Gloria Grahame “lives on the edges of most of her films, too disturbing an image, too turbulent a consciousness to ever really play a lead role,” writes Dan Callahan at Bright Lights. “She could look severe, even plain, when she wasn't overly made up for gaudy seduction. Almost always, she played tramps of some sort, but she was enough of an actress to make them very different kinds of tramps, and her filmography offers a sort of strumpet cornucopia.” (Image: Gloria Grahame publicity shot circa 1950.)
Between 1944 and 1981, Gloria Grahame was featured in 41 movies, most of them minor fare. Her heyday went from the mid-'40s to the late '50s, when she was cast – sometimes in leads, often in top supporting roles – in a variety of melodramas and film noirs.
Gloria Grahame movies
In Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946) – neither a melodrama nor a film noir, but a fantasy – Gloria Grahame almost ends up as a drab small-town streetwalker, if only James Stewart's George Bailey had killed himself off, which he should have. After all, had her life ebbed away in the gutter Grahame would surely have received an Oscar nomination for her efforts.
Instead, she had to wait one more year, getting shortlisted for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her performance as a tough broad in Edward Dmytryk's 1947 film noir Crossfire. She lost to the more sedate Celeste Holm in Elia Kazan's Gentleman's Agreement.
The '50s would bring Gloria Grahame a couple of important leads: As Humphrey Bogart's romantic interest in Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place (1950) and, delivering a superb performance, as the woman who gets scalding coffee thrown on her face in Fritz Lang's The Big Heat (1953). Neither role was shortlisted by the Academy – and nor was her cheating wife in Lang's 1954 remake of Jean Renoir's La Bête Humaine, Human Desire, co-starring The Big Heat's Glenn Ford as the lover and Broderick Crawford as the husband.
While her most acclaimed work was bypassed by the Academy, Grahame would win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for a minor performance in Vincente Minnelli's melodrama The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) – perhaps because she had no less than four releases that year. The other three were David Miller's crime drama Sudden Fear (1952), plotting with Jack Palance to bump off Joan Crawford; Josef von Sternberg's Macao (1952), supporting Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell; and Cecil B. DeMille's grandiose and tacky Best Picture Oscar winner The Greatest Show on Earth.
Gloria Grahame's husbands: Father Nicholas Ray and son Anthony Ray
The second of Gloria Grahame's four husbands was her In a Lonely Place director Nicholas Ray (1948-1952); the fourth was Ray's son, Anthony Ray (1960-1974). Following her marriage to the younger Ray, Grahame semi-retired, landing only one supporting role in the '60s, in Bernard McEveety's 1966 B Western Ride Beyond Vengeance. Her movie output in the '70s generally consisted of minor horror and crime flicks.
As per the IMDb, her last movie was Armand Weston's little-seen horror thriller The Nesting (1981). The previous year she was wasted in a tiny role in Jonathan Demme's otherwise clever comedy-drama Melvin and Howard.
Gloria Grahame died of cancer on October 5, 1981.