Barely a week since Elizabeth Taylor has passed, Hollywood has lost another legend from the classic-era of filmmaking. Farley Granger has died at the age of 85.
The actor’s major leap into stardom curiously came thanks to a great role in a film that, at the time, didn’t see much of the light of day. Cast in Nicholas Ray‘s directorial debut “They Live By Night” — the powder keg noir that in many ways served as a blueprint for “Bonnie & Clyde” — filming began in the summer of 1947. Once the film was in the can, the studio had no idea what to make of the edgy project and dropped it from their priority list for release. The situation was further muddied by Howard Hughes moving in to buy the studio wholesale and eventually, the film was dumped two years later in one movie theater in the U.K. However, in Hollywood, buzz around the film was strong, with private screenings taking place among the homes of the movers and shakers. One person who caught the film and liked what he saw was none other than Alfred Hitchcock.
The master of suspense cast Granger in a single setting thriller “Rope” and from there his star would continue to rise. He would go on to make a number of films including Anthony Mann‘s gritty “Side Street” before teaming with Hitchcock again, this time for the excellent “Strangers On A Train.” But Granger was soon tiring of of the one-note roles Samuel Goldwyn — who he was under contract to — was hiring him for, so we was pleased when he was loaned out to star in Luchino Visconti‘s sumptuous “Senso.”
The movie would mark the high point of Granger’s career. Upon returning to America from Italy where “Senso” filmed, he moved between the stage, the cinema and the small screen but without striking the same fire as his earlier works. Part of the reason is that he refused to play the Hollywood game and lived openly gay (as much as one could in those days), refusing to adopt a beard to conceal his orientation. Instead, since the 1960s, Granger lived with Robert Calhoun, a soap opera producer who was also his longtime partner. So it’s perhaps fitting that one of his final screen roles was as an interviewee in the excellent and eye-opening 1995 documentary “The Celluloid Closet” about homosexuality in Hollywood. If you haven’t seen it, track it down now.
In 2007, Granger published his memoir, fittingly titled “Include Me Out” celebrating his renegade spirit. We’ll always have the films, and though brief, Granger’s resumé, that includes Hitchock, Ray, Mann and Visconti, is a cinephile’s dream. He will be missed. [THR/Guardian]