Talk about the two sides of Angela Lansbury. How soon we forget that she was once a glamour girl who was considered a great beauty. It seems a curious turn that while most remember her from her years as Jessica Fletcher on Murder, She Wrote, she actually has had a long and varied career in film.
How many can boast of an Oscar nomination their first time out? Well, she can, when she received the first of her three nominations (all for Supporting Actress) for her turn as the scheming maid in Gaslight. The very next year, she gets a second nomination for The Picture of Dorian Gray (and manages to squeeze in a small film called National Velvet). One figures this portrait of English country life is closer to Lansbury's own life than the other two films. She has always managed in her career to be both very British and quite American. There is a certain elegance to Lansbury, a bit like a classy aunt. She showed that as Miss Price in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (which I like to think as the original Minerva McConagall--at least in the witch part). However, when she played tarts, she really played tarts, and you can't get more temptress than Semadar in Samson and Delilah (no, wait, CECIL B. DeMILLE'S Samson and Delilah).
As it stands, Lansbury is remembered for a few particular things. For cinema lovers, it is her turn as the villanous Mrs. Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate. She is a monstrous being--willing to use her son (with whom she shares a rather shockingly intimate kiss) to gain the power she and her brigade so passionately desire. It's her coldness/efficiency that both shocks and fascinates us. This would earn her the final Supporting Actress nomination (losing to Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker), and in a sense, it would signal the end of a film career. She did continue to make movies (the aforementioned Bedknobs & Broomsticks, Death on the Nile--one of my personal favorites), but it seemed more and more that when she appeared in movies, it was her voice we heard.
This is where the second thing Lansbury is known for. For people of a certain generation (that would be mine), we know her as Mrs. Potts from Beauty and the Beast. She had a sweetness in her pleasantly semi-British voice that made the title scene from the film even more beautiful. I prefer her rendition to that of Celine Dion, but that may be because j'e deteste Madamoiselle Dion. In any case, Lansbury got herself a new generation of fans who will always love her for being in one of the best animated films ever made.
We don't know whether she will be in more films...in body as well as voice. The last film I see working in (that isn't just voiceover or a television movie) is Nanny McPhee, which I haven't seen. She seems perfectly happy working primarily on the stage, which seems her first love. I don't begrudge Lansbury that if that is where she finds her greatest joy. However, I wonder if film lost a good actress to television and Broadway by not capitalizing on Angela Lansbury post-Manchurian Candidate. We'll never know. Still, she has a great body of work--working with the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Garland to Frank Sinatra right down to Emma Thompson. She is a great talent, so how come she hasn't won a single Oscar or Emmy--not even an Honorary One? I find that strange, but I wish a Happy Birthday to Angela Lansbury.