Is the name Gloria Grahame a recognizable name? Well, back in the late 1940’s and through the 1950’s, Gloria Grahame was a major Hollywood personality. She had starring and supporting roles in films directed by Fritz Lang, Frank Capra, Vincente Minnelli, Edward Dmytryk, Cecil B. DeMille... She had a small but notable role in Capra’s IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, playing a small-town floozy who flirts with Jimmy Stewart. Lee Marvin memorably doused her with scalding hot coffee in Lang’s THE BIG HEAT, and she co-starred opposite Bogie-— who of course is Humphrey Bogart-- in IN A LONELY PLACE, an all-time-classic film noir. But Grahame was not just a dramatic actress. She played Ado Annie in the screen version of OKLAHOMA!, the legendary stage musical. She even earned a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award in THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, appearing opposite Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, and other A-list performers.
However, starting in the 1960’s, Gloria Grahame faded from the Hollywood limelight. She immersed herself in TV roles, and her relatively few big screen appearances mostly were in uninspired fare. Their titles-- for example, BLOOD AND LACE, THE TODD KILLINGS, and MANSION OF THE DOOMED-- certainly tell all.
Sadly, Gloria Grahame contracted stomach cancer and died in 1981. She was just 57 years old. The last couple of years of her life, in which she deals with her terminal illness while becoming romantically involved with an actor young enough to be her son, is at the core of FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL. Admittedly, this is a difficult film to sit through, if only because it is the story of one person’s agonizingly slow death. But there are strengths. FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL offers a thoughtful peek at the life of an ex-major movie star and her plight as her acting fortunes diminish. For after all, not all celebrities remain A-listers. For every Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, or Denzel Washington, there are countless Gloria Grahames.
FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL, which came to theaters during the last days of last year and momentarily will be arriving on home entertainment, also features a pair of stellar performances. Annette Bening makes Gloria Grahame a fully-developed personality, poignant and oh so believable. Not for once did I sense that, well, here is Annette Bening impersonating Gloria Grahame. Bening embraces the nuances of her role and becomes her character. Her performance is indeed Academy Award-worthy; Jamie Bell, who earned instant acclaim almost two decades ago as the title character in BILLY ELLIOT, is equally moving as the young man who genuinely loves her.
Also at issue is the authenticity of what appears onscreen. What is being revealed here in relation to Gloria Grahame? What is being left out? How much truth is there in what we are seeing? These are questions that may be pondered regarding any fact-based story. And these days, there are so many biopics which offer takes on everyone from J. Paul Getty to Winston Churchill to Tonya Harding. Now here is a bit of trivia regarding Gloria Grahame: Her fourth husband, Anthony Ray, just so happened to have been the son of her second husband, director Nicholas Ray. An entire film might have been made about this liaison. But here, it is glossed over.
Finally, who ever would have imagined that the voice of Edmund Gwenn of all people would be heard in a 2018 film! You remember Edmund Gwenn. He is best-recalled for playing Santa Claus in MIRACLE ON 34th STREET, the 1947 holiday classic. Well, Gwenn was the one who announced Gloria Grahame as Best Supporting Actress at the 1952 Oscarcast. He first is heard in FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL. And then, he is seen...
Rob Edelman teaches film history courses at the University at Albany. He has contributed to many arts and baseball-related publications; his latest book, which he co-edited, is From Spring Training To Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.
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