...Lee Grant in Shampoo (1975).
approximately 18 minutes and 35 seconds on-screen
roughly 17% of film's total screen time
Grant's nomination for Shampoo came nearly a quarter century after her first nomination in 1951 (for Detective Story), the same year in which her refusal to testify against her husband before HUAC landed Grant on the blacklist, effectively ending her film career for most of the next two decades. (Grant, however, continued to work during this period, most notably on stage and in a handful of New York based anthology tv-series; further, Grant's work as a member of The Actor's Studio sustained her enduring legend/reputation as one of the "survivors" of the blacklist.) Perhaps as a result Grant's 1975 Oscar for Shampoo seems to implicitly carry extra meaning for many -- as the moment when Hollywood finally "did right" by Miss Lee Grant.
In Shampoo, Lee Grant plays Felicia, the wife of a power-wielding politico named Lester (Jack Warden in a fascinating performance) who's slumming only a little by sleeping with the town's most sought after hairdresser, George (Warren Beatty). Grant's Felicia is but one of the women -- which includes Lester's wife, daughter, and mistress -- "squired" by George during the 24-hours or so depicted in the film's narrative. (Shampoo's basically a comedy of reciprocal cuckoldry; it plays like a Restoration-era stage comedy reset amidst Hollywood's glamorous life circa 1968, with Beatty playing the swinging, pseudo-countercultural rake. Mix in a smidge of wolf-in-fairy's-clothing/3'sCompany-style homophobic gags and stir...)
Grant's Felicia is the kind of woman who wears a mink as a housecoat as she makes a big show of wilting under the weight of all her responsibilities (fittings, hair appointments, etcetera, etcetera). At first, Grant's Felicia seems to be at the center of the elaborate web of infidelity that the film mines for social comedy and, for much of the first half of the film, Felicia labors under the assumption that she's the engineer of an ingenious (if passive-aggressive) public-humiliation revenge stunt against her adulterous husband. Grant plays Felicia's scheming with a giddy girlishness, adorning it with an almost shocking naïvete. In Grant's performance, Felicia's petulance is that of an innocent girl so caught up in her own grandiosity that she has no idea what's about to befall her. By thus playing Felicia as Scarlett-before-the-Ball, Grant deploys the character's shrewd, selfish, nervous, cloying, calculating self-absorbtion effectively -- and almost endearingly -- to convey Felicia's underlying vulnerability and desperation.
It's almost a neat hat-trick.
But Grant's performance -- which works so well when the narrative's first half allows Felicia to exist entirely within the bubble of her own fantasy -- nearly evaporates when that bubble bursts in the second half of the film. Grant's Felicia, so intricately self-involved, seems to dissolve when she must encounter and (gasp) interact spontaneously with another character other than Beatty's cipher. This becomes a real problem in the film's more farcical sequences. While Grant does her damnedest to bring some gravitas to Felicia's discovery that both the men in her life are smitten with the same "other" woman (Julie Christie, in an often deliciously clever performance), Grant's characterization misfires almost completely. Instead of sustaining Felicia's tics and pouts and fussinesses, Grant drops them altogether and resorts to a curious assemblage to steely glares and shrill ranting asides. And sadly, Grant's iron-squint of fury proves no match for Christie's languid melancholy. (Notably, these same sequences provide Goldie Hawn necessary room to redeem the pathetic nagginess of her character, which Hawn does and does very well.) But with Felicia -- a character that might have wrought comic gold from every, and especially the final, gesture -- Grant delivers a curiously and righteously grim performance. It's strangely sad work, surprisingly off-pitch and short-sighted for a trophy snagging performance in what is said to be one of the smartest comedies of the 1970s.
Of course it helps no one that Warren Beatty delivers a nearly incomprehensible performance in the central role of George. Beatty plays George as an utter dimwit, a man so befuddled by his own occasional thoughts that he's stymied by the simple obligations of daily existence. (Of course, Jonathan of Bravo's reality-tv show Blow Out -- thirty years later -- invests shocking fact in Beatty's unlikely fiction, but that's neither here nor there.) George's ostensible "genius" derives from his singular focus on pleasing women, through hair-dos or horndogging, but Beatty misses something -- the rank competence required of a hustler perhaps -- and overplays George's dimwitted distraction into a kind of angst-hole. It's an undeservedly self-congratulatory performance and it nearly derails the film.
• • • • •
And of course...
Don't forget to
SIGN UP for
Don't forget to
SIGN UP for