There she is with our pal, film fan extraordinaire, Donald Gordon. This shot is, of course, taken from our Donald Gord Collection. Yes, that’s Irene Dunne in mufti to the right and our man Donald, looking very preppy, to the left. Below is a more formal studio shot of Irene.
We’re of the opinion that Irene Dunne, for all her virtue, exuded real sex appeal onscreen.
She started out in “weepies,” women’s pictures for the matinee crowd, but she hit her stride in sophisticated, “screwball” comedies. But no matter what part she played Irene Dunne was always “the Lady,” both on and off the screen.
Our boldface assertion is that if you have to see only one Irene Dunne picture, make it RKO’s Love Affair, director Leo McCarey’s 1939 romantic drama in which the actress portrays an American woman romanced by a French playboy (Charles Boyer).
Both leads are superb as is a supporting character performance contributed by Maria Ouspenskaya are a kindly grandmother.
But what unmistakably registers is Dunne’s sexy performance blending rueful emotion with a light comedic touch.
Somehow, Dunne and sex are words that don’t often crop up in the same sentence. Yes, Dunne was by all means a Lady. But a surprisingly sexy one even by contemporary standards. In this film she looks terrific. It’s not surprising to learn that Love Affair is Dunne’s as well as Boyer’s favorite of their pictures.
Yes, Dunne started out as a singer. A stage performance in Show Boat led to an RKO contract and her debut in Leathernecking in 1930. Stardom was cemented when she took the reins in 1932 of John Stahl’s Back Street melodrama, firmly establishing Dunne as the queen of weepies.
Her great facility with comedy was amply displayed in 1937’s The Awful Truth costarring Cary Grant, who expressed admiration for her comic timing and something else. Grant remarked, said Dunne, that she was “the sweetest smelling actress he ever worked with.”
When it came to the Academy Awards, Dunne was nominated five times but never won. Her subtle, provocative performance in Love Affair was undoubtedly the victim of bad timing.
The film came out in the year of Gone With The Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Gunga Din, Ninotchka and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington among other memorable titles. Pretty steep competition.
So, we recommend you take another look at this wonderful movie, 87 minutes of bliss. Yes, Irene Dunne reigned as Hollywood’s “Lady.” But she was also one sexy woman.
By the way, the candid shot at the beginning of today’s blog was taken, as mentioned, from our Donald Gordon Collection, named for our late friend, who was a young actor who found himself under contract at Columbia Pictures during World War II. The collection was bequeathed to us after his death. It is a gift that keeps on giving.