The 7 Best Janet Leigh Movies
There are “scream queens,” and then there is Janet Leigh. Almost entirely due to a single incredible classic, Leigh is the godmother of them all, even her daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, a bonafide scream queen herself. That is not to say that Leigh has only one good film, to assert such would be incorrect. She has played a part in a number of classic films, but none of them hold a candle to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Most of Leigh’s success was in an era many of us have long forgotten. She lived when film studios alone wrote the rulebook and everyone else — from directors to actors to audiences — had no choice but to follow. Though she passed in 2004, her legacy lives on. Below are the seven best films of her career.
It would be difficult to oversell Psycho. Though everyone and their mother knows the twist before they even press “play,” the film continues to be vital even now, nearly 70 years later. No matter that when Leigh’s Marion Crane gets into the shower in her room at the Bates Motel, everyone knows what happens next. Hitchcock offers a masterclass in pacing and editing. Her performance, as well as Anthony Perkins’ as Norman Bates, and Hitchcock’s undeniable filmmaking acumen come together to produce one of the most important films in American history.
Touch of Evil (1958)
Orson Welles takes on triple duty as writer, director, and co-star of his classic noir film Touch of Evil. When a Mexican car explodes just barely on the other side of the border, Charlton Heston’s drug enforcement agent Miguel Vargas with his wife Susie (Leigh) find themselves thrust into the investigation in this border town. Meanwhile, from the American soil comes the overweight American police chief Hank Quinlan (Welles), who seems to have his own shady motivations. Welles is in his very frequent best with Touch of Evil, offering one of the many important masterpieces he made throughout his wonderful career.
The Fog (1980)
Leigh and her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis made two films together, both of them horror films. First, The Fog in 1980, then the less-remarkable Halloween H20: 20 Years Later in 1998. Like Halloween, the film which made Curtis famous in her own right, The Fog is directed by John Carpenter. An otherworldly fog descends on the California coast in a town called Antonio Bay as it prepares to celebrate its centennial. As the fog begins to pick off the locals, the survivors seek to understand its causes, and how it connects to the centennial. Between Carpenter’s score and Leigh’s stern performance Kathy Williams — the woman overseeing the celebration — The Fog is a can’t-miss for campy horror fans.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Like the popular novel which preceded it, The Manchurian Candidate imagines a communist Chinese plot taking a foothold in the United States. Years after Captain Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) and Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) return from capture during the Korean War, the former finds himself plagued by nightmares. In these nightmares, Shaw, in non-lucid state murders the other men in their platoon, and soon learns that another one of the survivors has a similar dream. Marco struggles with this even as he forges a relationship with Eugenie Rose Chaney (Leigh). Elsewhere, Shaw continues his life with his mother (Angela Lansbury) and stepfather, who is a McCarthyesque public figure as they climb the later of public office to the vice presidency. It is a tense, early era paranoia thriller.
Act of Violence (1949)
Act of Violence is a dark film which underscores the sense of disillusionment that was left by the events of World War II. A former prisoner of war named Frank Enley (Van Heflin) is hailed as a hero by his wife Edith (Leigh) and just about everyone else around him. Everyone except for his former friend Joe Parkson (Robert Ryan), who knows the truth because he was at the same POW camp. Frank is, in fact, no hero. It is a gripping film which meditates on the ideas of guilt and how one lives with a crucial mistake during times of pressure.
The Naked Spur (1953)
Even in a time when westerns were a dime a dozen, The Naked Spur stands out as one of the greats. Noted outlaw Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan) has a bounty on his head for murdering a marshal in Kansas. Ben, with his companion Lina Patch (Leigh) in tow, is busted by a trio of men. Knowing the sizable reward for his capture, Ben tries to turn the three men — Howard Kemp (James Stewart), prospector Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell) and discharged Union soldier Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker) — against each other for his own gain. It is a well-made picture with a relatively large role for Leigh, given the genre and time period.
Though it is set in pre-revolutionary France, Scaramouche is a timeless tale of revenge. The Marquis de Maynes (Mel Ferrer) kills Philippe de Valmorin (Richard Anderson), an enemy of the aristocrats on behalf of his cousin, Queen Marie Antoinette (Nina Foch). In so doing, de Maynes infuriates Andre Moreau (Stewart Granger), Philippe’s closest friend. Posing as the comedy character Scaramouche, Andre barely escapes de Maynes with this life. He vows revenge and secretly trains to become as great a swordsman as his opponent. In the meantime, he is torn between two women, an entertainer named Lenore (Eleanor Parker) and Aline de Gavrillac (Leigh). It is a wholly enjoyable swashbuckler.
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