The Man Who Never Was : Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

The normally very capable Gloria Grahame delivered the worst performance of her career in The Man Who Never Was, but it's only partly her fault.

Her character Lucy is one of the most obnoxious people I've ever seen on screen, particularly as a romantic lead. She's loud, coarse, sarcastic, lippy, smart-alecky, cynical, self-absorbed...what have I missed? Her character was clearly an English screenwriter's one-dimensional concept of a brassy American, and so more caricature than character, and Gloria can't be blamed for the lines she was handed. But it must be said she took an inane role and made the worst of it. The reviews of this film were generally favorable, but Miss Grahame was almost universally singled out for a terrible performance, and deservedly so.

She was so bad, and her character so obnoxious, that it's unfathomable to think what in God's name her fiancee could possibly have found attractive about her, beyond her body. She had to have something to compensate for her unbearable persona.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

I'm intrigued by your reaction to Gloria Grahame's performance. In my opinion, she was not a "romantic lead" and thus had no responsibility to be likeable. I don't believe there are any romantic leads in this film. Yes, we got to see a glimpse of her romantic situation, but only as a way to set up the pivotal scene at her home in which the covert agent Reilly must decide whether Lucy's letter to "William Martin" was genuine. And in order for him to believe her words, she had to be the kind of woman who was self-absorbed, morose and overly dramatic, and thus would indulge in the lengthy "woe is me" speech which Reilly ultimately fell for. The director had to walk a fine line between keeping her performance true to the realistic style of the movie, and yet also be dramatic enough to allow for the excesses of that pivotal scene. Perhaps he was not always successful at maintaining that delicate balance.

The element that I winced at most often was the lush musical score, which often threw a melodramatic feel into the movie, and therefore was very jarring to me. Gloria Grahame's big moments were swamped by the over-indulgent score which worked against the movie's realistic style. Sure, it was a standard practice for movies of its era, but it was a poor choice, in my opinion, and undermined Gloria's big scenes. Lucy needed to be melodramatic, but not the movie itself.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

True, she was not exactly the "romantic lead" in a movie that really didn't have one as generally understood, but she was the closest thing to it in the film. But that's mostly beside the point I was making, as is her climactic scene, which you aptly described.

My critique was about her overall performance, complementing the entirety of her character as written by the screenwriter. "Lucy" was a thoroughly off-putting person, sarcastic and obnoxious and absolutely unappealing. It may be that her final "big" scene, which stood in contrast to her earlier flippancy and mouthiness, made her trauma more affecting for the audience, bringing this formerly annoying woman into focus as a more rounded individual, as someone who beneath the sassy exterior could indeed suffer. But if so it was minor and incidental. Overall, she was loud and odious and someone you just couldn't stand being subjected to. How her roommate Pam, let alone her RAF fiancee, stood her, remains a mystery -- unless it was the novelty of having a loud-mouthed, bitchy American around.

I don't agree the music ruined her final scene, though it wasn't all that appropriate either. I didn't find it lush or anything of the kind, just run-of-the-mill. Of course, the sound of the piano was meant to recall her late fiancee's talent for tickling the ivories.

I like to think that, having at last realized the kind of woman he was marrying, he became the first British kamikaze.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

She wasn't likable, but there are people like that. I thought her makeup job was the worst. Was there a time when the greasy face look was desired??

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

I never really thought much about her make-up, but you're quite right about it, it was greasy-looking and unappealing. But I doubt that was some sort of "in" look of the period. My guess is that it was done to make GG look younger than her actual age, about 32 at the time of filming.

Still, it would have helped the film if her character were a more likeable person, at least one not so sarcastic and pushy.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

Her make-up was bizarre, indeed; my attention was drawn to it immediately. It looked like she had Vaseline smeared on her face.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

She's protecting herself. She's scared to death. She's convinced any man she falls for during the war is going to die, so she works hard NOT to fall in love, just to have a good time. But her scheme fails. She falls in love in spite of herself. And now every phone call, every knock at the door, every stranger approaching her will bring her bad news.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

True...and none of which has anything to do with her obnoxiousness. Her character could still try to disguise her fears in a less lippy, sarcastic manner. And still no indication of what her boyfriend would find attractive about such a loud, overbearing woman. Even in her grief she was off-putting. As I said, a badly drawn character, and Miss G. made the worst of it.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

I guess I'm the only one who really liked her performance. The character was troubling, but Gloria did a great job.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

More caricature than character? Sounds like one of my lines.

