Jul 9, 2007

The Hollywood Tirade

In real life, when you lose your temper, you've only given up something you can't get back. In the movies, losing your temper can be the key to stardom, accolades and audience sympathy. These three women unleashed some of the best tirades of classic Hollywood:

The Miracle Woman (1931), Barbara Stanwyck
No one could play the hurt woman pushed too far better than Stanwyck. Some of her best screen moments are when her voice deepens, her shoulders begin to shake, and the floodgates open.

She has one of her best tirades as Faith Fallon, a preacher’s daughter. When her father is abruptly fired after years of service, he dies from the shock, right before he is to give his last sermon. Heartbroken, Faith stands at the pulpit, where her father once stood, overcome with anger. She assaults the congregation with torrent of angry accusations that send them running out of the church, as if she is shooting them with arrows. She follows them, walking down the rows of pews until finally she is alone, exhausted and entirely lacking in the faith that used to guide her life. It is one of the most devastating scenes of Stanwyck's career, and an early sign of the enormity of her talent.

Bombshell (1933), Jean Harlow
Harlow had a rough start in Hollywood, primarily because she won fame for her looks before she learned how to act. Though no one could take their eyes off her, they couldn't stop laughing at the absurd accent she'd picked up from her acting coach either.

Comedy was Harlow's salvation. Though she was tired of playing tramps, she gave her career new life by playing a funny tramp in Red Headed Woman (1932). Harlow built on her newfound respect with Bombshell. She plays Lola Burns, a movie star victimized by fame and its trappings.

Lola loses her temper many times before the final credits, but her best tirade is near the beginning of the movie, where she is constantly thwarted in her attempts to get to work. Surrounded by hangers-on and barking dogs, she vents her frustration in a long, fast-paced speech during which she hardly seems to take a breath, all the while trying to gather her effects and get out the door. Here is ample proof that Harlow was one of the best screen comics.

Of Human Bondage (1934), Bette Davis
"You disgust me." When Philip Carey (Leslie Howard), rejects slatternly waitress Mildred (Bette Davis) with these words, he realizes his mistake instantly. She turns from a gooey-eyed lover into a vicious beast. Her eyes widen, her shoulders rattle back and forth and she launches into a tirade so harsh that time has not diluted its power.

Davis spits out her lines as if they are bitter seeds. Her eyes bug out and the veins her neck are so strained they look as if they could explode. It is a moment that could be overplayed so easily; everything she does teeters on the edge of absurdity, but she hones in on Mildred's anger with a precision that gives the moment unbearable intensity.

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