Sidney Kay from Kay's Blog again. When I was here in the winter (February 28, 2011) I shared my Titillating Villains with you. Now we are going to journey to the other end of the spectrum - eye-catching actresses! We are going into stunning, striking, lovely, sexy land. Now, I'm not talking about all those pretty actresses that inhabit current Movieville, because let's be honest here - those people are not of this world. What I'm talking about are the vamps, sirens, sex-goddesses of their time, actresses who have a quality that suggests they're gorgeous or sexy or sensual, and sometimes they are - some of them are beyond what a normal person should be and I'm just glad those particular glitterers are not my sister or my neighbor and that I, a mere mortal, do not have to compete with them. Well, here is my list of actresses that I feel have a captivating presence and none of them were born after 1940.
1. Theda Bara - 1885-1955. To have a list of sexy/sensual actresses and not include Theda Bara would be a shame. She started it all! She was the vamp, the villainess, using her sexual aura to enslave weak men and destroy them. She must have appeared to be quite an object of fascination when projected on the big screen. And, sadly most of her films were destroyed in a fire.
2. Marilyn Monroe - 1926-1962. One of the few on my list whose body of work is mostly in color. And, hey, I can't have a list about actresses who are sensual without one of my all-time favorites. Even though I would not call Monroe knock down dead gorgeous, there's no denying her sex appeal and Marilyn just glows in her early films. Plus, her comedic timing is a wonder to behold. If you want to see her in a serious role, take a gander at Don't Bother to Knock, a very disturbing, poignant performance. My all-time favorite Marilyn guilty pleasure is Niagara. She is so over-the-top sexual in this film and the moment she slinks out in that red dress and sings off-key is truly a campy Hollywood moment. And, for a sexy-campy moment watch for the wiggle-waddle walk down the street in Niagara.
3. Ava Gardner - 1922-1990. Gorgeous. In my opinion Gardner was one of the most beautiful actresses to ever hit the big screen. Take a look at this photo of her at 16 - amazing! And, as with Elizabeth Taylor, how would you ever compete with that? I've always wondered how being that beautiful would affect someone... would things come too easy... would you want to get away from it all? And what happens as you age, when what was admired fades away? From what I've read about her, she didn't suffer fools lightly; she meant what she said, she lived hard and enjoyed almost every minute of it. My favorite Gardner movies are The Killers and Barefoot Contessa.
4. Mae West 1893-1980. Ah, what a broad. Is there anyone out there that doesn't know one of her quotes? And, here's another example of a woman who didn't put up with fools. She was ahead of her time - bigger than life - ballsy. She was the master of the double entendre. A number of her films (with her screenplays) were before the heavy hand of Hollywood production codes. She was not necessarily pretty... but totally mesmerizing. And if you want to see her in action, check out I'm No Angel and watch the I Wonder Where my Easy Rider's Gone song - remarkable!
5. Marlene Dietrich 1901-1992. Glamourous... never had a face lift, but used tons of tape to keep her sagging skin tight. Here is a great example of how lighting effects make an actress luminescent. Now, I liked to watch Marlene on the screen, but I always thought she was a bit of an over-actor - she had a bit of that silent acting emoting feel about her - but nonetheless she's still sexy and she is one of the best examples of androgynous image on the screen, ever. Favorite movies: Morrocco, Shanghai Express. Guilty pleasure: Foreign Affair.
6. Elizabeth Taylor 1932-2011. When watching her on screen one has to be careful, because we have a tendency to notice only her beauty and ignore her acting. And she did some dandy acting in her day, the best of which would probably be Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (oddly enough in this movie one isn't distracted by her looks - maybe because she put on weight and uglied herself up for the role). However, one of the best examples of being spellbound by her image on screen is her close-up, her "tell momma all" moment in A Place in the Sun - if you haven't seen that movie, you really should - mesmerizing.
7. Greta Garbo - 1905-1990. Great lighting and great make-up - look at the line drawn to emphasize her heavy eyelids. I've always been a big fan of Ms. Garbo - not only did she look great but she sounded great also. "Give me a vhiskey, ginger-ale on the side." And, yes you may have heard about the ending scene from Queen Christina and how it was one of her best moments, but for me one of my favorite performances was from Anna Karenina. Just watch her as she descends those steps, with a creepy Basil Rathbone yelling at her that she will never see her son again. Favorite movie: Ninotchka.
8. Anna Magnani - 1908-1973. I can hear you now... how did she get on the list of glamorous, sexy women? Well, I did say that some of these women were not what one would consider beautiful, but they had an inner quality that made them appear striking and sensual. And Ms. Magnani had these qualities big time - oodles. If any woman could be called earthy, it was Ms. Magnani. I remember my mother covering my eyes when she took me to see The Rose Tattoo. (My mother was always choosing the wrong kind of movies for a young child - I guess she never read the reviews.) My guilty pleasure: The Secret of Santa Vittoria.
9. Silvano Mangano - 1930-1989. Mangano, was a wonderful Italian actress who doesn't quite get the recognition she deserved. She wasn't quite as earthy as Magnani or Loren, but she was absolutely gorgeous, almost fragile. Watch her in Bitter Rice, Death in Venice...but my favorite gem that she's in is Gold of Naples. Don't ever pass up a chance to see this movie. It has 5 short stories in it, one of which stars Mangano with a horrible husband and another of the stories has a very young...
10. Sophia Loren - 1934-? - What can I say? It must be those big lips. Back to Gold of Naples, beside Mangano we have Loren. And, she steals the show as the happy adulterous pizza maker... great movie. While Sophia Loren excels in comedy, don't miss her Oscar-winning performance in Two Women. My guilty pleasure: Houseboat with Cary Grant
11. Ingrid Bergman 1915-1982 - What I call a natural beauty. This is one of those occasions when beauty matches the acting ability. And, she even looks great with short hair. She had it all: sensuality, humor, great acting... and no one can cry better than Ingrid Bergman. My favorite film is, of course, Casablanca, but don't forget her wonderful performances in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Gaslight. Versatile actress.
