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.