July 30, 2014

Adolphe Menjou, The Front Page

as WALTER BURNS
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 photo ScreenShot2014-07-29at70526PM.jpgAdolphe Menjou's nomination for The Front Page is no different from that of Lewis Stone's, Frank Morgan's, and Franchot Tone's--these are actors who were mostly supporting performers in the films they were in, and each managed to get a one-time Best Actor nod from the Academy for roles that aren't truly lead. Save for Stone (whose picture is missing) I actually ended up liking the performances of Morgan and Tone, and Menjou's performance here carries on that trend. Although he's barely around for two-thirds of The Front Page, he's a relentless and tyrannizing presence in the film's remaining third. Walter Burns as written is a force to be reckoned with, making it possible for Menjou to steal the thunder of the film's actual lead (Pat O'Brien) as well as give a lasting impression without really having to put much of an effort in. This is because Walter's a lurid little character--calm, collected, and manipulative, with a touch of wickedness--not above housing a murder suspect and ordering a kidnapping for his own benefit. He's a puppet master, able to control a majority of the characters in the film and remain one step ahead of everyone who tries to impede him from getting what he wants...that's what makes him so interesting. It was a hoot watching Menjou patronize everyone around him and hurling the occasional bitchy comment ("Now listen TRAMP!", "Gray-haired old weasel!"), though there were times when I wished Menjou wasn't so reticent...with such a larger-than-life character, I may have enjoyed Walter Burns a bit more if Menjou was more animated and lively. He commands attention and yet his body language, facial expressions, and overall physical demeanor reads as a little lifeless at times--he'll yell cutting remarks but there'll be a lack of oomph to his delivery. In other words, the performance is funny because of the material and not necessarily because of the actor. Still, it's an amusing performance, and I'm glad an actor like Menjou was given the chance to show a freer side to him beyond the stuffy, unchallenging stock roles that he'd be limited to in the years to come.

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