Monetta Eloyse Darnell, who would later become known professionally as Linda Darnell, was born on October 16, 1923 in Dallas, Texas. One of six children (two of whom were half-siblings), Monetta’s mother had bigger dreams for her than the other children and was sure she had the potential to make it in show business.
By the time she reached her teens, Darnell was working as a model and actress, often performing in beauty pageants. Her goal was to act on the stage, but when she was discovered by a talent scout and invited to Hollywood for a screen test, she set her sights on the big screen.
After a few bumps in the road, Darnell was signed to a Fox contract by the end of the ’30s, and her career began with 1939’s Hotel for Women.
Darnell’s home life during her childhood was tumultuous, and she would continue to experience personal struggles throughout her career until she passed away at only 41 years of age. But she proved to be quite a talented actress, and her talent continues to be appreciated by classic film fans.
Today, TMP celebrates Linda Darnell on what would have been her 90th birthday. The following are four of my favorite of Linda’s films/performances!
Blood and Sand (1941)
Linda Darnell, Rita Hayworth and Tyrone Power — what a cast! This film won an Oscar for best color cinematography and was also nominated for its art direction, and rightfully so. It’s a beautiful film, visually. This remake of a 1922 Rudolph Valentino film has Power taking over Valentino’s role. Darnell and Hayworth compete for Power’s affections. As pretty as it is, I’ve never considered this film a favorite, but I do think that Darnell gives one of her best performances here. She evokes a lot of sympathy for her character.
Unfaithfully Yours (1948)
I reviewed this film with a 4/5 rating last year. Darnell’s performance is perfect here because she gives multiple sides to the character. On one hand, she seems like a sweet and loyal wife. On the other hand, she has a less-innocent quality of charm and seductiveness that makes the audience question whether her husband’s paranoia over her faithfulness is warranted. Preston Struges’ original screenplay is the film’s strongest asset, but it contains a number of great performances and Linda’s is one of them.
A Letter to Three Wives (1949)
Another Oscar winner from Darnell’s filmography, A Letter to Three Wives took home awards for directing and screenwriting (Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s work on both counts), and was nominated for best picture. Darnell’s role is that of Lora Mae Hollingsway, a woman who married her boss. Lora Mae and two other women (Ann Sothern and Jeanne Crain) receive a letter addressed to them from a woman named Addie, who says she’s just left town with one of their husbands. Lora Mae’s marriage is an unhappy one, and though all of the film’s couples are interesting to watch, Darnell and Paul Douglas are the most fascinating as the mismatched Hollingsways.
No Way Out (1950)
Yet another fantastic film made by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and co., No Way Out follows a black doctor (Sid Poitier) who must treat two highly bigoted robbery suspects. Darnell’s character is Edie, the wife of one of the robbery suspects. Poitier and Richard Widmark are the real focus of the film, but Darnell’s role is an interesting one, as she seems incredibly conflicted when it comes to the issue of race relations. The character’s changing perspectives offer a microcosm of the complicated, often perplexed attitudes with which Americans regarded race during the period in which the film was produced.
Linda has long been my favorite actress, I fell for her while watching Blackbeard, the Pirate when I was a kid. A colorful adventure with Irene Ryan, Granny Clampett herself, all dolled up as Linda’s tippling lady in waiting, it was a fun introduction to her but hardly a good judge of her acting ability. Since then I’ve seen most of her films, unfortunately not all-her Italian films and a few of her Hollywood ones, The Walls of Jericho & The Lady Pays Off are the top of my wish list, have remained elusive, but she was a fine actress whose talent was more often than not wasted in the decorative roles the studio shoved her into.
She was robbed of an Oscar nomination for A Letter to Three Wives, I suspect category confusion was the culprit since all the ladies were leads in their stories and supporting in the other wives tales, it certainly wasn’t competition from other films, both she and Ann Sothern were far superior to any of the nominated actresses that year excepting the winner Olivia de Havilland.
I agree with all your choices as fine examples of her work. Some others that are worth seeking out are:
Summer Storm, this was the first time she was able to break out of the box of being the pretty young thing that Fox had put her in, on loan out of course, and she was able to
show how good she could actually be. The film was one of Douglas Sirk’s first American films and has a very European feeling, is a bit slow to get going but is enjoyable once it does plus it has a terrific cast besides Linda.
Hangover Square-Linda plays an unrepentant grabber in this and is deliciously wicked done up in Victorian finery and feathers. This was Laird Cregar’s bid to be a leading man and its an odd one considering her plays a madman but he’s excellent unfortunately the heavy dieting he undertook for the role caused a heart attack that killed him at 29.
Fallen Angel-A wonderful noir with Dana Andrews, he and Linda have a very sexual vibe for a 40’s flick.
Forever Amber-The movie isn’t great especially if you’ve read the book, a highly entertaining page turner, but it’s a colorful pageant and Linda is very good.
This Is My Love-Next to Letter her best performance as a tortured neurotic soul. Very hard to find it’s love painted in the blackest shades but she and Dan Duryea are endlessly compelling.
Also good are Second Chance and Dakota Incident each in Technicolor but Linda’s roles aren’t that challenging in them.
Thanks for the nice tribute to my favorite actress on her birthday.
Thanks for all of the recommendations! I will be adding those to my watch list. I’ve actually been hoping to watch Summer Storm for quite a while as a fan of Sirk’s work, so I’m glad to hear that it has a great performance from Linda, too!
Interestingly, my FIL went to Hollywood in his late twenties, somehow met Linda Darnell whp took him under her wing and introduced him to her agent. His career never took off but he always spoke of her with great affection as a lovely, caring woman. Her death was a terrible tragedy. “Blood & Sand ” is definitely my favorite.
Wow, what a great story! I’m glad to hear that she was as gracious and kind to him as I’ve always pictured her to be. Thanks for sharing this. :)