It was no coincidence that the screenwriters of the studio era created the female characters that generations of film enthusiasts would love. It was the era of Greta Garbo, Bette Davis, and Katharine Hepburn.
I’m going to be your wife. You don’t think that I can do the little ordinary things that any idiot can do, do you?” – Tess Harding (Woman of the Year, 1942)
There were many actresses to love – and talk about. They got style, and when they appeared in the big screen, everything else was forgotten. It was no surprise that most were from the studio era, which have the best screenwriters.
One was Aldous Huxley, author of “Brave New World”, who co-wrote the big-screen adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1940). (Greer Garson was one lucky gal.)
Below were my favorite flicks, which have great female characters:
1. Gone with the Wind (1939) by Victor Fleming
Both Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) and Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland) were larger than life in this adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s novel.
In fact, these two belles would come to mind whenever the American Civil War was brought up. Both were polar opposites, as far as personality was concerned, but they were strong.
2. Rebecca (1940) by Alfred Hitchcock
Daphne Du Maurier’s book could be seen as the study of female psychology. It was about the second Mrs. de Winter (Joan Fontaine), who would get out of her shell to fight for the love for her hubby, Maximilian de Winter. She faced a daunting task of having to deal with Manderlay, a humongous estate where Maxim’s first wife once lived. She was gone, but her presence could be felt in that house, which Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) fiercely guarded.
Alfred Hitchcock was almost faithful to the novel, the result of which was an Academy Award for Best Picture.
3. The Farmer’s Daughter (1947) by H.C. Potter
H.C. Potter’s film was about women being role models in politics. Jaded viewers may not identify with Katie Holstrom (Loretta Young) and Agatha Morley (Ethel Barrymore), but they made us believe in honor and dignity.
4. Black Narcissus (1947) by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
This flick won an Academy Award for Cinematography and Art Direction, but the voters overlooked Deborah Kerr, playing Sister Clodagh, who led a small group of nuns in managing a school and hospital in the Himalayas. These nuns tried to grapple with Indian culture, very different from England. It was fascinating, then intoxicating, which would test their faith.
5. Come Back, Little Sheba (1952) by Daniel Mann
This adaptation of William Inge’s play would be remembered for Lola Delaney (Shirley Booth), a housewife whom most, if not all, could easily identified with. She was a wallflower, friendly to anyone. Maybe a bit too friendly, as perceptive viewers could see her desperation.
Was it the realization that her best years were long gone? In spite of this, she was admirable for standing by her husband, who struggled with alcoholism. Such loyalty, such devotion.
6. Singin’ in the Rain (1952) by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
Gene Kelly wasn’t the only one who made this musical memorable. Debbie Reynolds provided the good vibes, as her exuberance was hard to dispel. Then there was Jean Hagen, who was a scene stealer. Cyd Charisse was unforgettable, who made such an impression, with Kelly, in their “Broadway Melody” number.
7. Two Women (1961) by Vittorio De Sica
Sophia Loren seemed to looked back at her impoverished upbringing, while she prepared for the role of Cesira, a widowed mother of a teenage daughter (Eleonora Brown), both of whom tried to survive World War II.
It was a story of courage, and a test of the mother-daughter bond, which would leave moviegoers devastated.