Every once in a while, I go on an obsessive search for classic Hollywood screen tests and other behind-the-scenes clips. I find it so exciting to witness an actor's first screen connection with a character, whether or not they got the part.
Sometimes it's because the role is clearly perfect for the performer. In other cases, it's fascinating to see another take on the character, even it is definitely not right for that actor.
Here are a few tests I've been saving in the Classic Movies archives:
Joan Fontaine is enchanting in her screen test for Rebecca (1940). I think this must be one of the best casting decisions ever made. Even at this early stage, she already knows how to make the second Mrs. DeWinter perfectly shy and intelligent. Though the part requires delicacy, she appears firmly in control of her performance.
Joanne Woodward and James Dean
Skip to 1:40 to see Joanne Woodward's screen test with James Dean for the part of Abra in East of Eden (1955). I think Julie Harris had the tenderness necessary for the role, but it would have been interesting with Woodward. Her voice has the right wistfulness for thoughtful, unsure Abra.
This is actually Joan Crawford's wardrobe and make-up test for Strait-Jacket (1964), but I had to include it, because I love the way she brings it here, even when she never expects her public to see. She's got that old Hollywood professionalism and polish, but plenty of flashes of humor slip through.