In my view, Gene Tierney was not only one of the most beautiful but also one of the most underrated actresses of the studio era. Her eyes sparkled, her teeth sparkled, her complexion sparkled – even her cheekbones sparkled. And in the right role, under the right guidance, they could all sparkle at the appropriate dramatic moment. How many actors have been able to accomplish that feat?
I mean, for Robert Pattinson to sparkle in the Twilight movies they needed special effects. Gene Tierney needed no such thing. All she had to do was to step in front of a camera. That was it. Shining brilliance.
Gene Tierney has her Turner Classic Movies Day on Saturday, Aug. 14, with thirteen Tierney vehicles presented as part of TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars” series.
Obviously, considering my effusive introduction to Gene Tierney Day, I’d recommend every single one of the movies to be shown on TCM, six of which are premieres: Sundown, That Wonderful Urge, China Girl, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Close to My Heart, and (in my opinion) her chef d’oeuvre, John M. Stahl’s Leave Her to Heaven (1945), in which Tierney is awesome to behold as a woman madly, obsessively, psychotically, murderously in love. Not to be missed.
Needless to say, not all of her films are great or even good, but overall 20th Century Fox took good care of their contract player in the 1940s. Tierney, in fact, starred in several of the biggest blockbusters of the decade, among them the aforementioned Leave Her to Heaven (right), Otto Preminger’s classic film noir Laura (1944), Edmund Goulding’s The Razor’s Edge (1946), and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Dragonwyck (1946), which TCM will be showing on Saturday night.
In addition to the “film noir in color” Leave Her to Heaven, I’d particularly recommend Josef von Sternberg’s The Shanghai Gesture (1941); Mitchell Leisen’s The Mating Season (1951), which earned scene-stealer Thelma Ritter her second Academy Award nomination; and Broadway director Robert B. Sinclair’s That Wonderful Urge (1948), a so-so comedy made worthwhile because of Tierney’s chemistry with Fox superstar Tyrone Power.
I’d also ardently recommend Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s romantic comedy-fantasy The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), except that TCM isn’t showing it. (It’s been presented on the Fox Movie Channel.)
Instead, I’d suggest checking out Otto Preminger’s political drama Advise & Consent (1962), a (mostly) cynical but unsensational look at backroom dealings in Washington’s hallways of power.
Tierney (unfortunately) has an unimportant role in this all-star effort, while Charles Laughton is badly miscast as a Southern congressman. But the rest of the cast, especially Don Murray as the Politician with a (Major) Skeleton in the Closet (hell, which one doesn’t have at least one of those?), is top-notch.
Gene Tierney’s private life was anything but a fairy-tale. A serviceman fan was probably responsible for her catching German measles (rubella) during pregnancy, which resulted in the birth of a brain-damaged daughter.
Tierney’s marriage to designer Oleg Cassini crumbled; there were several unhappy love affairs, including one with John F. Kennedy. She would later attempt suicide, and spent nearly a decade in and out of sanatoriums where, at one point, she received shock treatment.
Her autobiography (with Mickey Herskowitz), Self-Portrait, is both disturbing and a page-turner.
Gene Tierney, but then nearly unrecognizable, died of emphysema at the age of 70 in Nov. 1991 in Houston. Her last big-screen movie was Jean Negulesco’s The Pleasure Seekers (1964).
A previous version of this article indicated that Gene Tierney had contracted measles. She actually came down with German measles a.k.a. rubella while pregnant.
Schedule and synopses from the TCM website:
3:00 AM Plymouth Adventure (1952)
Epic dramatization of the Pilgrims’ journey to the new world on the Mayflower. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Gene Tierney, Van Johnson. Director: Clarence Brown. Color. 106 min.
5:00 AM Personal Affair (1953)
When a teenaged student disappears, her teacher is suspected of killing her. Cast: Gene Tierney, Leo Genn, Glynis Johns. Director: Anthony Pelissier. Black and white. 82 min.
6:30 AM Never Let Me Go (1953)
An American correspondent and his Russian ballerina wife are separated by the Soviet authorities. Cast: Clark Gable, Gene Tierney, Richard Haydn. Director: Delmer Daves. Black and white. 94 min.
8:15 AM Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)
A police detective’s violent nature keeps him from being a good cop. Cast: Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Gary Merrill. Director: Otto Preminger. Black and white. 95 min.
10:00 AM Shanghai Gesture, The (1941)
A gambling queen uses blackmail to stop a British financier from closing her Chinese clip joint. Cast: Walter Huston, Gene Tierney, Ona Munson. Director: Josef von Sternberg. Black and white. 98 min.
11:45 AM Sundown (1941)
An exotic woman helps the Allies fight the Germans in North Africa. Cast: Gene Tierney, Bruce Cabot, George Sanders. Director: Henry Hathaway. Black and white. 91 min.
1:30 PM China Girl (1942)
A mysterious beauty helps a newsreel photographer escape the Japanese during World War II. Cast: Gene Tierney, George Montgomery, Lynn Bari. Director: Henry Hathaway. Black and white. 96 min.
3:15 PM Mating Season, The (1950)
A woman pretends to be a cleaning lady to get to know her son’s high-society in-laws. Cast: Gene Tierney, John Lund, Thelma Ritter. Director: Mitchell Leisen. Black and white. 101 min.
5:00 PM Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
A beautiful neurotic will stop at nothing to hold onto her husband’s love. Cast: Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain. Director: John M. Stahl. Color. 110 min.
7:00 PM Dragonwyck (1946)
A farm girl signs on as governess in a gloomy mansion. Cast: Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Vincent Price. Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Black and white. 103 mins
9:00 PM That Wonderful Urge (1948)
An heiress gets back at the reporter who pretended to romance her to get a story. Cast: Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, Reginald Gardiner. Director: Robert B. Sinclair. Black and white. 82 min.
10:45 PM Close to My Heart (1951)
A journalist’s wife insists on adopting an abandoned child. Cast: Ray Milland, Gene Tierney, Fay Bainter. Director: William Keighley. Black and white. 90 min.
12:30 AM Advise & Consent (1962)
A controversial presidential nomination threatens the careers of several prominent politicians. Cast: Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Don Murray. Director: Otto Preminger. Black and white. 138 min.