Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Claire Trevor in Dead End

Claire Trevor received her first Academy Award nomination for her performance as Francie in William Wyler's Dead End. It sometimes can be difficult when judging the Supporting Acting categories to compare performances with vastly different amounts of screen time . For example, in 1937 I've seen two performances that take up a significant amount of screen time in their respective films (Whitty and Shirley), one that is about at the mid-level (Brady), and now with Claire Trevor's performance in this film one that takes up only 4 minutes of screen time. However, I'm trying my best to keep in mind that this is a supporting category, so screen time shouldn't play as big of a factor as in the leading categories. Despite her limited amount of time physically appearing on screen, Claire Trevor's performance is a kind of beacon of light in what is the mess of Dead End.

The film is kind of a scattered ensemble film, focusing on a gang of kids, a gangster (Humphrey Bogart) coming home to see his mother and old girlfriend (Trevor), and a local unemployed architect. It attempts at being social commentary on between the rich and the poor, but ends up being a muddled mess. The gang of kids are unlikeable, the Bogart's character has little to no personality, and the romances in the film are head-scratching. It's just all over the place at tries to hard to be everything at once. When the film seems to pick up, however, is those 4 minutes when Claire Trevor saunters on screen, and that is no coincidence. Her character is a prostitute who used to be in a deep relationship with Bogart's character before he moved away and despite Bogart's limited range in the film, the two have a sensual chemistry that is clear in both of their expressions. Francie perks up when she sees him, and you see the character shift from the sassy prostitute to the lovestruck and innocent girl she used to be.

Her character represents one of the biggest themes in the movie, broken dreams and regrets, and she does the best job of conveying it. As Bogart and her move into the alleyway and you see Francie lapse into her former self, the hardness disappears and you see that sort of hopefulness that she must have had when her and Bogart were kids. It's a stunning few minutes, and the desire and regret just oozes from her performance. You really can't take you're eyes off of her for those few moments, and her entire body language is incredibly telling of her regret and despair.You feel so bad for this character, and wish that these two could get a do-over, which is exactly what Francie wants as well. What really clinches the performance, however, is after Bogart realizes what Francie has become and decides he doesn't want anything to do for her. As he pulls out his wallet to give her some money, you can really see how bad her life has become because she switches almost immediately back to hustler Francie. Her pathetic begging and flirting in order to get money from him is shocking and jarring at first, but you quickly realize how hard this girl's life has been, and how she can't go back to the way things were.

In a mere 4 minutes, Claire Trevor has delivered the most memorable performance of the film and one that is remarkable and enthralling. She leaves you wanting to see more of Francie, despite the fact that she is a prostitute that doesn't really have a heart of gold. The only mark that could be made against her is that she struggles somewhat towards the end of her performance because Bogart didn't give her much to work with. Still, this performance is one eminently deserving of it's nomination, and leaves a mark in the film not soon forgotten. 4.5/5 Thelmas.

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