Friday, July 3, 2015

Patricia Neal 1926--2010

What you remember about Patricia Neal is the tobacco-cured voice and appraising eyes that in a glance could take the measure of a man to the millimeter. In her two best roles, The Fountainhead (1949, as absolutist architecture critic Dominique Francon) and A Face in the Crowd (1957, as a radio journalist Marcia Jeffries who midwives a maleficent media personality), the way she looked at Gary Cooper's pneumatic drill and Andy Griffiths' acoustic guitar was positively indecent. And incandescent.

Patricia Neal 1926--2010

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Patricia Neal as Dominque Francon in Ayn Rand´s "The Fountainhead."
Patricia Neal as Dominque Francon in Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead."

What you remember about Patricia Neal is the tobacco-cured voice and appraising eyes that in a glance could take the measure of a man to the millimeter. In her two best roles, The Fountainhead (1949, as absolutist architecture critic Dominique Francon)  and A Face in the Crowd (1957, as a radio journalist Marcia Jeffries who midwives a maleficent media personality), the way she looked at Gary Cooper's pneumatic drill and Andy Griffiths' acoustic guitar was positively indecent. And incandescent.

As a screen presence, she was not prolific. Apart from Fountainhead and Face, her most memorable movies were The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), where she was decorative, Breakfast at Tiffany's, where she was imperious, and Hud (1963), where she effectively won a best actress Oscar for resisting the charms of Paul Newman (and for surviving a debilitating stroke in real life). But she was forceful, no-nonsense, and built like a goddess. To watch her onscreen is to be transfused by her energy, transfixed by her beauty. (Patsy was the given name of the Kentucky-born Neal but her patrician presence inspired a director to rechristen her Patricia.)

If you've never seen A Face in the Crowd, take this as an occasion to honor Neal -- and one of the most acerbic social commentaries of the 1950s. Your favorite Neal performance? Why?

Film Critic
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Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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