March 3, 2010

"Small men feel... that the world belongs to big men. Seeing men you know to be small playing big on the silver screen is comforting...."

So says the small Fish — small fry — Stanley, who loves the short — under 5'9" — actors who play tough guys in the movies:
The pattern was set in the 1930s and ’40s by Edward G. Robinson (“Little Caesar”), James Cagney, George Raft, Humphrey Bogart and Paul Muni — all small men who usually played tough and cruel. Sometimes camera angles obscured the physical facts — Robinson looked absolutely huge as Wolf Larsen in “The Sea Wolf” in what can be called, without irony, a towering performance — and sometimes the camera just didn’t care as when, for example, Cagney regularly beat up men obviously twice his size.

Slightly later came John Garfield, and the smallest of them all, Alan Ladd who played big in “The Blue Dahlia,” “The Glass Key,” “The Badlanders” and who more than holds his own against Ben Johnson and a tree-like Van Heflin in “Shane.”...

Famously slight Paul Newman displayed his chest and pugilistic abilities in movies like “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” “Hud,” “The Long, Hot Summer” and “Cool Hand Luke.” James Dean would have made the list had he lived longer. Now aging tough guy-short guys (by short I mean under 5-foot-9) include Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Robert DeNiro, Harvey Keitel, Al Pacino, Mel Gibson, Jean Claude Van Damme and Sylvester Stallone, who created not one but two iconic American males, Rocky and Rambo.

And these days we have a bumper crop of undersized super heroes — Tom Cruise, Tobey Maguire, Mark Wahlberg and Robert Downey Jr., along with the occasionally macho Johnny Depp and Sean Penn.
Is there something comparable for women? Maybe we could make a list of women who have fairly average looks who play beautiful women on screen. My favorite example of this is Bette Davis in "Mr. Skeffington," where the raving over Bette's beauty occasionally crosses the line into the laughable. No man could resist her:



Ah, yes! I remember laughing out loud in the theater when she comes down the stairs and a man exclaims "Fanny! You look beautiful!" And check out that death-bed dialogue: "A woman is beautiful only when she is loved." That's what the plain women in the audience — next to the hubbies they dragged to the chick flick — long to believe.

56 comments:

John said...

Ann it works the opposite way for women. Gorgeous actresses play average looking women. The female part in Frankie and Johnny was played by Kathy Bates on Broadway but Michelle Piffer in the movies. Yeah, the best someone like Piffer could do was an ex con short order cook. Charlize Theron played the serial killer in Monster. Renee Zelweger played Bridget Jones. Minnie Driver as the fat girl in Circle of Friends. The list goes on and on. Women can only be reduced in stature by the movies.

David said...

Bette Davis was genuinely hot as a very young actress. Something happened to her. Kind of strange.

Ann Althouse said...

"Ann it works the opposite way for women."

I agree that happens, but I am trying to come up with the female parallel of the thing Fish is talking about.

And Minnie Driver is not beautiful. Nor is Renee Zellwegger.

Theron and Pfeiffer are really beautiful.

John said...

"And Minnie Driver is not beautiful. Nor is Renee Zellwegger."

Maybe by Hollywood standards they are not As. But by any ordinary standards they are beautiful. No way would either of them have problems attracting men if they lived in the real world versus Hollywood. And if you ever see Theron without makeup, she has really lousy skin and isn't as beautiful as she appears.

Tibore said...
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Tibore said...

"Is there something comparable for women? Maybe we could make a list of women who have fairly average looks who play beautiful women on screen."

Sigourney Weaver in Half Moon Street. I love her as an actress, but damn, I remember thinking "she's seriously miscast for this role".

John said...

I think Sigourney Weaver is beautiful. And is one of the few women who got better looking as she got older.

Joan said...

Sarah Jessica Parker immediately leaps to mind, but she's the only one. Her success is inexplicable to me.

John said...

Sarah Jessica Parker is downright homely. The other one would be Tina Fey, who went from mildly underrated, "yeah she is cute" to being the most overrated looking woman in Hollywood.

Chip Ahoy said...

What, no Yul Brynner ?

The Crack Emcee said...

"Long to believe."

Short on reality.

The Macho Response

Hoosier Daddy said...

Bette Davis always creeped me out for some reason.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Sarah Jessica Parker is downright homely.

Cueing Trooper in 5..4...3.....2....

holdfast said...

To be fair, Theron really did look like sh*t in Monster - and she is normally model gorgeous. I do agree that Hollywood's policy of having almost exclusively beautiful actresses makes the "poor girl who cannot find a boy" storylines a bit tough to swallow.

I did not know that DeNiro and Gibson were shorties.

prairie wind said...

Sarah Jessica Parker is not pretty. When Garnier chose her as their "face", I thought that was odd. Then I saw her in The Family Stone. When she talks and laughs and smiles, she is more beautiful. Maybe I wouldn't have thought so if she had played an unlikeable character.

We see this all the time in our daily lives, don't we? The better you know and like someone, the more we see past the flaws.

What movie should I see that would change my opinion of Bette Davis? I've never thought she was beautiful.

John said...

