Saturday, January 3, 2009

Gloria Grahame: An Appreciation

I'm not sure when this picture of Gloria Grahame (1923-1981) was taken, but it's probably 1954, when she appeared in two little-known crime dramas: Naked Alibi and Human Desire. She's clearly at the peak of her sex appeal, but the Noir vixen was also at a career peak in 1954.

I'll admit that Gloria Grahame's obvious, physical charms are what initially got me interested in her, but having seen nearly all of her 1950s work, I've come to realize that Grahame's 1950s screen credits compare favorably with many of her better-known contemporaries, including an absolutely stellar year in 1952. It's a shame she isn't better known outside of Film Noir circles, where she's revered. Grahame won me over with her onscreen vulnerability, her likability--even when she plays a truly awful character-- and with a voice like no other. She invariably enlivens any scene she's in and makes watching Noir all the more exciting.

The 1950s proved to be an impressive decade for the actress, who began making her presence known in 1946 with her role as Violet in It's a Wonderful Life. She made a bigger impression playing a b-girl in 1947's Crossfire. The role earned the 24-year-old her first Oscar nomination. Grahame would begin the 1950s in Nicholas Ray's haunting In a Lonely Place, one of the director's best films and Grahame's rendering of the film's last lines is one of the most effective moments in all of Film Noir: "I lived a few weeks while you loved me." Ray and Grahame later married, but that union was destroyed when Grahame began an affair with Ray's 13 year-old son from a previous marriage.

"I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me."


1952 would prove to be Gloria Grahame's finest year. She won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Bad & the Beautiful, playing a flighty southern belle who cheats on her screenwriter husband. Grahame was Jack Palance's conniving girlfriend in Sudden Fear, co-starring Joan Crawford. Grahame further added to her credentials with her appearance in the year's Best Picture winner, The Greatest Show On Earth. Another iconic crime drama, 1953's The Big Heat, showcased Grahame as a spurned gangster's moll. In 1955, she would be absolutely charming as "Ado Annie" in the otherwise bloated film adaptation of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! Grahame ended the decade with an odd but memorable part in 1959's Odds Against Tomorrow, where, in a near-cameo role, she is aroused by the cruelty of Robert Ryan's nasty character.


"We're all sisters under the mink."

Gloria Grahame was impressive during the 1950s, starring in several Noir classics, winning an Oscar, appearing in a Best Picture winner, and even warbling in a musical. Despite those accomplishments, it's her work in crime dramas that have proven to be her enduring legacy. Given the cultish appeal of Film Noir, it is unlikely that Grahame will receive a widespread renaissance, but to those who've seen her work, she's a fondly-kept secret.

11 comments:

  1. C.K.

    Nice article. Grahame is unquestionably my favorite femme fatale. A wonderful actress and a crazy private life.
    "Human Desire" always seems to take a back seat to Fitz Lang's other Glenn Ford/Gloria Grahame noir "The Big Heat."

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  2. Thanks. Initially I was just going to gush over that first eye-popping picture and leave it at that, but I decided to salvage the piece, especially after realizing that her 1950s work really was impressive. It's by no means a full bio (read "Suicide Blonde" for that), but if any "youngsters" out there read this entry, let's hope it steers them in Grahame's direction; she's a gem.

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  3. Brilliant - This is the blog I've always wanted to read - glad I've found it and will be a regular reader and commentor.

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  4. I need to get a copy of her biography. Time to search the web.

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  5. I love Gloria Grahame but I have to say, I'm drawn to her pre-plastic surgery days. I get a bit creeped out with her frozen molded face. That first picture you posted gives me the heebie-jeebies!

    I really enjoy how you write about these lesser known actresses! Good job.

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  6. Raquelle: From what I've read, Grahame refused to have alterations made on her breasts, but was obsessive about having several surgeries on her upper lip to emphasize its "pouty" quality!

    BTW, that first Gloria pic has had more downloads than any other image I've ever posted here.

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  7. Another wonderful 'appreciation' piece, Dex! I too love Gloria Graham. :)

    A great write-up, and very informative.

    I think she looks killer in that first shot...the third one, though: yowza. ;)

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  8. "BTW, that first Gloria pic has had more downloads than any other image I've ever posted here."

    I think the picture is still creepy. It's great that that's your #1 image downloaded. Mine is a tie between the pic I have of Gable checking out Doris Day's derriere, and Kirk Douglas n-u-d-e in The Arrangement (I'm hyphenating the word so you don't get that traffic!)

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  9. "I think the picture is still creepy. It's great that that's your #1 image downloaded"

    I tell ya, 'quelle, it's a tough balancing act to be able to fascinate *and* repel our readers with the same image, but one I'm pleased as punch to have achieved! ;)

    As for Kirk, be sure to check out his caboose in "The War Wagon".

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  10. Ray's sone was 23 and NOT 13. They went on to be married and had children. This was also longest marriage for her I think.

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  11. Not only was Nick Ray's son NOT 13, but Grahame had been married to Ray BEFORE "In a Lonely Place" and the marriage was already on the rocks with the two separated. Ray cast her anyway because she was "perfect for the role," but he made her sign a contractual agreement that she would play the part exactly as he directed her.

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