Only for a short while in the Fifties were Gloria Grahame’s unique talents given full scope. She had been in films since 1944. but first caught the eye in 1950 in her then husband Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place. She won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her Southern belle in The Bad and the Beautiful, but was infinitely better in two films for Fritz Lang.
Her desperate, vulnerable Debbie in The Big Heat is unforgettable; her equivocal seductress in Human Desire (reworking a Simone Simon role) is less known, but just as good. But the neurotic wife in The Cobweb was her last real part, though against all odds she made bits of Oklahoma! watchable. Here then is our pick for five of her best movies.
In a Lonely Place (1950)
A stinging, no-holds-barred performance from Humphrey Bogart highlights this taut, noirish tale of paranoia. An unstable, temperamental screenwriter throws out a desperate emotional lifeline to starlet Grahame. She grabs on for a dangerous ride; when he’s suspected of murder, she confirms his alibi and then begins to wonder if one day she might be next. The down-at-the-heels underside to Hollywood glamour sets the tone of last-chance lives being led at the margins. One of director Ray’s greatest, and a marvelous role for the underappreciated Grahame, then Ray’s wife.
Director: Nicholas Ray
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy, Carl Benton Reid, Martha Stewart
Sudden Fear (1952)
A wealthy playwright (Joan Crawford) suspects her actor husband (Jack Palance) of having murderous designs on her fortune in this classic noir drama. Palance makes contact with former gal pal Grahame and tells her of his marriage of convenience. They do some snooping and discover a will that leaves Crawford’s estate to a charity, and decide to act quickly. But Crawford, who works with a dictaphone, accidentally tapes their plotting and takes her defense into her own hands. Disgusted with the roles Warners was giving her, Joan Crawford terminated her contract and worked on Sudden Fear for a percentage of the box office. It was a smash hit and reestablished her reputation.
Director: David Miller
Cast: Joan Crawford, Gloria Grahame, Jack Palance, Bruce Bennett,
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
Lana Turner shines in a sharp portrayal of moviemaking and climbing the Hollywood ladder. Told in flashbacks from the point of view of an actress, a writer, and a studio executive. Old Hollywood hands Minnelli and Houseman provide plenty of backstage detail. The character of Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) was based on producer David O. Selznick. Like Shields, Selznick was the son of a mogul gone bankrupt who produced B-movies, and made a colossal Civil War film. Grahame won best supporting actress Oscar.
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Cast: Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Gloria Grahame, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Gilbert Roland, Paul Stewart, Barry Sullivan, Vanessa Brown, Leo G. Carroll,
The Big Heat (1953)
Fritz Lang’s classic film noir and one of the darkest, most violent. When a bomb takes the life of detective Ford’s wife, he determines to smash the gang responsible, enlisting the crime boss’s moll (Grahame) along the way. Marvin’s boiling-coffee-flinging scene still chills, mostly for the cold, serpentine menace in his eyes. Jocelyn Brando, who plays the wife of police detective Glenn Ford is the sister of Marlon Brando.
Director: Fritz Lang
Cast: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin, Jeanette Nolan, Willis Bouchey, Jocelyn Brando, Robert Burton, Alexander Scourby, Peter Whitney
Human Desire (1954)
With Human Desire (1954), director Fritz Lang reunited his starring cast – Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame – from The Big Heat, released just the year before. Based on the Emile Zola novel La Bete Humaine, but with the locale shifted to Oklahoma. Broderick Crawford is Carl Buckley, a railroad worker with a dangerous temper. In a jealous rage, he kills a man he suspects of having an affair with his wife, Vicki (Gloria Grahame). Jeff Warren (Glenn Ford) knows that Vicki was present at the murder scene but chooses not to share this information with the police. The seductive Vicki is soon in an affair with Jeff and trying to convince him to do away with her violent husband. A film noir shot with gritty penumbras.
Director: Fritz Lang
Cast: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Broderick Crawford, Edgar Buchanan, Kathleen Case, Diane DeLaire, Peggy Maley, Grandon Rhodes