(one installment in a quick series counting down from 50 to 26!)
GLADYS GEORGE IN VALIANT IS THE WORD FOR CARRIE (1936)
The competition (Cliff: 6 for 7):
Luise Rainer in The Great Ziegfeld
Irene Dunne in Theodora Goes Wild
Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey
Norma Shearer in Romeo and Juliet
Valiant Is the Word for Carrie is just your run-of-the-mill tale about a city prostitute who retires to a small Louisiana town, befriends a local boy, gets run out of town, comes back and rescues him when he’s orphaned, takes in another orphan girl who escapes from being sent off to the winners of a magazine contest(!) when her train crashes, builds a laundry empire in the city, raises the two children, watches as her “son” gets engaged to the sister of a man he accidentally kills, sees through the fiancée’s machinations to get her hands on the laundry fortune, makes a deal to help spring the fiancée’s convicted doctor boyfriend/former gang partner from jail if she’ll break off the engagement, gets caught while the fiancée is gunned down during the attempted prison break, and voluntarily goes to jail to shield her children from the dishonor of a trial that would reveal their roots as unwanted orphans. After all that (as a character confides to a guard while looking on at her in her cell, valiant is really the only word for Carrie.
With that kind of plot swirling all about her, it would be easy for Gladys to get lost. However, I found her former lady of the night really stuck in my memory; her ill-reputed career is over by the time the film begins and hangs over her as a vague shadow (remember, this is the Production Code Era), but Gladys finds many rich aspects of her character’s history to work into her various scenes. There are shades of both Claire Trevor in Stagecoach and Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce as her hooker with a heart of gold turned ambitiously self-sacrificing mother, and in one of the later unbelievable plot turns described above, its great to see a redoubtable, remorseless bargainer brought to the fore, a trace of the hardened businesswoman deep in her past. For me, the 1936 Best Actress race comes down to two heroines of the screwball comedy, Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey and Irene Dunne in Theodora Goes Wild, but I credit Gladys for conjuring a rich and entertaining character in the midst of one of the most exceptionally outlandish melodramas I’ve seen in this category (and that is saying something).