Lizabeth Scott (criticism)

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Lizabeth Virginia Scott

Lizabeth Scott, 1949
Born Template:Birth date
Died Template:Death date and age
Other names Elizabeth Scott
Occupation Actress, singer, model
Years active 1942–1972

Lizabeth Virginia Scott[1] (September 29, 1922 – January 31, 2015) was an American film actress who made 22 feature films from 1945 to 1972. In addition to radio, she appeared on television from the late 1940s to early 1970s. Though the public response to Scott was generally favorable during the Paramount years, the film critics were less so, repeating making unfavorable comparisons to Lauren Bacall and Tallulah Bankhead. With the revival of interest in film noir and its corresponding acting style, beginning in the 1980s, Scott's acting reputation has risen among critics and film historians.

Biography

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Critical response

Bosley Crowther

Though the public response to Scott was generally favorable during the Paramount years, the film critics were less so, repeating unfavorable comparisons with Lauren Bacall and Tallulah Bankhead,[2][3][4] which all began with Bob Thomas' March 1945 comment on Scott's screen test: "Her throaty voice may well make Lauren Bacall sound like a mezzo soprano."[5] The most prominent critic of the era, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, was uniformly negative.[6][7][8][9] Typical of Crowther was: "As the torch singer jilted by the (Kirk Douglas character) and thereafter inclined towards revenge, Lizabeth Scott has no more personality than a model in the window of a department store."[10] Of Dark City he described Scott as "frighteningly grotesque."[11] However, Crowther was unique in that he never made the Bacall comparison (though he could be negative on Bacall too).[12][13][14] When Crowther gave a bad review of You Came Along, Scott recalled, "Being very young and naïve at the time, I didn't know you weren't suppose to do such things, so I called him up and complained. I told him how hard everyone worked to make such a beautiful movie, and I couldn't understand how he could be so cruel. I must say he took it awfully well, and was very kind to me."[15]

Historic background

Though Lizabeth Scott started her career as a comedienne with Hellzapoppin and The Skin of Our Teeth, she was typecast by the critics and public in the seductress, Rita Hayworth category.[16] In January 1946, columnist Erskine Johnson would observed that the biggest surprise of 1945 was that "it became fashionable to be bad." Former Hollywood heroines, saints and comediennes would join the ranks of seductresses.[17] But despite Scott's femme fatale image, her most common role in 22 films was the heiress-socialite, of which she played variants of eight times, versus three femme fatales (Coral Chandler, Jane Palmer, Lily Conover). Of the four nightclub singer roles, only one was a femme fatale. Scott played the "ingénue-gone-wrong" three times (Toni Marachek, Paula Haller, Mona Stevens). Joan the probation officer of The Company She Keeps was a rare departure, as was the single mother (Elsa Jenner) of The Weapon. Yet even in her non-noir films Scott would remain in Lauren Bacall's shadow with some current critics.[18][19] Typical is Richard Schickel, who described Scott as "an inferior Bacall-look-alike."[20][21]

Historically, the Bacall character of To Have and Have Not traces back through a line of deep-voiced actresses developed by producers like Walter Wanger, who discovered Clara Bow, Hedy Lamarr[22] and Yvonne De Carlo.[23] When Lauren Bacall first appeared on the screen in 1944, despite the close resemblance to Gene Tierney, critics saw her as imitating Veronica Lake's hair,[24] manner[25] and deep voice,[26] with Scott following in 1945 (You Came Along), then Nancy Guild in 1946 (Somewhere in the Night).[27] But before Lake's breakout role in I Wanted Wings (1941), there were already actresses like Hedy Lamarr of Algiers (1938) and Joan Bennett of Trade Winds (1938), both of whom were made-over by Wanger to resemble even earlier actresses like Ann Sheridan.[28][29] The noir hairstyles of Lake, Bacall and Scott derive from the peek-a-boo styles of the 1930s—high-volume curls held with hairspray and long pins[30]—which were wore by actresses like Sheridan[31][32] and Anna Sten[33] during that decade. The Sheridans and Tallulah Bankheads of the 1930s were influenced in looks, voice and manner by the two actresses they most admired—Marlene Dietrich,[34] who was "Paramount's answer"[35] to Hollywood's original husky-voiced femme fatale, MGM's Greta Garbo[36]—Scott's own personal favorite.[37] Unlike Hollywood's first popular femme fatale—Theda Bara (1885–1955)[38]—Garbo and Dietrich survived the transition from silent film to sound and served as role models for actresses of the pre-war era on either side of the Atlantic.[39]

