To Cast or Not to Cast

†††††Casting is definitely one of the most difficult jobs in Hollywood. Performers must be selected based upon only a small sample of their talent (which is highly variable), and upon their physical appearance (not as variable, but can have more subtle consequences). Casting directors usually take the blame if the movie is a failure, and very rarely are thanked if the movie is not a failure.

†††††For instance, in the 1939 William Wyler adaptation of Emily BrontŽ's Wuthering Heights, Laurence Olivier was selected to play the adult Heathcliff. The movie was a success, not so much because of Olivierís own performance so much as the fact that he was extremely well suited to play the role of the heroic new Heathcliff created by the Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur script.

†††††On the other hand, in the 1949 William Wyler film, The Heiress (based on Henry James's 1880 novel, Washington Square), Olivia DeHavilland gives an outstanding performance as Catherine but was frowned upon by audiences of the time. This was the case because her cruelty to an endearing Ralph Richardson (her father, Dr. Austin Sloper, in the story) and a soft-faced, sweet-talking Montgomery Clift (her lover, Morris, in the story) seemed unwarranted. Both actors were poorly cast for the roles simply because they seemed too "nice."

†††††Another thing that has to be considered when casting is how well actors and actresses can combine for scenes or their chemistry. This is necessary because some actors will tend to outperform others, and it is effective to use chemistry to heighten emotion.

†††††For instance in the 1951 Elia Kazan film A Streetcar Named Desire, based on the film Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, all of the main actors and actresses effectively work against each other to build the drama (Stanley wanting Stella, Stella wanting Stanley, Stanley wanting Blanche, Mitch wanting Blanche, Blanche wanting Mitch, etc.) However, in the 1873 Joseph Losey film adaptation of Henrik Ibsenís 1879 play A Dollís House, Jane Fonda and David Warner are so poorly cast together as Nora and Torvald Helmer that it is impossible to believe any love ever existed between them. At the same time, Edward Fox and Delphine Seyrig have such remarkable chemistry as Nils Krogstad and Christine Linde that they upstage both Warner and Fonda, who both seem only as if they are trying to outcast one another.

Joseph M. Pence

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