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  • Carrie Specht

Classic Voices of Cinema


In addition to a fine script, superb acting, or an excellent music score, some movies have the extra added (almost unfair) advantage of an actor with a decidedly fine speaking voice. A voice with a quality of timbre that adds something more to everything else, summing up the overall mood of the film with just a few spoken words. Think "James Earl Jones" (the voice of CNN, Darth Vader & Mufasa). We recognize it, we almost feel it, his voice is so thick and creamy rich. There is for me a growing list of special voices that evoke immediate recognition and require our audible involvement with the character.

For example, for me only Sean Connery sounds like James Bond, so regardless of the disparity in characters, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade will always be on my top ten list. Boris Karloff is the only Grinch for me, and Marlon Brando can mumble in my ear anytime.

I received a recording of Orson Wells reading Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince when I was seven and was still enthralled with Well’s voice when he was a fat man selling wine on TV many decades later. On the flip side of that record (a 78) Was Bing Crosby reading a Christmas story whose name I forget – about a donkey on his way to Bethlehem. Truthfully those two men could have been reading a menu from the local greasy spoon and I would still have listened in rapt attention.

Michael Redgrave soothed and moved one all at the same time. Make that Sir Michael, but that was long after I had been enchanted. Laurence Olivier (Sir Laurence) required my attention and caressed my ears. Roland Coleman sent generations of ladies swooning, sounding educated and infinitely gently desiring and desirable all at the same time. Never mind that many of us were toddlers or not even born when he died.

I like the way George Burn’s sang. John Wayne's voice, in his later years lowered and took on a gravitas. I hope I need not explain Elvis being on my great voice list. More recently I have noted that Liam Neeson has one of “those” voices. Playing the good guy, bad guy, tough guy I just want to listen. And then there's Rex Harrison, Michael Caine, and Clark Gable!

Of course, there are women whose voices strike a memorable note as well. Jean Arthur had a lovely husky sound accented by an occasional odd squeak. Tallulah Bankhead is certainly hard to forget. With Katherine Hepburn it was not so much her voice as her delivery coupled with that down north sound, that added interest to every word. Fanny Brice was irresistibly New York and Gracie Allen was irresistibly Gracie.

I always enjoy Goldy Hawn movies for the giggle in her voice. The good humor is part and parcel of every word delivered even when she is trying to be snide. And there's Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Rosalind Russell, Cher, Kathleen Turner, Gypsy Rose Lee, Barbra Streisand, Billie Burk, Zasu Pitts, and Maggie Smith just to get your own list started.

Some women’s voices from the past were notable for the accent – Gina Lollabrigida, Sofia Loren, Greta Garbo, Marlene Deitrich among others. But not a one of them would I call their voice a leading attribute. I suspect there are those who are so enamored of their many "attributes" who never really heard a word they said, accent or otherwise.

I'm sure I'm not the only member of this club. Have you got a special voice whose tone has you at hello? Let us know who and why. More than likely I'll be hitting my head, saying, "Oh my gosh, of course! How could I have missed that one"!

#ClassicMovies #HistoryofCinema #BarbaraStanwyck #GaryCooper #GoldenAgeofHollywood