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21 July 2012

LAMB Acting School 101: Rosalind Russell

This post is written in conjunction with the LAMB Acting School 101 hosted by the Large Association of Movie Blogs.

Rosalind Russell has been one of my favorite actresses ever since I first saw her in THE WOMEN and HIS GIRL FRIDAY. I love the verve, energy, wit, and confidence that she expresses on screen in all her films. She was a talented actress who could perform well in all genres, though comedy was hr undeniable forte. Below is a list of the Rosalind Russell films I would recommend for any classic movie fan. What are your favorite Rosalind Russell movies and how would your list compare to mine?

(In reverse chronological order)

1.) MRS. POLLIFAX, SPY (Leslie H. Martinson, 1971)
A widow woman with grown children who no longer need her, Mrs. Pollifax volunteers her services as a secret agent. However, hr first mission for the CIA doesn't go exactly to plan. She's picked up by the enemy and shipped off to an Albanian prison with another American spy (the very handsome Darren McGavin). With her usual wit and charm, Russell concocts fantastic escape plans. I really enjoyed Rosalind Russell's last film. It is simple, yet endearingly amusing.

2.) THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS (Ida Lupino, 1966)
Hayley Mills gives Mother Superior (Russell) a hell of a time at St. Francis Academy for Girls. Mary Wickes also makes an appearance as a nun, a role she would reprise in the SISTER ACT (1992/3) movies. I liked this movie, but Hayley Mills comes over as a bit of a brat, frankly.

3.) GYPSY (Mervyn LeRoy, 1962)
Natalie Wood and Rosalind Russell as Mama Rose
One of Russell's most famous performances as Mama Rose, stage mother of famed burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee. Love the songs from this movie musical - it's almost too bad Russell wasn't allowed to sing her own part. Still, her comic genius makes this a great film. The real Gypsy Rose Lee appeared with Russell in THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS (1966).

4.) AUNTIE MAME (Morton DaCosta, 1958)
My absolute favorite Russell screen performance from Patrick Dennis's novel about his eccentric Bohemian aunt. Russell was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Auntie Mame, a nomination I think she should have won!
"Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!"
"That's a B. It's the first letter of a seven-letter word that means your father."
"She's not English, darling. She's from Pittsburgh." "She sounded English." "Well, when you're from Pittsburgh, you have to do something."
"Please dear, your Auntie Mame's hung."

5.) PICNIC (Joshua Logan, 1955)
Not my favorite movie - pretty traditional female roles. Russell plays the desperate almost old maid spinster school teacher role. But apparently it's a very popular film.

6.) WONDERFUL TOWN (Mel Ferber and Herbert Ross, 1958) and MY SISTER EILEEN (Alexander Hall, 1942)
"Some interesting people live on Christopher Street!"
Russell won a Tony for her Broadway performance as Ruth Sherwood, a role she premiered in the original movie MY SISTER EILEEN (1942), a story about two sisters who move to Greenwich Village to try and make it in the Big Apple.

7.) HIS GIRL FRIDAY (Howard Hawks, 1940)
Rosalind Russell gives Cary Grant (Walter) a run for his money as hard-core journalist Hildy Johnson. Although Walter and Hildy have been divorced for some time, he will go to any lengths to keep her from marrying her fiance, dull insurance agent Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). This movie will have you rolling on the floor with laughter. Russell's portrayal of Hildy is intelligently executed. Although she is manipulated by Walter, and ultimately remarries him, the whole point of the story is that Hildy cannot live without her work. If she marries Bruce she will inevitably become a "little woman" stuck in the kitchen slaving for her man. But if she marries Walter, she can return to the job she is loves and is really good at - journalist. I cannot recommend this film enough!

8.) THE WOMEN (George Cukor, 1939)
Russell takes her place as Sylvia Fowler in this star-studded film directed by George Cukor. Although the film is cast entirely with women (including the animals and musicians), it's all about men and marriage and divorce and men. The women are catty, jealous, and artificial, and yet this is possibly the best non-Katharine Hepburn film I've EVER seen (except for MARY POPPINS)! The dialogue is fast and brilliantly witty. The characters are drawn with a lot of depth. The plot has a great deal of intelligent complexity. Russell's performance in particular is worth noting - she is possibly the worst character in the film, and yet she plays it with an amazing dexterity. Another film I cannot recommend enough.

Not only was Rosalind Russell an amazing actress, she was also very involved in charitable causes in Hollywood, throwing herself into humanitarian efforts in and around Hollywood. Below is a video of her receiving the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from Frank Sinatra at the 1973 Academy Awards.

I would like to leave you with this clip of Roz on the wonderful 1950s/60s TV show "What's My Line." She's one of the funniest mystery guests I've seen on the show, so I hope you enjoy it and her!


  1. I love Rosalind Russell also, particularly in THE WOMEN, MY SISTER EILEEN (she's touching as well as very funny in this one), AUNTIE MAME, and (especially) HIS GIRL FRIDAY. She should have won an Oscar for that one - she has such deft comic timing here that I would recommend this film to any aspiring actors on how to play comedy. Russell was also a wonderful dramatic actress. I love her performance in the 1936 NIGHT MUST FALL, playing a shy, reserved, but steely-minded companion to Dame May Whitty; and she's the only character who can see through Robert Montgomery's manipulative charm to the psychopath underneath. She brings a great deal of quiet passion to this role, and you find yourself allying with her character as you watch. One of the great things about Russell was the intelligence she conveyed in all her characters - she gave you a sense of just how interesting these women must be.

    1. I totally agree. I haven't seen NIGHT MUST FALL but it sounds totally worth renting. Thank you for your comment!

  2. Oh yeah, "Night Must Fall" is a terrific movie! Russell is pitch-perfect. Also love her in "Auntie Mame" and "My Sister Eileen".

    1. How have I never heard of this movie? Thanks for commenting!


Can't wait to hear your thoughts!