Two towering, Oscar®-honored Westerns of the early 1950s, each led by pantheon male stars, nonetheless gained power and stature by the presence of an immigrant woman in a supporting role that burnished both films with a haunting gravitas. Born 94 years ago today, Mexican acting eminence Katy Jurado (1924-2002) would appear in 71 movies throughout her enduring career in her native land as well as the United States and abroad, eventually winning three Ariel Awards, Mexico’s Academy Award® equivalent, and would revisit the Western genre from time to time in The Badlanders (1958, for director Delmer Daves), One-Eyed Jacks (1961, for director/star Marlon Brando) and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973, for director Sam Peckinpah). But her two best remembered screen outings will likely always be the two for which she made Hollywood history as the first Latina to receive the Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe® Award (1952’s High Noon, starring Gary Cooper and directed by Fred Zinnemann) and a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award® nomination (1954’s Broken Lance, starring Spencer Tracy and directed by Edward Dmytryk). Each picture showed her in a different light. Her Helen Ramirez in the Hadleyville, New Mexico, of High Noon is a tough, exotic beauty more reflective of her then 27-year age, a former lover of both Cooper’s Marshal Will Kane and Ian MacDonald’s vengeful convict Frank Miller, en route to the settle a score. In contrast, her “Señora” Devereaux, the second, Native American wife of cattle baron Matt Devereaux (Tracy), is a loving but careworn earth-mother figure that has parented twentysomething Robert Wagner as one of Tracy’s four sons.
Both generationally different women are fully formed, vividly drawn portrayals who enrich the emotional weight of the dilemmas faced in each film. In High Noon, her powerful scene with Grace Kelly, as the lawman’s conflicted, violence-renouncing Quaker bride who wants the flee the inevitable showdown, is crucial in conveying the overarching theme of taking a stand and not retreating from the harsh challenges of doing what’s right in the face of universal censure. The world of the sprawling Devereaux cattle empire is in some ways meaner due to the racist underpinnings of the tensions between the settlers and the Native-born heritage represented by chief’s daughter Jurado and half-breed offspring Wagner; here, Jurado’s quiet strength and soulful loyalty are marshaled in service of keeping the peace between frontier oligarch spouse Tracy and his contentious “white” sons (played by Richard Widmark, Hugh O’ Brian and Earl Holliman). In both stories, Jurado’s spare words and iron determination matter, but Broken Lance introduces a richer component, as resident Twilight Time essayist Julie Kirgo observes about the Tracy/Jurado dynamic: “In an early scene, the love between these two – born out of desire, admiration and pure friendship – is palpable. With her face like a Mayan sculpture – flat nose, pursed lips, enormous eyes – and beautiful voice, Jurado is fascinatingly both submissive and in charge: the heart and soul of the Devereaux family and a dignified, loving partner to Matt, whose violent spirit is tamed only in her presence. It’s because of his passion for her – and passion it is, playfully revealed on several occasions – that he particular favors his son Joe [Wagner], who shares her ‘tendency to be soft-hearted.’” Our tendency is to celebrate the breakthrough work of birthday honoree Jurado, whom Zinnemann considered "an exuberant woman with a volcanic sense of humor and full of the joy of life," in Broken Lance, unleashed in its full Cinemascope glory on a fine TT hi-def Blu-ray.
When it rode into New York moviehouses 63 years ago yesterday, director Henry Hathaway’s brooding and scenically breathtaking Cinemascope and Technicolor Western Garden of Evil (1954), renamed from its earlier draft title of Volcano, made something distinctive from standard-issue elements because of the elevated level of talents assembled and the desolate beauty of the Mexican locations around Acapulco, Cuernavaca and Uruapan [...]
In marking today’s centenary of the birth of a singular and enduring Hollywood star from Brooklyn who was a potent box-office favorite in the 1950s after steadily building a career through perseverance and talent, historian David Shipman’s evaluation in his 1972 The Great Movie Stars: The International Years is acutely clear-eyed: “It’s easier for a man. For women to have [...]
Chilly Scenes of Winter and the Comedy of Sentimental Pessimism ~ Part 2 of 3: John Heard's Heroic Nature and the Movie's True Identity
Note: This essay features excerpts from Daniel Kremer’s forthcoming book Joan Micklin Silver: From Hester Street to Hollywood.It is difficult to imagine the role of Charles in the hands of the role’s other early contenders, as John Heard is so quintessentially forlorn as our heroic schlemeil. United Artists initially suggested Robin Williams, Treat Williams, John Ritter, Richard Dreyfuss and [...]
Born the day after Christmas 102 years ago, Richard Widmark (1914-2008) was considered reliable, pliable, tough and plain-spoken among Hollywood leading men, pitching woo, exuding menace, riding the plains, soldiering into battle and cutting comic capers with the best. He’d been directed on Broadway by the likes of George Abbott, Herman Shumlin and Elia Kazan; indeed, the Kazan-directed Dunnigan’s Daughter by [...]
Preorders open today (at 4 PM EDT/1PM PDT) for five new Twilight Time Blu-ray offerings debuting May 12, all toplining scintillating leading ladies: Appassionata (Ornella Muti), Cat Ballou (Jane Fonda), Eureka (Theresa Russell), Garden of Evil (Susan Hayward) and I Could Go On Singing (Judy Garland). Their male co-stars, drawn from the likes of Academy Award® winners Gary Cooper, Gene [...]
Across a 41-year directing career, Henry Hathaway liked to shake things up and took a crack at many genres – Westerns, thrillers, romances, mysteries, war stories, family pictures, adult dramas. It’s no wonder that he worked with like-minded collaborators, including the stars of his brawny, outdoor, Mexican-set Cinemascope Western Garden of Evil (1954). Though he and Hollywood icon Gary Cooper [...]