons that the film doesn’t become something spectacular to me, but those are for another discussion.
We’re here to talk about Vivien Leigh.
Despite reservations that I have with the film itself, there is no denying that the character of Scarlett O’Hara is one of the greatest in cinematic history, even if certain aspects of her character rub me raw and a certain scene in particular makes me kind of hate her (UGH, let Melanie have her moment, even in death). Leigh is so passionate, so resounding in her convictions here, that she bleeds every ounce of herself into this character. The search for the best Scarlett O’Hara is notorious, and the actresses who lobbied for the part, wanted it and were wanted for it (by the studio and the public) is wide and widely known, but at the end of the day I really can’t see anyone else in the part aside from Leigh. Watching this again confirmed that for me. Even though there are moments she overshoots (I’m not really a fan of her “as God is my witness” scene, to be honest), and her character basically turns into the worst person imaginable by the end of it all, Leigh never fails to completely arrest our interest.
I will say this, though. Olivia de Haviland gives THE performance of this film. She never falters, always underlines every line with such authenticity and steals our hearts. Clear MVP, in my humble opinion.
That said, Leigh was a very deserving Oscar winner that year, especially of the lineup, which was strong on paper but not as strong in retrospect. My clear favorite of the year was Jean Arthur in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but she wasn’t even nominated. Had Arthur or Colbert been nominated (for her glorious work in Midnight), then I’d say that Leigh had some stiff competition, but as it stood, Leigh was the right choice.
My Grade: A-
There are so many iconic performances that did not win an Oscar that it is truly wonderful that what might be THE most iconic female performance of all time actually did walk home with the gold (but apparently there were only a few votes that secured her win over co-nominee Bette Davis) – Vivien Leigh’s work in Gone with the Wind basically defies all description and is a true miracle in the history of motion pictures. What are the odds that an unknown actress would be allowed to head the most prestigious production in the history of Hollywood? And how was it possible that the search for the perfect Scarlett went on for so long that Vivien Leigh had enough time to dream of the part, cross the Atlantic, get to Hollywood and finally meet David O. Selznick during the filming of the Burning of Atlanta? It seems impossible not to use the word fate and if there was ever a performer who was born to play a part – this is the case! Vivien Leigh so perfect in every meaning of the word and brings complexity and charm to the screen that no other actress could have (just watch all the screen tests). Basically, any kind of explanation here is unnecessary. Let’s just say…
My Grade: A+
Leigh won her first Best Actress Oscar for playing Scarlett O'Hara, a Southern belle who endures great hardship and a tumultuous romance during the Civil War era. The film of the year needed a great performance, and Leigh is up to the task. She's perfectly cast as the enduring woman from a celebrated novel. As Scarlett, Leigh goes from a girl with a crush on a man she can't have to a woman in love with the man she didn't like. Leigh gives a fascinating performance, slowly shifting from a bubbly, flirtatious personality to a weary, heartsick demeanor. The pain and horrors that Scarlett experience change her, and Leigh follows this arc beautifully. While her character changes so much, she never loses the fight in Scarlett, which carries throughout her entire performance. Icons are tough to handle, but Leigh gives an iconic performance of an iconic character. She's simply marvelous in the film.
Did Leigh deserve to win?
Given her competition, this was an easy call (and the right one).
The status of Victor Fleming's "Gone with the Wind" (1939) as one of the greats of American cinema stands. It is a beautiful film, yet it holds almost no weight for me save a couple of memorable scenes, mostly ones featuring Clark Gable as that devilish, dapper Southern gentleman (sort of), Rhett Butler. It's just way too long. Sorry. I know that shouldn't be a deterrent, but I can barely hold my gaze on it. The best of it comes right before the Intermission and right at the very end. The rest is just bloated, sprawling storytelling with hardly anything compelling. Plus, it's dated and racist.
Having said all that, Vivien Leigh as the quintessential Southern Belle is superb. She carries the entire weight of this monstrosity of a movie and never misses a beat. She is just so confident, natural, and effing gorgeous. To start, she plays the young flirt to perfection. In love with her life, herself, the attention she gets from the local boys. Her jealousy of Olivia deHavilland's Melanie is palpable, growing more and more stale as the running time drags on. No matter, at the beginning of the film she is witty and fast talking and perfectly cast. I understand it was quite a chore for the producers to find the right Scarlett. Leigh is the right choice and worth whatever trouble it was to cast.
