Ronald Colman fantastic in A Tale of Two Cities
Ronald Colman is Turner Classic Movies “Summer Under the Stars” performer on Thursday, August 4. One of the finest film actors ever, at ease in both heavy drama and light comedy, Ronald Colman will have his extensive career represented by 13 films. Among those are three TCM premieres: the silent comedies Kiki (1926) and Her Night of Romance (1924), and the 1931 romantic drama The Unholy Garden. (See Ronald Colman Movie Schedule further below.)
Kiki is notable as one of Drama Queen Norma Talmadge's relatively rare comedy forays. Though all but forgotten today, Talmadge was one of the top two or three movie stars of the 1920s, starring in a series of melodramas that gave her the chance both to suffer for love and to wear some really fancy gowns. Women loved her. And I'm assuming many men loved her as well. In fact, had the Academy been founded a few years earlier, I find it impossible to believe that Talmadge would not have taken home at least one Best Actress statuette home. The woman exuded prestige.
Norma's light-hearted sister, Constance Talmadge, is Colman's co-star in Sidney Franklin's Her Night of Romance. The couple apparently worked so well together they were reunited the following year in Franklin's delightful Her Sister from Paris, later remade as Two-Faced Woman – which is notable as Greta Garbo's last movie.
Also on Thursday, you can spot Colman as the leading man of another silent era female superstar, Lillian Gish. The movie in question is The White Sister, about a woman who becomes a nun after learning that her lover has died in the war. But has he? Henry King, later one of 20th Century Fox's most reliable filmmakers, directed.
Fay Wray and Estelle Taylor are Colman's leading ladies in The Unholy Garden, directed by solid craftsman George Fitzmaurice. The story revolves around a gentleman thief and the woman he loves, which is kind of similar to the plot of Raffles (1930), in which Colman romances Kay Francis – another classy actress who, much like Norma Talmadge, enjoyed suffering in mink.
TCM will also be presenting four movies featuring Colman at his dramatic best:
- As Sidney Carton in Jack Conway's outstanding film version of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities (1935), doing everything in his power to protect lovely Elizabeth Allan.
- In a double role as an Englishman abroad and his look-alike Central European king in John Cromwell's rousing The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), a more effective rendition of the Ruritanian drama of love and intrigue than the 1922 version directed by Rex Ingram. Madeleine Carroll – so beautiful she doesn't seem human – Douglas Fairbanks Jr (perhaps the best performance of his career) and Mary Astor are also in the cast.
- As one of several plane passengers who find themselves stranded in Shangri-La, a paradisiacal city atop the Himalayas in Frank Capra's memorable Lost Horizon (1937). Jane Wyatt is Colman's love interest.
- And as an amnesiac who finds love twice, both times with Greer Garson, in Mervyn LeRoy's superb romantic melodrama Random Harvest (1942). I find it interesting that Now, Voyager and Casablanca, both released that same year, are much better remembered than Random Harvest. For my money, the Colman-Garson pairing – honest, mature, selfless, warmly passionate – is infinitely more moving than those of Bette Davis-Paul Henreid and Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman.
One sensational Colman performance is unfortunately missing from the TCM line-up. That's his “method” stage actor who takes the role of Othello a little too seriously in George Cukor's A Double Life (1947). I wonder if some of the screenwriters involved in Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan were inspired by that movie. In any case, much like Natalie Portman, Colman won a well-deserved Academy Award for his psychotic, self-destructive efforts.
Ronald Colman, Jane Wyatt, Lost Horizon
Schedule (ET) and synopses from the TCM website:
7:45 AM MY LIFE WITH CAROLINE (1941) A man thinks his high-spirited wife is cheating on him. Dir.: Lewis Milestone. Cast: Ronald Colman, Anna Lee, Charles Winninger. Black and white. 81 min.
9:15 AM THE WHITE SISTER (1923) Thinking her lover was killed in the war, a young woman becomes a nun. Dir.: Henry King. Cast: Lillian Gish, Ronald Colman, Gail Kane. Black and white. 135 min.
11:30 AM KIKI (1926) A Parisian dancer vies with a glamorous actress for a producer's heart. Dir.: Clarence Brown. Cast: Norma Talmadge, Ronald Colman, Gertrude Astor. Black and white. 97 min.
1:30 PM RAFFLES (1930) A distinguished British gentleman hides his true identity as a notorious jewel thief. Dir.: Harry d'Abbadie D'Arrast. Cast: Ronald Colman, Kay Francis, Bramwell Fletcher. Black and white. 71 min.
2:45 PM THE UNHOLY GARDEN (1931) A gentleman thief falls for the daughter of the man he's trying to rob. Dir.: George Fitzmaurice. Cast: Fay Wray, Estelle Taylor, Warren Hymer. Black and white. 75 min.
4:15 PM ARROWSMITH (1931) A crusading doctor fights his way through tragedy to find his true calling. Dir.: John Ford. Cast: Ronald Colman, Helen Hayes, Richard Bennett. Black and white. 99 min.
6:15 PM THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1937) An Englishman who resembles the king of a small European nation gets mixed up in palace intrigue when his look-alike is kidnapped. Dir.: John Cromwell. Cast: Ronald Colman, Madeleine Carroll, C. Aubrey Smith. Black and white. 101 min.
8:00 PM A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1935) Charles Dickens' classic story of two men in love with the same woman during the French Revolution. Dir.: Jack Conway. Cast: Ronald Colman, Elizabeth Allen, Edna May Oliver. Black and white. 126 min.
10:15 PM RANDOM HARVEST (1942) A woman's happiness is threatened when she discovers her husband has been suffering from amnesia. Dir.: Mervyn LeRoy. Cast: Ronald Colman, Greer Garson, Philip Dorn. Black and white. 127 min.
12:30 AM HER NIGHT OF ROMANCE (1924) An impoverished lord goes after an invalid's money only to fall in love. Dir.: Sidney A. Franklin. Cast: Constance Talmadge, Ronald Colman, Jean Hersholt. Black and white. 85 min.
2:00 AM LOST HORIZON (1937) Four fugitives from a Chinese revolution discover a lost world of peace and harmony. Dir.: Frank Capra. Cast: Ronald Colman, Jane Wyatt, Edward Everett Horton. Black and white. 133 min.
Turner Classic Movies website.