Monday, August 4, 2008

More Marie Dressler

Marie Dressler was a wonderful actress, and I could go on and on about her movies. Perhaps the best of the movies she was in is Dinner At Eight, which is on TCM tonight at 8:00 PM ET, but I'm not going to blog about that right now because it's available on DVD. (I'll only say to watch Dressler at the end as everybody is getting ready to walk into the dining room.) Instead, I'd like to recommend the movie which won her an Oscar, but which is not available on DVD: Min and Bill, which follows Dinner at Eight at 10:00 PM ET.

Dressler stars as Min, the proprietress of a rooming house at the docks for the fishermen. She's got a thing for Bill, one of the fishermen (played by Wallace Beery, seen in the photo at left), although it's the kind of relationship that by the 1980s would have been labelled with a buzzword like "co-dependent". The dockside life is one of hard work and relatively little money, and is definitely not the place for children. However, Min has a girl, Nancy, she's looking after; one who was abandoned by her mother as a baby (played by Dorothy Jordan). Min wants to do the right thing for Nancy, but at the same time doesn't want the state to take the Nancy from her. They do, however, and send her to a boarding school, where she begins to make good.

Alas, everybody's relatively happy lives are about to come to an end. Although Min has been telling Nancy that her mother is dead, the mother (Marjorie Rambeau) learns not only that Nancy is still alive, but that she's about to marry into wealth. No dummy her, she wants in on that wealth. So one day, she walks straight into Min's place and tries to get Min to tell her the truth about Nancy.

Min and Bill is a fabulous little movie. With a running time of only 66 minutes, it hits all the emotions, with some comedy, some drama, some melodrama, and some heartbreaking moments. Marie Dressler is outstanding as the woman who sadly realizes that she's going to have to make some terrible sacrifices in order to do the right thing for her girl. Despite being singularly unglamorous in a town like Hollywood that's promoted beauty almost to a cult, Dressler defeated much more glamorous nominees like Norma Shearer, Marlene Dietrich, and Irene Dunne. She deserved the award, too, and it's a good thing that Min and Bill won one of the big Oscars, or else it would probably be completely forgotten, instead of just terribly overlooked.

Wallace Beery was also nominated for an Oscar, and he too does a fine job. He's the right fit physically to play Bill, a somewhat rough and hulking, but also charming man. Berry and Dressler seem like they make a believable couple, too. Their popularity resulted in their making several movies together, including Dinner at Eight, although the two don't have too many scenes together in it. One interesting thing is to note how respected Dressler and Beery were in that they were promoted more than most of the rest of the cast of Dinner at Eight (which includes Jean Harlow and two of the Barrymores). In the little-seen Should Ladies Behave, which like Dinner at Eight was made at MGM in 1933, there's a scene about ten minutes in in which some of the characters step out onto a terrace during an intermission of a Broadway show. In the background is a very obvious product placement: Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler in Dinner at Eight.

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