How to chose the best ? A critical look at AFI's 25 best actresses

American Film Institute's web site ( is a gold mine for everyone who had just "discovered" classic movies. It's a well written, superbly categorized, easy on the eyes, highly informative and just plain good. No matter how far one comes in his quest to "catch them all" (or watch them all), he will always go back, for bits and pieces, to AFI's site. 
AFI's movie lists are of special interest to me. 100 Laughs. 100 Dramas, 100 Thrills... Wonderful lists, great for making "To watch" lists of your own. Yet, only one list has beckoned me to make a critical analysis and "take the next step" - Their 100 Stars list, 25 top actresses in particular. IMHO, it's much more difficult to find actresses with durable, high quality careers than it is to find actors with such careers. Being a woman in Hollywood, in the early 1930s, was vastly different from being a woman in Hollywood in 1940s. Actors did not have to endure such oscillations, but then, it has always been easier to be a man in Hollywood (and remains so today). 
Anyway, back to the list. How did AFIchose these particular actresses for this high brow list? I understand it was a difficult process. It's not unlike choosing which flower is the most beautiful, or which cloud is pretties. Very personal, with no right or wrong answer. And the variations are endless!   
Movie buffs all make their "best lists" as they delve deeper and deeper into the utterly fascinating world of old movies. Many a times have people tried to prove that they have no favorites, that they watch movies for pleasure and often forget the actors/actresses, but I find this a half truth - people always "prefer" something over the other. The brain just works this way - everything is relative, everything is measured and pondered. Even if we are hardly aware of it, it if the method by which all people live.
Of course I have my own Top 25 lists. Everybody who shares a love for classic movies has. The catch is - can we make a critical look at other lists? Can I look at AFI's lists, and try and realistically appraise if they were right, wrong, are they in omission, or did they hit every note right? is it the most perfect list in existence? Joking aside, just how good is their list? 
Let's get one things straight - after being an old movie buff for almost 15 years, I must say (tat tam tam, here comes the final verdict!!= I generally agree with AFI's Top 25 actresses list. 
Elaboration? Of course! some actresses, like them or not, have to make the cut (Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn). Some actresses I like a great deal, but I am not sure should they make the cut (Lauren Bacall, Audrey Hepburn). 
However, there are those I would leave out and put other, IMHO, more worthwhile thespians in their place. 
So, who would I leave out? And who would I put in? Here it goes:
Rita Hayworth - she was not a top actress. Nice looking and charming, but quite limited. She had magic on the screen for sure, but magic seldom makes a great thespian. She had only a few really "meaty" roles. 
Grace Kelly. Made too few movies. Not really a top actress. her early movies show her to be quite wooden -. she did get better with time, but didn't have the time nor the quantity of movies ot truly shine as an actress. She was more than lucky to have Hitchcock as her mentor - he brought out the best in her, but not enough! All in all, more beautiful and elegant than talented.  

Mae West. Made too few movies, and always played the same type - herself. While she was  major theater innovator, taboo breaker and a force to be reckoned with, I would never call her a top actress. 

Ava Gardner. Had a (relatively) good filmography and was a beauty for sure, but not a great actress, especially in her earlier years. While I cannot fault her in some of her roles, she was types to early and never expanded her repertoire enough to be considered a top thespian.  

Shirley Temple. She was a child when she made most of her movies - her adult career was lackluster at best. Since I am generally not a fan of movies where children play leads, I never understood her appeal. 
Olivia de Havilland. Really, really good actress with a great filmography. I can't quite believe she didn't make the last cut. She was in at least two absolute classic - Gone with the Wind, Adventures of Robin Hood, and tons of very good, well remembered movies - Snake Pit, The Heiress, Captain Blood... 
FAVORITE MOVIE: The heiress. She was pure gold in it! 
Joan Bennett. Great filmography, played a wide variety of roles. She acted for a very, very long time and took acting seriously (you would be surprised to find out how many women came to Hollywood just to have fun and marry, not that much into acting... Well, Joan was nothing like this.) Started as an ingenue and grew up to be one of the absolute best femme fatales in Hollywood (now don't say this isn't impressive!). 
FAVORITE ROLE: Macomber Affair (1947). A less know movie, but she was perfect in it.  
Deborah Kerr. My personal favorite actress. Incredibly talented. While sometimes she did go overboard in playing stiff ladies, she was absolutely superb at playing pent up, repressed desire and passion - a better version of the Grace Kelly ice-woman prototype (Grace was a bit of a bitchy, cold upper crust lady - Deborah was more of a refined, elegant lady, but both were vulcanos underneath).  
FAVORITE ROLE: The Journey (1959)
Jennifer Jones. Incredible actress, had a small but exceptional filmography. She could play well both comedy and drama. If you want proof, first watch her in Cluny Brown and follow it closely with Madame Bovary. Her reputation is quite tarnished by her messy and not all that happy private life, but if you put David O. Selznick aside, I think she was a tremendous talent and always used the opportunities given to her to the very maximum.
FAVORITE MOVIE: Gone to Earth (1950). Underrated classic!   
Irene Dunne. Wonderfully talented actress and good singer, played well in both drama and comedy, she also broke taboo with her Pre Code movies. She and Cary Grant are the ultimate funny man/woman duo.  
FAVORITE ROLE: My favorite wife (1940). Funny, funny, funny!
What do you think? Who would you throw out, who would you leave? Of course, in the end, I have the utmost respect for their choice and think, overall, it's a good list. But we can always dream, can't we? 

Published by Stela Zoric


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