Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Favorite '40s Actresses: #9

It's amazing the number of great films from the 1940s that featured Gene Tierney.

This exquisite beauty worked with directors Ernst Lubitsch and Otto Preminger, appeared in comedies, dramas and romances, and created at least one iconic role during this decade. Even if she wasn't one of the era's best actresses, movies benefited from her appearance in them.

I find it amusing that she was considered an exotic beauty and cast as such in some films -- think of her as the island beauty in "Son of Fury" with Tyrone Power -- when she was born in Brooklyn! But it's clear she had talent beyond those cheekbones and entrancing eyes, a lovely shade of blue-green when seen in her color films.

It was the great producer Darryl F. Zanuck who saw her on Broadway in "The Male Animal" and signed her to a contract at 20th Century Fox in 1940, where she began appearing in films immediately and began her rise as a dependable leading lady. In 1943, Lubitsch used her to good advantage in "Heaven Can Wait," as philanderer Don Ameche's loving wife. This witty film is a joy to watch, and the stars are heavenly together.

But it's her performance in 1944's "Laura," Preminger's legendary murder mystery, that catapulted her fame. Playing the murdered title character, Tierney creates her character through flashbacks, one who needs to be both breathtakingly alluring and intelligent to attract both adoration and jealousy. She's a working woman who may not have the best taste in men but can stand on her own in all other ways.

With a superb cast including Dana Andrews and Vincent Price (above), and featuring one of the most popular music scores of the decade, "Laura" may be Tierney's best-loved movie and performance.

In 1945, donning a blond wig, she co-stars as an Italian in the war drama "A Bell for Adano." Based upon John Hersey's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the story surrounds American soldiers occupying an Italian village and helping the villagers return to a normal routine. Even better is her performance in "Leave Her to Heaven," released later that year. Tierney plays the nasty Ellen, whose unbalanced emotional state turns murderous. This slick melodrama is lushly photographed in color, with Tierney displaying a nasty streak that's about as powerful as her gorgeous appearance. Her performance earned Tierney her only Oscar nomination.

Her winning streak continued in 1946 as she was prominently featured in the large cast for "The Razor's Edge," again opposite Power.

But in 1947 came one of my favorite films of hers and one of my favorite all-time romances -- "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir." Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz with a gorgeous music score by Bernard Herrmann, "Ghost" is a period piece with the widowed Tierney moving with her young daughter to a seaside cottage once owned by the now-deceased sea captain Daniel Gregg, played by Rex Harrison (left), who begins appearing to her. The unlikely romance that follows is beautifully presented. This ageless film keeps getting better, and Tierney is as lovely as ever.

Her popularity waned by the 1950s, and her sometimes fragile mental state resulted in emotional breakdowns. During the 1940s, she was married to designer Oleg Cassini, and her first child was born with special needs after she contracted German measles during the pregnancy. As the story goes, years later she met a woman who confessed to having the measles but leaving her quarantined ward in the hospital to meet Tierney at either the Hollywood Canteen or something similar. This later meeting devastated Tierney.

But gossip aside, Tierney's beauty and talent graced many fine films during the 1940s, and she will always remain a favorite of mine.


  1. Gene Tierney happens to be one of my top five favourite actresses of all time. She is so graceful and beautiful. I love all the movies I've seen her in. And I love when she is paired with Vincent Price.

  2. Excellent choice! She was mesmerizing on screen. Although she's quite good in LAURA--and it's a terrific film--I agree that her best performance is in the wonderfully romantic and atmospheric GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (which features a lovely music score, too). Coming in a close second for favorite Gene performance is LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN. Well-known, informative tribute.

  3. Hi Daniela, You're right about Vincent Price. I also didn't mention "Dragonwyck" as one of Tierney's enjoyable films, which co-stars Price.

  4. Hi Rick, Thank you for the compliment. I need to watch "Leave Her to Heaven" again. It's been years since I've seen it. But "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" is a favorite. Most people associate composer Bernard Herrmann with his great scores for Hitchcock films, but he did some fine work during the 1940s, including "Citizen Kane" and his lovely score for "Ghost and Mrs. Muir."

  5. Laura and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir...two of my favorites. Great choice! Q.

  6. The German measles incident was the inspiration for the Agatha Christie novel "The Mirror Crack'd."

    One of my favorite actresses. I agree with everything you said about "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir", which is also one of my favorites.

    I loved her in "The Razor's Edge" and think she's every bit as good as Anne Baxter, who won a Best Supporting Actress as Sophie in that film.

  7. Kevin, As always you have an interesting tidbit to share. As an Agatha Christie fan, that doesn't surprise me. As for "The Razor's Edge," it's been many years since I've seen it, so I need to revisit.