Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The dull, charmless male movie stars of the 1950s

The job of a movie star is to radiate energy and charm – no matter what the role. Look at any list of big movie stars and you’ll see that the old studio system generally knew how to pick ‘em. Even when they weren’t really any good at acting, they were successfully occupying some useful niche or other.

But things started to go wrong in the ‘50s and early ‘60s: studios in Hollywood and Britain started sticking dull, lifeless, unsuitable or positively dislikeable leading men up there on the screen – and I’ve never understood why.

Did the threat of television derange their normally reliable instincts?

I can just about understand how rotten films come to be made: once they’ve started shooting, halting production must be like trying to stop a supertanker on the high seas. Besides, the studios used to produce so many films that a certain number of stinkers were bound to slip through the net. But when it comes to charmless leading actors, why were they ever given a second chance? I mean, nobody thought to give George Lazenby another starring role after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

I’m not necessarily talking about bad actors – I just mean those dull or vaguely unpleasant screen presences who fail to hold one’s attention or only manage to do so by being really irritating. (I realise that some of the stars on my list might have possessed the sort of sexual allure which may simply have bypassed this heterosexual male.)

Here’s a list of ten 1950s leading actors whom I’d personally have thrown off the lot.

Stewart Granger: I have never managed to get through a whole film featuring this man, and when, after he’d slunk back to England in the ‘70s, he was interviewed on Parkinson, I understood why. He was an inarticulate, shallow, self-obsessed bore whose attitude towards women and sex was repellent. All in all, the kind of man women with an eye for a wrong ‘un tend to go for.

Van Johnson: pudgy, bland, soft-faced cream-puff, who either seemed pleased in the way you’d be if a casserole had turned out all right, or petulant in the way you’d be if you’d got dog poo on your new shoes. Hell’s bells – how did he manage a substantial movie career?

Robert Taylor: Lordy, what a glum sourpuss! Charmlessness personified. Glowered his way grumpily through endless movies and was evidently a heartthrob – but could anyone imagine ever having a laugh with the surly brute?

George Peppard: Solid teak, through and through. Partly redeemed his reputation later in life starring in The A-Team on TV – but on the Big Screen he always came across like a thick teenage jock whose parents have just told him “You’re grounded, mister!

Rock Hudson: I mean, really!

Put a top on, mate!
Robert Wagner: Another sullen teenager. He always sounded like he had a high voice which he was artificially lowering in a vain attempt to sound manly. His only decent performance came as Dr Evil’s deputy in the first Austin Powers movie.

Farley Granger: Was only ever called on to look nervous. He was bisexual, which would have made anyone nervous in 1950s America, I guess. Strangers on a Train would have been a perfect film, but for Granger’s presence – co-star Robert Walker simply blasts him off the screen.

Anthony Steele: A former Grenadier Guards officer who acted as if someone had just shoved a swagger-stick up his back passage. He was sent to the Rank Charm School, but they shouldn’t have bothered – he possessed none at all.

Michael Wilding: bland, wet, silly, with a distinctly slappable face. He must had something, but I’m damned if I could ever figure out what it was supposed to be.

Bill Travers: He had the looks, and he had a brilliant war – but, goodness, on screen he gave the impression of being a simpleton who’d had a lobotomy. The whole of his acting repertoire – apart from the ability to look terminally confused – consisted of being able to suddenly tighten his forehead to denote surprise (John Wayne and Victor Mature both did this a lot – but I’ve never actually seen anybody do it in real life).

1 comment:

  1. Agree with your list. Please add the immortal trio of Troy Donahue, Ty Hardin and Tab Hunter ["Red Sails in the Sunset" - probably worthy of the Fumigator's treatment]. Also, the British actor Edmund Purdom - the same pretty-boy face as Will Carling and that big chap in "Twnenty Twelve".

    Also, Sal Mineo and Russ Tamblyn and Howard Keel.

    Rock. The big question remains: " Apart from George Washington who was the first man up the Hudson?". Van. He was married with children, but you didn't want to pick up the soap if he was in the shower.

    Tom Hanks does a wonderful impression of Grainger. He calls him "Lance Grainger" and portrays him as one of the nastiest people around.