This is the first blogathon I have ever participated in. And when I saw Shelley Winters being honored, I knew I had to write something deserving of the woman’s talent. The blogathon has been taking place here all month. If you are interested, you should check out some of the amazing profiles and reviews!
I have always thought of Shelley Winters as an actress with an enormous talent, but one of those actresses you would file under the “underrated” category. As I am sure many people of my generation (I’m in my mid-20s) have experienced, Shelley Winters first showed up on my TV screen as that awesomely fun grandma in the 1990s television series Roseanne. Only in my late teens did I discover this same woman was in quite a few films in her heyday. She had an impressive roster stretching from A Place in the Sun and The Night of the Hunter to Lolita and A Patch of Blue. She was often cast as a pathetic lover or wife that you can’t help but feel sorry for. She may not have a happy ending, but she makes a big impression. But in other roles, she can be unlikeable or sometimes downright despicable. Her role as Rose-Ann in A Patch of Blue is a perfect example of this. She is loud, obnoxious, flat-out racist, cruel with a devilish heart. She is a terrible influence on her poor blind daughter and doesn’t seem to care what she has done to the vulnerable girl. And yet we are still fans of Shelley after this hard-to-watch performance, aren’t we?
Miss Winter had an amazing ability of bringing us all into her soul. We can feel her emotions and feel her pain. In The Night of the Hunter, she is pitiably married to one of the scariest characters I have ever encountered in a movie, Robert Mitchum’s Rev. Harry Powell. He is downright frightening and Shelley’s character is incredibly acquiescing. It isn’t difficult to subdue her character, as with her sad relationship with Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun. He constantly attempts to get rid of her once he has found the beauty of Elizabeth Taylor, and once again, she comes to a pathetic end. Such is not the life of Shelley in pictures, however. She could also play strong women. Rose-Ann was strong. Mrs. Van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank was strong. No, they were not necessarily the heroes of the story. They were even contemptible. But if there was one thing Shelley was not, it was ordinary.
She would never have taken a role—I’m sure of it—because it was showy and glamorous. She had many roles with some real meat to them. I have not seen the majority of her films, but I would love to. I highly recommend all the films I’ve mentioned here and I am certain there are many more that should be given their due fame. Who could forget her creepy and disturbing performance as the title character in What’s the Matter with Helen? co-starring Debbie Reynolds? It’s not the best film in the world, but somehow the song Goody Goody, used several times in the film, still gives me the creeps. I imagine Debbie Reynolds posing like a puppet with blood running down her face while this seemingly happy song plays.
This two-time Oscar winner (playing not so likeable characters in A Patch of Blue and The Diary of Anne Frank) is one to be remembered for ages. She is not the first name that comes to mind when reflecting on the great films of the 1950s and 1960s, but she is a unique sparkle in the eye of classic film.