“Nice to be in demand.”
The average moviegoer’s attraction and allure towards the women they see on the screen is one that’s rooted in a great range of emotions, from trust to lust. In the minds of producers and studio executives, men should see a female movie star and instantly imagine themselves as the man in her life whereas women should look at the same star and wonder what it would be like to have them as their best friend.
For better or worse, this has been standard practice when it comes to testing the staying power of homegrown female movie stars. However, the rules have been somewhat different for actresses who cross over into filmmaking landscapes that are not their own. Foreign audiences have always loved American imports in the form of Hollywood starlets, who many see as vital in helping to sell the image of America overseas. The same can’t always be said for the reverse with only a handful of foreign actresses successfully making names for themselves (in movie star terms, anyhow) stateside. Much of this has to do with how each side treats actresses, and women, in general. While one side sees them as goddesses to be revered and admired, the other considers them commodities to be fawned over for a period and then torn down.
Two such prominent examples of actresses who found acclaim and prominence in both their native countries and abroad are Catherine Deneuve and Mia Farrow. The former quickly rose to become one of France’s most indelible screen beauties, while the latter was Hollywood royalty who wasted no time making a name for herself. Yet both looked to venture beyond the bounds of their native lands to explore projects and characters that took them to places neither had explored before.
Earlier this year, a pair of titles, The Haunting of Julia and Hustle, were released showing Deneuve and Farrow’s ability to capture and captivate the screen in ways neither of their home audiences had seen before.
The Haunting of Julia
Known as Full Circle upon initial release, 1977’s The Haunting of Julia stars Farrow as Julia Lofting, an American housewife living in London with her husband Magnus (Kier Dullea) following the death of their daughter Lily (Jill Bennett). While Magnus has dealt with his grief, Julia has had a harder time in the aftermath of Lily’s death, leading her to experience supernatural occurrences around the house. It soon becomes apparent to Julia that the ghost of another child is trying to contact her, one whom she is convinced can get her in touch with the daughter she lost.
Many who have seen director Richard Loncraine’s adaptation of this Peter Straub novel declared it to plodding and predictable, which partly resulted in the film not being given a proper US release until 1981. But if The Haunting of Julia is short an original plot or jump scares, it’s brimming over with setting, atmosphere, and a sense of an especially dark force that will almost certainly result in an equally dark fate for everyone involved. The film immediately takes its place as one of the great British horrors of the late ’70s, evoking the chilliness of the everyday outside world and the cold, encroaching horror plaguing its main character. At its heart though is a story about childhood mortality and every parent’s inability to accept such a concept. More than that, The Haunting of Julia uses its horror elements to show a parent’s guilt at feeling that they’ve failed at protecting the single most important person to ever come into their lives.
At the time of The Haunting of Julia, Farrow was already an international star having achieved popularity for her role on TV’s Peyton Place and had become one of the silver screen’s most acclaimed actresses with her iconic turn in Rosemary’s Baby. Taking on the lead in another horror movie was a risk, but it’s one that paid off with rewards that can clearly be seen on the screen. Julia is one of Farrow’s most underrated performances. The actress’s wide eyes, deep well of emotion, and ever-present vulnerability are not only what drives her characterization of Julia, but they’re also what largely drives the film as a whole. There aren’t many scenes of Farrow falling into scream queen mode; instead, she plays Julia as a truly haunted woman who battles not just a ghost, but also her fragile mind. It’s undeniably one of her most brilliant moments on the screen.
In 1970s L.A. a title detective named Phil (Burt Reynolds) has been tasked with finding the killer of a teenage girl, who was known to have been seen with some of the city’s most notorious criminals. Despite the insistence that Phil let the case go, the grief he sees in the girl’s parents (Ben Johnson and Eileen Brennan) encourage him to press on. Eventually, the case starts to wreak havoc on his professional name, which is already on shaky ground thanks to his romantic relationship with a call girl named Nicole (Deneuve).
Finding anyone who has seen, let alone likes Hustle is a daunting task. The film was one of a handful that critic Leonard Maltin gave a “bomb” rating to and even star/producer Reynolds as well as director Robert Aldrich (yes, that Robert Aldrich) have each said they had problems with the way the movie turned out. Watching Hustle today, none of those misgivings seem to be justified. The film, while certainly not original, is a well-paced crime story set in an appropriately gloomy Los Angeles. As expected, the twists, turns, and revelations are there, but they take second place to the scenes featuring people delving into themselves and the L.A. world they inhabit. Disguising a character piece as a shoot-em-up crime thriller starring one of the decade’s biggest action stars was a hurdle that certainly didn’t go over well with audiences. But it’s the way Hustle manages the two sides that makes the film an interesting watch today.
By the time Hustle came around, Deneuve was in the kind of position most actresses would envy. She’d been one of the figures at the forefront of a cinematic movement (the French new wave), while her off-screen persona (as well as her various relationships) gave her an allure that not only made her the face of French cinema but also the muse of designer Yves Saint Laurent. Her performance in Hustle is an interesting one. As Nicole, Deneuve brings her usual grace and aforementioned allure to the character, but also gives hints to a past that’s left her wounded. Even though she’s her own boss, looks fabulous, and lives in an upscale home, there’s a small tarnish to her leftover from the past she’s overcome but is still slightly there. You see this in her scenes with Phil and the various moments they share, which are filled with a romance that the two are struggling to keep alive as the worlds each one belongs to threaten to keep them at a distance.
Both Deneuve and Farrow continued long and varied careers following their roles in Hustle and The Haunting of Julia, respectively. Farrow would soon begin her longtime ongoing collaboration with Woody Allen, which saw some of the best performances of her career, including The Purple Rose of Cairo and Alice. Although she slowed down in the late 90s/early 00s, projects like the updated version of The Omen and the Arthur and the Invisible series helped introduce Farrow to a new generation. Deneuve, meanwhile, has continued to gravitate towards projects that are daring in their boldness with The Hunger, Indochine (for which she was Oscar-nominated), Dancer in the Dark, and 8 Women being particular highlights.
Each actress also delved heavily into humanitarian causes, becoming activists for a variety of groups, including children in need, AIDS and cancer patients, and climate change. Although they’ve come a long way from the actresses they were when both films were made, the daringness and curiosity that has been the guiding force in the choices Farrow and Deneuve have made on and off the screen is also what has made them the global icons each deserves to be.
The Haunting of Julia is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Scream Factory. Hustle is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.