Sunday, October 3, 2010

Muses in my midst IV

(Irene Dunne in "Love Affair.")

Now that my pantheon has found its ideal director, composer and writer, it's time to start the casting process. We begin with an interesting breed known as The Great Lady. This kind of movie star - admired for their fashion sense, refinement and, above all, creamy noblesse oblige - went out of style after World War II. The most enduring and endearing of this extinct breed is Irene Dunne. Except for ax murderesses and villainesses, there was nothing that this soprano, comedian and tragedian couldn't render into silk. She was the perfect Magnolia in the great 1936 "Show Boat." She matched co-star Cary Grant twinkle for twinkle and innuendo for innuendo in "The Awful Truth." And in the late '40s, she approached the sunset of her career as a winsome teacher in "Anna and the King of Siam," as the ultimate Norwegian earth mother in "I Remember Mama" and even convinced the agnostic William Powell to be baptized in the evergreen "Life with Father." It seems a pleasing irony that several of her great roles were remade by the equally ladylike and talented Deborah Kerr. Dunne is one of the rare few who can make us swoon, giggle and weep in one movie, as she did in 1939's "Love Affair."

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