Last week I went on a run of watching and writing about some Myrna Loy and William Powell movies I have in my collection. I went through
four five of them, three four of which I’ve had here, unwatched, for about five years.
- Evelyn Prentice (1934)
- Double Wedding (1937)
- Libeled Lady (1936)
- After the Thin Man (1936)
- Another Thin Man (1939)
Apart from simply enjoying the fun of these movies, I was struck by a couple of things. For one, Myrna Loy’s eyes. Has any female actor ever had better eyes than Myrna Loy? They’re spellbinding. I don’t know what it is about them, but something draws you to them immediately.
The other thing I noticed was William Powell and his onscreen presence. He’s the picture of elegance and I think the best comment regarding him came from Roger Ebert when he said, “William Powell is to dialogue what Fred Astaire is to dance.”
But here is the thing: Powell seems so debonair and confident. He creates an image that makes you think, “I wanna be like that guy.” He was a classic Hollywood star in every sense.
Yet if you look at him physically he is almost the antithesis of what stars have to look like today. His body is kind of dumpy. He has a hangdog face. How is it we associate him with flair and “class”?
It’s all in the confidence and how he carries himself. It’s the presentation. It’s his skill as an actor and what he makes us believe that does it (and yes, the clothes help).
I find Powell a marvel. I wanna be like that guy.
And considering that off-screen, Powell romanced involved two of Hollywood’s top-tier goddesses, marrying one (Carole Lombard) and having an ill-fated affair with the other (Jean Harlow), who wouldn’t want to be like him? Powell was in many ways like Cary Grant (both were masters of the romantic comedy), the difference being that Grant had this otherworldly aura about him, far beyond what we mere mortal males could aspire to, whereas Powell was one of us. To give an analogy (though it admittedly pales next to Ebert’s regarding Powell/Astaire and dialogue/dance), Cary Grant is Superman, William Powell is Batman. Both were marvelous, but I identify with Powell more so than I ever could with Grant.
I agree. Powell was much more a regular guy, as the expression goes. And I like the Superman/Batman comparison. Much as I love Grant, I identify more with Powell too.
We were just discussing the fact that neither William Powell or Myrna Loy made it on the AFI list of the top 100 screen legends published in 1999. A HUGE oversight. No disrespect to James Dean, I do love the movie Giant, but really, three movies against Powell’s whole career? And Myrna Loy was beautiful, smart and funny and also made dozens of movies I love. What were they thinking?
Yes, those are two pretty glaring omissions. Together or individually, their careers as Hollywood stars should have had them at least in the top twenty. I agree with your comment about Dean too. I’d liked him, but a brief career is still a brief career. Powell and Loy had careers — the long haul getting started and then quite lengthy careers once established, both leaving the business in distinguished manners and both having more than a few truly great movies in their body of work. I love them both!
I have recently discovered how great William Powell and Myrna Loy are. Both of their careers were amazing. I can’t believe for as good or better than the names everyone recognizes from that era, that they aren’t better remembered. Their off screen lives were truly amazing. William Powell had so much tragedy in his life, but he seemed to hold it together and just stay classy. He may not have the Hollywood looks of today, but when you watch his movies he really is just adorably cute and funny. No one like that today.