The other day I was watching via YouTube the trailer to the 1949 movie The Bribe, the one with Ava Gardner, Charles Laughton, and Vincent Price.
Oh, you’ve never heard of it, either?
I’m usually pretty good at keeping track of which stars appear in which films, so imagine my surprise when I find three of the biggest stars in cinematic history together in a film I never knew existed, in a genre I used to follow diligently: film noir. But I suppose in those days you could slip a B-film with three well-known faces into theaters and it would slip by unnoticed by audiences, or at least by future generations, because the studios had movie-star talent to spare. That’s one of the reasons why I miss the studio system: It gave the world some damn interesting people to look at for two hours every weekend.
We have some terrific actors today, but very few of them can provoke the awe of a Gardner or a Price. Some come close, but are ultimately doomed by the unclassiness that the studios back then guarded against. For instance, I believe Thandie Newton to be one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen, but the roles she picks are so devoid of glamour that the masses will never compare her with Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn.
Things like class, style, grace, and glamour have to be carefully crafted, otherwise they give way to less admirable, or at least more boring, qualities. And what are most movie stars today if not boring?