The Great Villain Blogathon: George Macready

Rhode Island’s own native son, actor George Macready, didn’t set out to be an actor.  After graduating from Brown University, in 1921, he worked in the banking industry and then moved to NYC to work for a newspaper. The acting bug must have been lurking and while in NYC he decided to give acting a try.  It didn’t hurt that Macready spoke with excellent diction all the time, and that he had a nasty scar on the right side of his face.  Due to a car accident,  crashing through a Model T’s windshield, Macready’s right cheek suffered a nasty gash that began an inch below his right eye, and then ran across the middle of his cheek and down below his jaw line.  That scar gave him the look of a villain, which he was often cast as, so I decided that for this blogathon I would  focus on Macready’s 3 most famous villain roles in classic films.

GV Blogathon 2016

1945: My Name is Julia Ross – a fast-paced film noir with a touch of gothic eerieness.  Made by Columbia Pictures, directed by Joseph H. Lewis.   Set in England, this film stars Nina Foch as the Julia of the title, Dame May Whitty as an alternating doting and demanding mother, Mrs. Hughes, and George Macready as Mrs. Hughes’s son, Ralph.  In this film, Julia is hired to be a secretary for Mrs. Hughes, who on first meeting with Julia, seems so sweet and her son Ralph is very polite and charming.  Julia agrees to take the job.  The Hughes’s are most anxious to hire a secretary who is female and who is an orphan, or with very few relatives, and no young man in the girl’s life, either.   Julia fits their wishlist nicely and  is whisked away to the Hughes’s country estate.  After a cup of  drug-laced tea which leads to a long sleep, Julia awakens to find the Hughes’s both insisting she is Ralph’s wife! While Julia was asleep, Mrs. Hughes ordered that Julia’s purse, papers, and clothes all be burned  to hide evidence as to who Julia really is.  We get our first inkling that all is not right with Ralph when we see him calmly and methodically, slashing through Julia’s silky nightgown with a knife!!  Mrs. Hughes yells at Ralph to stop that and takes his knife away from him, locking it in a desk drawer that contains various knives of all sorts.  She is momentarily distracted and doesn’t catch Ralph sneaking another knife out of that drawer!! Macready gives an excellent performance as the crazy and evil Ralph.  Seeming to be a man of utmost charm and politeness when in public, but alone in the house with mother and Julia,  the craziness begins to ooze out of him.  It’s an interesting power struggle to watch between he and Dame May Whitty as his mother.  A kind soul has put the entire movie on Youtube, and it’s there for the viewing.  I’ve also included the trailer for the film-note the crazed look in Macready’s eyes when Julia(Nina Foch) gives him a well-deserved slap across the face!

Gripping Julia's arm so she can't run away.

Gripping Julia’s arm so she can’t run away.

Ralph is caught cutting up Julia's nightgown!!

Ralph is caught cutting up Julia’s nightgown!!

My Name is Julia Ross

1946: One of Macready’s best known roles, as the evil entrepreneur and gambling casino owner, Ballin Mundson, in Gilda.  This film was also made by Columbia Pictures, directed by Charles Vidor.  Top-billing went to Rita Hayworth as Gilda, Glenn Ford as Johnny Farrell, and then to Macready.  The plot is a straight-forward love triangle, set in Buenos Aires, Argentina.   Mundson owns a casino and one evening as he is strolling the streets of Buenos Aires, he comes upon an American who has just won a bundle from gambling dice players.  Mundson steps in when it looks like the American is about to get mugged of his winnings.  With a flourish of his cane, he sends the muggers running.  The American, Johnny Farrell(Glenn Ford) is thankful to this stranger who saved him.  Mundson utters cryptically to Farrell, who makes a comment about the cane, “It’s silent when I wish to be silent.  It talks when I wish to talk. I make my own luck.  It’s a most obedient friend.” ( We later learn that this cane contains a hidden knife!) Mundson then hands Farrell one of his business cards and disappears into the night.  Farrell heads to Mundson’s casino the next night, and is hired to work at the casino, rising to second in command of the gambling floor.  Mundson reminds Farrell that women and gambling don’t mix and to work successfully for him, Farrell is to have no women in his life.  Then, weeks later and with no explanations other than “I’m mad about her, mad!”, Mundson summons Farrell to his mansion to introduce him to his new wife, Gilda!  Gilda is a knock-out, and we soon learn she is Farrell’s former lover!  While the film concerns itself mostly with Gilda and Johnny and their love/hate relationship, we do learn that Mundson had some shady business dealings with Nazis, having to do with tungsten, lots of money, and patents.  One man tries to kill him, and he tries to explain to Johnny that his business dealings have to do with his wanting to “control the world…it’s full of stupid little creatures!”  Mundson also begins to have his suspicions about Gilda and Johnny, and one evening, he grabs Gilda by the arm and with that perfect diction tells her in an ominous way, “Hate can be a very exciting emotion.  Very exciting!!  Hate is the only thing that has ever warmed me!!”  Once again, Macready excells at playing an aloof man, in charge of his world, with mental instabilities tucked neatly away and only peeking out when he lets them peek out.  He’s a narcissist in that he only cares about his business and his money.  He seems to only consider Gilda as a beautiful object to own and to show off to his customers.  His Mundson is not a sympathetic character and at the film’s end, we can’t help but be content with his fate.

