The Glorious Gloria

There isn't anyone else quite like Gloria Grahame. There's nothing generic about her; she's appealing but decidedly odd. You know the movie has a script, but you're not sure she'll follow it. Just because she did last time you saw this movie, doesn't mean she will this time. Grahame is one of the key actors of noir, though she is so distinct that it can’t be said she typifies anything. Apparently she was rather like that in her off-screen life as well.

As if her persona were not enough to set her apart from thousands of more conventional stars and starlets, there's the face, the face of a beautiful mutant. She herself was not enamored of this oddness and spent years attempting to eradicate or at least fine-tune it with surgical intervention.

The movie Oklahoma! (1955) is generally considered a disaster for Grahame. She fought with many of her collaborators, was labeled impossible to work with, and that was pretty much it for her career in the big time. But I'm surprised by how many commentators think she was miscast as far as the actual role was concerned. I was about 12 when I saw this movie for the first time, with no preconceived ideas on Gloria Grahame, and I was knocked out by her character, Ado Annie. The last time I saw it wasn't too long ago, and she hit me the same way.

In real life the actress couldn't sing worth a damn so it's a credit to the genius who edited her vocals that the end result is so right (she sang each part multiple times, then the editor patched together the useable notes). Director Fred Zinnemann's decision to have Grahame sing the part was a good one. (This was done against her own will; the option, of course, was to have someone else dub it.) The voice is perfect. And, in spite of the significant role of technology, the voice is pure Gloria. It couldn't be anyone else.

Ado Annie is not that far from some of Grahame's other characters. For example, if you can imagine a cynical Ado Annie, you more or less have Grahame's character in The Big Heat, one of her greatest parts. "We're sisters under the mink." Blam.