Despite the myriad of deep-voiced,[40][41][42][43] lookalike actresses[44] created by competing studios before To Have and Have Not,[45] the popular pairing of Bacall and Scott remains permanent, if only for their association with Humphrey Bogart. Yet Scott's femme fatales still had the traditional male versus female conflict that was missing in Lauren Bacall's noir films—The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947)—as Bacall was never a femme fatale[46] and always supported the hero.[47] Nor conversely did Scott ever played a true heroine in the romantic Betty Hutton mode as did Bacall.[16] Even when Scott played a non-villain, the character tended to be a victim of circumstances and was seldom assertively heroic as Bacall's characters, who were in their world, but never of it. The most assertive Scott characters were femme fatales, who were always of their world. Even Scott's ingénue roles reinforced her fatale image.[48][49]

Current criticism

Cinematic style

The cinematographic style of Scott's noir films, from The Strange Love of Martha Ivers to No Time for Tears, is Expressionistic—the "foreboding deep space, the use of the wide-angle lens to create an element of distortion in the juxtaposition of foreground and background, the aggressive, staccato editing rhythms, and the oblique camera angles, whether in tilted close-ups or the preference for floor ..."[50] Standard film noir iconography contribute to the total effect. Though Scott handled firearms in only five films, the handgun is an integral part of her popular image[51][52] as are the lit cigarette,[53][54][55] elaborate coiffure and evening gown with opera gloves.[56][57][58] Film historian Eddie Muller has noted that no other actress has appeared in so many noir films,[59] with 15 of her 22 films qualifying.[60] In addition to the classical black-and-white noir, Scott appeared in noir variants, such as color (3), Western (2), comedy (2) and soap opera (3).[61]

Acting style

Scott's style of acting, characteristic of other film actors of the 1940s—a cool, naturalistic underplay derived from multiple sources[62]—was often depreciated by critics who preferred the more emphatic stage styles of the pre-film era or the later method styles. Typical of the '40s was Dick McCrone: "Miss Scott, who is an excellent clothes horse, rounds out the principals as Lancaster's moll. Otherwise, she's still the same frozen-face actress she was in Desert Fury and a couple of pictures before that."[63] Current film historians critical of Scott either repeat Bob Thomas' image of an ersatz Bacall,[64][65] Bosley Crowther in describing Scott's acting as wooden,[66][67] or a pastiche of actresses of the period, as did Pauline Kael.[68][69] But other historians see Scott's acting in a different light.[70][71] In Movieland, his personal history of Hollywood, Jerome Charyn described this style as "dreamwalking":[72] "And then, among the Dolly Sisters and Errol Flynn, Bing Crosby and Dotty Lamour, the Brazilian Bombshell, Scheherazade, Ali Baba, and the elephant boy—all the fluff and exotic pastry that Hollywood could produce—appeared a very odd animal, the dreamwalker, like Turhan Bey, Sonny Tufts, Paul Henreid, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Lizabeth Scott, and Dana Andrews, whose face had a frozen quality and always looked half-asleep ... The dreamwalker seemed to mirror all our own fears. His (and her) numbness was the crazed underside of that cinematic energy in the wake of the (Second World) war."[73]

With the revival of interest in film noir and its corresponding acting style, beginning in the 1980s—possibly in reaction to past and current emotive acting styles—Scott's acting reputation has increased among critics and film historians.[47][74][75]

