tart dan callahan piece on the inimitable gloria grahame

Grahame lives on the edges of most of her films, too disturbing an image, too turbulent a consciousness to ever really play a lead role. She could look severe, even plain, when she wasn’t overly made up for gaudy seduction. Almost always, she played tramps of some sort, but she was enough of an actress to make them very different kinds of tramps, and her filmography offers a sort of strumpet cornucopia. She is capable of turning up in anything, even It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), where she’s the flip side of the film’s Donna Reed sweetheart: Violet Bick (how’s that for a mean/sexy name?), boy crazy in a black satin dress, doing the Charleston with older men at a dance. Grahame gives Violet a comic sort of speed and cluelessness, but when we see what would have happened if Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey had never been born, we catch a glimpse of Violet as a wrecked, angry whore being dragged to a paddy wagon, screaming that she knows important people. It’s possible to imagine a whole film about Violet Bick, but it wouldn’t have been made in 1946, and it might make even today’s sexually jaded art film audience flinch.

In a Lonely Place & The Big Heat are 2 of the best films (not just noirs) of the 50s, both devastating and grahame is essential each time.


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