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Joan Bennett Movies: From Cute Blonde to Sultry Brunette

Joan Bennett, Scarlet Street
Joan Bennett movies: Scarlet Street

Joan Bennett is Turner Classic Movies' Star of the Evening this Wednesday, May 11. TCM has already shown Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street (1945), in which Bennett is a heartless tramp who abuses poor Edward G. Robinson.

Now, Bennett can be seen in Tay Garnett's Trade Winds (1938), remarkable in that it may well be the only Hollywood movie in which a leading lady goes from cute all-American blonde to sultry Hedy Lamarr-ish brunette – and then remains a brunette for the rest of her career. And a much more interesting woman and actress to boot.

Fredric March, Ann Sothern, and Ralph Bellamy are also featured in Trade Winds, a fluffy comedy-adventure that really isn't all that different from the stuff Hollywood studios churn out today. (Too bad TCM's print seems to be from a 16mm original.)

Later on, Joan Bennett can be seen in Jean Renoir's atmospheric Woman on the Beach (1947), in which Bennett looks very brunette and very mysterious. Robert Ryan and Charles Bickford are the men in her life. Not the greatest film noir ever made, but well worth a look.

Also tonight: Hal Roach's The Housekeeper's Daughter (1939), a minor comedy-mystery in which Bennett looks pretty in the title role and Victor Mature looks hunky in an early role (Adolphe Menjou looks boring, as usual); Dan Curtis' The House of Dark Shadows (1970), a (very poor) feature based on the popular television series; and William A. Wellman's Eleven Men and a Girl (1930), a minor programmer in which Bennett looks blonde and bland in equal measure.

Had it not been for producer-lover-husband Walter Wanger, it's hard to imagine that Joan Bennett having much of a Hollywood career, despite her illustrious name. (Sister: Constance Bennett; father: Richard Bennett.)

Wanger produced a number of Bennett vehicles, beginning with Private Worlds in 1935, when the actress was still a blonde. In 1938, he produced both Trade Winds and Algiers, which helps to explain Hedy Lamarr's influence on Bennett's post-'38 look.

 

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