Filmography

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References

  1. Janice H. McElroy (Pennsylvania Division, American Association of University Women, June 1, 1983), Our Hidden Heritage: Pennsylvania Women in History, p. 379
  2. Virginia Vale (Thursday, August 8, 1946), Star Dust: Stage, Screen, Radio, The Terril Record (Terril, Iowa), p. 7
  3. Betty Gose (Wednesday, February 12, 1947), "Blonde Makes Trouble For Bogart in 'Dead Reckoning'," Scenes From The Cinema, The Amarillo Globe-Times (Amarillo, Texas), p. 19
  4. Rebel Hope (Sunday, March 2, 1947), "Week's Screen Menu Is Varied," Abilene Reporter-News (Abilene, Texas), p. 81
  5. Bob Thomas (Friday, March 16, 1945), "Hollywood—It Takes A Spark To Make A Star," Big Spring Weekly Herald (Big Spring, Texas), p. 14
  6. [1] Bosley Crowther (July 5, 1945; accessed May 23, 2014; site formats correctly only in http) "You Came Along (1945) THE SCREEN; A Story Imitative," The New York Times (New York City, New York)
  7. [2] Bosley Crowther (January 22, 1948; accessed May 23, 2014; site formats correctly only in http), "ON THE SCREEN; ' I Walk Alone,' a Gangster Film, Starring Burt Lancaster, Opens at Paramount," The New York Times (New York City, New York)
  8. [3] Bosley Crowther (October 19, 1950; accessed May 23, 2014; site formats correctly only in http), "Dark City (1950) THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; Charlton Heston Makes His Film Debut in 'Dark City,' Feature at the Paramount Theatre," The New York Times (New York City, New York)
  9. [4] Bosley Crowther (January 29, 1951; accessed May 23, 2014; site formats correctly only in http), "The Dancing Years (1949) THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; 'The Company She Keeps,' With Lizabeth Scott Playing a Parole Officer, Arrives at Loew's Criterion At the Little Carnegie At the Stanley," The New York Times (New York City, New York)
  10. Karen Burroughs Hannsberry (McFarland & Company, 1998), Femme Noir: Bad Girls of Film, p. 450
  11. Karen Burroughs Hannsberry (McFarland & Company, 1998), Femme Noir: Bad Girls of Film, p. 452
  12. [5] Bosley Crowther (November 3, 1945; accessed May 23, 2014; site formats correctly only in http), "Confidential Agent (1945) THE SCREEN; Confidential Agent,' a Warner Thriller Starring Boyer and Bacall, Opens at the Strand—Lorre, Paxinou 'Heavies'," New York Times (New York City, New York)
  13. [6] Bosley Crowther (August 24, 1946; accessed May 23, 2014; site formats correctly only in http), "The Big Sleep (1946) THE SCREEN; 'The Big Sleep,' Warner Film in Which Bogart and Bacall Are Paired Again, Opens at Strand—'Step by Step' of the Rialto," The New York Times (New York City, New York)
  14. [7] Bosley Crowther (June 17, 1950; accessed May 23, 2014; site formats correctly only in http), "Bright Leaf (1950) THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; 'Bright Leaf,' With Gary Cooper as Tobacco Magnate, New Bill at Strand Theatre," The New York Times (New York City, New York)
  15. Burt Prelutsky (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, November 3, 2012), Sixty Seven Conservatives You Should Meet Before You Die, p. 470
  16. 16.0 16.1 Anonymous (April 2005), "The Hollywood Family Tree," Premiere, p. 44. This category includes Hollywood actresses like Ava Gardner, Maria Montez, Rhonda Fleming and Veronica Lake.
  17. Erskine Johnson (Thursday, January 10, 1946), "Ingrid Bergman And Milland In Top Film Spots," Freeport Journal-Standard (Freeport, Illinois), p. 7
  18. James McKay (McFarland & Company, January 15, 2013), "Easy Living RKO 1949," The Films of Victor Mature, p. 71
  19. Ken Burke, Dan Griffin (Chicago Review Press, August 1, 2006), The Blue Moon Boys: The Story of Elvis Presley's Band, p. 100
