On Nov. 16, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded an honorary Oscar to Angela Lansbury for her lifetime of work in movies. The legendary actress was first nominated for an Oscar for her first film in 1944, later securing two more nominations without ever winning a competitive Academy Award. This week, the Reel Dad takes a look at Lansbury’s career to celebrate this overdue achievement.
She arrived in Hollywood during World War II, from her native England, filled with ambition for a career in the movies. From the moment she stepped on screen as a maid in Gaslight, audiences savored her unique ability to capture the essence of a character. Rarely a leading lady, Lansbury emerged as the ultimate supporting player, later achieving stardom on stage and television. This holiday weekend, check online for her many memorable film performances as she celebrates winning the Oscar that eluded her for 70 years.
Gaslight. Ingrid Bergman is a young woman who is emotionally tortured by her husband, played by Charles Boyer, in George Cukor’s popular adaptation of a stage play. While Bergman makes the most of her situation — winning the first of her three Oscars — Lansbury steals each of her scenes as a conniving maid who detests the bride. She dives into the character with an intensity that reaches beyond her age. Although she loses her first shot at an Oscar, she becomes MGM’s most reliable supporting character actress. And she is just 19 years old.
The Picture of Dorian Gray. A year later, Lansbury scores another supporting performance triumph as a music hall performer in this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s novel about a man who sells his soul so he will never age. Looking at Lansbury’s portrayal years later, after seeing her triumph in Broadway musicals, it’s too bad the movies didn’t make more of her song and dance talents. As a woman who doesn’t live up to Gray’s standards, Lansbury wins her second Oscar nomination.
The Manchurian Candidate. In 1962, after her first Broadway success in A Taste of Honey, Lansbury creates a devastating portrayal of a manipulative mother in John Frankenheimer’s political thriller. As a woman who lives her ambition through her troubled son, Lansbury is cold, vicious and unforgettable, seething with venom in every sequence, making us shiver with every expression. Although considered the favorite to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, she loses to Patty Duke for The Miracle Worker.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Finally, in 1971, after winning her first Tony Award for Mame on Broadway, Lansbury plays a leading role in a movie musical, a delightful story of a woman training to become a witch during World War I. While this Disney production often feels like a return visit to Mary Poppins, Lansbury’s unique gifts shine in several sequences. Unfortunately, because musicals were not popular at the time, the studio cut a few songs that would strengthen Lansbury’s character. As entertaining as the film can be, seeing snippets of the deleted numbers reveals how good it could have been.
Death on the Nile and The Mirror Crack’d. In a decade when Lansbury scores in Gypsy and Sweeney Todd on Broadway, she also discovers the magic of Agatha Christie in two entertaining adaptations. In Death on the Nile she has fun chewing scenery as a novelist who meets a bitter end and, as sleuth Jessica Marple in The Mirror Crack’d, Lansbury creates a loveable eccentric who easily sees through the pompous. No surprise that, in just a few years, she would discover new success as a warm-hearted sleuth in Murder She Wrote on television.
Beauty and the Beast. For younger generations, Lansbury is a voice behind a lovely animated woman in this classic from Disney. No matter that, on screen, Mrs. Potts doesn’t look a thing like the Angela; her magical voice, with its clear diction and lovely command of melody, is the star of the film as she delivers its legendary title number. Even though we only hear her, the images she vocally inspires are satisfying enough to fill many a movie.