Monday, May 7, 2007

Una O'Connor

Una O’Connor’s voice like a rusty hinge and her spot-on comedic timing made her one of the most reliably funny and endearing character actresses of her day. Two of her most well-known appearances are in “Robin Hood” (1938) and “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957), yet even in the smallest roles she undertook, Miss O’Connor is instantly recognizable.

We see her briefly in two scenes meant to be years apart in “Random Harvest” (1942) as an unnamed proprietress of a tobacconist’s shop. It is a brief role, probably not worth her bother, except one can see why the studio would want her rather than an unknown character player of lesser experience. She has the ability to convey types and bring out the complexities of the simplest characters. She could be poignant and funny at once. Her stalwart maid in “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” was both, and she provides the funnier moments in an otherwise heavy drama.

The full range of her scale is probably seen best in comparing her roles in two films she did some years apart. One is “Christmas in Connecticut” (1944) where she is hysterical as Nora the Irish maid scuttling from room to room with various mystery babies in her arms, battles S.Z. Sakall from turning her “good old Irish stew” into Hungarian goulash, and butchers his difficult to pronounce surname. When asked to flip flapjacks, her deadpan reply, “I don’t flip, I scoop” is one of the funniest lines in the film, only because of the way she says it.

Another film shows the opposite end of the spectrum, when in “The Informer” (1931) she plays a Madonna-like poverty-stricken Irish woman whose son has been informed on to the police by Victor McLagen. She forgives McLagen, not as would a saintly person above the cares of the world, but a woman who knows all too well the human frailty which leads men to sin and murder. She is worn down and beaten by life, but still has enough strength to forgive.

There a genuine quality to her screen appearances that made Una O’Connor believable in any range of circumstances. Whether it be in Sherwood Forest or a Connecticut farmhouse, she seemed to belong there.

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