October 28, 2015

Jennifer Jones, Love Letters

as SINGLETON / VICTORIA MORLAND

Scroll through any actor's filmography and you'll find your handful of gems as well as a number of "huh?" films whose titles ring no bells to the collective minds whatsoever. Love Letters is exactly that kind of film. There isn't much to it that's noteworthy. It's a bland, average, trite melodrama released during an era that was chock full of trite melodramas--another face in a sea of faces if you will. But as it happens, Love Letters was a big enough hit to land itself some awards recognition. And so here I am, reviewing Jennifer Jones's performance.

There's little doubt that Jones's nomination is a product of a) the film doing fairly well at the box office, b) the fact that the character is dealt with a sizable amount of drama (therefore: baity!!), and c) the fact that Jones was one of the it girls of the forties who could land nominations for just about anything. The truth is, I don't see anything special about this performance or the role for that matter, baity as it may be, and as was the case of Gene Tierney, I don't think that Jones was a strong enough actress for the part. What we have then is a performance wherein Jones coos how much she loves Joseph Cotten before being wracked with spells of confusion in which she gazes off into the distance with her signature stare that's just as much says "can you tell that i don't know what is going on?" as it also is of her glam-posing-Tyra-Banks-smizing as actresses tended to do during this time. Then she goes on again about how much she loves Cotten. It's frustratingly by-the-books, and a perfect example of a pretty girl taking on a role that's well beyond her capacity so that she may showcase her acting chops, but what results is performance that really only touches the basic surface of what the character requires. Her emotional outbursts are more over-the-top than they are effective, and the way in which Victoria/Singleton is written to be blindly and wholly devoted, combined with Jones's sweet as cherry-pie demeanor...was just too grating for my tastes, as committed as she may be. Overall, her work isn't flat out awful--merely dull and clich├ęd in every sense of the word.

2 comments:

  1. I saw this film once and, as I recall, was duly unimpressed with it. You're right when you say there's nothing special about this. Jones was in 'nomination mode' at this early stage of her career and it didn't hurt that her Svengali (whom she would marry in 1949) was Mr. "Gone With the Wind" himself, David O. Selznick. The fact that she received four consecutive Oscar nominations with one win automatically put her in Bette Davis/Greer Garson territory and, like those two actresses, some of her nominations were questionable. "Love Letters" is in that category, It's a gimmicky melodrama whose machinations are all too obvious. Jones tries hard but isn't up to the task of making something real out of a part that's mostly cipher. She gave better, unnominated performances in the later forties and fifties but this is apparently what the academy was looking for in 'forty five'.

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  2. Having just re-seen this film on TCM, I have a slight change of opinion. I still think it's one of those trite melodramas of the '40s that are lushly 'romantic' but very predictable. Still, one thing I notice now about Jones is her naturalness. If you take away the glam-posing that was a requirement of actors and directors in those days, she gives a relaxed and centered performance that at times seems more contemporary than old-fashioned. Her casualness is totally right for the character. Problem is, the material and dialog are utterly preposterous. The fine chemistry between Jones and Cotton sometimes overcomes this but the purple dialog and scenarios are hard to overcome.

    Ponder Jones as an actress, quite natural at times but also melodramatic in the '40s-'50s style that was so admired at the time. Still, her Bernadette remains almost iconic and, like many (though not all) of our favorite actors, she improved over time. 'Madame Bovary', 'Carrie', 'Ruby Gentry', 'Love is a Many-Splendored Thing' .... hell, even in her last film, 'The Towering Inferno', where she is saddled with some dreadful dialog, She manages to be both touching and determined. Jones had talent and dedication and deserves to be remembered for her accomplished work.

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