Summer Starbursts: Baxter and Edwards
August marks the cherished annual Turner Classic Movies month-long institution “Summer Under the Stars,” with each 24-hour day populated by films featuring one actor or actress, ranging from pantheon greats to bread-and-butter character players whose great work endures across decades of movie love. Today and tomorrow are prime examples showcasing favorites not in the upper echelons of cinematic immortality – and their representative titles in the Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray library are included in their respective lineups. Lovely, husky voiced Anne Baxter (1923-1985) is saluted in 13 movies today (Tuesday August 16) that reveal her range, facility with accents and sensuality, including her signature roles in All About Eve (1950, her impeccable title role turn that got her an Oscar® nomination) and The Razor’s Edge (1946, for which she won the prize). Nestled in between those two in a primetime slot (10:30 PM EDT/7:30 PM PDT) is a fascinating early career performance as the long-suffering daughter of an unjustly accused fugitive from justice in another gem from her long-time studio Twentieth Century Fox, director Jean Renoir’s first foray in Hollywood, the backwoods thriller Swamp Water (1941). Shot partly on location in Georgia’s Okefenokee swamp region, the film assembles a great cast (Walter Brennan, Walter Huston, Dana Andrews, Ward Bond, John Carradine and Eugene Pallette) to spin the half-magical, half-realistic story of rebellious loner Andrews, whose wilderness journey of self-discovery results in an encounter with a wanted man (Brennan), living in hiding from the authorities due to a trumped-up murder charge, and the start of a testy fur-trapping partnership which in turn fuels a tentative romance between Andrews and Baxter. Though not a satisfactory experience for Renoir, who clashed with Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck throughout the shoot, it did prove to be a box-office success that would lead to Baxter’s long association with Fox and propel her into larger, more diverse roles to follow in quick succession, both at her home studio and on loan-out.
Tomorrow (Wednesday August 17) pays tribute to one of Hollywood’s most enduring and underappreciated African-American actors, James Edwards (1918-1970). His most noted performances were in some of the more gritty and realistic war-themed movies of the late-1940s and 1950s (The Steel Helmet, Bright Victory, Men in War, Pork Chop Hill) and his best-known lead came as the G.I. battling racism within his own ranks while fighting outside enemies in the groundbreaking Home of the Brave (1949). All of the above are part of TCM’s 13-film assemblage, which is capped off by another distinctive Edwards appearance, working again for Home of the Brave producer Stanley Kramer, in the soulful screen adaptation of Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding (airing Thursday at 4:30 AM EDT/1:30 AM PDT). Under Fred Zinnemann's eloquent direction, Edwards plays hot-tempered trumpeter Honey Brown, step-brother of Berenice (Ethel Waters), the movie’s emotional center, and his defiant spirit and knack for getting into trouble parallels the restlessness of Julie Harris’s Frankie Addams, a tomboyish 12-year-old with growing pains and worldly yearnings that threaten to consume her. Swamp Water [available here: http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/16941/SWAMP-WATER-1941/] and The Member of the Wedding have stars galore to make summer glisten beyond the lovely work of Baxter and Edwards. Both are delivered in silkily stunning 1080p high-definition black-and-white renderings on Twilight Time Blu-rays.