Monday, February 15, 2010

Favorite Actresses, #2: Myrna Loy

First Movie I Saw Her In: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Three Favorite Movies: The Thin Man (1934) After the Thin Man (1936); The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).

Honorable Mention: Test Pilot (1938)

Favorite Movie with William Powell: If you have to ask...

Favorite Performance: The Thin Man (1934)

Why I Like Her: Anyone who reads this blog knows how mad I am about the Thin Man movies. A lot about what I like about them has a lot to do with Myrna Loy. She’s the definition of cool and calm with a biting, sarcastic wit that’s second to none. That, in a nutshell, is why I like her so much. No layers of complicated emotions, no inner “torment”, just a dame who’s relaxed and in control. She’s someone who’s confident, funny and has the world in the palm of her hand. Well, that and because Loy is also such a distinctive-looking beauty with her "trademark" nose and her voice with its sophisticated tones. She was the strong woman behind the man. I worship her performance in The Thin Man, a film where she was denied even an Oscar nomination but makes off with most of that film’s best lines. She has an introduction even better than her perpetual co-star, William Powell.

Myrna Loy’s cool demeanor is the ultimate Hollywood illusion. It was also one of the great fantasies of the movie-going public. I’ve commented before on how I feel about the “ideal wife” tag that was used to sell her image and once again I’ll say that I much prefer the witty tippler who implored her husband to solve another mystery. I love how Myrna conveys confidence in her roles. As Nora, she’s unflustered by Nick’s consoling of Maureen O’Sullivan’s character. The wrinkled nose face Myrna makes at Powell shows that she’s not jealous but rather secure that Nick isn’t up to anything sneaky. Women adored her because she was no man’s fool and was every bit as intelligent—if not more so—than any male character.

Myrna’s characters often knew best and had a wonderful wisdom about them. Take the scene in The Best Years of Our Lives, when daughter Theresa Wright claims that her parents never had any difficulty in their relationship. Myrna’s character responds with some of the most moving dialogue in the film:

"We never had any trouble." How many times have I told you I hated you and believed it in my heart? How many times have you said you were sick and tired of me; that we were all washed up? How many times have we had to fall in love all over again?”

I can hear those words spoken in Loy’s distinctive voice with a touch of sadness at remembering the pain. Of course, the Academy failed to nominate her for this or anything else.

Myrna Loy’s career, like that of Ginger Rogers, tapers off after the mid-1940s. Less roles for aging actresses—Hollywood’s ongoing shame—and less interest for any woman over 40 essentially all contributed to Loy’s withdrawal from movies. Despite being massively popular during the 1930s and ‘40s, she’s never mentioned as one of the great stars of her time. Ever for the underdog, the underappreciated, and the just-plain forgotten, Myrna Loy ranks so high on this list because in her prime she was as appealing an individual that Hollywood ever produced. She was criminally underrated in the looks department despite having played exotic beauties in many of her silent films. She also gets overlooked as a comedic actress because comedy has always been cinema’s second citizen. Those who become enamored with classic film can claim Myrna Loy as their own private find, a neglected treasure of wit, elegance, and sass who is just as fresh today as she was seventy-five years ago.


  1. I adore Myrna. One of the most underrated actresses. Her films with William Powell, the Thin Man series as well as their other partnerships, are pure gold. Can't wait to see who is number 1!

  2. Myrna is just adorable! I don't like The Thin Man series (yeah, beat me up), but I find her sweet and simply lovable in everything else. I do intend to watch Manhattan Melodrama (1934), rather than "Public Enemies" (2009).

    (And #1, I think, is Katharine Hepburn. I mean, it MUST be. Although, I must say, I'm a bit disappointed with not finding Joan Crawford in this countdown. Ah, well, no one can encompass the unencompassable, as we say in Russian...)

  3. She is indeed a great one. Good write up on her. BTW, you are supposed to pick 10 blogs to pass the award on to. I'm not sure I made that clear in my post.

  4. C.K., a great pick. Maybe she didn't get the recognition she deserved because she was so subtle--and her manner so distinct that it carried over from picture to picture, kind of like Cary Grant--that she never seemed to be Acting. I'd have a hard time choosing favorite performances! Besides the roles you mention, I really like her with Cary Grant in "Mr. Blandings" and even "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer." Another gem with Powell is "Libeled Lady," in which they play posh to Tracy and Harlow's working-class--an amusing contrast. She was even great in "Cheaper by the Dozen." And if you've never seen her in the pre-Code gem "Penthouse," (also directed by Van Dyke) where she plays a savvy prostitute who helps mob lawyer Warner Baxter solve a murder, you must. I saw it on TCM several years ago, but I don't think they've shown it since. The A&E "Biography" on her of a few years ago was quite good.

  5. Ah! Everything you just said sums up my feelings for Myrna. She was the main reason I watched The Thin Man films. Well, the first one. After that is was William as well. :)

  6. I absolutely love her and your three favorite movies with her in them are the same as mine. I also really like "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer", "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" and there is one where she plays a murderess who knocks off sorority sisters who treated her badly back in college... the name escapes me right now. I just remembered she played an Asian woman.

  7. The film where she murders her sorority sisters is 13 Women, and there's a French DVD release, in my to watch pile.

    Totally agree with your last sentence. She was wonderful.

  8. She is a perfect counterbalance to Cary Grant's character in "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer".

    Neither of them (together with other brilliant actors) excelled enough, to the Academy's eyes, to win Oscars, which, to my eye, just takes away from the Award's prestige.

    I'm somewhat surprised neither Vivien Leigh, nor Katharine Hepburn, nor Bette Davis are on your list -- each to his own, though.

    I'm at a loss to understand why high comedy was always considered several notches below tragedy -- on the contrary, I believe it's even more challenging to create funny situations without losing dignity and looking ridiculous or pitiful (that's what I call high comedy and only actors of Cary Grant's stature were able to create), than appeal to viewers' compassion and sympathy by conveying deep suffering.

  9. Myrna Loy my goddess! Nuff' said. Loved her in Love Crazy.

  10. Wonderful post. Excellent choice for #2 and a great write-up on her. I'm very curious about your #1 now! I can't wait to find out!

  11. Lovely stuff on Myrna (absolutely my favourite actress). Great fun to read.


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