When we meet her, she is a uniformed elevator girl in a Midtown Manhattan office building, her lift is the only thing in her life she can control. Or perhaps we see her on a Paris sidewalk; a “working girl” who’s emerald-green tights match her shear blouse and underwear. Or maybe, she is an eccentric aunt who is a former magician from the vaudeville circuit. These are but a few of the many on-screen lives of the great Shirley MacLaine. This month, MGM HD proudly shines the spotlight on this screen legend with a marathon of some of her best movies on her birthday, Saturday, April 24th.
Shirley MacLaine’s still-active career has spanned over 65 years. On screen, she has evolved from adorable to formidable to indomitable (and everything in between). Ms. MacLaine has been nominated for six Academy Awards® for Best Actress, including two for “The Apartment” (1960) and “Irma la Douce” (1963) both of which are featured in this month’s birthday marathon.
MacLaine’s role in “The Apartment” remains one of her most enduring films. The movie’s director, Billy Wilder said of her, “She is a pro. She can play comedy; she can play something serious.” Her performance in the comedy-drama balances lightness against darkness and contains a duality for which MacLaine would become known; the ability to bring humor to serious parts and depth to comedic ones. As her character, Fran Kubelik says to co-star Jack Lemmon of the broken mirror in her compact “I like it that way, it makes me look the way I feel.” “The Apartment” earned three Academy Awards® including Best Picture and Best Screenplay and gave Shirley MacLaine one of the best last lines in movie history.
“Irma la Douce,” made three years later, couldn’t be further from “The Apartment” in subject matter or tone. Reteamed with Wilder and Lemmon, and filmed in glorious technicolor, “Irma la Douce” is a broad farce about a Parisian streetwalker who is as sweet as her name, and her policeman boyfriend who will go to great lengths to keep her from making a living. The film thrives on MacLaine’s charm and ability to balance sweet against sexy and innocence against worldliness. “Irma la Douce” was a big hit the year it came out, the fifth highest-grossing film of 1963, and is as airy and delightful as a pastry form a Paris bakery.
Rounding out our marathon is the gem “Waiting for the Light” (1990), in which MacLaine played an eccentric aunt who has an unexpected impact on her young grandniece and nephew. It’s a fine example of a more mature MacLaine bringing her signature ability to create unexpected and well-defined characters.
Join MGM HD in celebrating the 87th birthday of Shirley MacLaine with a movie marathon on Saturday, April 24 starting at 6:30 eastern, 3:30 pacific.