Leaving aside the inadequacy of Lucy's characterisation, maybe it's the case that Grahame was i) rather a hammy actress and ii) American. Playing up against all those stiff-necked Brits made her seem worse than normal.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

I don't think Grahame was a hammy actress normally, but I have the feeling that here she was encouraged to overdo it by (British) director Ronald Neame, following the badly drawn character in the script. Of course, she was supposed to be an American, but against all that vaunted English reserve she certainly would have stood out, in the worst sense possible. So, again, what did that RAFfer see in her? And might his death in combat have in fact been a disguised suicide?

As to my line sounding like one of yours, what can I say, Jason_Radley? Great minds think alike. Unless, that is, you secretly think Lucy was quite the catch.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

I suspect you read one of my messages elsewhere on IMDB and subconsciously appropriated it.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

No, but I recall S.J. Perelman's adage: "Good writers borrow. Great writers steal."

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

If it was subconscious, you wouldn't remember it. I'm reminded of Chateuabriand's 'The original writer is not he who does not imitate others, but he who can be imitated by none.'

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

If it were subconscious, I wouldn't have realized it in the first place. But my writing is my own, as yours is your own, even if coincidence may occasionally draw comparison with another's. One last quote on this subject, appropriately from a (different) film -- The Red Shoes. "It is much more disheartening to have to steal, than to be stolen from."

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse


If it were subconscious, I wouldn't have realized it in the first place.


Huh? I was talking about your subconsciously appropriating (note, my word is appropriate, not steal) my line, not Perelman's. But if you, in turn, also meant the former, you've lost me.

Please don't reply to this message.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

Sorry, I have to make a reply. I was being facetious, but now you've lost me. Anyway, didn't appropriate anything, even subconciously. But I'll take it as a compliment!

See you elsewhere, consciously.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

I'm not familiar with her work, but I really couldn't stand her—her face so shiny and sweaty, it was disgusting, her lips so lipsticky and dark, it must have been an obnoxiously dazzling shade of red, her face that wouldn't contort, her lips that were sealed with plastic and couldn't move—it was really bizarre and unappealing.

But my sympathy broke when her character broke down and she cried over her metaphoric boyfriend's death. Poor acting or not, that scene made me really admire her. The piano that played itself was a little weird, but her tale of woe seemed genuine and heartfelt, and watching Josephine Griffin (the blonde) in the background with (to my eyes) an apparent mixture of relief (a slight smile at one point) but simultaneous realization and sadness of her friend's loss was really an incredible moment in the film.

Aside from that little bit of glory, I see what you mean.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

Yes, Gloria was good in that one scene, but probably because it was the one time she was real and sympathetic, not artificial and obnoxious.

As I mentioned, she was at the mercy of a dreadully-written and -conceived character, a one-dimesional British view of a "typical American" of the period, that was so badly drawn it would have defeated the best efforts of any actress. Even so, Gloria made the worst of it, which, given the fact she was an Academy-Award-winning actress, is pretty surprising.

Still, if you're not familiar with her work, you should see some of her better films. She usually played sultry, pouty types, often typecast as Hollywood was prone to do, but could do them very well. If I may, I'd recommend the following GG films for you: It's a Wonderful Life (1946); Crossfire (1947, her first Oscar nomination); In a Lonely Place (1950); The Greatest Show on Earth (1952); Sudden Fear (1952); The Bad and the Beautiful (1952, the film for which she won the Oscar); The Big Heat (1953); Oklahoma! (1955, her one foray into musicals); and Odds Against Tomorrow (1959). In each she was much better than she was in The Man Who Never Was.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

That one scene was good, shiny makeup and all. I liked the part where O'Reilly said something about knowing her fiancé in Cardiff and she cut in with, "I'll bet you knew his family too, didn't you? Well, I didn't. All I knew them as was photographs." I had the feeling that she was unwittingly on verge of turning the tables on O'Reilly, and starting to ask HIM for information about the dead man. She wouldn't, of course, because she wasn't really talking about the same man, but HE didn't know that, and I had the odd feeling that he might have been starting to feel uncomfortable talking to her. As if he were suddenly discovering that he was in over his head.