  20. Richard Schickel (Thomas Dunne Books, 1st edition, December 12, 2006), Bogie: A Celebration of the Life and Films of Humphrey Bogart, p. 122. Despite Bogart's oft public praise of Scott, Schickel says that "(Bogart) was resentful when obliged to perform with an inferior Bacall-look-alike, Lizabeth Scott in Dead Reckoning."
  21. William Hare (McFarland & Company, January 24, 2008), L.A. Noir: Nine Dark Visions of the City of Angels, pp. 87–88. On the set of Dead Reckoning, Scott noted that Bogart would stare off in space and say "Isn't this a stupid way to make a living?" Scott explained Bogart's discontent: "Not that he didn't want to be an actor ... he didn't enjoy the fame, success, the material aspects ... somewhere within himself, he thought he should be doing greater things."
  22. Noel F. Busch (July 24, 1939), "America's Oomph Girl," Life (New York City, New York), p. 66. Though Louis B. Mayer of MGM originally signed on Hedy Lamarr (1913–2000), MGM did nothing with her till after her success in United Artists' Algiers.
  23. Matthew Bernstein (University of Minnesota Press, January 31, 2000), Walter Wanger, Hollywood Independent, p. 190
  24. Jeffrey Meyers (Fromm International, 1999), Bogart: a life in Hollywood, p. 340
  25. Robert Heide, John Gilman (Doubleday, May 20, 1986), Starstruck: The Wonderful World of Movie Memorabilia, p. 204
  26. Jeanine Basinger (Vintage, January 6, 2009), The Star Machine, p. 290
  27. [8] Tom Vallance (Saturday 28 August 1999; accessed May 23, 2014), "Obituary: Nancy Guild," The Independent. As a 20th Century Fox contractee, Guild's direct predecessor was Gene Tierney—who herself descended from a line of 20th Century Fox actresses that began with Theda Bara in William Fox's A Fool There Was (1915)—rather than Scott or Lauren Bacall as various film historians have suggested.
  28. Noel F. Busch (July 24, 1939), "America's Oomph Girl," Life (New York City, New York), p. 66. In 1938 Wanger, working then at United Artists, discovered Lamarr at MGM and borrowed her for Algiers. He made over Lamarr into an Americanized femme fatale-type. After Lamarr returned to MGM, Wanger found a replacement in a blonde Joan Bennett and made her into a duplicate of the brunette Lamarr.
  29. Matthew Bernstein (University of Minnesota Press, January 31, 2000), Walter Wanger, Hollywood Independent, p. 146
  30. Debbie Wells (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, April 28, 2011), 1940's Style Guide, pp. 40–42
  31. [9] Anonymous (accessed May 23, 2014), Movie Hair—Screen Legends, Ann Sheridan
  32. Sylvie Aubenas, Xavier Demange (Chronicle Books, April 5, 2007), Elegance: The Seeberger Brothers and the Birth of Fashion Photography, p. 44. The authors place the long-hair look of the WW2 years—as well as the grand hats, platform shoes and short dresses typical of the period—back to 1937.
  33. Adrienne L. McLean (Rutgers University Press, January 28, 2011), Glamour in a Golden Age: Movie Stars of the 1930s, pp. 127–128. The Russian-Swedish Anna Sten (1908–1993) was MGM's backup/replacement for Garbo and challenger of Paramount's Dietrich. The blonde, long-tressed Sten of Nana (1934), with her deep-toned voice, foreshadowed Veronica Lake and Lizabeth Scott of the next decade.
  34. Ray Hagen, Laura Wagner, (Mcfarland & Company, September 2004), Killer Tomatoes: Fifteen Tough Film Dames, pp. 172, 197. When Marlene Dietrich first appeared in the US, it was assumed by some critics that she was a copy of Greta Garbo.
  35. Adrienne L. McLean (Rutgers University Press, January 28, 2011), Glamour in a Golden Age: Movie Stars of the 1930s, p. 108
