Joan Bennett

Joan Bennett
Joan Bennett

Joan Bennett was born in 1910 in New Jersey, the daughter of actor Richard Bennett and younger sister of actress Constance Bennett. During the 1930’s she had a prolific career in movies as a pretty blonde ingenune in such movies as “Little Women” with Katharine Hepburn in 1933. In the early 1940’s, she changed her hair colour to dark and had a totally new career as a femme fatale in film noir such as “Scarlet Street” and “Woman in the Window”. In 1950 she eased into matron roles a bit too early and starred as the mother of Elizabeth Taylor in “Father of the Bride”. In the 1970’s, she scored a major success on television in the series “Dark Shadows”. She died in 1990.

TCM Overview:

Personable, extremely pretty and prolific star of a wide range of films in the 1930s and 40s. Bennett began her film career as a demure blonde ingenue (e.g. in George Cukor’s “Little Women” 1933, William K. Howard’s breathtaking “The Trial of Vivienne Ware” 1932). Raoul Walsh’s delightful “Me and My Gal” (1932), though, did give her an offbeat chance to indulge in sharp wisecracking. Early on her acting abilities seemed a bit modest, but Bennett’s warm speaking voice and quietly piquant charm gave her considerable appeal as a screen personality.

Gregory LaCava’s pioneering study of mental health problems, “Private Worlds” (1935), gave Bennett an unusually good acting opportunity, and the sensitivity and vulnerability she brought to the role showed the increasing resonance she was bringing to her screen work. If she never did possess the acting bravura of Hollywood’s most intense dramatic divas, Joan Bennett was nonetheless intriguing, likable and highly watchable, her sometimes aloof, serene presence highly effective at suggesting muffled passion. In 1938 she followed the trend of going brunette and parting one’s hair in the middle (inspired by Hedy Lamarr’s strong first Hollywood impression), and the look stuck. “Trade Winds” (1938) was an enjoyable Tay Garnett romp, and “The Housekeeper’s Daughter” (1939) gave Bennett a good Hal Roach comedy, but she soon developed into a sultry, brunette fixture who proved outstanding in several 1940s films noirs. Sometimes sympathetic, sometimes a femme fatale, Bennett acted in a quartet of Fritz Lang thrillers, “Manhunt” (1941), “Woman in the Window” (1944), “Scarlet Street” (1945) and “Secret Beyond the Door” (1948), which represent some of her best work in film.

Bennett also appeared in a wide variety of other films during this time, ranging from the semi-musical period drama, “Nob Hill” (1945) to the interesting Hemingway adaptation “The Macomber Affair” (1947), which traded in on her more seductive noir roles. As middle age approached, Bennett shifted to the role of witty and nurturing mother in Vincente Minnelli’s comedies “Father of the Bride” (1950) and “Father’s Little Dividend” (1951). She was also especially fine as a mother whose family is jeopardized in Max Ophuls’s unusual noir, “The Reckless Moment” (1949).

Her career was short-circuited in 1951 after her husband, producer Walter Wanger, shot her agent, Jennings Lang, accusing the latter of being a “homewrecker”. She was offered few film roles after that (Douglas Sirk’s “There’s Always Tomorrow” 1956, in which she supported Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray), though she returned to the stage in several national tours. Later in life Bennett could be seen in a leading role on TV on the highly enjoyable cult Gothic soap opera, “Dark Shadows” (1966-71) and her last film appearance was in Dario Argento’s cult horror film, “Suspiria” (1976).

Daughter of famed stage (and occasionally screen) actor Richard Bennett, sister of fellow film star Constance Bennett, and also sister of actress Barbara Bennett; she was married to Wanger (her second husband) from 1940 to 1965.

 The above TCM overview can also be accessed online here.

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