Flat, drab passion meanders across the screen!

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

Here is an except from Bosley Crowther's 4/6/56 review in the New York Times, where he alludes to Grahame's poor performance as well as other deficiencies:

"There are two things the matter with it. One is Clifton Webb in the role of the sorcerer who plots this trickery. He is too lofty and prim. There is not enough about him to excite you with the devilish cleverness of this man. Robert Flemyng in the role of his apprentice is also a bit too smug—that is, for helping to give this picture the desirable atmosphere of the bizarre."

"The other fault is that the planning and execution of the trick lack suspense. They run off with documentary precision, undisturbed by any seemingly insuperable checks."

"An attempt has been made by Nigel Balchin, the screenplay writer, to remedy this lack in the latter part of the film. He has contrived a bit of sleuthing in London to determine the authenticity of the corpse by a Nazi spy. And in this section, the film does have some tension—until it snaps on a silly snag. For a spell you think the spy may spot the trickery. Then this ridiculous thing occurs."

"It is that a London girl who has been used as the model for the contrived sweetheart of the corpse, without knowing it, still acts by coincidence in such a way as to deceive the snooping spy. It may be that Gloria Grahame's performance as the girl is so very poor, while Stephen Boyd's is so good as the snooper, that the whole scene is incredible. From this point on, it is a matter of getting it over with—fast."

"Ronald Neame as the director has managed to use color and CinemaScope in such a way that they are not too offensive in what should be, for the right flavor, a regular black-and-white film."


If you can remember the '60s, then you weren't there.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

I once read an edited version of Crowther's review but not this much of it. Thanks for posting it. He was more or less right about Grahame, but overall Crowther's reputation as a critic has not survived well. He was close-minded and smug and his criticism is now regarded as superficial, reactionary, unimaginative and off the mark.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

Yes, I agree that he was sometimes off the mark. That's why I only tend to post his reviews that I think are accurate and helpful.

If you can remember the '60s, then you weren't there.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

Did we watch the same movie? What was so awful about Grahame's acting, or her character? Aside from the bad makeup, I don't recall anything that God-awful in her performance.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

Well, we've spent most of this post describing why we think she gave a bad performance. Probably nothing more to add. So why don't you tell us why you think her performance was so good?

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

I didn't say I thought it was so good. I just don't see how it was so bad. Her character didn't seem to be nearly as awful as you said, which is why I asked if we saw the same movie.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

Well, first, asking whether we saw the same movie is a pretty lame and frankly rather silly and unimaginative cliché, especially since it seems the differences in our reactions were more a matter of degree than being diametrically at odds.

As to actual substance, if you don't think she was especially good, just not as bad as I and some others think her, then as I said, it seems to be simply a matter of how severely her performance struck each of us. After all, your saying that she "didn't seem to be nearly as awful" as I said is hardly a ringing endorsement of her performance and character.

To sum up my view: her character is pouty, smart-alecky, relentlessly sarcastic, loud and generally obnoxious. Her performance is in keeping with such an annoying, off-putting character, one of the very worst of Grahame's career. She's whiny and abrasive. And as I've also said, basically I think her character was very badly written, by an English screenwriter with only a shallow idea of how Americans actually speak and act, and she was directed accordingly, which was a mistake on both the director's and Grahame's own part.

If you don't see her as that bad, that's fine. It's all a matter of opinion. But just as you don't understand why I find her so bad, I can't understand why you find her at least acceptable (though I'm relieved to learn you didn't think she was "so good"). Things strike people in different ways.

Re: Gloria Grahame was awful, her character worse

I agree with the OP that her performance is awful. Nearly a deal breaker for me fwiw. Not just GG's fault; clearly a team effort was involved in producing such an awful depiction: the music, the cinematography, the dialogue, the direction- it is all so dreadfully misguided. It smacks of movie makers thinking audiences are stupid and will lap this over the top stuff up. What it ultimately shows is they don't even trust or value their own work. Really good film makers don't make these sorts of concessions.

While I'm here, Stephen Boyd is also pretty ropey too.
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