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).