Even the most melodramatic scenes work. From professing her undying love for Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) over and over into trashing Gable's Butler into deflecting then accepting a proposal from Charles Hamilton (Rand Brooks), who quickly makes her an unwilling, young widow. All of this early drama really plays and is entertaining. There are some finely directed scenes leading up to the Intermission that highlight Leigh's abilities as an actress. That look on her face during the leg amputation scene, for example. The camera pushes into her face, and it holds just pure horror. The sweaty intensity during the "don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies" scene is perfectly on point. She is just totally into the role, and we're into it as well all the way up that final, gorgeous shot to end the first half.
After Intermission this film just slows almost to a halt. I thought it would never end. There's a scene where Ashley kisses her in the barn and lauds her, saying "You've carried the load." I couldn't agree more. Scarlett O'Hara is a strong character, and Leigh matches that strength throughout. It's Gable though who is best in this movie for me. He certainly gets the best lines. And he just rips right to the core of her. Both actors are best when in the same scene.
She really runs through it all. You love her, you're charmed by her, you hate her, you question her, especially after she marries Kennedy (Carroll Nye). You feel sorry for her. Then, you envy her extravagant wealth and don't feel sorry for her. And she knows it and she's still charming. She plays so many angles. So many emotions. Then she ends up just making you feel sorry for Rhett. Then tragedies strike and it's just sad. Tragedy and truth. Beautifully acted by all.
At one point Butler watches her drive away and claims, "What a woman!" It's true. Scarlett as played by Leigh is quite a woman. This is certainly an Oscar-worthy performance.
The Scene That Won It: "As God is my witness..." That is the one.
My Grade: A-
Well, i finally know who Rhett Butler is! Seriously, I rewatched The Normal Heart and Parks and Rec last week and both had references to him. Well, no wonder he is still referenced....
To my shock my first time watching of Gone with the Wind was actually kinda great. Despite its monstrous run time the film is so gorgeous looking and so engaging it was more entertaining than most of 2h movies there are out there. And a lot of the film's fire and energy is there because of Leigh.
Her character, the iconic Scarlett O'Hara is certainly a character to behold. She is very complex, part villain, part heroine, part someone incredibly silly, part someone incredibly courageous. We see her growing up but never really growing up fully because there is this huge, crippling anchor of silly infatuation that prevents her from ever being happy or truly living and becoming an actual person, her own person, not desiring anyone or anything and just being happy for once.
Leigh plays the part with such energy, such wit and charisma you cannot take your eyes of her. It helps that she, right here in this movie, is one of the most beautiful women I've seen in my life. The famous moment of her in red dress coming to the birthday part last for few seconds but it's breathtaking. Scarlett who can be so careless has such a look of maturity, of a woman who has a look as if she lived for hundreds of years in her eyes. Leigh pulls off the character completely and it's honestly one of the most deserved Oscar wins that come to my mind.
as a side note Olivia de Havilland also deserves the praise and it's a shame she didn't win for this performance. Her character is one of the most kind hearted, purely good heroines I've seen.
My Grade: A
If Vivien Leigh had only played Scarlett O'Hara, her place in cinematic history would already be assured. But 12 years after Tara, Leigh returned to the South playing Tennessee Williams' most famous character, Blanche DuBois, a stunning gift of a role for any actress and especially poignant for Leigh, who's earlier Southern role brings an added dimension to the character no one else could bring. But if Scarlett earned her a place in the history books, it was her work as Blanche that cemented her legacy as one of the greatest actresses of all time. But the challenging role came at a price for Leigh. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder while she was playing the role on the London stage, she went through electroshock therapy during the day and then went on stage every night to portray the psychological descent of the character. It began to take its toll on her, but in bringing Blanche to the screen, Leigh began to lose control of herself. The only cast member not to transfer from the original Broadway production (with a cast of mostly unknowns, Broadway's Blanche, Jessica Tandy, was dropped in favor of the more famous Oscar winner), Leigh already felt like an outsider on set and director Elia Kazan, who was not impressed with Leigh's talent, used that isolation to his advantage, manipulating and emotionally torturing Leigh to get her raw performance captured on film. Leigh spent most of her career on stage in classical theatre, her style of acting in contrast to the Method acting of her co-star, Brando. But in Streetcar, Leigh is able to marry her theatricality with that emotional realness to create a style of acting caught between two worlds - the old and the new, just as Blanche's dreamy world of tranquility is constantly disrupted by Stanley's harsh reality. Leigh pushes herself so completely in the film, burying herself deeply into Blanche's psyche to a point where sometimes it's hard to know where Leigh ends and Blanche begins. It becomes more than just a performance. It's a heartbreaking witness of the destruction of Vivien Leigh - her spirit literally shattering before our eyes.
