Friday, March 23, 2012

Elsa Lanchester in Come to the Stable

Elsa Lanchester received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Amelia Potts in Henry Koster's Come to the Stable. If Celeste Holm's Oscar nomination for her performance in this film was unwarranted, I don't even know how you would classify the nomination for Elsa Lanchester. Her character, Amelia Potts, is a famous painter who paints religious scenes and meets the two traveling nuns (Holm and Loretta Young), eventually taking them in and giving them shelter for the course of the film. She never really gets a whole lot of substantial screentime, and with one minor exception never has a scene that really allows us to see to far beyond the surface of Amelia Potts. Lanchester is a very appealing performer who I'm sadly not all that familiar with, but who I see great potential in having some interesting roles were I to continue watching her films. It's just this one that doesn't show her in the best light, and should have come close to an Oscar nomination.

Her performance is filled with an abundance of quirk and strange mannerisms. Amelia Potts always seem deathly confused as to where she is, what she is doing, and perhaps even who she is. I don't know if this was an acting choice made by Lanchester or if Koster wanted Amelia to be an exceptionally kooky lady, but no matter who the blame should be placed on it doesn't work. This flighty personality allows Lanchester to stumble around as the nuns constantly are helping her with even the most mundance of tasks, as she pushes forward with a permanent glazed over look that makes Amelia Potts seem, quite frankly, a little mentally unstable. I suppose this method makes the fact that these nuns railroad her into letting them stay in her home more convincing, but I don't quite understand Lanchester's execution. Her character doesn't seem like a kind old woman but rather a timid and easily manipulated one. It's just a strange choice that doesn't work.

However, it's hard to begrudge Elsa Lanchester too much, because the role is such a slight and unnecessary one that her bad performance doesn't cause any harm to the film. Besides one scene where she yells at Hugh Marlowe for being a selfish man, she doesn't have any other moments that distinguish her from the rest of the film. My guess would be that the director just let Elsa Lanchester loose to do whatever she wanted with the character and she had fun being a total spaz. How the Academy recognized her work as something worthy of awards is beyond me. 2/5 Fancy Funerals.

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