Oct 5, 2013

Alfred Lunt, The Guardsman

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The opening scene of The Guardsman features The Actor and The Actress performing the last few moments of Elizabeth The Queen, the real-life Broadway hit in which Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt starred. This scene, included as a funny little life-meets-work homage, is also highly theatrical (they are acting on stage after all) and essentially gives the viewer a hint of what we're about to witness for the next hour and a half: high drama, high exaggeration, and acting that can be seen and heard from way up in the rafters. It's the context of this theatricality that makes it tough for me to determine how much I enjoyed Lunt's performance--just how much of it is excessively overdone on accident and how much of it is on purpose?

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Lunt's is a strange performance in that there are a few moments within the film where he tones down his ACTING, and in these cases the subtlety is nice and effective. Then there's the in-between in which he acts rather normally, though the oomph in his voice projection naturally leans towards theatrical. Finally, there are scenes in which Lunt destructively rips the scenery apart with his teeth, chews it up sloppily and swallows it whole. It's a divisive performance to say the least, and Lunt is very clearly an actor of the stage. When dressed as just The Actor, his moments where he's perturbed over his wife's possible infidelity are wonderfully done. But then he starts to argue with The Actress, and his eyes flare up widely, his movements are magnified, his speaking voice fluctuates between normal and overstated--is this because The Actor is just a hammy man in real life or did Lunt just forget that he was on camera and not on stage?

 photo ScreenShot2013-10-02at111117PM.jpgI suppose that there is no concise answer. It's all up to your interpretation. This is a comedy, and I have to admit that he grabbed a few chuckles from me, so I can understand why he'd go the hammy route--his expressions are often times ridiculous and meant to evoke laughter. If you took away the sound, some of the reactions he makes are fitting for silent slapstick comedies, and I can't tell if this is a good thing or a bad thing--obviously silent film acting is exaggerated to make up for the lack of sound, so shouldn't have Lunt's acting been toned down a bit for this performance? His scenes as the Russian guardsman are some of the most over-the-top acting I've seen in films of this era, so much so that I couldn't stop cringing at some points. The Actor believes himself to be amazing at what he does, and he believes it so much that he feels he can convince his wife that he's another man while in Russian drag. We in turn are to believe that she believes his act, reinforcing the fact that he's this superior actor, but the lengths of his overacting makes this impossible. So while I get Lunt's technique and what he may have been aiming for, ultimately the hamminess made the plot of the film very unconvincing. This is a kooky little performance in a kooky little film, but I feel as though Lunt got a nomination more so because he was such a respected stage actor (and because the Oscars had a huge fascination with stage actors during this time) rather than because his performance was truly one of the three best that year.

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