My Grade: A
When people list the greatest performances to ever have won an Oscar, many list this one. While more people have seen her Gone with the Wind performance, more people, I believe, admire this particular performance. I am one of those people. It doesn’t hurt that I consider the film a masterpiece of cinema, but really even if the film had faltered, it is clear that Leigh’s performance does not.
This is a perfect example of the right actress for the right character.
I often have criticized certain performances and even certain performers for being to mannered in their delivery. I’ve always preferred the more natural actors, not the overtly theatrical, but some characters demand a delivery that is almost unnatural in order to feel natural, and that is exactly what Blanche needed, which is why Leigh was a perfect choice here. She’s bold, brazen, over the top and borderline ridiculous and yet she works so damn well, especially contrasted against Marlon Brando, who broods with such authenticated naturalism, such rested reality. Their juxtaposition of actorly approaches shouldn’t work and yet they mesh together with stunning results.
The depths that Leigh goes to, the layer upon layer of character, the way that she masks so much internal pain only to completely derail, the way that the light in her eyes goes on and off depending on what it is she is focused on, the way you can read her even though you can never fully read her…it all feels so genuinely sold, and that is a statement in itself. She’s just perfection here.
The only shame to come from the Oscar’s that year was the shame in having only THREE of Streetcar’s principle players win Oscars.
My Grade: A+
Ok, so Vivien Leigh brings Scarlett O’Hara to live in what is undoubtedly the most well-known female performance of all time – and it isn’t even the best work of her career? What seems impossible came true when this British actress played another Southern Belle opposite Marlon Brando in A Streetcar named Desire. But where Scarlett was young and full of energy, Blanche is worn-out and only a shell of her former self. It’s a heartbreaking and absorbing portrayal of misery and phantasy, of dreaming and being and stands as the finest piece of work that was ever awarded an Oscar.
My Grade: A+
Leigh won her second Best Actress Oscar for playing Blanche DuBois, a damaged Southern woman who moves in with her sister and hotheaded brother-in-law. In a film that features terrific work from the entire cast, Leigh shines in the legendary Tennessee Williams role. As Blanche, she gets to delve into the psyche of a desperate woman who tries to mask her secret, disturbing past. Leigh nails her character's neurotic behavior, harnessing her emotions and unleashing them in various ways, both subtle and intensified. Given Williams' heightened material, Blanche seems like a much more complex role than Scarlett O'Hara, and it's certainly a more difficult performance to pull off. But Leigh does just that. She's luminous, mesmerizing, and heartbreaking in another performance for the ages, and she's even better as Blanche than she is as Scarlett. No mean feat I'd say.
Did Leigh deserve to win?
No question. She delivered another iconic performance and towered above her competition.
Tennessee Williams' play "A Streetcar Named Desire" is one that I have studied closely. In fact, I read it for two different classes in college. It is a work well ahead of its time, filled with sexual overtones and devastating truths about mental illness and abuse and people, in general.
From the moment Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois walks through that fog of street steam, she has you. That accent! The way she delivers this silky, slurring Southern Belle speak, aged like a fine bourbon, is just astounding. I would literally (and I mean literally) just listen to this movie with the picture turned off. Like the play and the film, Leigh's performance is, likewise, way ahead of its time, important and iconic.
Vivien Leigh is the perfect actress for this role. With her own real life manic depression, it must have been a really personal experience for her to portray such a character on the stage and on the screen. Blanche is nervous, fidgety, fast talking. So much different from Scarlett O'Hara, yet still the same, a faded Southern Belle left to pick up the pieces of a lost way of life in the American South. DuBois is like what O'Hara would be if she had decided not to promise never to "go hungry again."
