October 7, 2013

Lynn Fontanne, The Guardsman

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Alfred Lunt and wife Lynn Fontanne famously turned down lucrative film contracts following The Guardsman's release, and one can't help but wonder what they could have contributed to cinema had they decided to take up Hollywood's offer. We may never be able to have witnessed Fontanne and Lunt on stage, but at least we have their sole cinematic offering, and to have garnered Oscar nods in what would be your only film is an impressive accomplishment. Add in the fact that both husband and wife are theatre legends, and what you've got is a viewer with pretty high expectations. The general chemistry between the couple in The Guardsman is undeniable--it was a joy watching the two of them claw at each other through their dry and sarcastic remarks. Ultimately, the film ends up being more Lunt's show than Fontanne's (whether we like it or not), but the moments in which Lunt fumbles with his crazed overacting, Fontanne balances out with a pleasant portrayal of the sly and deceitful yin to Lunt's yang.

 photo BV23vI0CIAAcNBi.jpgAt times Fontanne feels like a secondary character--she comes in and out as she pleases and the viewer is to side with The Actor throughout the entire film as we're fed everything he thinks, feels, and does. We don't completely understand The Actress (was it ever even explained why she sits alone in the dark at night, crying and playing Chopin?), but when she appears, she is cunning and deliciously devious, meowing out her lines in a way that makes us understand how The Actor could be so obsessed with her. She is sexy without really trying. I loved the long exchanges between husband and wife, and the ways Fontanne coos in between Lunt's lines are done so with shades of trickery, giving hints that she's not as dumb as we are to believe. (For instance, the way she tells her husband "If I said I was alone, I was alone" is a delectable mix that's flirtatious and commanding all at once)

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But like Lunt, her performance isn't very consistent. Again it raises some questions--could it be that The Actress is a theatrical persona outside of the stage as well? Does she speak with theatricality because she realizes her husband is playing pretend, and as such she's treating this all as one of her normal performances? She isn't remotely as over-the-top as Lunt is, but she's also given much less to do--as well as she purrs, there's little else in her performance besides a overdramatic argument over here and a bit of giggling over there. Her scenes with the Russian general are amped up in its staginess than her scenes with just The Actor, and like her husband I'm not quite what to make of these peculiar performances--do I take the theatricality as a product of the film's context? All in all, I enjoyed Fontanne much more than I did Lunt, and would loved to have seen more of her, but the story being from The Actor's POV limits how much she can do with her performance and as a result, I give her a

(Can't believe I forgot to put up the rating. I can be such a sloppy birdbrain at times)

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