Star of the Month: Eva Marie Saint (2024)

July 4, 11, 18, 25 | 16 movies (15 movies, 1 special)

For nearly eighty years, Eva Marie Saint has balanced a distinguished career in movies, television, theater and radio. A luminous beauty, she has consistently revealed a great talent for disappearing into her roles regardless of the genre. While she has acted in a mere 21 features since her big-screen debut in 1954, the most striking aspect of her credits is her great versatility. Her two best-known films—the stark, black-and-white drama On the Waterfront (1954) and the playful, color spy thriller North by Northwest (1959)—show her range, but her entire career has shown Saint making one unexpected script choice after another, with each film tonally different from the last. For this 100th birthday tribute, TCM presents 15 of her movies: her first 13, one made for television and one from later in her career. Two titles, That Certain Feeling (1956) and Nothing in Common (1986), are TCM premieres. Saint has for years also been a close part of the TCM family, represented in this month’s programming by the inclusion of her conversation with Robert Osborne at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival.

Born in Newark, New Jersey, on July 4, 1924, Saint started her acting career in live television in 1947. She honed her craft at the famed Actors Studio and in late 1953 was cast in her first Broadway play, The Trip to Bountiful, co-starring her lifelong friend and mentor Lillian Gish. From that performance, director Elia Kazan cast Saint as Edie Doyle in On the Waterfront. It was an auspicious feature debut. The film stands not only as one of the greatest ever made, but as a key artistic and social touchstone of 20th-century America, with Marlon Brando’s performance as Terry Malloy still regarded as one of the finest ever put on screen. A remarkably textured, naturalistic and gripping look at corruption in the world of New Jersey dockworkers, the movie found the light of day entirely due to the tenacity of Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg. The project had been rejected by every major studio before producer Sam Spiegel came to the rescue, and ultimately the film won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Saint. When she accepted her Oscar, she was nine months pregnant and exclaimed, “I may have the baby right here!” Two days later, her son was born.

Saint recalled that working with Brando was exciting because “every time he said a line, it was always different” from take to take. “I would answer differently, and it just felt like we were really talking, and not actors working.” Kazan, one of the founders of the Actors Studio, was the consummate actor’s director, guiding Saint’s standout performance and imparting useful bits of practical advice. She recalled that Kazan noticed her chatting on the set with many of the crew and told her, “If I need a closeup of you at six o’clock, I want energy. I don’t want a tired actress. Think of yourself as an hourglass. When you come to the set, you have just so much energy. I don’t want you to dissipate it talking to other people.” Saint has said this insight served her entire career.

Her next film was a complete change of pace, the Bob Hope comedy That Certain Feeling. Written, produced and directed by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, it was based on a play, “King of Hearts,” about a cartoonist (Hope) trying to win back his ex-wife (Saint) as he ghostwrites a comic strip for another cartoonist (George Sanders) who is also trying to romance her. Saint adored working with Hope, and her performance received effusive notices in the press, with many critics praising her eccentric comedy dance sequence. The Hollywood Reporter asserted, “Miss Saint displays an unexpected gift for fey comedy that is reminiscent of early Carole Lombard... If this fine young actress will be persuaded to divide her time between drama, which she does superlatively, and comedy, she will have a long, long career.” The film also showcases Pearl Bailey, who plays a maid and sings three songs in her showstopper style. As Variety put it, “Miss Bailey’s wow personality, heretofore best displayed on nitery floors, is caught by the camera and adds a most engaging comedy touch.”

The sweeping Civil War-era saga Raintree Country (1957) was a troubled production and was shut down for two months when star Montgomery Clift suffered a terrible car accident that left his face (and voice) permanently altered. “The film had a hex sign on it somehow,” Saint recalled. “It could have been so much better.” Saint also started a close friendship with co-star Elizabeth Taylor: “I adored her. She was fun to be with and had a sense of humor.”

In A Hatful of Rain (1957), Saint stars in a gritty family drama involving drug addiction. The recent loosening of Production Code restrictions had made the film possible. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, “Though Don Murray as the addict is most impressive in the versatility with which he rings a ‘junkie’s’ baffling changes, the surest acting is done by Eva Marie Saint. Her portrait of the pregnant wife is tender, poignant, brave and haunting beyond words.”

