March 25, 2014

Gladys George, Valiant is the Word for Carrie

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Melodramatic is the word for Valiant is the Word for Carrie. In fact, it's probably one of the most melodramatic films the best actress category has ever seen--and that's a bold statement to make given all the thirties films I've seen up to this point! At times it feels as though the author of the original novel looked up the definition of "valiant" in the dictionary and then set off to write a story entirely around the adjective without any respect to narrative fluidity. The plot itself takes a ton of bizarre turns, but to star Gladys George's credit, she manages to do the best she can as waves and waves of ridiculous narrative crash onto her (and us).

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From what I could gather on the internet, it is suggested that Gladys George was quite the wild child back in her heyday. How interesting then that one of her biggest roles--for which she received her sole Academy Award nomination--was that of a former hooker, a woman vilified by the citizens of her small town as being unfit to be amongst "decent" people. It's a plumb role--sort of like Erin Brockovich dealing with orphans instead of PG&E, and for the most part I thought that George does a great job. The entire first act deals with everybody in town slut-shaming Carrie's prostitution past, and this is where George does wonders. From her very first line, there's a cadence to George's voice that hints of a woman who has been through a lot, perhaps translucent to the actress' real life. George handles Carrie's emotions and pain pretty beautifully, and she breathes an air of ragged life into 'ol Carrie. There's always the sense that George is the most realistic thing in an otherwise overly sentimental and sensationalistic narrative. But then the second act starts up. Carrie moves away and becomes an adopted mother to two orphans, the film renounces her dark past and suddenly George is forced to become something entirely uninteresting: a concerned maternal figure. That's usually a pretty selfless kind of character to do, and George spends the entire middle portion of the film shooting us very concerned looks as the story shifts its focus onto Carrie's kids. For much of this act she becomes a secondary character in her own film, confined to delivering silly, overcooked dramatic moments such as getting upset when her son opts to find his own job rather than help out with the family laundry business. By the third act, George has a moment or two in which she recaptures the essence from the beginning that made her so great to watch, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't underwhelmed once I reached the film's conclusion. That said, it's always great viewing the nominated performances of actors who've otherwise been completely forgotten. George is clearly a gifted actor here, and aside from a Madame X remake she'd only take on supporting roles from here on out. Still, her work in Valiant is the Word for Carrie is a solid showcase of talent from an otherwise underutilized actress.


  1. Great review! I really like the performances of her that I have seen so far but I am not able to find this movie anywhere...but I am looking forward to her!

    1. I can't say I've seen much of George outside of her bit part in The Maltese Falcon--but she's certainly a fascinating presence onscreen and if I ever have the extra time I'd love to check out her turn in Madame X...surely she'd be much better than Ruth Chatterton.