12. Carole Lombard 1908-1942. Who said funny wasn't sexy? Not me. Carole Lombard was one of the best comedic actresses around and she did it all with a sensual quality. She was a master of the screwball comedy, and played ditzy to the hilt. She held her own against some top actors of the day. She was also another very strong woman, and had a reputation for speaking her mind, employing some salty language in the process. If you've never seen any of her films there are three that are a must: Nothing Sacred, Twentieth Century and My Man Godfrey. My Man Godfrey is one of my all-time favorite movies, though Twentieth Century is fascinating to watch as John Barrymore and Carole attempt to out-ham each other.
13. Machiko Kyo, 1924-? . Now, we have an example of an actress I haven't seen much of, but in the first movie I saw her in, Rashomon, she was spellbinding. (Ignore her hysterical laughter.) When this movie begins, there's sort of a slow moving, sensual feel about it and then she appears riding on the horse and a breeze blows that veil away... and the thief's sword rises... this moment is probably one of the most breathtakingly photographed scenes in a movie. It's simply beautiful. And, that's why she's on my list.
14. Jean Harlow, 1911-1937. Jean Harlow happens to be one of those actresses whose personality is what draws the eye to her. She has a reputation for being beautiful, but she's not really - she has a funny nose, deep cleft chin, and sometimes dark circles under her eyes. She is sexy in a bombastic sort of way - her sexuality is at times way over the top. I much prefer her comedic moments to her blatant sexual films. She holds her own with Wallace Beery in Dinner at Eight, a real gem. My favorite Harlow movie is Libeled Lady - the scenes between her and William Powell are a hoot. One of her best roles.
15. Dorothy Dandridge, 1922-1965. What a great combination, of beauty, innocence and sex appeal - and an example of too little on the screen, studio type-casting and racism. The role she's best remembered for is Carmen Jones and she is fantastic in it; however, there are some shorts out there when she was pretty young and what I'd call spunky. And there is a short clip of her with the Nicholas Brothers from Sun Valley Serenade, a forgettable movie except for the moment she's on the screen with the brothers singing and dancing. A lot of talent that never saw its full potential.
16. Loretta Young, 1913-2000. Now for some reason I've never been able to fathom, Loretta Young never makes any list. Well, we are taking care of that right now! By the way, there were three Young sisters, and they were all stunners. She had those really high cheekbones, and the gigantic humongous eyes. This photo of her is of a very young, gorgeous woman who just happens to be a dandy actress - yes, she also won an Oscar. However, my favorite movie of hers is The Stranger with Orson Welles. Watch her as she slowly starts to unravel. Under-appreciated, almost forgotten, lovely Loretta Young.
17. Anna Mae Wong, 1905-1961. There's a movie out there called Shanghai Express, starring the beautiful Marlene Dietrich. But stealing the scenes from her is another forgotten actresses, Anna Mae Wong. She was a Chinese-American actress who started out in the silent movies. She never made it into the land of leading ladies because she was never allowed to kiss on screen and we all know that is one thing a leading lady must do. She was typecast in numerous roles, asked to speak in broken English and eventually became fed up with the Hollywood system. Anna Mae was an exotic woman who should have had a bigger screen presence.
18. Joan Crawford, 1905-1977. Before the eyebrows and shoulder pads, Crawford was luminous and another example of great lighting. I also think if ever an American actress had the ability to be earthy, she could have been. Just look at Rain. Crawford never took prisoners, and had a smoldering way of looking at men. She was no shrinking violet, she knew what they wanted and she wasn't afraid to give it to them, even if they had a wife. One of her best lines: "Thanks for the tip. But when anything I wear doesn't please Stephen, I take it off." Guilty pleasures are: The Women and When Ladies Meet. Also, just because we like campy movies, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Talk about eyebrows!
19. Gene Tierney, 1920-1991. What I'd call stunning, with just a little vulnerable, a pinch of mystery and a dab of sensuality. (With an occasional mad streak thrown in just for laughs.) I'm sure everyone remembers her from Laura, the mysterious murder victim that the uncouth hard-drinking detective falls for, but I'm fond of her sweet-sexy portrayal of Mrs. Muir in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. However, I think my favorite Tierney movie is Leave Her to Heaven... nothing better than a stunning woman being so creepy!
20. Hedy Lamarr, 1913-2000. Stunning, exotic, sexy... but can she act? Not really, but when she's up on the screen you really don't notice the bad acting, and she had a second career as an inventor and scientist! She first became noticed after appearing in a Czechoslovakian movie called Ecstasy, swimming in the nude. She is mesmerizing in Algiers, if you can get past the over-dramatic Charles Boyer (what is he saying?). And the cheesiest movie she was in was the horribly hammy Samson and Delilah, and in technicolor no less! My favorite Lamarr guilty pleasure is My Favorite Spy with Bob Hope.
Honorourable mentions: Clara Bow, Grace Kelly, Rita Hayworth, Jane Russell, Merle Oberon, Dorothy Lamour, Constance Bennett, Joan Bennett, Kay Francis, Catherine Deneuve, Monica Vitti, Nina Mae McKinney, Anouk Aimee. I'm sure you noticed that Audrey Hepburn, Katherine Hepburn and Bette Davis didn't make my list. While I may think high cheekbones are sexy, I draw the line at protruding collar bones. And Bette Davis...I'll save her for my great actress list. What are some of your siren, vamp, sexy actresses? Are there current actresses that could compete with some of the classics? When you read books, do you ever picture an actress as the heroine?