Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

In praise of Gloria Stuart’s century

When Gloria Stuart was cast as a 100-year-old version of Kate Winslet in James Cameron’s (let’s face the truth) useless Titanic, there may, perhaps, have been rumblings in the Society of Thespian Centurions. After all, Ms Stuart was, at that …

Sun, Jul 4, 2010, 22:04

   

When Gloria Stuart was cast as a 100-year-old version of Kate Winslet in James Cameron’s (let’s face the truth) useless Titanic, there may, perhaps, have been rumblings in the Society of Thespian Centurions. After all, Ms Stuart was, at that stage, a mere whippersnapper of 87.  Mr Cameron would, I imagine, have argued that, notwithstanding the STC’s good work, 100-year-old actors are very, very thin on the ground. Name one. Go on. Name just one.

Well, there’s Gloria Stuart for a start. Yes, the grand old lady reached that mighty age today. The further good news is that, just two weeks ago, she was fit enough to receive an award from the Screen Actors Guild. “I’m very very grateful,” she said. “I’ve had a wonderful life of giving and sharing.”

Indeed she has. Young idiots probably think that her only serious claim to fame is that appearance in the big boat film. Certainly not. Over 70 years ago, Stuart appeared in two timeless, imperishable films by James Whale: The Invisible Man and The Old Dark House. The author of her Wikipedia entry suggests that The Invisible Man is more highly rated than The Old Dark House. I’m not so sure. As each year passes, that brilliant, peculiar, messy, funny, creepy film gets a little better known. A few years back, I showed it to students at the Huston School in Galway and, to my delight and partial surprise, most of them seemed to get it. The jokes still work and the queasy eroticism is no less inappropriate.

Based on a novel by J B Priestley, the picture, which also features Boris Karloff and Charles Laughton, is one of the few films — maybe the only film — to have given its name to a genre. The first Old Dark House picture was, indeed, The Old Dark House. Anyway, don’t waste your time listening to my blather. Buy the excellent DVD edition from Network. When you’ve finished watching it, play it again with the commentary by Kim Newman. He makes a lot more sense than I do.

Here’s a rather brilliant clip. Ms Stuart has just arrived in the titular building and is being terrorised by scary Eva Moore. Interestingly, Ms Moore was the mother of actress Jill Esmond and, thus, qualifies as the first of Laurence Olivier’s mothers in law.

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