Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bitches and Blaggards: Judith Anderson and Basil Rathbone

This is the fifth in the "Bitches and Blaggards" series; monthly posts devoted to my favorite movie bad girls and roguesA bitch is a selfish, malicious woman. A blaggard is a villain, a rogue and a black-hearted man. Both are bad, both are devastatingly alluring.
Judith Anderson
Dame Judith Anderson was a world renowned stage actress whose film career stuck her in the corner pocket of playing nasty ladies. Being a superb actress, she played nasty like nobody's business.

Dame Judith (I wonder if anyone elver called her "Judy"? - I doubt it) was an unusual looking woman, not at all beautiful by Hollywood standards. Therefore, she must play ladies who have a black and bitter heart. Stands to reason, right? Trouble is, she is so damn good and so damn interesting that she makes her goody-goody co-stars almost invisible. As she says in "Laura,"  - "I am not a nice person." Thank goodness!


Two of my favorite Judith Anderson bitches are Ann Treadwell in "Laura," and Mrs. Danvers in "Rebecca."


Laura
Hunky detective Mark McPherson summed it up best when he told Laura Hunt "I must say, for a charming, intelligent girl, you certainly surrounded yourself with a remarkable collection of dopes." He might have added snakes and dirty double-crossers, too. As Laura's aunt Ann Treadwell, Anderson is an older, less beautiful woman than Laura, but she appears to have deeper pockets and greater needs. She is chic and sophisticated and she knows she is better for sleazy Vincent Price than Laura, but what chance does she have against a beauty like her niece? She doesn't think twice to cheat with him behind Laura's back and, when Laura reappears, she is not quite as overjoyed as she should be. In fact, when she tells Laura that the thought of murdering her crossed her mind, Auntie Ann is downright bitchy.


Rebecca
This is Judith Anderson's finest bitching hour on film. As the nutty, obsessed, gender-confused Mrs. Danvers, she is a wonder. Do you really think there was a Mr. Danvers? And why did Maxim keep her around? He was rich and powerful - couldn't he have just exiled her to some other remote corner of Cornwall? But, I digress. From the minute poor little Joan Fontaine locks horns with the loony housekeeper, we know she is out of her league. In her widow's weeds, still mourning the loss of the beautiful (and evil) Rebecca, Mrs. D is rightfully annoyed with this little mouse. While either encouraging Joan to take a swan dive out the window or tricking her into wearing an offensive costume, Anderson is a trip. One of my favorite references to her role in this film is in an Abbott and Costello movie called "The Time of Their Lives." There, Gale Sondergaard does the mysterious and dour housekeeper in black routine, to whom one character asks, "Haven't I seen you in Rebecca?"


Apparently, Judith Anderson loved Santa Barbara, California, which is why such an accomplished and truly great stage actress succumbed to the film industry, which only saw her as a menace. Being a great actress, she turned the menace on her head and made her the star attraction.

Basil Rathbone
In the world of movie blaggards, Basil Rathbone is the creme de la creme. Could Basil Rathbone ever be anything other than black hearted? Even when he was nice - or at least honest - you knew the devil on one shoulder was so much more powerful than the angel on the other. He was debonair, handsome, and, like the rapier he so often bandied about, deadly. His real, full name was Phillip St. John Basil Rathbone. So fitting, don't you think?




Robin Hood
You can just hear poor Sir Guy of Gisbourne thinking: "Oh why oh why did Robin Hood (Errol Flynn) have to be so much better at everything? If it wasn't for that pesky fellow in green, I'd have it all!" He's handsome, but not as handsome as Errol's Robin. He can fence, but not as great as Robin, and he might have a better chance with the ladies if only that Robin wasn't around! He's fun and we hate him.


David Copperfield
Rathbone's loathsome Mr. Murdstone still gives me the chills. Cruel and abusive, he is the stepfather from hell. Rathbone does not make one misstep as he beats, berates and finally banishes young David from his once happy home. A great, totally hiss-worthy performance.


