Friday, May 1

Natalie Wood: Her Films of the 60s

As a little girl she had a number of charming roles.  In 1947 alone she had a small part as Gene Tierney's daughter in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and a larger role as Maureen O'Hara's daughter in the classic, Miracle on 34th Street.  The following decade, as a teenager, she appeared in two classics, a large role in 1955s Rebel Without a Cause and a small but central role in 1956s John Ford western, The Searchers.  Despite the classic nature of these films and all the others she made in those decades, it was the 1960s that brought Natalie Wood into full blossom as a beautiful and talented actress.  Let's take a look at those films.

Cash McCall (1960) should have been released in the 1950s because it is reminiscent of the many B films she did in that decade.  The focus was on James Garner as a slick businessman out to buy the plastics business of Wood's father, Dean Jagger.  Soon Garner is mixing romance and business with some comedic bumps along the road.  It suffered a bit from the cutesies as most romantic-comedies do.

All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960) is a bit of a forgotten film but it shouldn't be.  It's not bad at all and costarred Robert Wagner in their only theatrical pairing.  Wood plays Salome who is pregnant and leaving the ne'er-do-well father (Wagner) behind.  On her way to NYC she meets a man (George Hamilton) whom she marries and allows to think he is the father.  Then she discovers the child's biological father is now a big-name trumpet player.

Splendor in the Grass (1961) is a film I have already done a posting on so will not comment on again except to say I see it as one of Wood's three or four best performances, as Deanie, the love-starved, emotionally-fragile teenager.

West Side Story (1961) is another film I recently commented on and I feel it, too, contains one of her best performances, as Maria, the Puerto Rican girl involved in an ill-fated love affair.  This is without a doubt the best film she ever appeared in.

Gypsy (1962) was a film Wood was most anxious to do and anxious about doing.  The story of a domineering mother pushing her kid into show biz was an eerie reminder of her own mother and childhood.  And petite Natalie was concerned she wasn't statuesque enough to play a burlesque queen but costumes and camera angles took care of most of that.  She was also uptight about her singing voice but was reassured that the character really couldn't sing either.  I adored her big strip number at the end, finding her prancing across the stage as one of the sexiest things I have ever seen.  And the scene following where she lays into the interfering mama, Rosalind Russell, was a terrific piece of acting.

Love with the Proper Stranger (1963) was her choice over doing Charade with Cary Grant.  Her role as Angie, a rather normal, single girl dealing with pregnancy, was her favorite up to that time.  Her chemistry with costar Steve McQueen was perfection.  She received her last Oscar nomination for this film, which, while successful, wasn't the blockbuster she wanted and had been used to with her previous three films.

Sex and the Single Girl (1964) was based on Helen Gurley Brown's bestselling title only as the book had no plot.  It did show that Wood had a flair for comedy but the hackneyed script about confused identities did nothing for the careers of Wood, Tony Curtis, Henry Fonda or Lauren Bacall.  A chase scene took up a large portion of the last quarter of the film and I know there are those who loved it but I found it embarrassing.

The Great Race (1965) was one of Wood's unhappiest moviemaking experiences.  She was adrift in the romance department and in her career.  She vehemently didn't want to do this Blake Edwards' film, a silly thing about a turn-of-the-century car race, but her home studio, Warner Bros., used it as leverage to allow her to do Inside Daisy Clover, a film she was dying to make.  She fell out with Tony Curtis at the end of Sex and the Single Girl and was annoyed that he was in this one as well.  The truth is both of them could be full of self-importance.  (It was actually their third teaming.  The first, 1958s Kings Go Forth with Frank Sinatra, was their best.)  Frankly, I  didn't like this overblown thing either, but I did think she was the best thing in it.

Inside Daisy Clover (1965) was a film Wood was dying to do because she wanted to do drama again and be taken seriously as an actress.  Wood totally subscribed to the you're-only-as-good-as-your-last-movie dictum and had been suicidal in real life because she felt washed-up and of course was at loose ends romantically.  Daisy was going to restore all that.  She is on Santa Monica Pier with her crazy mother and somehow becomes a singing movie star and is completely owned by the studio (Christopher Plummer).  Her dream-come-true is marred by a lack of freedom.  She hastily marries a gay actor (Robert Redford), resulting in even more troubles.  The film was stiff and unforgiving in its portrayals of all the principles.  There was no wiggle room and little feeling of reality.  I wanted to like it so much... my kind of film actually, but it was a misfire.  Natalie and I were both saddened.

This Property Is Condemned (1966) was also an earlier posting, having been listed as my 44th favorite film.  Her portrayal of a southern tramp, Alva, is her best performance.  I adored her in this film, her second in a row with Redford.  I think he brought out the best in Natalie as an actress.  He was her finest screen partner.  I wish they'd worked together more.

Penelope (1966) was perhaps the worst choice of her career.  Why she would return to a moronic comedy after her good work in Property is anyone's guess.  If I told you it was about (and you know you haven't seen it) a daffy and bored, kleptomaniac banker's wife who robs her husband's bank, you might say no way anyone is going to see that.  And you'd be right.  It didn't help that her costars were no McQueen, Redford or Beatty but rather stuffy Englishman Ian Bannen and a certifiable nut case, Dick Shawn.

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) was a part she was attracted to after taking three years off, involving herself in even more therapy than usual and acquiring a new man whom she would marry after the filming (Brit agent, Richard Gregson).  The film was about the sexual mores of the day, specifically about two hip couples (hadn't they done est?) venturing into wife-swapping.  Wood thought it was an audacious choice for her but bravely she went.  She, Robert Culp, Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon knew they hit on something big (for the time).  Everyone with an active libido saw B&C&T&A.  Her career was in full swing again and she ended the 60s with a bang.

Ready When You Are, C.B.


  1. Bestill my heart. One of my favorite babes of all time. Didn't know about all the therapy.
    That's why I love your stuff!

  2. With every word I typed, I thought of you...!!!

  3. I am glad you forgot to mention Marjorie Morningstar. To me it's her worst movie . But the reason why I'm writing is that in Our Very Own (please, tell me you liked it) although she had a side role she became sort of a high fashion star for the girls of the town I lived in then (1950). Want to know why? Because of the shirt out of her jeans (it was impossible in those times to find original USA jeans ). Can You imagine?

  4. Well, I didn't mention Marjorie Morningstar or Our Very Own because they're both films from the 50s and I wrote about Natalie's films from the 60s. But I do agree with you on both films. MM was a stinker and I enjoyed OVO but more because I think it's one of the best things Ann Blyth did but Natalie was adorable.