Blanche Dubois is starving. She is flawed. She has a thing for young boys, which is one of the reasons she was ousted from her home of Belle Reve to take up residence in old New Orleans with her sister, Stella (Kim Hunter), and that husband of hers, Stanley effing Kowalski (Marlon Brando). She lost her home, she lost her job, she's losing her mind. She is at once proud and delusional, trying to hide her neuroses and addictions. Her incredible "desire" to relive this one great young love is her flaw and downfall, which reinforces this film's place as a tale ahead of its time. "A Streetcar Named Desire" is deep and dark in its wish to delve into the degrading mind of a troubled lady. Credit to Tennessee Williams. He is, at once, telling a story of a beaten down South and a beaten down woman.
Leigh's ability to play off of strong leading men, Brando here, like Gable before, is amazing. There are so many award worthy scenes in this film, I couldn't possilby recap them all. The scene where she dumps the papers out of her suitcase while rapidly firing lines back and forth with Brando is so fun to watch. Their standoffish chemistry is unreal. It oozes sexual tension by way of sweat and booze. Watching her with Brando here, I am hard-pressed to think of another acting duel as important in all the movies I've seen. Her work alongside Karl Malden's Mitch is nearly as good. There's a scene where she tells Mitch her name. Just the way she says DuBois with that sexy look on her face. Those eyes. Her little dance. Blanche is a sad little girl longing to be loved. And it's a nice juxtaposition to have Mitch's sweetness often in the same room with Stanley's macho, ripped up animalistic rage.
By the end, when Blanche is just totally worn down, putting all her feathers and tiaras on, still duking it out with Stanley, we realize just how good this performance is. It's just so smooth and effortless. And even when the writing calls for melodrama (the total nervous breakdown at the end), it just doesn't seem to be that. It seems sincere, even real. I mean, she's flailing around the room like only a truly crazy person would, and it's believable.
Vivien Leigh's work in "A Streetcar Named Desire" is the reason great actresses of today are winning Oscars. Think about the last two Best Actress winners. Jennifer Lawrence, playing a sex-crazed manic depressive in "Silver Linings Playbook" (2012). Cate Blanchett playing a Blanche DuBois ripoff in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine." The mannerisms and actions Leigh expresses as Blanche DuBois is a direct influence on those two performances. Leigh wins this award over and over. It is that iconic.
The Scene That Won It: The one with the young delivery boy into her first date with Mitch. Her flattery. "You have a massive bone structure." Is it sincere? Can you trust her? Do she really have "old-fashioned ideals"? She is saddened, made insane by loss. Lost home, lost love. All of this drives her to immoral behavior, sealing all of her losses. And poor Mitch is left standing in the wake.
My Grade: A+
What can be said about Leigh in this role? Just like with Scarlett, Blanche is just iconic. I sadly didn't have the time to rewatch the film but years after seeing it I still remember this performance vividly.
Leigh plays Blanche as a person who creates imaginary world for herself, world where only good things exist. Her reality is built only of good, kind and sweet things, she behaves like a lady, dignified princess. It is her escape from her past and violent world that surrounds her. Curiously, Apparently Leigh, who suffered from bipolar disorder in real life, later had difficulties in distinguishing her real life from that of Blanche DuBois.While Scarlett was a girl who always challenged the world, Blanche wanted to live in the different world, away from the real one. It is stunning how different those two performances are.
The movie boils with emotions of characters. The most effective scenes are those where brute force of Stanley meet Blanche's fragility. Blanche sees Stanley as a primitive and horrible man, He sees her as a spoiled, crazy girl. Blanche just wants to stay in her imaginary world and forget about her dark and painful past. The contrast between these two gives the movie its best moments and no matter how many remakes, there is no way someone can ever top what Brando and Leigh did here.
My Grade: A
There is a number assigned to each letter grade that helps us give a score to each performance. The highest number (and A+) would be 20 points. An F would warrant 0 points (a D gives you 5). So these are the scores for each performance as well as a collective score (which will be used at the end to rank each individual actress).
Vivien Leigh received a total of 108 points for her performance in Gone with the Wind.
Vivien Leigh received a total of 116 points for her performance in A Streetcar Named Desire.
This is a collective total of 224 points.
As a point of reference, the highest collective score you can attain is 240.
Yeah, I think we have our winner...
So this closes our discussion of Vivien Leigh. Next week is bittersweet as we close the book on this blogging chapter with a dose of Katherine Hepburn!!!
Again, a big round of applause for the awesome bloggers sharing this series with me! You guys did some awesome work, as to be expected.