This winter Mr Renn and I went on a spree of watching every Jean Arthur film I could find. I am an unabashed fan. This lady was the perfect comedic heroine. She couldn't help but create terribly dimensional characters even when the script handed her drivel (see *Too Many Husbands*, which is really awful, except that it has Jean in it. Don't watch it after watching *My Favorite Wife* either, or it will seem REALLY bad.)
The really cool thing about Jean Arthur is that she was utterly terrified of acting. She never got over it. She'd regularly have nervous breakdowns when trying to prepare. But then the camera rolled and she found some kind of strength from within her gut, and she managed to come across as the most natural and comfortable actress of her generation. All of her characters become real and likable people to me. I'd like to be friends with nearly every one.
She is one of the few actresses of the late 30's and early 40's who managed to out-act her wardrobe. So many of the films made then - as fun and as great as they are - seem to have female characters primarily so we can look at them, their clothes, their lifestyle, and have some escapist fun. You forget to do any of that with Jean Arthur because she creates characters so gripping that there's not much room for anything else.
She got all kinds of crap throughout her career about not being pretty enough. She did bleach her hair, but otherwise she refused to give them an inch. They rendered her pretty insecure though and she got picky about being filmed from her "good side." (She also grew to emphasize the gravely quality in her voice more over time.She did that intentionally to brand herself.) Can you imagine how self-conscious you would get being the movie star that was plastered all over the country, but persistently reminded that you're "not that pretty."? Sheesh.
She was perfect for Capra films though - and it follows that the combination of Arthur and Capra always leaves me giddy. I refuse to consider Capra Films sappy. I think they are a perfect projectory of positive psychology and I wish there were more made like them.
So - because somebody out there needs to watch something that makes life seem both hard and good, here's a list of my favorite favorites.
Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936) - Probably one of my top 10 favorite films ever.
Go forth and enjoy. If you love them as I do, please let me know.