“People say I’m a one-note actor, but the way I figure it, those other guys are just looking for that one right note.” — Joel McCrea

It’s his birthday today. Joel McCrea had a long career, with many different phases. He did it all, although he is primarily associated with Westerns. It was what you might call a “classy” career. Steady, successful, no scandals, and he seemingly had a very practical and healthy relationship to acting, to being a star. He was great in Sullivan’s Travels – he and Veronica Lake make a great pair.

My favorite of his is The More the Merrier, with Jean Arthur and Charles Coburn (who won an Oscar for his performance). This film is one of the sexiest films ever made. The kiss Arthur and McCrea share on the steps is more erotic than any sex scene featuring totally nude bodies. Her shoulder-less dress, his handsiness – he’s literally an octopus – but he knows she wants it – and then there’s the moment where she takes control, grabs his face, and SHE kisses HIM. Here’s the scene and take note of the long long LONG take, with all that talking, and all that dialogue, and all that fiery-hot subtext …

Joel McCrea is so good in this: laconic, flat-affect, non-dramatic (as compared to Jean Arthur’s overt sadness and freaked-out-ness) … so that when he admits his love for her, and calls her “dear” in the quiet scene where they’re both lying in their single beds, in separate rooms, and talking to each other through the wall … it takes your breath away.

Please read Dan Callahan’s insightful piece on McCrea.

I wrote about McCrea and Arthur’s sizzling chemistry for Film Comment.

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8 Responses to “People say I’m a one-note actor, but the way I figure it, those other guys are just looking for that one right note.” — Joel McCrea

  1. Bill Wolfe says:

    McCrea’s Huntley Haverstock in Foreign Correspondent is one of my favorite Hitchcock heroes in what might be the most underrated Hitchcock film. Really wish Hitch had used him again. I love your write-up in Film Comment. Arthur was maybe my favorite actress, so enjoyed reading such a perceptive critique.

    • sheila says:

      I love Foreign Correspondent so much!! Yes, he was such a special actor – you would never catch him pushing for an effect – he just didn’t have it in him. He seemed totally natural in whatever he did.

    • sheila says:

      oh, and thank you so much for reading. I miss Film Comment. I hope it comes back!!

  2. rae says:

    I think The More The Merrier is the only McCrea film I’ve seen, and it’s probably been over a decade since the last time I watched it, but it pops into my head pretty frequently and with great clarity— what an excellent film!

    (Those steps, the shot in their beds, that morning routine — I think I need to find it and watch it again after all!)

  3. Count Pete says:

    Preston Sturges loved him–a strong endorsement. His part in The Palm Beach Story may not be as big or challenging as his role in Sullivan’s Travels, but it’s an (even) funnier movie, IMHO.

    • sheila says:

      I love Palm Beach Story so much ! Sullivan’s Travels has that didactic purpose underlying it – a “the moral of the story is” thing – which is fine but … pedantic. Palm Beach Story is practically amoral and a much stronger film for it. I lOVE him in comedies. He’s soooooo chill. and that chill quality gives him a lot of freedom, for comedy and romance – which you can see really clearly in More the Merrier.

  4. Bill Wolfe says:

    I’ll add that his role in Ride the High Country is one of the best farewell performances ever.

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