Thursday, December 19, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #284: Child actors venturing out of tyepcasting

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week the theme is child stars who venture out of typecasting, presumably as they become grown-up actors and actresses. A lot of child stars are unable to make the transition, and wind up retiring. But others have varying degrees of success once they turn 18 and beyond. With that in mind, here are three formr child stars trying something different:

Conspirator (1949). Child star in question: Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor turned 18 during the filming of Little Women, and Conspirator is the first film she made afterwards. She plays a woman in England who marries a British military officer (Robert Taylor), only to find that he's a Communist spy, which makes her grow up quickly and face the issue of whether to turn him in for his treason. Liz does an adequate job here, but would go on in future years to show just how well she could do with adult roles.

Hud (1963). Child star in question: Brandon de Wilde. You may remember de Wilde at the end of Shane calling for Shane to come back. By 1963, de Wilde was 21 years old and taking a supporting role as the cousin of Hud (Paul Newman), who idolizes his cousin despite Hud's bad behavior, ultimately leading to grandpa's (Melvyn Douglas) death. A sign of how much of an adult de Wilde was by now is right at the beginning, when family maid Patricia Neal barges in to his room to wake him up and asks him is he's sleeping "raw" (ie. naked). De Wilde probably could have gone on to quite good things as an adult actor, but he was killed in a car accident at the age of 30.

The Hagen Girl (1947). Child star in question: Shirley Temple. Of the three I picked, Temple had the least successful transition to being an adult actress, making her last movie at the age of 21. Her problem is that audiences wouldn't let her escape her typecasting, as this movie shows. Temple plays Hagen, a young woman who is the subject of vicious gossip about who her real parents are, and when lawyer Ronald Reagan returns after several years away, whispers come out that he's the father. You can see why audiences so used to the singing and dancing child star would be uncomfortable watching stuff like this. That's a shame, because whatever mess the movie is really isn't Temple's fault.


joel65913 said...

I think Liz's force of personality and star quality would have made her transition rather easy even if she hadn't been quite so ravishing in her youth. But she was and was also lucky enough to be at the Tiffany of studios who could showcase her to maximum advantage. Conspirator isn't a bad first step towards adulthood but at bottom its a routine programmer.

De Wilde's early death really is such a tragic thing in so many ways. He was a very gifted actor and an integral piece to the success of Hud.

Love Shirley Temple but she had some trouble finding her feet as she matured. She was a terrific comic actress in Honeymoon and especially The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer but needed a strong director for more dramatic fare and when she didn't have it she could be stiff and mannered. From what she said in her autobiography she became bored by filmmaking and wanted new experiences, understandable considering at what age she started, and chose to withdraw. And she certainly led a life of purpose afterward. That Hagen Girl isn't much of a film but I agree the movie's problems aren't because of her.

I had a little trouble deciding exactly how to approach the theme so I stuck with performers (as it turned out all actresses) who successfully attempted something different while still in their teens. And as happened all three were nominated for Supporting Actress Oscars (none won) for either their typecasting role or the one that broke the mold.

Bonita Granville: The Nancy Drew Mysteries series

Rising to fame at 12 (and netting an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress) in 1936’s These Three as a cancerous, vicious child whose lies destroys three lives simply because she can’t have her own way for the next several years Bonita was reliably cast as odious little bitches making adult lives miserable until her studio took a chance and cast her as mischievous, scrappy Nancy Drew in a series of low budget films. The series was very successful enabling her to expand her persona and bounced back and forth between good girls and bad until her retirement from acting in 1950.

Jodie Foster: Taxi Driver

From the age of six (though she had been a child model since the age of two) the incredibly prolific Jodie was one of the top child stars of the late 60’s and early 70’s mostly through her television work including her own series-Paper Moon-as the plucky tomboyish girl next door. But that changed with her Oscar nominated performance as the child prostitute Iris in Taxi Driver. It’s a haunting worn down profoundly sad piece of work.

Natalie Wood: Rebel Without a Cause

Gaining fame at age nine (though in her own estimation not really achieving stardom rather being in her words “a utility actress” slotted into whatever role fit her image) as the pragmatic, prematurely wise Susie who comes to believe in Santa Claus in 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street Natalie played variations on that character for the next eight years. Then in 1955 Nicholas Ray cast her as Judy, the vulnerable and lost teen skirting juvenile delinquency resulting in an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress and changing the direction of her career.

Brittani Burnham said...

It's a shame Shirley didn't have a better transition into adult roles. I loved her so much when I was a kid. Still do.

Birgit said...

I always found it icky when Liz was paired with Robert Taylor who could easily have been her dad but such were the times then. Brandon De Wilde is great in This film and how sad that he died so young. Shirley Temple was a good actress but the public didn’t want her to grow up.