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.