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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

Grahame’s last gasp makes for a worthy view

Classic film stars usually make for interesting profiles. That's the reason so many magazines are still in print. And why films such as "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool" was made. Following is the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio: 

Gloria Grahame is one of those names most movies fans may recognize but don’t really know. And why would we?

Grahame’s time in Hollywood was relatively brief, from the mid-1940s through the late 1950s, and she never reached the height of stardom that, say, Lauren Bacall or Barbara Stanwyck did. Partly this was because she became too associated with the femme-fatale characters she played in such films as “The Good Die Young” and “The Bad and the Beautiful.”

And even though Grahame did win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for that latter film in 1953, her career lingered also because – the story goes – she was difficult to work with. That reputation, which she earned on the set of the 1955 film “Oklahoma!” plagued her almost as much as did the problems involving her four marriages – the last one to the son of her second husband, the director Nicholas Ray.

Much of this is glossed over in the movie “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” which was adapted from the memoir of the same title by actor/author Peter Turner. But Grahame’s past, which includes a bout with the same cancer that eventually killed her, lurks always in the background, threatening to – as it finally would – emerge and devour everything.

Turner, who originally hailed from Liverpool, was just 26 in 1978 when he met the then-54-year-old Grahame. Both were renting rooms in the same London boarding house. Turner was trying to break into the very theater scene that had offered the not-yet-faded-star Grahame a few featured roles. The two hit it off and began what would be an at-times turbulent three-year relationship.

But, then, what besides emotional turbulence would you expect from a pairing of someone who is young, impassioned and hungry with someone who is older, dubious yet equally hungry? Certainly not a happy ending.

And yet Turner’s story, as brought to life by director Paul McGuigan, is as full of love and support as it is the inevitable breakup of a doomed relationship. That’s because screenwriter Matt Greenhaigh focuses on Turner’s family, who took Grahame in and – for no other reason than because they were generous, good-hearted people – provided the dying movie queen solace when she most needed it.

As Grahame, Annette Bening captures both the actress’s vulnerability and her flintiness, holding her own against a case of talented British actors, including Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham as Turner’s parents, Stephen Graham as Turner’s older brother and even Vanessa Redgrave, who appears in a cameo as Grahame’s mother.

Another Brit, Jamie Bell, has the most screen time, portraying Turner as a naïve, hopeful young man, as sure of his love for this mercurial woman as he is unsure about pretty much everything else. The actor, who came of age 18 years ago in the film “Billy Elliott,” even gets to show off his dancing skills in one scene.

Yet over the whole production hovers the legacy of the late Grahame, someone who was used – and abused – by Hollywood even more than she used those who loved her for herself.