  36. Anonymous (Southern Methodist University Press, 1950), Southwest Review Volumes 35-36 (Dallas, Texas), p. 215. During the first half of the 20th century, a common critical view of the silent era femme fatales was that they were only a caricature, with a reprieve during the naturalistic '30s, but that the '40s was a return to the bad old days of Theda Bara and Musidora: "The femme fatale became a more recognizable woman in Greta Garbo and her double, Marlene Dietrich. She lingers in Hedy Lamarr and has been made ridiculous again by such synthetic sirens as Lauren Bacall and Lizabeth Scott."
  37. [10] Lizabeth Scott (assessed May 23, 2014), "Celebrity Almanac Profile: Lizabeth Scott," Celebrity Almanac
  38. Theresa St. Romain (Mcfarland & Company, reprint edition, March 16, 2012), Margarita Fischer: A Biography of the Silent Film Star, pp. 40, 66–67. Margarita Fischer in The Vampire (1910) preceded Theda Bara's femme fatale in A Fool There Was (1915), though Bara popularized the archetype. The Vampire derived from Rudyard Kipling's poem of the same name.
  39. Moritz Föllmer (Cambridge University Press, February 25, 2013), Individuality and Modernity in Berlin: Self and Society from Weimar to the Wall, pp. 57–58
  40. Sharon Anne Cook (Mcgill Queens University Press, April 11, 2012), Sex, Lies, and Cigarettes: Canadian Women, Smoking, and Visual Culture, 1880-2000, pp. 225. "(Greta Garbo) was reportedly warned by Louis B. Mayer on her introduction to the American cinema business that 'American men don't like fat women.' Preparing for her new role in Flesh and the Devil (1927), Garbo, a heavy smoker, promptly lost weight, partly by replacing food with cigarettes."
  41. Steven Bach (University Of Minnesota Press, reprint edition, March 16, 2011), Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend, p. 406. Dietrich suffered from Buerger's Disease from smoking, though later quit.
  42. Noel F. Busch (July 24, 1939), "America's Oomph Girl," Life (New York City, New York), p. 66. Typical of the 1930–50s period, Ann Sheridan would consume 30 cigarettes a day.
  43. Michelle Vogel (McFarland & Company, March 22, 2005), Gene Tierney: A Biography, p. 29. Gene Tierney took up smoking due to her high-toned voice in The Return of Frank James (1940). After the premiere, she said, "I sound like an angry Minnie Mouse."
  44. Jeanine Basinger (Vintage, January 6, 2009), The Star Machine, p. 290. According to Basinger, the true proof that an actor was a star was that studios, including the one's own, would create lookalikes. Margaret O'Brien is quoted as saying how MGM created lookalikes for every star and how the studio used them to keep the stars in line.
  45. Bernard F. Dick (The University Press of Kentucky, May 21, 2004), Hal Wallis: Producer to the Stars, p. 95. Bacall was a heavy smoker and had numerous smoking scenes in her films.
  46. Bernard F. Dick (The University Press of Kentucky, May 21, 2004), Hal Wallis: Producer to the Stars, p. 96
  47. 47.0 47.1 Bruce Crowther (Columbus Books, 1988), Film Noir: Reflections in a Dark Mirror, p. 123
  48. Foster Hirsch (Da Capo Press, 2nd edition, November 25, 2008), The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir, p. 224. Paula Haller of Desert Fury is eager to join her mother's underworld activities, despite Fritzi wanting a normal life for her daughter.
  49. Mark Bould (Wallflower Press, December 7, 2005), Film Noir: From Berlin to Sin City, p. 61. Bould is one of the few film historians that recognizes that Scott's Mona Stevens of Pitfall is not a true femme fatale.
  50. Aaron Sultanik (Associated University Press, June 1986), Film: A Modern Art, pp. 272–273
  51. David Ehrenstein (University of California Press, May 18, 1999), "Desert Fury, Mon Amour," Film Quarterly: Forty Years, a Selection, p. 481
  52. Paula Rabinowitz (Columbia University Press, July 15, 2002), Black & White & Noir: America's Pulp Modernism, pp. 95–96
  53. David Ragan (Prentice Hall, July 1, 1985), "Lizabeth Scott," Movie Stars of the 40s, p. 192.
