BFI Gloria Grahame Retrospective | Film Noir | Nov/Dec 2017

November 1st, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor


This Winter the BFI are celebrating the life of screen siren GLORIA GRAHAME with a retrospective of a smouldering film career showcasing her talents – usually in supporting roles – garnering her critical acclaim and an Academy Award for her nine-minute role in THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952) starring alongside Kirk Douglas, who was nominated but went away empty-handed. 

Gloria Grahame appeared in more than 30 films during the 1940s and 50s and died shortly after returning to her native New York, from a visit to her friend Peter Turner, a stay which forms the basis for the 1987 biography Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Paul McGuigan biopic drama which opens the retrospective on 14 November 2017, and stars Annette Bening as Grahame.

Born Gloria Hallward, in Pasadena, California on November. 28, 1923 to the British actress, Jean Hallward, who had played Shakespearean and other classical roles on the British stage, Gloria Grahame made her stage debut in Chicago soon after finishing high school. Broadway then beckoned, where she worked as understudy in Thornton Wilder’s play By the Skin of Our Teeth, an a number of other stage roles. Her Hollywood debut was in 1944 with Richard Whorf’s comedy flop BLOND FEVER. She went on to star as Ginny in Edward Dmytryk’s 1947 racially-charged noir thriller CROSSFIRE, alongside Robert Mitchum. She later claimed Ginny was her favourite role and she was nominated for an Academy Award which sealed her success for the following decade in titles such as THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (1952) and OKLAHOMA! (1955).

Offers dwindled during the 1950s as she brought up her family with Nicholas Ray, occasionally appearing in TV and stage outings, particularly in comedy roles in The Man Who Came to Dinner; Head Over Heels. She was married to Stanley Clements, Nicholas Ray, Cy Howard and Anthony Ray. MT

Here is the BFI Line-up:

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

UK 2017. Dir Paul McGuigan. With Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Vanessa Redgrave. 105min. Digital. Cert tbc. Courtesy of Lionsgate

Ageing Hollywood star Gloria Grahame (Bening), a goddess of the silver screen in the 1940s, now resides in Liverpool doing small theatre gigs to help support her children. While dealing a health scare, she develops an unlikely romance with charming 20-something Peter Turner (Bell) – a relationship that’s soon tested to its limits.

Tickets £15, concs £12 (Members pay £2 less)

Gloria Grahame: Femme Fatale Film Noir Icon | TRT 90min | TUE 14 NOV 18:10 NFT1

This lavishly illustrated talk by Adrian Wootton OBE, CEO of Film London, will celebrate the onscreen brilliance that defines Gloria Grahame as one of the iconic femme fatale heroines of the era. Wootton will explore her working relationships with major filmmakers such as Frank Capra, Fritz Lang and Vincente Minnelli, as well as her tumultuous and often controversial personal life. Tickets £6.50


USA 1950. Dir Nicholas Ray. With Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy. 98min. Digital. PG. A Park Circus release.

Nicholas Ray’s beguiling blend of murder mystery and unusually adult love story is one of the finest American movies of the early 50s. The lonely place is Hollywood: scriptwriter Dix (Bogart) is prime suspect in the murder of a young woman, until neighbour Laurel (Grahame) provides him with a false alibi. But as the pair embark on a romance, his volatile temper – exacerbated equally by the studio and the cops – makes her wonder whether he might have been guilty… Brilliantly adapted from Dorothy B Hughes’ novel, Ray’s tough but tender film is spot-on in its insightful characterisation of Tinseltown and of the troubled lovers. Marvellously cast, Bogart and Grahame bring an aching poignancy to their painful predicament.


USA 1953. Dir Fritz Lang. With Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Jocelyn Brando, Lee Marvin. 89min. Digital. 15. A Park Circus release

Fritz Lang’s stark thriller about a cop fighting city-wide corruption is also a classic tale of revenge and redemption. After a senior policeman kills himself, detective Dave Bannion (Ford) begins to suspect a cover-up between his superiors, local politicians and a seemingly inviolate crime-lord. Persisting with his investigations, he comes under attack, at which point his mission turns personal rather than professional. Famous for its (off-screen) violence – notably a scene involving Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin and boiling coffee – Lang’s film is pacy, unsentimental and to the point in exploring the thin line between the law and rough justice. The robust direction, terse script and unfussy performances ensure the movie feels strangely modern.


USA 1947. Dir Edward Dmytryk. With Gloria Grahame, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Robert Young. 86min. 35mm. PG

This was one of Grahame’s earliest substantial roles. Her portrayal of a dance-hall girl who witnesses a murder earned her an Oscar® nomination and also set the mould for her screen persona. As the police investigation into the crime leads to a manhunt for a missing GI, the film takes an uncompromising look at the problems men had readjusting to life after war.

