The Strange Duality of Fredric March

Seldom has an actor of such understated beauty been given, seemingly, his pick of the juciest, most literary roles in Hollywood.

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I say this because it seems to me that most of the really excellent and especially dimensional roles were saved for the bona fide uglies on the lot. Of course, no one can convince me that an actor like Edward G. Robinson or even Charles Laughton is without a kind of situational beauty. However the fact remains that they were not by any means marketed as such. So that when March comes on the screen in the roles that are supposed to stand for the internal battle of man vs. beast it’s no small shock. He seems to have a distinguished beauty without being at all an intellectual figure. He’s a step above the ‘everyman’, playing roles of a kind of complexity someone like Gary Cooper or even Ronald Colman couldn’t have handled, and yet what is exactly complex about him as an actor? His style isn’t particularly refined, he tends toward overstatement, and at times he can be downright hammy. So why exactly was he thrown Jean Valjean and why, the more pressing question, was he able to do such brilliant things with it?

It is perhaps his passion, which seems to alternately weigh on him and release him from worldly care. He has a sort of ambivalence, as in he’s never really secure in any walk of life. When he’s happy, there’s always a question behind it, and when he’s devastated one senses he gets some kind of power from it, that sorrow for him is a force. He is perhaps the perfect actor to play a role like Orpheus, the eternal mourner who turns to music and buggering to try and get away from his sorrow, only to find out that sorrow makes up so much of who he is in the first place. After all, it is the sorrow, I imagine, that made the music of Orpheus so irresistable.

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~ by levantor on May 10, 2009.

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