Thursday, June 11, 2009

Favorite Actors, #6: William Powell



First Movie I Saw Him In: Mr. Roberts (1955)

Three Favorite Movies: The Thin Man (1934); After the Thin Man (1936); Love Crazy (1941)

Honorable Mention: Libeled Lady (1936)

Favorite Performance: The Thin Man (1934)

Why I Like Him: Powell’s the relative newcomer on this list, even though I’ve watched those Thin Man movies countless times for nearly ten years now. He’ll always be Nick Charles to me, and that makes him just as great as, say, Sean Connery as James Bond or Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. Powell is the one on this list that I’d love to be. As I mentioned in a previous post, if I could live my Silver Screen Dream, it would be in a continuous Thin Man film, with endless wisecracks, cocktails, and murders to solve, all while trying to spend all the money my wife inherited (my own wife will be stunned to learn of this newfound wealth). Powell was so cool, calm, and witty. A great speaking voice, a subtlety--he’s the “b” in subtlety—in his wit that makes him the ideal guest or host at a sophisticated cocktail party and a comeback for everything. He never gets ruffled or loses his composure, even when he’s engaging in slapstick and becomes disheveled, as in Libeled Lady and Love Crazy, Powell never fell as low as his character.


The only “trouble” with William Powell is that his brand of elegance, wit, and personality are unknown and unwanted in Hollywood today. You often hear “There’ll never be another [name here]”, but in his case, even more so; we’re just not classy like that in movies anymore. Something else I've noticed about Powell is that he's the best listener onscreen. I can't help but watch what he's doing when another actor is speaking. Observe him and take in how good he is, even when merely listening to another actor. Ol' Bill also does "phone acting" really well, and I don't mean a "dialed-in" performance! In a scene where he's on the receiving end of a phone call, his reactions and timing are superb. I've seen enough crappy takes of this from other performers, including ones I like.

Random Info: In 1936, he had the greatest year of any actor ever. He appeared in the Best Picture of 1936, The Great Ziegfeld, was nominated for Best Actor in My Man Godfrey, and in addition to those films, starred in After the Thin Man, Libeled Lady, and the wonderful, Thin Man-styled The Ex-Mrs. Bradford, which was a box-office smash for RKO (their #3 moneymaker that year).



Gentleman of Leisure: William Powell spent the last thirty years of his life in retirement and seclusion, happily married, with cocktail in hand; it's just what Nick Charles wanted.

15 comments:

  1. William Powell definitely deserves to be at the top of everyone's list. His speaking voice, gestures, and wit are all so charming. I first saw him in The Thin Man but I was truly one over when I saw him in The Great Ziegfeld

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  2. 'The Thin Man' is such a great movie... I re-watched it again recently when I chose it as the best of 1934 for my countdown and was still laughing all the way through. Nobody plays the lovable lush better than Powell!

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  3. I adore him. Jimmy & I just saw him in "Man of the World"; it's in the Lombard Glamour collection. One of his late bad boy roles. Lovely.

    You're right about the phone call reactions. Know who else is in his class? Cagney! (We just watched "Picture Snatcher". It was terrific.)

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  4. William Powell is tops on my favorite actor list. He could do it all and had a wonderful career. Too bad he was not recognized for the wonderful work he did. Every film he is in (that I've seen anyway) is wonderful. He and other actors played off eachother brilliantly.

    You are right about there never being another William Powell. His intelligent style of acting is very out of vogue in Hollywood these days and I'm not sure the trend will be reversed any time soon.

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  5. Id have loved him to have been my Uncle

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  6. "he’s the “b” in subtlety" Great line. I've come to really admire Powell only in the last couple of years, but he's become on of my favorites, one of those that I'll watch any film he's in. No one's even mentioned Life With Father.

    www.Retrohound.com

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  7. Oh, I ADORE William Powell. He's tied for first place (along with four others) as my favorite!

    He's so amazingly wonderful!

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  8. William Powell is THE man. I turn into a fluttery little schoolgirl every single time I see him in a film and no one. And I believe quite strongly that no one, not even Mr. Bond, can drink a Martini quite like Mr. Powell.

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  9. An incredible actor -- love that voice of his! -- and he must have been something in real life, too. That explains how he was able to romance two Hollywood goddesses -- Carole Lombard and Jean Harlow -- although he and Lombard discovered they made better friends than lovers, and were mature enough to remain that way following their divorce. Otherwise, we never would have had the triumph that is "My Man Godfrey."

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  10. William Powell is amazing. He's one of my favorite actors of all time. I would love to be him. He was fantastic in so many films. I love the Thin Man franchise, but he was great all around. There's nobody out there like him today. The mold was definitely broken.

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  11. You have so "hit the button" with William Powell..I can't think of anything to add that hasn't already been said! Oh, to have been in his presence for even an hour!! There was no actor like him and never will be!!

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  12. Powell is high up on my list too! About this "no-sophisticated, witty characters in Hollywood anymore", I had my life's worst shock yesterday:

    Happily I've lived in the past and haven't paid any attention to upcoming films. However, yesterday I was talked into going to the cinema. And what did I see? What horrible, terrible, nightmarish trailer did I see? Robert Downey Jr as Sherlock Holmes, Jude Law as DR WATSON, explosions, nudity and underground fighting! WHY?!

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  13. C.K., your latest (excellent) choice made me realize what all of your favorites so far have in common: they have a unique, one-of-a-kind screen presence. They might have had imitators, but no one came close to their screen personalities. And no matter what character they played, those essential qualities--no matter what they were--came through, giving a continuity to their performances without trapping them into becoming the same person in every movie. Surely that's the definition of "star presence." What male actors have that quality today? Precious few, if any. An early Powell sound movie I especially recommend is the delightful "Jewel Robbery," in which he plays a character not too far removed from Nick Charles (although a gentleman crook, not detective). In fact, the word "gentleman" seems to sum up Powell nicely.

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  14. I'm pleased that there are so many Bill Powell fans out there! It's nice--but not surprising--to read of the effect he has on classic movie buffs.

    R.D.- As always, your constructive and encouraging comments have made my day! I honestly hadn't noticed a commonality between my choices,and I'm just arranging my top ten favorites. I think the stars' originality is testament to the studio system, in that they sought out various "types" and worked on their individuality, as well as the kinds of films that would suit them.

    I hope the top five keeps everyone's interest like these have!

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