The Actress (1953)


Spencer Tracy and Jean Simmons star in this adaptation of an autobiographical stage play by writer/actress Ruth Gordon (Harold & Maude, Rosemary’s Baby). The story centers around teen-aged Gordon’s final year at home with her parents, when she first set her sights on acting while dodging her father’s efforts for her to pursue a more practical line of work. Director George Cukor sticks to a stage-like presentation — very few cuts and most of the camera angles coming from the ‘fourth wall’ (where a play’s audience is sitting).

Stylistically stripped down as it is, one hopes for great performances. Tracy, as Gordon’s hot-tempered father, is as terrific as ever. His character is determined to send his daughter to a school where she’ll learn to become what is essentially a physical education instructor. Simmons plays Gordon as an aloof dreamer — which is probably an accurate portrayal of the lovably daffy Ruth Gordon we know from so many of her performances. But I found myself siding with Tracy throughout the film. He comes off mean at first — almost scary — but when Simmons stands firm about her aspirations, Tracy takes the opportunity to portray a more sophisticated man — one who still loves his daughter and would do anything for her, if only after he’s confident about her convictions.

The Actress also marks the screen debut of Anthony Perkins (Psycho, Friendly Persuasion. He plays the sympathetic boyfriend who goes so far as to propose and brandish a ring, only to lose Gordon to her true first love — acting.

With Teresa Wright.

Oscar Nomination: Best Costume Design (Black & White Films)

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