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Lee J. Cobb

December 7, 2009

by John Farr

John Farr recommends three films featuring the inimitable Lee J. Cobb.


Anna and the King of Siam (1946)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

The true story of an Englishwoman who tutored the King Of Siam’s large family in the mid-19th century, the film traces the unusual relationship that evolves between principled teacher Anna (Irene Dunne), and the irascible but not unkind King (Rex Harrison).

WHY I LOVE IT:

This sumptuous film boasts gorgeous sets, a clever, touching script, and charismatic playing from stars Harrison and Dunne. Also check out young Cobb in an unusual character role. Well-paced and richly rewarding.


12 Angry Men (1957)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

A young man is accused of murder, and as the jury deliberates on a verdict, only one juror (Peter Fonda) holds out for acquittal, causing frustration among the majority. The advocate for reasonable doubt gets under the skin of one particular juror (Lee J. Cobb), whose belief in the man’s guilt is tinged with an underlying anger. As deliberations continue, the pendulum gradually begins to move in the other direction. Still, reaching a unanimous verdict will pose an enormous challenge.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Sidney Lumet’s first feature film is a spare, powerful human drama of the first order. Fonda has never been better as the voice of reason, and his fellow jurors are played by some of the best character actors of the day, including Jack Warden, E.G Marshall, Martin Balsam, and Jack Klugman. Finally, as Fonda’s nemesis, Cobb projects the savage fury of a man too often wronged, a victim of his own blinding ignorance. A big triumph made on a small budget.


The Three Faces of Eve (1957)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Narrated by Alistair Cooke in a pseudo-documentary style, film tells the story of Eve White (Joanne Woodward), a Georgia housewife who visits psychiatrist Dr. Luther (Lee J. Cobb) to seek treatment for headaches and blackouts. Her husband, Ralph (David Wayne), thinks Eve’s faking her ills, but the shrink soon discovers she has multiple-personality disorder, and begins a variety of therapies to merge her three “faces.”

WHY I LOVE IT:

Based on an actual case, “Eve” is a distant precursor to the TV drama “Sybil” (also featuring Joanne Woodward) and broke new ground in Hollywood’s treatment of mental illness, while also taking a hard look at prescribed gender roles for women in the 1950s. Few actresses have made a more impressive acting debut than Woodward, starring opposite veteran Cobb, especially since she had three roles to juggle: a dowdy Southern housewife, a libertine, and a pragmatic, cultured woman. She brought off this complex, nuanced characterization with such finesse that she walked away with a Best Actress Oscar.


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