Monday, February 8, 2010

Favorite Actresses, #8: Claire Trevor

First Movie I Saw Her In: Born to Kill (1947)

Three Favorite Movies: Born to Kill (1947); Key Largo (1948); Raw Deal (1948)

Honorable Mention: Murder My Sweet (1944)

Favorite Performance: Key Largo (1948)

Why I Like Her: What a woman! I'm a sap for any dame who's an "unconventional" beauty. Claire Trevor just represents so much of what I like about actresses from the 1930s-40s. Despite being an Oscar winner, she's one of the great but forgotten actresses of her era. She made her mark playing the “Hooker with a heart of gold” in Stagecoach (1939) but it was her tough, sultry demeanor that made its mark on me. Claire Trevor doesn’t have the popularity as other noir actresses do. She wasn’t the sex kitten that, say, Gloria Grahame was, but Claire Trevor played the “lived in” and vulnerable character better than anybody. I find her quite attractive but Trevor’s also underrated in the beauty dept., She’s absolutely stunning in Murder My Sweet, a film I’m not crazy about—I’m spoiled by the novel—but she mesmerizing with her blonde hair and black outfits both of which look amazing in black & white photography.

Claire Trevor could work both ends of the character spectrum in that she could be sympathetic in one film and completely dark with villainy in the other. I admire her ability to be bad but it’s her sad, sympathetic roles that I like best. In her Oscar-winning performance in Key Largo, Trevor plays Gaye Dawn, a mobster’s moll way past her prime who’s now reduced to a pathetic and boozy shell of a woman. Her eyes are glassy and filled with the sorrow of a life wasted. The scene where Edward G. Robinson makes her sing is one of the most humiliating things I’ve ever seen in a noir film. I’m embarrassed for her character. Robinson’s reaction to Gaye’s “singing” makes it all the sadder as he actually expected the pathetic display he forced her into. I consider Key Largo one of the greatest films where what isn't said says volumes more than other films with double the dialogue. Claire Trevor excelled at this type of role and Key Largo fit her strengths perfectly.

She had a dark, tough way about her (watch her in Born to Kill!) but she was vulnerable just under the surface. She had a “lived in” look that conveyed both experience and a variety of emotions from a life filled with regret. She could do more with her eyes in a scene than most actors could with a monologue and showy direction. A lot of times I’ll be ignoring the other performers just to see how Trevor is reacting, usually without saying a word or even moving! Charisma and screen presence can’t be taught and what Claire Trevor does isn’t scene-stealing or scenery chewing; she’s just a force on the silver screen. That’s what I love about 1940s films: so much was expressed through innuendo or timing or even silence. Claire Trevor doesn’t come off as real and even when she goes into the more melodramatic parts of a role, I just enjoy being the audience for a Claire Trevor performance.

It just so happens that RD Finch of the excellent Movie Projector blog has written a review of Raw Deal today.

Ah-rooo-gah: Claire Trevor was deceptively gorgeous.


  1. C.K., this was certainly an unexpected choice but one I can't help but like. It's interesting how Trevor had such a schizophrenic career, playing supporting parts in A-pictures and leads in B-pictures. As your post makes clear, she was certainly the queen of the noirs in the late 40s. She didn't do much work after the mid-50s but lived to be quite old. I recall getting a shock seeing her on the Oscar show about ten years ago when they had a large group of previous winners gathered backstage. She still looked great, though, a real "grande dame"! A few weeks ago I saw the Falcon version of "Farewell, My Lovely" with George Sanders (and Ward Bond as Moose Malloy). Among other things, it made me realize how Trevor was really the center of "Murder, My Sweet." The actress who played Velma in the Falcon version left no impression. What a contrast to the flavorful interpretation of Trevor. You're sure right about how great she was in "Key Largo." My own favorite performance is in "Born to Kill" as the cold exploiter who meets her match in Lawrence Tierney and gets her comeuppance.

  2. nice post on Claire, she was awesome! i dont think she gets nearly enough credit for her impact on films and film history but she was in 2 genre defining (or re-defining) films, "Stagecoach" and "Murder my Sweet", and when one thnks of the impact just those 2 films had on what came afterwards, her importance becomes clear.
    all that aside, at the end of the day she was a hell of a good actress and a damn good looking woman as well!

  3. Ck, you featured my idol. Completely unexpected. I adore Claire. Gorgeous, sexy, tough and still a grand lady. Born to Kill is one of my favorite films. She truly is a "creamy dish."

    check her out in The Velvet Touch. She steals the film away from Rosalind Russell.

  4. I am really enjoying this series so far. I can't wait to see the rest!!

  5. yes, in "key largo" claire's bravery is chilling. to give such a vulnerable performance....amazing!

  6. A great actess. Love her in Key Largo and have seen Stagecoach a hundred times. Have Born to Kill in my queue. Very much looking foreward to it now.

  7. Claire Trevor's Oscar is in a glass case at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at UC Irvine, my former college. Apparently she donated a bunch of money to the school when it was being built


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