Publicity still that is a nice summing up of the plot of Gilda

Publicity still that is a nice summing up of the plot of Gilda

gilda poster

1957: Paths of Glory, a film by United Artists, directed by Stanley Kubrick.  Kirk Douglas as the heroic, Col. Dax, George Macready as the self-serving and evil Gen. Mireau, Adolphe Menjou as Gen. Broulard, Ralph Meeker as Cpl. Paris, Joseph Turkel as Pvt. Arnaud,  Timothy Carey as Pvt. Ferol, and Richard Anderson as Maj. Saint-Auban.  A sad film and based upon an actual event that happened during WW I in France.   Paths of Glory was a book written in 1935 by Humphrey Cobb.  The book was  the account of 4 french soldiers chosen to be killed by a firing squad for cowardice after their division, pinned down in trenches, couldn’t advance upon a German strong hold.  Even after a higher up commander ordered shells to be dropped into his soldiers’ trenches(and thank goodness that order was ignored)to get them to move out of the trench, 4 soldiers were still put on trial and executed for cowardice, to be set as an example for the rest of the soldiers in their division.  Director Kubrick had read this book as a youth and wanted to make a film version of the book by Cobb.  After buying the film rights, which had been bought years earlier but shelved, Kubrick set about making his film.    Paths-of-Glory_poster_goldposter_com_17

The film opens with Gen. Mireau(George Macready) at his headquarters, a gorgeous chateau.  It is 1916 and the war is pretty much at a stalemate; French troops in trenches, German troops in the other trenches, neither side doing a lot as far as battling is concerned.  Into the chateau marches Gen. Broulard(Adolphe Menjou), with a plan.  He urges Gen. Mireau to have the men in his division take the Ant Hill, a ridge where the German army has a stronghold.  If the Ant Hill can be broken by the French Army, it will be a huge victory and a huge boost in morale.  Gen. Mireau is very skeptical and points out that his men are tired and that they just finished up a long skirmish and need to rest.  The Ant Hill is to be attempted in 2 days time.  At this early juncture, we feel sorry for Gen. Mireau, and think he’ll stand up for his men and turn down this request, which he knows is a futile endeavor.  Gen. Broulard is wily and begins the flattery campaign, adding that Gen. Mireau is up for a promotion which will mean another star to add to his medals.   The promise of promotion clouds Gen. Mireau’s common sense, and he becomes obsessed with his men conquering the Ant Hill so that he can earn that promotion.  From this point on in the film, Mireau transforms into an evil leader.

Broulard flattering Mireau into taking the Ant Hill

Broulard flattering Mireau into taking the Ant Hill

Gen. Mireau is off to visit the men in his division, chatting with random soldiers as he marches down the wooden planks set into the bottoms of the long trenches that his men are huddled in.  One soldier can’t answer his question if he has a wife and another soldier tries to explain that the man who can’t answer has shell shock.  Gen. Mireau is outraged by this information and caustically announces that there is no such thing as shell shock and immediately slaps the soldier hard in the face and orders him to be removed from his division!  I am wondering if actor George C. Scott studied this scene in preparing for his moment as Patton, slapping a soldier who is recovering in a hospital?

Gen. Mireau visiting the division

Gen. Mireau visiting the division

Gen. Mireau then marches himself into Col. Dax’s quarters(Kirk Douglas) and informs him that the division is to take the Ant Hill.  Col. Dax tries to explain how tired the men are and how impossible that effort is to attempt.  The numbers of men who will probably die, given out in cold facts by Gen. Mireau causes a look of despair and defeat to cover Col. Dax’s face.  As predicted, the Ant Hill is an utter failure.  Gen. Mireau is incensed, and calls for a meeting with Col. Dax and Gen. Broulard.  It is at this meeting that the cruelty of Gen. Mireau is revealed in that he wants a large number of men from the division to be court martialed and executed for cowardice.  Gen. Broulard uses humor to calm Gen. Mireau down, and Col. Dax uses sarcasm to suggest why not executing the entire division or just him, since he failed at getting the men to leave the trench to take the Ant Hill.  Gen. Mireau finally agrees to letting 3 men from each part of the division be put on trial and he agrees to let Col. Dax act as their defense attorney.  He then tells Dax after the meeting that he intends to utterly crush him after the court martial trial is over!

