Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mercedes McCambridge in Giant

Mercedes McCambridge received her second and final Oscar nomination for her performance as Luz Benedict in George Stevens' Giant. 1956 seemed to be the year of the epic for the Academy Awards, with three films clocking in at more than three hours being nominated for Best Picture. Giant is the only one of the three I've seen, the other two being The Ten Commandments and Around the World in 80 Days, the latter obviously winning Best Picture while George Stevens won Best Director. I can somewhat see why that is, Around the World is the Shakespeare in Love or Chicago to Giant's Saving Private Ryan or The Pianist. The film was just an extremely long one that the Academy obviously respected and admired more than flat out loved. It is about the Benedict family, a filthy rich Texas ranching family and what happens after Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Rock Hudson) marries non-Texan Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor) on something of a whim. It's a towering achievement, even if it drags its feet a times, and you really get to know this family over the course of 201 minutes.

Mercedes McCambridge plays Jordan's sister Luz, a masculine woman who is used to being in control of the house and is threatened by Bick's new wife. It's an incredibly brief performance, at least in relation to the incredible length of the film. Luz is a very straightforward woman, and McCambridge's performance is also very straightforward. Her brow is furrowed in literally every scene she's in and her voice has that impeccable southern drawl at all times. Luz is often seen only from the back, and it makes you notice how well McCambridge handles her rough physicality. That's....about it. The character is really not much of anything to speak of, so this is an exceptionally difficult performance to write about. Luz doesn't have much of an effect when she's on screen, so it's no surprise that when she inevitably dies, I found myself feeling nothing. I didn't hate her or love her enough to really care. Her death causes not profound effects on any character, and she really is almost never brought up again or spoke about for the rest of the film. I guess Bick didn't feel much for her either.

What I think the film was trying to go for was having us be somewhat happy to see Luz die because she essentially is a horrible racist towards Mexicans, but so is 95% of the characters in the film, so I didn't make much of it. The only major effect she has on the rest of the film is that she leaves Jeff Rink (James Dean), a sort of rival of Bick's, some land for  him to live off of and the other characters make it sound like she had some kind of romantic interest in him. But we never get to see any of that, and there is very little interaction between the two characters besides her screaming at him. Perhaps some more of McCambridge's scenes were cut from the film, but that would have given her some more potential to create a character out of the cliche that is Luz.

I don't really feel much of anything for this performance, either positive or negative. Everything is done convincingly enough, but this is not the kind of acting that I consider nomination worthy by any means. I don't know how McCambridge got the nomination, so I'm assuming she got swept along with the film into one. 2/5 Thelmas.

1 comment:

dinasztie said...

I like her a bit more but still. She's nothing great.