Noirvember Day 19: Happy Birthday, Gene Tierney

While she’s arguably one of classic Hollywood’s most beautiful stars, Gene Tierney – in my opinion – doesn’t always get the acclaim she deserves for her acting ability. But she was outstanding in films like The Razor’s Edge (1947) and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) and turned in memorable performances in six features from the film noir era. Today, in celebration of her birthday (she would’ve turned 102), my Noirvember post is shining the spotlight on each of the movies that Tierney contributed to the realm of noir.

The Shanghai Gesture (1941)

Based on a successful Broadway play from the 1920s, this early noir entry focuses on a cavernous casino in China that’s operated by the cunning Mother Gin Sling (played by Ona Munson – and believe me, she ain’t no Belle Watling.) Among the inhabitants of the casino are Dr. Omar (Victor Mature), a handsome hustler who concedes that he’s a “doctor of nothing,” and Sir Guy Charteris (Walter Huston), a local financier who’s determined to shut down the gambling hall. Tierney plays Poppy, a wealthy socialite who is seduced by the casino’s decadent atmosphere and finds herself involved with Mother Gin Sling and Charteris in ways she couldn’t have imagined.

Laura (1944)

In the title role of this acclaimed and popular noir, Tierney plays what she called “the kind of woman I admired in the pages of Vogue as a young girl.” The film opens with an investigation of Laura’s murder, who was killed with a shotgun blast to the face. Headed by Det. Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), the probe focuses on the two men closest to Laura: her would-be fiancé and charming wastrel Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), and columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), who spends an inordinate amount of time discrediting Laura’s potential beaus. Just in case you’re never seen this one, I’m not going to spoil it, but let’s just say that things aren’t quite what they seem and there’s a whole lot of treachery goin’ on.

Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

Tierney earned an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Ellen Berent – a role she later described as “a plum, the kind of character Bette Davis might have played, that of a bitchy woman.” I don’t think I’d have labeled Ellen as “bitchy,” but she was certainly possessive, obsessive, and an undeniable sociopath. A woman who “loves too much,” according to her mother, Ellen displays a smothering devotion to her new husband, Richard (Cornel Wilde) and is determined that no one will come between them – not her mother or sister, not Richard’s disabled little brother (Darryl Hickman), and not even her unborn child.

Whirlpool (1950)

In this film, Tierney stars as Ann Sutton, the wife of a psychoanalyst (Richard Conte) and, as we learn early on, a kleptomaniac. When she’s apprehended at an elite Los Angeles department store, hypnotist David Korvo (Jose Ferrer) intervenes, convincing store officials to withdraw their plans to prosecute. Korvo later hypnotizes Ann in an effort to relieve her insomnia, but she emerges from her trance to find herself at the scene of a murder, with no memory of how she got there. When she’s charged with the crime, Ann’s husband believes she was framed by Korvo, but the investigator in charge of the case isn’t convinced.

Night and the City (1950)

Richard Widmark stars as Harry Fabian, a low-level hustler constantly in search of his next get-rich-quick scheme. Tierney is his long-suffering girlfriend, Mary Bristol, who Harry either uses as a sounding board for his outlandish ideas, or as his primary (and reluctant) source of income. Harry finally stumbles upon what appears to be a sure thing – becoming a top sports promoter by gaining the trust of famous Greco-Roman wrestler Gregorius (Stanislaus Zbyszko). The only problem is that the city’s wrestling game is already controlled by refined mobster Kristo (Herbert Lom) – who just happens to be Gregorius’s son. While Tierney’s part in this feature is a relatively minor one, she makes her mark as a woman devoted to her man, despite his obvious hurtle toward disaster.

Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)

Here, Tierney is reteamed with her Laura co-star Dana Andrews, who is again a cop named Mark – this time, he’s Dixon, and has a tendency toward brutality; his commanding officer tells him: “You don’t hate hoodlums; you like to beat them up. You get fun out of it.” When Dixon accidentally kills a suspect, Ken Paine (Craig Stevens), he covers up the crime and tries to pin it on a local gang leader. Instead, circumstantial evidence points to Jiggs Taylor (Tom Tully), whose daughter Morgan (Tierney) was Paine’s estranged wife. As Dixon continues to weave his tangled web, he finds himself falling for Tierney, who winds up being the catalyst for his redemption.

If you haven’t seen these Gene Tierney noirs, celebrate her birthday by checking them out; most of them can be found for free on YouTube. They’re tastier than birthday cake!

And join me tomorrow for Day 20 of Noirvember!

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 19, 2022.

21 Responses to “Noirvember Day 19: Happy Birthday, Gene Tierney”

  1. Will always be remembered for LAURA and LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN. thanks for the tribute.

  2. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was a childhood favorite! I need to see it again. Leave Her to Heaven….well she did just too good of an acting job in that. I’m a little afraid of her now!

  3. She was terrific. Phenomenal in Leave Her To Heaven. I wish she and Dana Andrews had made many more films together.

  4. “While she’s arguably one of classic Hollywood’s most beautiful stars, Gene Tierney – in my opinion – doesn’t always get the acclaim she deserves for her acting ability.”

    Preach!

    Just because she looked like she should be tucked into Cinderella’s coach, people too often forget she was a damed good actress. I can’t think of many of other performers of the era who could’ve pulled off her character in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN. And though I’ll never understand that milkmaid bonnet she wore in LAURA (my grandma saw this picture in the theater when it came out and she couldn’t explain it, either), her performance was a symphony of grace notes.

    Hedy Lamarr had turned down the part before it was offered to Tierney, and after it was a hit, she shrugged and said something to the effect of: They sent me a script, not a copy of the theme song. But, to me, Tierney’s performance can’t be chalked up to good productions values. I really don’t think the picture would’ve worked without her. (And, to be fair, Clifton Webb. His Waldo is a chocolate-covered scorpion.)

    • I had to laugh about the Laura hat — this bugs people almost as much as Stanwyck’s wig in Double Indemnity! I totally agree about her stellar (and brave, when you think about it) performance in Leave Her to Heaven. I’m glad Hedy turned it down. Blech. (And I’m still giggling about “chocolate-covered scorpion”!)

      • The blonde wig!

        I JUST read an article that quoted Billy Wilder FINALLY spilling the tea about what he really thought of that hairpiece of doom:

        “… after the picture is half-finished, after I shot for four weeks with Stanwyck, now I know I made a mistake. I can’t say, ‘Look, tomorrow you ain’t going to be wearing the blonde wig.’ I’m stuck … I can’t reshoot four weeks of stuff. I’m totally stuck. I’ve committed myself; the mistake was caught too late. Fortunately it did not hurt the picture. But it was too thick, we were not very clever about wig-making… “But when people say, ‘My god, that wig. It looked phony,’ I answer, ‘You noticed that? That was my intention. I wanted the phoniness in the girl, bad taste, phony wig.’ That is how I get out of it.”

  5. One more thing: For those Gene fans among us, I can’t recommend Fox Film Noir’s dvd of LAURA enough!

    An A&E Biography of Tierney is one of the extras!!

  6. Agree with your post and with all the comments. Tierney’s beauty seemed to distract people from her ability to create such memorable characters.

  7. …the face in the misty light…

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