WED 15 NOV 18:30 NFT2 / SAT 18 NOV 18:30 NFT2

Sudden Fear + intro by Adrian Wootton OBE, CEO of Film London*

USA 1952. Dir David Miller. With Gloria Grahame, Joan Crawford, Jack Palance. 111min. Digital. PG

Gloria Grahame read Macbeth in preparation for the role of Irene Neves – looking to Lady Macbeth to locate the emotional drive to manipulate a man to murder, as she does with Palance’s actor-cum-fraudster Lester Blaine. Joan Crawford is at the film’s core and plays the melodramatic angle to perfection but Grahame is compelling as the driving force behind the murderous plot


USA 1952. Dir Vincente Minnelli. With Gloria Grahame, Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, Walter Pidgeon. 118min. 35mm. PG

This classic Hollywood take on the movie business tells the tale of a ruthless producer and the effect his dealings have on his friends and colleagues. Grahame received a Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar® for her portrayal of Rosemary, the wife of screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Powell), despite being on screen for only nine minutes.



THE GLASS WALL | FRI 17 NOV 18:20 NFT2 / THU 30 NOV 20:35 NFT2

 + intro by season curator Jo Botting, BFI National Archive*

USA 1953. Dir Maxwell Shane. With Gloria Grahame, Vittorio Gassman, Ann Robinson. 85min. 35mm. PG

One of Grahame’s lesser-known titles, this film also offered her a rare starring role. She appears opposite Italian star Vittorio Gassman, who plays a Hungarian illegal immigrant determined to remain in the US, with one night to track down the person who can save him from deportation. Grahame gives an exquisite performance as a woman on the breadline who forms a bond with the desperate man.

HUMAN DESIRE | MON 20 NOV 18:20 NFT2* / MON 27 NOV 20:40 NFT

USA 1953. Dir Fritz Lang. With Gloria Grahame, Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford. 91min. 35mm. PG

The role of Vicki Buckley in this classic noir about a man’s affair with a married woman shows Grahame at her most complex and scheming. As the film progresses the layers of her character are slowly peeled away, and the audience teeter between sympathy for her tragic life and abhorrence at her capacity for manipulation

THE COBWEB | TUE 21 NOV 18:20 NFT3 / SUN 26 NOV 14:45 NFT1

USA 1955. Dir Vincente Minnelli. With Gloria Grahame, Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Charles Boyer, Lillian Gish. 123min

Vincente Minnelli’s lush melodrama revolves around the struggle for power among staff and inmates at a psychiatric hospital. Grahame plays the neglected wife of Dr McIver (Widmark), frustrated by his dedication to his work and stifled by the small-town mentality of those around her. The colour photography emphasises her brassiness, enhancing her waspish yet sensual performance.


USA 1955. Dir Fred Zinnemann. With Gloria Grahame, Shirley Jones, Gordon MacRae, Rod Steiger. 145min. U

While she was not a natural chanteuse (she was tone-deaf) Grahame’s naïve, endearing vocal style in this musical western brings genuine charm to her portrayal of Ado Annie and she sung the role completely without dubbing. Annie’s romantic to-ing and fro-ing offers comic relief from Rod Steiger’s menacing pursuit of the wholesome Laurey (Jones), while the whole is interspersed with some of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s liveliest tunes.


USA 1954. Dir Jerry Hopper. With Gloria Grahame, Sterling Hayden, Gene Barry. 86min

A policeman pursues a suspected murderer to a Mexican border town, both men driven by desperation and their own personal demons. Grahame is at her most seductive as a nightclub singer caught between them; she finally finds the love she’s desperate for, but will the chance for happiness come too late?


Merton of the Movies

USA 1947. Dir Robert Alton. With Gloria Grahame, Red Skelton, Virginia O’Brien. 82min

Showing how fast Hollywood forgot its roots, this broad parody of silent cinema was made barely 20 years after the coming of sound. Red Skelton was coached in physical comedy by Buster Keaton for his performance as a small-town boy seeking fame and fortune in the movies. Grahame luxuriates in the glamour of her role, as a film star who seduces the innocent abroad.


USA 1959. Dir Robert Wise. With Gloria Grahame, Robert Ryan, Harry Belafonte, Shelley Winters. 96min

Director Robert Wise offers a heist movie with a twist, as Robert Ryan’s troubled WWII veteran confronts his prejudices when he embarks on a bank job with a black jazz performer (Belafonte). A very personal project for Belafonte, the film is one of the last Hollywood noirs ever produced. Grahame makes an impression in the small role of Ryan’s sexually frustrated neighbour, in her swansong as a screen siren.



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