"What movie should I see that would change my opinion of Bette Davis?"

Her horrible grating voice didn't help either. I never found the woman to be anything but unpleasant. I have never understood her appeal.

And there are examples of the opposite of what Ann is talking about with men actors. Peter O'Toole who is well over six feet tall played T.E.Lawrence who was barely 5'5".

k*thy said...

Matt Damon's a shorty, too.

For women, how about Katherine Ross?

Trooper York said...
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Hoosier Daddy said...

I did not know that DeNiro and Gibson were shorties.

I saw Al Pacino once years ago when I was in Collie-fornia and talk about short. I'm guessing he still buys his clothes in the young men's department.

Trooper York said...

To be fair, I never want to see Sarah Jessica Horseface in a movie but I would be happy to box her in an exacta!

Christy said...

How about Barbara Streisand? Not an attractive woman, but isn't she frequently described as beautiful? And we do not care because of that wonderful voice.

Did Jane Fonda become more or less sexy with her politics? Or did it matter?

edutcher said...

Part of the original column seems to be based on the whole "short man syndrome" idea, which seems to obsess tall men. Keep in mind Cagney, Muni, and Edward G. were all first class actors, so that's not really illustrative. Short men are placed with other short men in the movies, so height as an issue isn't that apparent.

My brothers-in-law always give me a hard time about my height and can't get over the fact that it barely registers with me. Maybe tall men are intimidated by short guys. A lot of short guys do OK - Bonaparte, Caesar, Stalin, etc. Of course, retirement can be rough.

As for who is beautiful, remember, in the movies, makeup is everything. A lot of these broads wouldn't look that great on the street without all the paint.

John said...

Ann it works the opposite way for women. Gorgeous actresses play average looking women. The female part in Frankie and Johnny was played by Kathy Bates on Broadway but Michelle Piffer in the movies. Yeah, the best someone like Piffer could do was an ex con short order cook. ... Minnie Driver as the fat girl in Circle of Friends.

Minnie wasn't fat in Circle. She was built - there are a couple of scenes where the costumers are heroically trying to conceal the fact she is most generously endowed.

And the name is Pfeiffer

John said...

"Did Jane Fonda become more or less sexy with her politics?"

Less. She looked pretty good in Barberella. She was no Catherine Deneuve, but she wasn't bad looking in her day even by Hollywood standards.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Ann Margaret, now she's hawt.

Trooper York said...

In fact Bette was a real babe back in the day!

former law student said...

Fish forgot to mention the heroic meeting when Alan Ladd went up against the towering Sophia Loren in Boy on a Dolphin.

Note that Fish's 30s heroes date back to a time when the average height of men was much less than nowadays.

Bette Davis looked average for a movie star, btw -- in this picture she looked like Loretta Young.

Palladian said...

"Bette Davis always creeped me out for some reason"

Gee, I wonder why?

Trooper York said...

Oh yeah! Ann Margaret!

William said...

Bullies are more apt to be middleweights than heavyweights. Bitchy women are more likely to be a notch or two below beautiful. (Ugly women have nice personalities. Light weight men have affable personalities.)

madawaskan said...

Have you seen Zellwegger since she bagged that one bloke?

And that bloke is hoooooottt...

What the hell's his name?

Anyhoo.

I think Minnie Driver is smashing...

Oh and if you saw any of these actresses in person forget about it.

Who's that chick in Hot Gun that went lesbian?

Anyways saw her in Key West- even more attractive in real life.

Like Minnie Driver and Zellwegger-she has a lot of height.

k*thy said...

John - on Katherine, you and my husband are in agreement.

madawaskan said...

The longer held idea of beauty is-

where average is more expected and out of the normative values are hard for people to process, they translate that to ugly.

That envelope is/was starting to be pushed-and I was hoping reality tv would break the cultural standard set by Hollywood.

Although plastic surgery might start throwing it all out of whack.

AllenS said...

but I am trying to come up with the female parallel of the thing Fish is talking about.

Instead of using the tape measure for height, you use it to measure the chest area.

Trooper York said...

The girl you were talking about from "Top Gun" was Kelly McGillis and I remember her when she was waitress in some of the bars in Park Slope.

Even back then she was an afficiando of the fish taco.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

madawaskan said...

Thanks Troop-now who the hell is the dude I'm talkin' about-he's so hot I forget everything else.

Ga! I gotta go google.

traditionalguy said...

Frances McDormand who played Marge Gunderson in Fargo was a beautiful person,while not a Glamour Model type of beauty. That is still fine with me.

madawaskan said...

Oh ya here's the bloke that Zellwegger bagged.

Bradley Cooper

Palladian said...

He's hunky but too smooth. He looks like probably gets waxed more than a bowling lane. But at least he's not short. At least he doesn't look short.

madawaskan said...

Well hell Palladian here's a hairy shot -just for you.

Link

I'll leave the- is he short or not determination to you, you're probably a better judge of that in all departments.

dreams said...

Well, not all of the people he listed are 5'9" or under.

cokaygne said...

Lately, my wife and I have been addicted to British TV detective movies. One of the things that really makes them different from the Hollywood detectives, TV or movie, is that almost all the characters, even the stars, look and act like real people so that you believe the story.