  54. R. J. Reynolds (November 30, 1953), Camel advertisement, Life, (New York City, New York), back cover
  55. [11] Anonymous (accessed May 23, 2014), "Lizabeth Scott," Female Celebrity Smoking List. Scott has smoked in ten of her films.
  56. David Ehrenstein (University of California Press, May 18, 1999), "Desert Fury, Mon Amour," Film Quarterly: Forty Years, a Selection, pp. 483
  57. Melanie Bell (I. B. Tauris, February 2, 2010), Femininity in the Frame: Women and 1950s British Popular Cinema, pp. 30–33. Bell cites Scott's gowns and high-heeled shoes in Stolen Face (1952).
  58. Herbert Cohn (Thursday, October 30, 1947), "'Desert Fury' at Brooklyn Paramount With Lizabeth Scott, Hodiak, Corey," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York), p. 13. Due to the retro 1920–30s designs of Edith Head, Scott's principal dress designer, Scott largely escaped the "square shoulders look" of the 1940s, making Scott atypical of the period.
  59. Eddie Muller commentary, The Racket, Warner Home Video, 2006
  60. Andrew Spicer (Scarecrow Press, March 19, 2010), Historical Dictionary of Film Noir, p. 273
  61. John Reid (Lulu.com, November 19, 2004), "Desert Fury," Popular Pictures of the Hollywood 1940s, pp. 34–35
  62. Karen Hollinge (Routledge, April 21, 2006), The Actress: Hollywood Acting and the Female Star, pp. 9–10. "(Cynthia) Baron characterizes studio acting as an eclectic mix of pragmatic acting strategies and guidelines that centered around three major concerns: the actor's adjustment from stage to screen, the development of "silent thinking" as a way to help formulate appropriate reactions during shooting, and the building of a character through careful script analysis, extensive preparation, and dispassionate execution. She proposes that (s)tudio actors developed their craft, not by using a single method, but rather by drawing on a complex integration of techniques taken from silent films, theater, dance, modeling, vaudeville, and the theories of Constantin Stanislavski." Baron's list reads like a resume of Scott's.
  63. Dick McCrone (Friday, January 23, 1948), HomeTown Fan Fare, The Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), p. 11
  64. Terence Pettigrew (Proteus, 1981), Bogart: A Definitive Study of His Film Career, p. 86
  65. Brian W. Fairbanks (Lulu.com, October 28, 2005), The Late Show—Writings on Film, p. 136
  66. John DiLeo (Limelight Editions, August 1, 2004), 100 Great Film Performances You Should Remember—But Probably Don't, p. 165
  67. Jay Jorgensen (Running Press, 1st edition, October 5, 2010), Edith Head: The Fifty-year Career of Hollywood's Greatest Costume Designer, p. 126
  68. Dan Callahan (University Press of Mississippi, February 3, 2012), Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman, p. 152
  69. Frank Krutnik (Routledge, August 24, 1991), In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity, p. 257
  70. Ronald Schwartz (McFarland & Company, November 6, 2013), Houses of Noir: Dark Visions from Thirteen Film Studios, p. 130
  71. David J. Hogan (Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, April 15, 2013), Film Noir FAQ: All That's Left to Know About Hollywood's Golden Age of Dames, Detectives, and Danger, p. 100
  72. Jerome Charyn (NYU Press, August 1, 1996), Movieland: Hollywood and the Great American Dream Culture, p. 137
  73. Jerome Charyn (NYU Press, August 1, 1996), Movieland: Hollywood and the Great American Dream Culture, p. 135
  74. David J. Hogan (Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, April 15, 2013), Film Noir FAQ: All That's Left to Know About Hollywood's Golden Age of Dames, Detectives, and Danger
  75. Foster Hirsch (Da Capo Press, 2nd edition, November 25, 2008), The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir, pp. 221–222

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