Today TCM honors the birthday of German born back-to-back Oscar winner Luise Rainer by airing six of her films plus Part 1 of the documentary MGM: When the Lion Roars, in which she is prominently featured. Ms. Rainer, one of the few surviving legends of the Golden Age of Cinema, turns 99 today. Born January 12, 1910, Rainer began as a stage actress in her native Germany, rising to become a respected member of both Max Reinhardt's Berlin and Vienna companies. She also starred in a handful of German films along the way before coming the the United States under a contract with MGM.
Her first film with MGM was Escapade (1935) co-starring alongside William Powell and soon after with Powell again as Anna Held in the epic life of The Great Ziegfeld (1936). Ziegfeld is one of only two Luise Rainer films I've seen, well perhaps three but I'm not sure how much I recall of The Good Earth (1937), and I can't really count the other because she was 87 years old at the time of it's release (The Gambler ). Anybody with any idea of how Oscar works can see why she was awarded Best Actress for her performance in The Great Ziegfeld, all it took was the scene where she breaks down while on the phone with Powell. Rainer is in the film quite a bit more than that, but that single scene definitely stands out in my mind, though I must admit it's both a bit dated and over the top.
Now looking at TCMs schedule today, you might notice that all six of the Luise Rainer films being showed are dated either 1937 or 1938. Seems a bit odd at first glance. I suppose they omitted The Great Ziegfeld because of its length and since Rainer disappears about halfway though the film to be replaced by Ziegfeld's wife, Billie Burke as played by Myrna Loy. The reason all of today's films are only from these two years is because for one of them, The Good Earth (1937), Rainer won her second consecutive Best Actress Academy Award, and after that she would only make five more films for MGM. Those would be the other five which TCM airs today: The Emperor's Candlesticks (1937), Big City (1937), The Toy Wife (1938), The Great Waltz (1938), and Dramatic School (1938).
David Thomson writes:
Rainer was a limited, moistly appealing screen personality, quite unable to survive the reaction against two (Oscars) in a row ... her remaining films at Metro were forlorn ventures ... The studio then dropped her ...
The six films TCM has chosen all air today between 7:15 am and 5:45 pm. Not having seen any of these what I can tell you myself is limited, but I will say there are things in the notes which pique my interest. For instance, Rainer is co-starring alongside Spencer Tracy in Frank Borzage's Big City. A young Lana Turner is listed among the cast of 1938's Dramatic School. After the recent spate of biopics TCM has entertained me with I'd probably be most likely to give The Great Waltz a chance as it's a story about Johann Straus.
Five years after this run Rainer would star in Hostages for Paramount in 1943 and then that was it on the big screen until her last appearance in 1997 in The Gambler, based on the Doestoevsky novel of the same name. The IMDb does credit Rainer with a few television appearances in the intervening years, the most interesting and curious of which definitely being The Love Boat in 1984. But I'd have to guess that that 54 year gap between release dates is some kind of record. True, she did not star in The Gambler, but she certainly made her presence known.
What a curiosity in the end. The first ever back-to-back Oscar winner in any of the acting categories, Luise Rainer was all but done within two years of the second award. But what may have seemed a curse for her in the late 1930's has in my mind emerged as a benefit seventy years later, as Ms. Rainer continues to be remembered on screen. And without those Academy Awards I don't think we'd be able to say that.
What do you think? Feel free to chime in with your own opinions and recommendations about Monday the 12th’s programming and especially Luise Rainer. In the meantime, Happy Viewing!
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