When you look at almost any American product you cannot help thinking that the person on the screen is an actor because their bodies are too toned, their teeth are too bright and too straight, their haricuts are perfect, and their clothes fit just right.

wv: elegli for Don Kent, a TV weatherman who was a real person.

DADvocate said...

It's harder to fake beauty than size. Standing on a box won't make an average looking woman prettier.

As far as the little tough guys go, every man knows that the guys on that list aren't tough guys except for Van Damme. Sometimes I smirk a little watching those movies, especially Tom Cruise movies, when I think how three fourths of the guys on my son's high school football team would clean the floor with them. But, hey, most of them are good actors.

Bruce Hayden said...

"For women, how about Katherine Ross?"

The first time I realized how Hollywood made small people look big on the screen was almost 40 years ago, when Katherine Ross walked into a clothing boutique in Denver where a roommate of mine worked. She was amazed at how tiny Ross was, maybe 5 foot or so. Then, you see her with Newman and Redford in Butch Cassidy, and they all look normal sized. If I didn't know better, I would have expected Redford to be six foot or so.

Then, Ross went and married Sam Elliot, who has to be a foot taller than she.

The other one I chuckled at was Cruise in Top Gun. Apparently, he needed to sit on a box to be visible outside the F-14 he was sitting in. And, around that time, I shared an office with an A-6 pilot, not much over 6 foot, who ended up in that plane, instead of an F-14, because he was too big for that plane.

Freeman Hunt said...

Our youngest son's nickname is "Little C" (short for “Little Caesar”)because he looked exactly like Edward G. Robinson right after he was born.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think Sarah Jessica Parker is very cute. I don't know why people say that she is unattractive.

windswept said...

haha, this reminded me of 'Short people' the song from the 70's.

Freeman Hunt said...

The thinness of male actors would also probably surprise people. They are much much thinner than they look onscreen.

People generally only expect that with the women.

Cedarford said...

Pointing out that George Raft (ex-con), Jimmy Cagney. and Mark Wahlberg were real tough guys before their film careers.

A couple of the other short guys were gifted athletes. Past the great dancer category - Alan Ladd, Gene Kelly sort (and Cagney who was a tough guy who danced) - you got the Stallone/Stiller gym rat sort, then Paul Newman....
Newman grew up not thinking he was an athlete - he was slight and interested in theater and rejected for pilot school because of color blindness - then training for Rocky (Graziano, the movie that Stallone updated), discovered he was one on 50,000 in terms of hand-eye coordination and a "natural".

Newman raced with the pros, and set certain records for drivers of any age since erased, and still holds records for oldest driver to win and oldest driver to compete and place in 500 mile enduro.

As for Charlize Theron - no, she doesn't have bad skin w/o makeup. (As I see it).
I believe that story started when they APPLIED makeup to make her look like she had bad skin in "Monster". Theron was a model before she started acting, a Cover Girl after some film hits..and her early flicks showed LOTS of skin.

Hayden - I think the height limit
for the guys on your Navy side flying F-14s was 6' 2" and some fraction. No one else flew them, so I don't know for sure. Something I'll probably check out of curiosity.

DADvocate said...

I don't know why people say that she is unattractive.

Hey, Sarah, why the long face?

Freeman Hunt said...

Another misconception about great actors:

Many people think that film actors are generally stupid or that anyone could do their jobs. Ha. Competition is outlandishly fierce, and the best actors are almost always highly intelligent. I have a lot of respect for people who master that craft. They allow so many great stories to be told.

Cedarford said...

I think SJP is pushing 50...but if you look at her earlier films, she had one nice hard bod and would easily pass the "keeper" test.

Another big-schnozzed one that had a smoking bod and an ability to amp up the heat was Barbara Streisand. I thought my uncle was crazy when he said he thought Babs was a hottie. Then I saw her earlier movies..

Aurelian said...

I still cannot figure out how Humphrey Bogart ended up with a bombshell like Lauren Bacall.

S said...

Hot women playing homely is definitely more common. My favorite example is Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face.

It seems that most of the examples here are of women that a lot of people find attractive that the particular commenter doesn't (though I think SJP has quite a few people taking either side). I don't find Julia Roberts attractive, but I know that's not a consensus opinion.

I don't care for Streisand's face or her voice. When I'm playing fill-in-the-blank with "a blank accent is beautiful," I don't think "Brooklyn". Again, I know some people are willing to pay large amounts of money to hear her sing. I acknowledge that. I just don't understand it.

Gary Rosen said...

"I thought my uncle was crazy when he said he thought Babs was a hottie. Then I saw her earlier movies.."

That could explain C-fudd, he got shot down by a Jewish chick ... oh wait, he got shot down by *every* chick. Never mind.

Gary Rosen said...

Forgot to point out that aging boomer C-fudd saw Babs' "earlier movies" at the time they were released.

Eric said...

Bette Davis's co-star in "Mr. Skeffington" was Claude Rains.

At only 5'6 1/2" he was definitely small playing big:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001647/bio

Considering that Davis was only 5'3", it was a perfect match!