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Scorsese Screens - August 2014
Remind Me

August Highlights on TCM

JOSEPH COTTEN (August 29, 6am)--It's interesting to look back now on the career of Joseph Cotten and realize just how unusual an actor he was. Cotten came from the theater. He began as a critic and started acting in the early '30s. He met Orson Welles, 10 years his junior, when they were both doing radio work and he became a key member of Welles' Mercury Theatre company (Cotten starred in the Mercury production of William Gillette's Too Much Johnson, in which Welles had intended to include a filmed segment--the footage, which Welles thought had been lost, was recently re-discovered). Cotten made his film debut in one of the greatest and most famous American pictures ever made, Citizen Kane, and his performance, so appealing and apparently low-key (particularly in contrast to Welles'), is absolutely remarkable--a carefully drawn portrait of a man who knows that he'll always be second best, the friend of the great man, whose moral principles don't count for much in the end. Cotten's acting is extremely refined and perceptive, and even more so in The Magnificent Ambersons, in which he plays a different kind of character, though no less melancholy: he's the man who is always one moment too late. Cotten was signed by David O. Selznick in the '40s, and though he became very popular, he was not a conventional leading man. He was extremely handsome and had a mellifluous Southern-tinged speaking voice (he was a regular presence in radio), but he was never quite reassuring: he always seemed softly pensive, reflective and easily wounded, maybe even self-destructive. He stood in contrast to other actors of the era like Kirk Douglas and Gregory Peck--he operated on a different wavelength, and, oddly, he seemed to have the temperament of a writer as opposed to that of an actor.

TCM is showing 13 of his pictures including, of course, the two Welles films, both milestones in the history of cinema, as well as The Third Man--another classic, and, along with his Uncle Charlie in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (not included in the tribute), his greatest role. They're also including Journey Into Fear, an extremely entertaining 1942 Mercury adaptation of an Eric Ambler novel, co-written by Cotten and co-directed by Welles and Norman Foster; Lydia, French expatriate Julien Duvivier's remake of his own Un carnet de bal, with Merle Oberon--an unusual picture that's worth checking out; Selznick's super-production Duel in the Sun, which was the first picture I ever saw; George Cukor's beautiful remake of the British film Gaslight, with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer; Hitchcock's much-maligned, but brooding and powerful picture, Under Capricorn, shot in Technicolor by the great Jack Cardiff (Cotten is miscast as a former Irish convict who becomes a millionaire in 19th century Australia, but he's very affecting); and Selznick's extraordinary film Portrait of Jennie. A favorite of Luis Buñuel's, Jennie is the story of a starving New York artist in the '30s who finds his muse in the form of a little girl (played by Selznick's wife, Jennifer Jones) who comes from out of the past. It's a beautifully made film, image by image (directed by William Dieterle and shot, exquisitely, by Joseph August, who passed away right after the shoot), and an unusually haunting one as well, and I can't imagine anyone else but this very special actor as the sad, contemplative painter.

by Martin Scorsese