3.16.2008

Carolyn Jones in The Bachelor Party (1957) - Supporting Actress Sundays (By Request)

This week's Supporting Actress Sunday profile (the first ever done "By Request") arrives as part of StinkyLulu's contribution to the recent fundraiser over at The Film Experience. Steve & Stephen's donation to the actressexual cause coincided with my offer of a "Supporting Actress Profile By Request" to the first three contributors to drop a certain amount of change into the collection plate. So, imagine my delight, when Steve & Stephen determined their choice -- a perennially undervalued actress's exhilarating if brief nominated performance in a fascinating, frank film of the later 1950s. After all, I'm always giddy to spend some time with...
approximately 6 minutes and 4 seconds
3 scenes

roughly 6% of film's total running time

Caroline Jones plays The Existentialist, a startlingly attractive young woman whose path crosses that of Don Murray's Charlie, a young married man out on the town as part of a "bachelor party" for one of his work friends.
Charlie and the guys have been out carousing and are staggering from street corner to street corner in search of a better time. They're careening toward downtown (in search of "one of those Greenwich Village parties") when they encounter Jones' character waiting for the light to change. The guys -- all bookkeepers at some midtown office -- pretend to be out-of-towners as they follow Jones, their aggressive banter and jokes a clumsily flirtatious barrage. Jones bats away their whistles and insinuations, alternately bemused and amused and annoyed. Only when Murray's Charlie breaks character, revealing the truth with a sweet smile, does Jones' character deign to return his flirt (though she still refuses to allow him to escort her to the party).
After this chance encounter, the fellas continue their desperate pursuit of a real good time through the streets and the joints of New York City. Yet, Jones' ambiguous dismissal ("dump your friends and come back to the party") becomes their beacon, the only glimpse of true excitement all evening. And, finally, the guys do return to that "Greenwich Village party," with Charlie ready to see where his adventure with Jones may take him.
When Charlie and Jones's character reconnect at the party, we get our first real glimpse into this astonishingly pretty young woman. When on the street, Jones' maintained an enigmatic, absent-minded aloofness for the character; when on the stair at the party, however, we -- along with Murray's Charlie -- quickly discover that this young woman is, on the one hand, perhaps as intelligent as she is pretty and, on the other, capable of chattering your ear off.
At first glance -- to both Charlie and us -- Jones' character might seems like a marvelous Manhattan mystery woman. But as she continues to chatter, in a monologue delivered at breakneck speed and with exhilarating precision, Jones' character details both the events of her day and (thanks to Paddy Chayefsky's dexterity with character detail) her entire backstory. In swift character strokes, Jones' character transmogrifies from exotic urban temptress to a middle class girl from the suburbs who graduated some years ago from Vassar and who now finds herself battling off both the predations of masculine paramours and basic loneliness as she lives life as a single girl in the big city. With a barrage of non-stop chatter, and with uncommon wit and dazzling vocal dexterity, Jones crafts a precise character of incredible depth and detail. In so doing, and in the space of barely a minute, Jones also transforms the character from being an idealized fantasy to a being a complicated human being. This transformation also complicates Jones' character's relationship to Murray's Charlie. Moreover, as she reveals more about herself, we note Charlie becoming agitated. He doesn't want her to be a person; he wants her to remain a fantasy for his desperate use and so begins to bully her to join him upstairs where they might find some privacy. Jones' character first resists, accusing him of being primitive and unappealing, before assenting and leading Charlie upstairs where they fall into an embrace.
As Murray's Charlie begins pawing her, his mouth greedily seeking a kiss, Jones's character stops him with a single command: "Tell me you love me."
She goes on, "You don't have to mean it, just tell me you love me." With her sweet uncomplicated delivery of this line, Jones nails the character to our hearts. In it, Jones conveys the long history of experimented affections that have brought her to this moment.
Of course, Charlie follows her order and they begin to kiss with a brief passion, before stopping again, just as abruptly, and making plans to meet at a bar around the corner. Jones' character, half beseechingly, commands him to not disappoint her, once again sharing the profundity of her loneliness and hunger for genuine affection.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Murray's Charlie does disappoint her, leaving the bar to care for his friend before she arrives. Notably, however, Carolyn Jones' character continues to haunt the action, even though we neither see nor hear her again. Whereas the fantasy of Jones' character had previously nagged Charlie and his friends with the promise of all they might be missing, now the idea of her proves a haunting reminder of what might be in store for them if they squander the truth of the love already in their lives. Indeed, Carolyn Jones is charged with portraying less a character than an icon of masculine fantasy: alternately, the erotically thrilling woman through whom all masculine potential might be realized and the sexually threatening woman through whom all masculine power might be drained or dissipated.
Yet, as an actress tuned into her character's many compromises of self, Carolyn Jones inhabits this misogynist archetype with stunning empathy, mining the character details and vocal rhythms to craft "The Existentialist" as a formidably -- and, for Lulu, poignantly, unforgettably -- human figure.
Carolyn Jones' nomination for her performance as "The Existentialist" stands out as one of the most surprising and satisfying nominations in the category's history. You don't see a character, or characterization, like this very often. (And thanks to Steve & Stephen for allowing us the opportunity to once again savor the delights of Carolyn Jones.)

3 comments:

whip-smart said...

I've been looking for this film for AGES. Is it on DVD?

I would look for it on eBay, but I spent all my money on a VHS copy of 'Last Summer'.

StinkyLulu said...

Not yet on DVD, so far as I know.

But it is in fairly regular rotation on TCM & it's currently scheduled to air again on April 25.

whip-smart said...

CHAMPION! I'll be sure to catch it.

Probably not the place for this, but a cool idea for an upcoming theme month or something would be the Supporting Actress in Mike Leigh's films. The scope of actressness in his pictures is positively orgasmic. These are the worthy supporting actresses I've seen in his pics, off the top of my head:
Jane Horrocks - Life is Sweet
Claire Skinner - Life is Sweet
Lesley Sharp - Naked
Claire Skinner - Naked
Katrin Cartlidge - Naked
Marianne Jean-Baptiste - Secrets & Lies
Phyllis Logan - Secrets & Lies
Claire Rushbrook - Secrets & Lies
Elizabeth Berrington - Secrets & Lies
Lesley Manville - Topsy-Turvy
Ruth Sheen - All or Nothing
Alison Garland - All or Nothing
Heather Craney - Vera Drake.

I must say that Jean-Baptiste, the three 'Naked Girls', Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville and the Skinner in 'LiS' are my faves.