Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Slow Burn

Whatever happened to the “slow burn”? That look Moe gave to Curly just before he was going to sock him with a sledgehammer. That peeling mask of disgust and chagrin on Alfalfa’s face when he realized that he’d messed up on “Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms”. Again.

Raspberries! Why, I oughta...

You know that look. It was more likely to crop up on a disgruntled sidekick or character actor like Ward Bond or Henry Travers than a star, but every so often you’d see it on James Cagney, on James Stewart, on Ann Sheridan, and Gary Cooper.

It was Acting 101, once upon a time.

Below, here is a scene from “Duck Soup” (1933) with Chico and Harpo Marx, and Edgar Kennedy, who was called “The Master of the Slow Burn.” (Don't forget to scroll to the bottom of the page to pause the music.)


Moira Finnie said...

Two unsung masters of the slow burns:

1.) Leon Ames, who displayed a certain put-upon, smoldering temper as the benevolent if slightly pompous father in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) as well as in Lady in the Lake (1947), and numerous other movies. He is a very enjoyable actor when playing a nice guy, but as an exasperated malefactor, he shone.

2.) William Powell, whose largely benevolent characters could flare occasionally into a memorable fire after a series of assaults on their own sense of self. This quality was often just under the surface of Nick Charles, but he kept it under wraps, communicating a certain peevishness with his velvety verbal barbs and just a change in tone. His classic slow burn was reserved for the leading part in Life With Father(1947). Powell had more of a chance to display long-simmering anger in his silent films, when he often played a baddie.

(Leon Ames also did a good job as Clarence Day, Sr. in the tv series of Life With Father)

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks, Moira, for these two stellar contributions to the Slow Burn Hall of Fame. I love Powell's "Life with Father" character. "Oh gad!"

John Hayes said...

I love that scene from Duck Soup! Great clip & a fun post.

Java Bean Rush said...

Judy Garland does a marvelous job of the slow burn in THE CLOCK (1945) when a soldier (Robert Young) is being too helpful.

Great post. I had not noticed it was missing from more recent films. :)

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you, Java Bean, and John.

You're right, Judy Garland was good with the slow burn.

I wonder if it was a leftover from silent films, when pantomime was used to convey emotions. The prhase, "If looks could kill" comes to mind here. I don't know if it's absent entirely from modern films, but it's not the staple of acting it once was.

Caftan Woman said...

I would like to nominate Fred MacMurray for the "slow burn" Hall of Fame. Given the proper motivation, his incredulity was palpable.

Mr Pendlebury said...

Let us not forget Oliver Hardy, second only to Edgar Kennedy when it comes to the slow burn.
I am discovering that life as father to a rambunctious 2 year old provokes more than the odd slow burn, pretty soon none of these greats will be able to hold a candle to me.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Caftan Woman, and Mr. Pendlebury, I must say, these are two excellent candidates for the Slow Burn Hall of Fame.

I feel ashamed of my neglect of Mr. Hardy, and a hundred of his slow burn expressions come to mind.

Good luck with your rambunctious 2-year old, Mr. Pendlebury, and the opportunities the little one presents for perfecting your own slow burn technique. I'm sure you'll be a champ in no time.

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