I was reading an article about Laurence Harvey the other day. When you are a famous person or at least someone with a body of work in a specific field especially if it is something that is more subjective like acting, those who write about you will try to come up with an easy identification, one that will be spoken about until it becomes fact in many people’s minds.
It is now the conventional wisdom to say Harvey was not a very good actor. That he was wooden and lacked the ability to convey emotion. It’s also been alleged that he slept with many important people of both sexes which explains how he appeared in so many big budget films despite not really having a following/fan base.
Or so it goes.
I can’t discuss the latter details as that is for the biographers but I feel Harvey was a better actor than most people give him credit for. Was he limited yes but consider this….For an actor in real life whose public persona was that of an effeminate dandy, Harvey did a good job playing tough guys i.e. THE ALAMO, working class stiffs i.e. ROOM AT THE TOP, and brainwashed killers i.e. THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (his best role).
Harvey also did a very good job bringing out the talents of other actors and actresses. He is not the most reactive of actors and was a bit of a blank slate like a harder version of Montgomery Clift. This I think to some extent forced actors and actresses working with him to try harder to put more of themselves on the screen. This might be why actresses working with him were often nominated for academy awards and three won – Simone Signoret, Elizabeth Taylor, and Julie Christie.
Harvey also had the look and intensity of the actor who takes himself from role to role. His quiet , squinty exterior character is not that much different than Clint Eastwood. I always thought there was an uncomfortable joyless rhythm to the way Harvey spoke and that may sound like an insult but it’s not. Harvey picked the right roles (or they were picked for him) ….”Right” because they suited his delivery.
Harvey died at a young age (45) and made many films in such a short period. A lot of them were quite good and Harvey is quite good in them. I think this may also mean Harvey was a film actor in a time when the stage was still equally important to many thespians. He knew how to have a relationship with t the camera, to do things only the film camera would pick up. Such skills might be lost in the footlights of the theatre.