Today, on January 27, we celebrate the 94rd anniversary of the late Donna Reed. Even if I have seen only 3 of her films (It’s a Wonderful Life, From Here to Eternity and Eyes in the Night), Donna Reed is one of my very favourite actresses. Well, for those who have seen my top 10, she is exactly my number 9.
Like many people, I’m quite sure, I discovered first Donna Reed in the marvellous movie It’s A Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946). A Christmas Classic who has been selected the most heartwarming movie of all times by the American Film Institute. It’s true that this is a beautiful feel good movie, a very human one, like many Frank Capra’s films. In this gem, Donna Reed plays the role of Mary Hatch, a young girl who fell in love with George Bailey, the protagonist of the film. They get married and Mary becomes a wonderful wife, always helpful when his husband has troubles. It’s a Wonderful Life was not Donna Reed’s first film, but it’s this movie that puts her on the path of glory. Mary Hatch, the character played by Donna Reed is a sweet, funny and gentle girl, the kind of character that everybody loves. And Donna Reed performed this role with a great sensibility. What I also love about Donna Reed in this film, is that she seemed to have a very good chemistry with the leading actor, James Stewart. Some scenes show that perfectly: the dance at the gym, the lasso’s moon scene, the phone scene, the wedding night scene, the ending and many more.
In From Here to Eternity (Fred Zinnemann, 1953), Donna Reed played the role of Alma “Lorene” Burke, an escort who fell in love with a soldier (Montgomery Clift) at Pearl Harbor (Hawaii), but also a woman who deeply wants to live a better life. This wonderful war movie won 8 Oscars, including the one for Best Supporting Actress. Of course, Donna Reed won this one! This was a very well deserved Oscar, because it was a truly fantastic performance. You can see many subtleties in Donna’s acting and that’s what makes this performance so great. For example, I just love her tone of voice when she says to Montgomery Clift: “You’re a funny one!” This performance also shows us that Donna Reed is a very versatile actress, which is a good privilege. This year, her co-star Frank Sinatra also won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. This was another great performance from the film.
The last Donna Reed’s film I saw (today) was Eyes in the Night, also directed by Fred Zinnemann. In this 1942’s film also starring Ann Harding and Edward Arnold, Donna doesn’t have a big part but we notice her even tho’. In this film, she plays the role of Barbara Lawry, a 17 years old girl having a romance with Paul Gerente, the leading man of a theater play where she also stars. But this man is the last husband of her stepmother. This one tries to stop her step-daughter because she believes this is not good for her. But one night, the man is killed and Lawry discovers the dead body. She first accuses her stepmother, Norma, but Norma’s uncle will help his niece and try to find out who is the murderer. That was another very different role for Donna Reed. She played brilliantly a very insolent teenage girl, but someone who, fortunately, still have a heart when she discovers that her stepmother didn’t kill Paul. This movie was made before It’s a Wonderful Life who was her first movie as a leading role.
Of course, I may have seen only 3 of her movies, but let’s not forget the wonderful TV show The Donna Reed Show. One more time, this was Donna at her best. I discovered this TV show not a very long time ago, but I watched several episodes and I can say, without hesitation, that this is one of my very favourite TV shows. And Donna has much to do with it! This is a sitcom telling the story of the Stone Family: the mother, Donna Stone is played by Donna Reed; the father, Alex Stone, is played by Carl Betz; the daughter, Mary Stone, is played by Shelley Fabares and the son, Jeff Stone, is played by Paul Petersen. Here, Donna Reed plays the perfect mother. You know, the mother everybody would love to have: sweet, funny, gentle, comprehensible, calm, etc. This TV show was kind of Donna Reed’s come-back, because she didn’t really made memorable pictures after From Here to Eternity. Donna Reed will, obviously, always be remembered as Mary Hatch, Lorene Burke and Donna Stone. The Donna Reed Show lasted for a total of 8 seasons and in 1963, she won a Golden Globe for Best TV-Star Female.
So, as you can see, you don’t need to see much to admire the great Donna Reed. Of course, I would love very much to see more of her films. Fortunately, I found some of them on YouTube. So the next I’ll watch are: They Were Expendable, They Rode West and The Last Time I saw Paris. And, of course, I plan to see many more episodes of The Donna Reed Show! Donna Reed was a wonderful actress, but also a wonderful person. During the Vietnam War, she became a peace activist and co-chaired Another Mother For Peace, an advocacy group with this slogan: ” War is not healthy for children and other living things.” Donna Reed unfortunately left us too soon at the age of 64. There will always be a place for her in my heart. Happy birthday beautiful!