A Hatful of Rain boasted a powerful score by Bernard Herrmann, who also scored Saint’s next picture, North by Northwest. One of Alfred Hitchco*ck’s finest, it features magnificent interplay between Saint and Cary Grant. Much of their chemistry, Saint said, “came off the looks that we had to one another. That’s why Hitch said to do three things: lower your voice, don’t use your hands, and look into Cary’s eyes at all times.” Saint also recalled, “I had never thought of myself as a sexy spy lady. I had seen [them] in the movies and my thought going into it was, well, who doesn’t want to be a sexy spy lady? It was fun.” As usual, Saint garnered fine notices, with The New York Times declaring, “In casting Eva Marie Saint, Mr. Hitchco*ck has plumbed some talents not shown by the actress heretofore. Although she is seemingly a hard, designing type, she also emerges both the sweet heroine and a glamorous charmer.”

Saint continued to appear in very disparate movies: Exodus (1960), a sprawling epic take on the birth of Israel, in which she starred with Paul Newman; All Fall Down (1962), a black-and-white adult drama, co-starring Warren Beatty and written by William Inge, and which was one of Saint’s personal favorites; the made-for-TV Carol for Another Christmas (1964), starring Sterling Hayden in a Scrooge-like tale; and 36 Hours (1964), a WWII espionage thriller in which she plays a nurse tending to amnesiac James Garner, who has been captured and brainwashed by the Germans. The Hollywood Reporter proclaimed, “Saint is extremely good as a German nurse. Technically, her accent is a major achievement. These accents are usually so bad. Miss Saint’s is just a whisper, but a firm whisper of authenticity.” Saint recalled, “It was an interesting story. And I wore bangs; sometimes just one little thing helps me with the character.”

The Sandpiper (1965), directed by Vincente Minnelli, reunited Saint with Elizabeth Taylor and also stars Richard Burton in a story of a love triangle. The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966) was a turn to comedy that allowed Saint to work in an ensemble with such comedy masters as Alan Arkin (in his first film), Carl Reiner and Jonathan Winters. “What a fun movie that was!” recalled Saint of this Cold War comedy set in coastal New England.

Of her next picture, director John Frankenheimer’s auto-racing saga Grand Prix (1966), Saint said, “I loved making Grand Prix. Except I hate to go fast. The first few days I thought, I’m not going to survive because I can’t stand the speed and the sound of it. It was an incredibly difficult movie to make.” The film, which reunited her with Garner and also paired her with Yves Montand, a French star she greatly admired, utilized split-screen technique and was filmed in Super Panavision 70 and released in 70mm Cinerama.

From that grand production, Saint turned to one of her most offbeat and underrated films, the dark, brutal Western The Stalking Moon (1968). The project reunited director Robert Mulligan, producer Alan J. Pakula and star Gregory Peck—all of whom had made To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) together. Saint plays a woman who is rescued after being held captive for 10 years by Apaches who wiped out her family. Peck, a retiring Army scout, agrees to guide her and her biracial son to safety, but it soon becomes apparent that the boy’s father is a renegade Apache who has been viciously terrorizing the area and is looking to catch up to them. The film has sparse dialogue, and Saint’s character speaks very haltingly after being held captive for so long. As the Los Angeles Times declared: “In one of the most demanding roles of her career—and in one of the best parts ever afforded a woman in a Western—Miss Saint succeeds in conveying almost entirely with her eyes and face the shock, confusion and, ultimately, terror of a woman returned to a world she had been torn from years earlier as abruptly as she had left it.”

Saint initially turned down her next film, the marital drama Loving (1970), because she “didn’t want to be just a suburban housewife.” But after talking to co-star George Segal and director Irvin Kershner, she “saw Loving as real people, dealing with real problems—a marriage in a world of too many pressures and false values... It was a real marriage of people who never stopped trying, didn’t give up.” Critic Pauline Kael wrote, “Eva Marie Saint gives a stunning performance in what might have been a clichéd role.”

In her final film of this tribute, Nothing in Common (1986), Saint plays the wife of Jackie Gleason (in his last film) and mother of advertising executive Tom Hanks, who is forced to care for his problematic dad when Saint leaves the marriage. “That’s the reason I did Nothing in Common,” Saint said. “The husband wasn’t a nice man, and in the movie, I left him. I did that [film] to show you don’t have to [remain] in a bad relationship.”

Star of the Month: Eva Marie Saint (2024)
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