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Mrs. Parkington

Mrs. Parkington(1944)

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teaser Mrs. Parkington (1944)

Greer Garson delivered an unsinkable performance in Mrs. Parkington (1944), a sweeping romance that bore more than a passing resemblance to the life of mining queen Molly Brown (played by Debbie Reynolds in the 1964 musical TheUnsinkable Molly Brown and Kathy Bates in the 1997 epicTitanic). Her decades-spanning performance kept her many fans happywhile also bringing her fourth Best Actress Oscar® nomination in arow. When she scored again for The Valley of Decision in 1945, she tiedBette Davis with a record for consecutive nominations that stillstands.

Garson was the reigning queen of the MGM lot when the studio bought therights to Louis Bromfield's best seller for her. She had scored a hit in1941 aging several years as a real-life social crusader in Blossoms inthe Dust. This time, she would stretch to fill a role spanning sevendecades and spend a considerable amount of her screen time as a grand damein her 80s. Just to make the challenge more comfortable -- and add somemore box office insurance -- they re-teamed her with Walter Pidgeon, herco-star not just in Blossoms but also in the Oscar®-winningMrs. Miniver (1942) and the previous year's Madame Curie. Theywould ultimately team for eight films.

Also reunited with Garson on Mrs. Parkington was director TayGarnett, although he had never worked on an actual film with her. Rather, he haddiscovered her for American pictures back in the mid-'30s when he was inEngland scouting locations for an independent film to star DouglasFairbanks, Jr. He was also scouting talent there and tested Garson for aleading role after being impressed with her stage work. He wanted to signher for the role, but production delays led to the film's cancellation.The test wound up in MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer's hands a few yearslater, and he signed Garson to a long-term contract, making her a star withher first U.S. film, Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). When Garnett cameto MGM in the early '40s and scored hits with two wartime dramas,Bataan (1943) and The Cross of Lorraine (1943), assigning himto a Garson film seemed a natural choice.

Garnett's training as a gag writer for Mack Sennett and Hal Roach stood himin good stead working with Garson on Mrs. Parkington. In the film'searly scenes, the 35-year-old actress had to overcome her typecasting asthe great lady of the MGM lot to play a teenaged girl raised in a westernmining town. Garnett got some help early on when Pidgeon agreed with himthat Garson was playing her scenes with too much dignity. He slapped heron the rear end and advised her, "Relax, Honey. It was LAST year that youwon the Oscar®." Garnett also came up with a piece of business Garsoncould use throughout the film to bring back her roots as a boarding-housemaid: Whenever she became exasperated she would stick out her chin and blowa stray curl off her forehead. The first few times Garson did it, however,it didn't work. Finally, he told her she was trying too hard to be funny."You mean I'm wearing a spangle on my nose?" she asked him. "Neon," hereplied. From then on, whenever she overdid things, all Garnett had to dowas put his finger on his nose, and she would pull back.

Also facing a challenge on Mrs. Parkington was character actressAgnes Moorehead. After years of playing spinsters and neurotics, she hadto fight to convince studio executives that she could be elegant and wittyenough for the role of Pidgeon's rejected mistress, who teaches Garson howto behave like a lady and ends up becoming her best friend. It helpedgreatly that she had just scored in a small role as Claudette Colbert'scatty best friend in Since You Went Away (1944). Moorehead made themost of her few scenes in Mrs. Parkington, landing an Oscar®nomination and a Golden Globe. Her performance would anticipate her mostfamous role, as Elizabeth Montgomery's witty, glamorous mother on the hitTV series Bewitched.

Mrs. Parkington pleased Garson's growing legions of fans and evenearned a few solid reviews, though most critics thought it a little toosoapy for their tastes. It also brought Garnett and Garson another chanceto work together the following year, in the upstairs-downstairs romanceThe Valley of Decision, which turned out to be an even bigger hit. Withher popularity at MGM clearly growing, Garson won a new contract from thestudio with very generous terms.

Producer: Leon Gordon
Director: Tay Garnett
Screenplay: Robert Thoeren, Polly James
Based on a novel by Louis Bromfield
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Randall Duell
Principal Cast: Greer Garson (Susie Parkington), Walter Pidgeon (Maj.Augustus Parkington), Edward Arnold (Amory Stilham), Frances Rafferty (JaneStilham), Agnes Moorehead (Aspasia Conti), Selena Royle (Mattie Trounsen),Gladys Cooper (Alice, Duchess of Brancourt), Lee Patrick (MadeleineParkington Stilham), Dan Duryea (Jack Stilham), Rod Cameron (Al Swann), TomDrake (Ned Talbot), Cecil Kellaway (Edward, Prince of Wales), Hugh Marlowe(John Marbey), Tala Birell (Lady Nora Ebbsworth), Peter Lawford (LordThornley), Fortunio Bonanova (Signor Cellini), Kay Medford (Minnie), HansConried (Mr. Ernst), Alma Kruger (Mrs. Jacob Livingston), Doodles Weaver(Caterer), Chef Milani (Maitre d'Hotel), Donna Reed (Bit).
BW-124m. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller

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