FILM preview Rainer's return
Sixty years after winning back-to-back Oscars, Luise Rainer makes her screen comeback with The
Gambler. Words: Anwar Brett
As comebacks go, Luise Rainer's is as unexpected as it is welcome. It has been 54 years since the German-born actress - the only woman to win outright the Best Actress Oscar two years running — last appeared on our screens, in the less than memorable Hostages.
One senses, however, that this determined lady takes such things in her stride. Her first flush of fame came at a time when Hollywood stars were tied into long-term contracts, and where any indiscipline was harshly punished. Yet Rainer defied MGM and chose her own course. Now in her 87th year, she still has a glint in her eye and a spring in her step, undoubtedly pleased to be back in the spotlight again with the Dostoevsky tale, The Gambler.
'I always had a terrific drive within me to act,’ she explains. ’I wanted to be like Duse and Bernhardt, but l never wanted to be what is called "an
actress", I never wanted the "glamour" that went with it. 1 left home at sixteen to act and then, when I got to Hollywood a few years later, my first film made me a star. I flew, I really felt 1 had wings — and then Louis B. Mayer cut them.’
Mention of the legendary MGM boss chases the smile from Luise Rainer’s face. Her reaction is understandable - she came to Hollywood with three German films to her credit, and immediately won rave notices for her American debut Escapade in 1935. Then she won an Oscar for her performance in The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and followed it up with a beautiful performance as a Chinese peasant woman in The Good Earth (1937). That too won her an Oscar.
Yet in spite of all her good work, Mayer treated her abominably, and when she stood up to him and demanded better scripts, he refused. After she threatened to turn her back on Hollywood and walk out on her contract, he reverted to type saying: ’I made you, I can kill you.‘
By this time she was divorced from her first husband, playwright Clifford Odets, and had settled down with publisher Robert Knittel. They had a child, and Rainer continued to work on the stage, with occasional television appearances as well as devoting some time to exhibitions of her paintings. But she had never totally forgotten the cinema, and continued to be courted by filmmakers down the years.
'In the 605, Fellini wanted me to be in
La Dolce Vita, and Visconti brought me to Rome for another film,’ she smiles sweetly. And well she might, for now she is back on screen, in a small but significant role in The Gamb/er. 'lt has been a long time, but makmg this film was great because everybody was so happy and so apprecIative It was nice to play this severe (Brande Dame who
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Odds on favourite: Luise Rainer and Dominic West in The Gambler
is expected to die at any minute by a family eager to get their hands on her fortune. It was enormous fun, and quite easy.’ The grin returns, and the eyes twinkle. 'lf you have it inside it never leaves you.’
Selected release from Fri 21 Nov. See review.
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