The Court Jester
As the conniving Lord Ravenhurst, Rathbone does a hilarious spoof of his swashbuckling villains. A supercilious smarty pants who is taken in by jester Danny Kaye, he is a brilliant cog in this brilliant film. His ability to play comedy with a sneer is equal to his ability to play evil with deadly seriousness. After much maneuvering with poisons ("the pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!") and knighthoods, his Lord Ravenhurst is literally expelled from the castle by a catapult. He was nasty, but he was so much fun!


Of course, Basil Rathbone is first and foremost famous for being Sherlock Holmes, and there he was never a blaggard. But he was a supercilious smarty pants and with just a little encouragement, you know he could flip.


In real life, Basil Rathbone was apparently a grand party-thrower, whose soirees were legendary in Hollywood. I'm glad to see he liked to have and give a good time, but I think if I were lucky enough to be invited, I'd keep my eye on an exit at all times! 


The Bitch and Blaggard of June will be Vincent Price and Gloria Grahame.





15 comments:

Elizabeth Boyde said...

Perfection! You took two of my favorite lesser-known actors and described them wonderfully!

I love this series you have going. Can't wait for next month. :)

(P.S. - But in Laura, wasn't the discussion about wanting to murder the actual victim Diane Redfern?)

FlickChick said...

Thanks so much, Elizabeth! As for Ann's snarky comment, I took it to mean that she thought of murdering anyone who was with Shelby - including Laura. If she had the gun she would have assumed Laura would have opened the door. Oh well, just one of those cryptic lines that makes this such a great movie.

KimWilson said...

I always crack up whenever I think of Judith Anderson having to play a long-lost mother on Santa Barbara--it was almost too much! She did play bitchy well. Basil is nice choice, especially when you consider the many rogues he played.

FlickChick said...

Poor Judith - such a fine actress - but she loved living on the west coast, so she went for the tv roles. Love that Basil. I once read an article about Peter Sellers and the author described him as "Rathboneishly handsome." It took me years to figure out what he meant!

Caftan Woman said...

I have read that both Judith and Basil really enjoyed a laugh off screen. I'll bet they would love being paired off in your Bitches and Blaggards series.

Samantha said...

I didn't know much about Judith Anderson. Thanks again flick chick for always informing me about artists. That was good.

DorianTB said...

FlickChick, Dame Judith Anderson and Basil Rathbone are two of the actors I especially love to hate -- in their villain roles, of course! In LAURA, Anderson's little speech to Gene Tierney is one of the film's highlights (I've know a few people like that myself!). Also, being used to seeing Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, it's always fun to see his bad-guy side in his swashbucklers! Delightful post, as always!

FlickChick said...

CW - I am not surprised that Judith had a great sense of humor. Her Rebecca performance must a elicited some giggles behind the scenes!

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Sam - glad you enjoyed.

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Dorian. I, too, just love Judith in "Laura." Come on - if you had competition like Gene Tierney, wouldn't you want her dead? Actually, I think Gene's character in "Leave Her To Heaven" might be a relative once removed from Ann Treadwell!

silverscreenings said...

I've really been enjoying this series. Judith Anderson is always so much fun to watch.

FlickChick said...

@ Silverscreeings - thanks do much. I appreciate your stopping by!

The Lady Eve said...

I always look forward to your monthly Bitches & Blaggards post, FlickChick, and you've selected another fantastic pair for May. You've highlighted Judith Anderson's two great bitch roles - her Mrs. Danvers is - well - mythic (I remember that she said of "Rebecca" that she quickly recognized Hitchcock was a genius and trusted him completely). Ann Treadwell and Mrs. Ivers, though wonderful nasty characters, will exist forever in "Danny's" shadow - not to mention the less sinister "Big Momma" Pollitt.

If you're very clever description of the attitude of Basil Rathbone's Sir Guy of Gisbourne toward Errol Flynn's Robin Hood is correct, the two were the Salieri and Mozart of the swashbuckling set...

FlickChick said...

Ah, Lady Eve - leave it to you to get it just right - the Salieri and Mozart of Sherwood Forest! I wish I had thought of that!

buddy2blogger said...

Great post about Basil Rathbone. I need to check out his villainous performances.

He made a very classy and stylish Holmes.

Check out my tribute to this great performer.

Cheers!