By Marilyn Ferdinand
Once again, I was faced with trying to come up with some criteria that could help me choose 20 noteworthy actresses. Should they be the most beautiful? Should they be the finest at their craft? Should they be of a certain age? Again, I decided to choose 20 actresses I find fascinating to watch, actresses who draw my eye to them no matter what else might be going on, actresses whose work I’m always ready to sample. Here they are, in alphabetical, order.
Louise Brooks is the American Garbo, but with more range. She could play temptresses with an American wildness Garbo lacked, but also was believable in comedic and sentimental roles. And, she’s stunning!
Billie Burke always captivates me with her birdlike voice, her apple cheeks, and her charm. She’s one of the great character actresses of the 1930s who deserves to be remembered for more than playing Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz.
Leslie Caron has the gamine appeal that I am always attracted to in actresses. Beyond that, she is the definition of grace, with a wise innocence that comes through in her best films. I could watch her in Gigi over and over and over.
Peggy Cummins is a face you see every day on this blog. I was so taken with her in Gun Crazy and I so wanted to project what she had in that film, that I took her as my stand-in. As you can see in this picture, she’s not only naughty, she’s also nice, very nice.
Laura del Sol may not be a familiar name and face unless you have seen the dance films of Carlos Saura. Once viewed, she’s unforgettable—an intense beauty and passionate dancer. I’ve seen Carmen more times than I can remember. She’s just amazing.
Catherine Deneuve is easily one of the most beautiful and talented women who ever lived. She can delve deeply into sexual perversion, madness, and bitterness. She can also take a bourgeois character and bring out unknown courage. I always want to go wherever she leads.
Gloria Grahame has a face you never forget. Interestingly beautiful, she often played women whose looks play strongly into their fate, from Violet in It’s a Wonderful Life to Debby in The Big Heat. I can’t pass on a film she’s in.
Shirley Henderson is an actress you’ve seen more than you think you have. She’s been in Trainspotting, 24-Hour Party People, Yes, and even one of the Harry Potter films (as Moaning Myrtle). I was completely captivated by her performance in Topsy-Turvy, where she works her beautiful soprano voice and coquettishness as an alcoholic singer who is the personification of Yum Yum in The Mikado. She puts me into a trance whenever I watch her.
Wendy Hiller is a versatile actress who has had a long career, still as interesting today in look and demeanor as when she was a fresh-faced, cheeky Scots actress in Pygmalion and I Know Where I’m Going. I like her a lot!
Isabelle Huppert is a force to be reckoned with in any film she’s in. Utterly fearless and frequently diabolical and intimidating, she lends authority to any film in which she appears. She’s a miracle.
Milla Jovovich is a little hard to explain. Yes, she’s beautiful and charismatic. But even in her strictly popcorn films, she brings something more than a model’s presence to bear. She’s got a kind of vulnerable command that I find very compelling. So sue me.
Katy Jurado has charisma up the yin yang. It is impossible to take your eyes off her when she’s on screen. She even managed to upstage Grace Kelly in High Noon. She’s a singular and memorable actress.
Nancy Kwan burst on the scene in The World of Suzie Wong. It was a memorable debut film for one of the iconic actresses of the 60s. How can you not enjoy her being a girl!
Angela Lansbury, the thoroughly pleasant Jessica Fletcher on TV, often shows up on most evil villian lists for her turn in The Manchurian Candidate, one of the few women to have this distinction. I love her ruthless Mrs. Iselin, but she always breaks my heart as sweet, doomed Sybil Vane in The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Anna Magnani wears her heart on her sleeve, her hips, her legs, and most especially, her face. A symbol of martyrdom in Rome: Open City, her natural intensity and earthiness were often on display in such films as The Rose Tattoo. She’s simply unforgettable.
Colleen Moore just had to make my list, didn’t she. My love of her is well known and will continue as long as I can watch her perfect comic sensibility and adorably versatile face in action. And then maybe longer.
Cathy O’Donnell is one of those actresses who always seems to pop up in older movies, and I’m always delighted to recognize her. They Live By Night, Side Street, and of course, The Best Years of Our Lives reveal her as a sympathetic, sweet presence. I just always feel warm when she’s around.
Christina Ricci is my favorite contemporary actress. There’s nothing she can’t do. She even made being tied up half-naked in Black Snake Moan interesting. She’d be my only choice for the part of Molly O if The Man with the Golden Arm is ever made into a decent film. I just wish she hadn’t gotten so skinny.
Theresa Russell is a subtle, mysterious actress I’m completely fascinated with. Black Widow is a minor masterpiece of the 1980s because of her duel with Debra Winger.
Michelle Williams is not an actress I ever thought I’d find so watchable when I saw her first film forays. She’s grown into a mesmerizing presence for me, and has improved exponentially as an actress. Only a little more time and she’ll lose all those youthful mannerisms and enter the major leagues.
The “baker’s dozen” silhouette at the beginning of this article is Greta Garbo.