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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

I Love the Emoters

I love the emoters, Orson Welles, the Barrymores (John and Lionel), Helen Hayes (tiny and lady like yes, but an A number one emoter all the same), James Cagney, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson without a doubt, Marlene Dietrich and Clara Bow (who could emote without a word spoken). I stand in awe of those giants of the acting profession who pushed to the fine edge of hamming it up, never quite descending into hammy, with the noted exception of course of Lionel Barrymore who often crossed well over the line all the while managing to make the audience love every moment of it.

Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Debbie Reynolds, and Bette Davis are four more who forever shine at the fine art of emoting, as are Richard Burton and Gene Kelly (who managed to do his emoting with his feet and in time with the music). There are many others past and present certainly, but this list is drawn from those films recently viewable at the TCM second annual Classic Film Festival.

The films were all over the genre map, a buffet of great experiences for he or she who loves to watch a fine craftsperson at their work, who admires the actor who can use the tone of voice - posture, - movement and get every last bit of meaning out of it as they do. Agnes Moorhead could emote volumes with the raising of an eyebrow. Clara Bow with her eyes and set of her shoulders, Marlene Deitrich with a tilt of chin and the sway of her hips. Helen Hayes was pure magic with her elfin smile, eyes twinkling, and the ever perfect, dead on delivery of lines. You could run a large city on the pure energy put out by Mickey Rooney or Debby Reynolds. It was heaven for four days and I am still thinking about it.

I listen, rapt, when Cagney or a Barrymore harangues. I melt when Burton or Welles pontificates in deep deliberate hypnotic tones that aspiring politicians can only hope to emulate. The emoters demand your attention regardless of who or how many others there are on the screen at the time, exuding presence, energy, authority.

There are those who can emote when called upon to do so - only when the role requires it of them - and those who most likely emote while asking for the bread to be passed. One need not be a Shakespearian actor to emote though it does seem to me that to be a Shakespearian actor to emote is a basic and necessary talent. However, I think the polished (and/or diehard) emoter can employ the talent to make any role sparkle. That lasting luster of that sparkle is what had us lined up fifty, sixty, seventy or more years after the fact to get to see the electric delivery one more time.

Wouldn’t you just love to have seen Lionel Barrymore and Bette Davis in a good nose-to-nose rant!

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