Playing dress up is fun, and it is one of the things I liked best about Halloween as a kid. Being scared? Not so much. Begging for candy? I never seemed to get the treats I liked. But dressing up as a princess, beatnik or witch? I was totally in for that and still am a sucker for the old-fashioned costume or masquerade party.
Portraying another real-life performer (either literally or a thinly-veiled version) in a movie is a kind of masquerade. Many have tried it, some are successful. Here are a few who I think managed to do a fine job. I also threw in a few stinkers (just for fun).
Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn: The Aviator
Cate was perfection. Her performance in "The Aviator" was about as close to Kate without being the real thing. Not only did she look right and sound right, but she moved like Hepburn and played her, not as a caricature (which would have been easy), but as a real woman. Our current "Great Cate" nabbed an Oscar for playing the legendary "Great Kate" and holds the distinction of being the only actress to win an Oscar for portraying an Oscar-winning actress.
Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie Chaplin: Chaplin
Brilliant. My favorite current actor playing one of my favorite classic stars. Downey is impeccable - he is Charlie. Downey did much more than an imitation. Besides nailing Charlie's look, moves, facial expressions and entire being, Downey's Chaplin was full-blown human being.
Fredric March as John Barrymore: The Royal Family of Broadway
Fredric March is so good in the part of Tony Cavendish, a character based on the flamboyant John Barrymore, that it's hard to think of him as not being cut from the Barrymore cloth. But March is a good actor who relishes the character and parodies the Great Profile's exploits with affection. A fun romp and a loving tribute.
Kim Stanley as Marilyn Monroe: The Goddess
Playing a Marilyn Monroe-type actress named Rita Shawn, Kim Stanley gives a fine performance in a cautionary tale of stardom, sex and emotional ruin. The film is good, not great, but I confess it doesn't work for me because, frankly, Kim Stanley, fine actress that she was, is just not pretty or sexy enough to be believable as a sexy blonde bombshell. If it wasn't a blatant tale of a star like Marilyn, maybe I wouldn't be thinking of her throughout the film.Rating (as a Marilyn portrayal): B+
Jayne Mansfield as Marilyn Monroe: Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
As sexy Rita Marlowe, Jayne hits a total home run. We see her, we hear her, but we are always thinking of Marilyn. Everything she does in this film, from the squeals to the walk to the movie queen lifestyle, is an exaggeration of Monroe, but it is done with affection and good humor. This is Jayne's finest movie hour. She adds sparkle and fizz to a very funny film. Funny how 2 Marilyn knock-offs were named Rita.Rating: A
Anthony Dexter and Rudolph Nureyev as Rudolph Valentino: Valentino (1951 & 1971)
Yuck, yuck, and yuck. Dexter looks the part, but that's about it. Rudy N as Rudy V? Yuck. 'Nuff said.
Rating: Dexter's Rudy: D, Rudy N's Rudy: F
Carroll Baker and Carol Lynley as Jean Harlow: Harlow (1965)
2 films, a double murder. Such trash, my fingers can barely type about this. I suppose Carroll Baker bears more of a resemblance and Angela Lansbury did make a creditable Mama Jean, but I'm reaching here. Junk.Rating: Carroll Baker version: F
Rating: Carol Lynley version: Z
Donald O'Connor as Buster Keaton: The Buster Keaton Story
While Donald O'Connor is not bad, he's not Buster. Added to this is the stinker script that was a total fantasy (which Buster approved for the money). We can only hope that Buster's story will some day get the same respectful treatment as Chaplin. Johnny Depp did some very good Keaton routines in "Benny and Joon," but it's hard to imagine him as Buster.
Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin: Beyond the Sea
I liked Spacey immensely as Bobby. The fact that I have mad crushes on both men helps, I'm sure. It took Kevin a long time to get this film made, and consequently, he is just a tad too old for the role. But, he looks the part, acts the part and sings the part. This film was a labor of love for Spacey, who is a great admirer of the singer. And I'm so grateful for anyone that shines the spotlight on the great Bobby Darin.
In case you were wondering, here's my Halloween costume:
Trick or Treat!