Threatening Col. Dax

Threatening Col. Dax

The trial is an utter sham and despite Col. Dax’s spirited defense,  the men are found guilty(Timothy Carey, Ralph Meeker, and Joseph Turkel.)  The only just dessert at the film’s end is that it is discovered, and written testimonies are recorded, that Gen. Mireau had ordered his own men in the trenches to be shot at in order to get them to move out of the trenches and on to the Ant Hill.  Gen. Broulard suggests an inquiry be made about this but Gen. Mireau knows his promotion isn’t going to happen and he storms out, spouting that he cares about the army.  Good riddance!!

In the making of this film, Macready’s scar is deep and very visible, with the dark line hard to take one’s eyes off of.  I was left wondering if that is how his scar really looked, or if it was made to look more intense by the make up department?  Paths of Glory will be airing on Turner Classic Movies on July 3rd at 4:30 est/3:30 cst so set your dvr!!

The scar deeply emphasized in this shot

The scar deeply emphasized in this shot

Be sure to read about more classic movie villains at this blogathon’s hosts’ sites: Speakeasy, Shadows and Satin, and Silver Screenings.  You’ll find enjoyable reads, I promise!!!  Here are a few more pics of Macready from these films:

Oops! Ralph being scolded for cutting up a sofa!! My Name is Julia Ross

Oops! Ralph being scolded for cutting up a sofa!! My Name is Julia Ross

Mama Hughes calling the shots as Ralph meekly sits by

Mama Hughes calling the shots as Ralph meekly sits by: My Name is Julia Ross

Cementing a business deal with the cane/knife gadget-foreshadowing perhaps?

Cementing a business deal with the cane/knife gadget-foreshadowing perhaps? Gilda

As Ballin Mundson in Gilda

As Ballin Mundson in Gilda

Playing harmonicas together on the set: Macready and Foch

Playing harmonicas together on the set: Macready and Foch

 

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18 responses to this post.

  1. […] On George Macready and his nasty ways, why not have a look at an overview of his criminal activities on screen as presented by “portraits by jenni.” […]

    Reply

  2. I agree with Mike (above) who said George Macready isn’t the first person you think of when it comes to naming favourite actors, but he should. As I was reading your post, I was reminded of what a great job he does EVERY TIME and how I don’t appreciated it enough.

    Thank you for joining the blogathon, and for bringing the under-appreciated Mr Macready with you! 🙂

    Reply

  3. This is such a cool choice to focus on, all three of these roles are great just as characters, but then Macready made them all unforgettable, so I love that you tied them together this way. Thanks so much fro being a part of the blogathon!

    Reply

  4. Excellent article. I badly need to see some more of these films. Must do so soon.

    Don’t forget to check out my contribution to the blogathon.

    https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2016/05/23/joan-crawford-versus-sydney-greenstreet-in-flamingo-road-1949-the-great-villain-blogathon/

    Reply

    • I have not seen this film of Crawford’s. I know it airs from time to time on TCM. Didn’t know it involved some from the more successful Mildred Pierce, which I have seen. Will record this next time I see it’s going to be on TCM. 🙂

      Reply

  5. Nice article for the villain fest. Not the typical name that comes to the top of the heap but an actor who always seems to be at his best playing nasty.

    Reply

  6. Paths of Glory is a well-acted and well-made film but it’s a downer. I am glad you appreciate the harmonica playing picture. I was trying to find some pictures that showed Macready having fun with co-stars during filming the movies, to show he wasn’t always such a baddie!

    Reply

  7. I love Macready in both of the first two films you discuss, from the spoiled sociopath in Julia Ross to the obsessive bi husband in Gilda. Haven’t seen Paths of Glory but will add it to my list. Great choice, great post.

    Reply

  8. I’ve never heard of Paths of Glory (!!!!), but it sounds intense and riveting.

    I really enjoyed your review of George Macready’s films and description of him as having madness tucked away that only comes peaking out at certain moments. I just saw Gilda recently (and My Name is Julia Ross last year) and your description is so apt.

    It’s fun to see him in that picture with the harmonica!

    Reply

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