Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Goodbye, Jane

"A slouching Amazon, her clothes appear to stay put just as long as she agrees not to burst out of them; essentially a good sort, she has an ever-annihilating sneer for the false, the pretentious and the fresh."

- Monthly Film Bulletin

It was much more fun saying happy birthday to her...

Jane could have been a better star, though scarcely a bigger one. She could sing and dance and be athletic, but was also natural and watchable in a two-shot. She did dialogue well: by no means a universal talent. But too many of the films she was given were too standard in their construction to really make use of her.
Nobody before or since has so effortlessly combined desirability and independence. Too knowing to be the passive sex symbol, yet epically sexy, her smile hypnotises but she can freeze it in an instant, and that can kill. She keeps a store of put-downs, and uses them as often as she has to, which is all the time.
Her hair is raven black, her lips blood red, her figure an escapee from Gil Elvgren's drawing board.
Clearly, as I have said before, she belonged down Warner's mean streets, but, sadly, freedom from her Hughes contract came too late. Instead we have a few good black and white thrillers (Macao, Las Vegas Story, His Kind of Woman) and a gallon of froth. But say what you like about The French Line or Underwater, they are star vehicles of the most adoring sort, and she is enough to carry them.
Her sexuality seemed almost comically overt in the forties, and was taken to stand for a new loosening of propriety; by the fifties she she had won everybody over and seemed an oasis of sophistication in a Sahara of dumb blondes. Women liked her because she was funny and didn't take herself too seriously, and because it was obvious she knew what she was doing.
Yet physically, she can startle you. In Cinemascope and 3-D, her natural formats, she was photographed with undisguised fervour, and even today certain shots and angles and costumes can still leap from the screen and announce their daring. But Jane is never a passive object - encountering the body is always to encounter the person, and if that's enough to keep Robert Mitchum or Victor Mature guessing, think what it did to the guys in Peoria and Albuquerque.

Jane Russell, 1921 - 2011