Saturday, March 20, 2010

Underrated Performer of the Week: Brenda de Banzie

“Who is Brenda de Banzie?” asked the Café reader. “And why does she deserve the illustrious Underrated Performer of the Week spot?”

Ms. de Banzie starred in only 17 films, but—like a few others honored here—the quality of her work far exceeded the quantity. She gave a brilliant performance in one of David Lean’s finest films and, in her second most famous role, she reprised a performance that earned her a Tony nomination. But before we get too far, some biographical information is required.

Brenda de Banzie was born in Manchester, England, in 1915 (some sources say 1909, but I’ll go with the reliable Film Encyclopedia). She made her British stage debut in 1935 and honed her acting skills in the theatre throughout the late 1930s and 1940s. She made her first film appearance in 1952 in a supporting role opposite Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer in the murder mystery The Long Dark Hall.

In 1952, she returned to the West End in London and played a wealthy hotel proprietress whose husband plots to kill her in Murder Mistaken. For her performance, she won the prestigious Clarence Derwent Award (given by Equity, the performers’ union) for Best Supporting Actress.

In 1954, David Lean cast Brenda de Banzie as Maggie, Charles Laughton’s eldest daughter, in the delightful Hobson’s Choice. As a young woman who devises a well-crafted plan for success, de Banzie stole the film from Laughton (who’s quite funny, but a bit hammy) and John Mills (who’s almost as good as Brenda). I still remember the first time I saw Hobson’s Choice—when it was over, I was scrambling for my movie books to find out why I’d never heard of such a gifted actress. Hobson’s Choice won the British Film Academy Award for Best British Film, but somehow de Banzie lost the Best Actress Award to Yvonne Mitchell from The Divided Hearts.

Though film acting honors eluded her, the stage showed its appreciation in 1958 by giving her a Tony nomination as the long-suffering wife of Laurence Olivier’s bitter, middle-aged music hall performer in The Entertainer. She reprised the role for the 1960 film version with Olivier, Roger Livesey, Joan Plowright, and Alan Bates.

With the exceptions of Hobson’s Choice and The Entertainer, Brenda de Banzie didn’t get a lot of good parts, though she was fine in entertaining films such as Doctor at Sea (with Dirk Bogarde), A Matter of Innocence (with Hayley Mills), The Pink Panther, and the 1959 remake of The 39 Steps. Alfred Hitchcock gave her a brief—but very memorable—part as one of the kidnappers in the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Brenda de Banzie died in 1981, at age 65, following surgery on a brain tumor. Her son Antony Marsh became an actor.


  1. Rick, I do remember her in Doctor at Sea, but I have not seen it in years . Interesting choice.

  2. Excellent choice, Rick, for an Underrated Performer of the Week (or UPOW for short). HOBSON'S CHOICE is a sweet, wonderful film, and Brenda steals scene after scene (although, as you said, John Mills is equally good). Ms. de Banzie's filmography was short but impressive, and she deserves praise for her talent!

  3. Wonderful choice, Rick. I've recently been watching HOBSON'S CHOICE (just got the DVD). It's truly one of David Lean's best and Brenda de Banzie's performance is one of its great strengths. John Mills is perfect, what a wonderful pairing the two are - and I'll admit I do enjoy Laughton's over-the-top Hobson. She is also excellent in the other films of hers I've seen. Like some others spotlighted here, she wasn't in that many movies, but she managed to work with some of the greatest directors and actors of the era. I just wish she'd made more films...

  4. I am delighted with your choice for Underrated Performer! "Hobson's Choice" was such an unexpected treasure to watch. Brenda de Banzie was unforgettable. I loved her work with John Mills. What a masterpiece of casting! Thank you, Rick, for bringing to light this lovely, gifted actress.

  5. Hobson's Choice has long been my all time favourite film.It has everything - strong plot, excellent cast, lovely humour and real romance. I think it likely Brenda de Banzie and John Mills did fall in love for a while during the making of the film - their chemistry is very evident. The detail in Ms de Banzie's performances is extraordinary - the use of the voice, movement and interaction with her fellow actors. Her son Antony Marsh can be proud of his beautiful and talented mother.

  6. Nice to read a comment from another fan of HOBSON'S CHOICE. I just wish Brenda had made more movies!

  7. Brenda de Banzie was undoubtedly a very under-rated actress who also suffered from the usual lack of really strong roles for women during the key periods of her life, the 1950s and 60s.
    De Banzie was most probably born in 1909. She originated from Salford (just of Eccles New Road). Her father was a musical conductor. She was acting in rep from 1935 (I have two programmes from the White Rose Players in Harrogate in 1938-9).
    De Banzie made her first film in 1951 and appeared in Olivier's production of Christopher Fry's Venus Observed in 1950. She also appeared on Broadway and elsewhere in the USA in at least two other plays than the Entertainer during the later 1950s. Flame in the Streets, should also be noted - she appeared opposite John Mills again. Of course there are other films that de Banzie appeared in including Doctor at Sea.
    Reviews of de Banzie's work vary - some panning her for being 'hysterical' in both The Entertainer and Flame in the Streets, others praising her for both. Hobson's was undoubtedly her greatest achievement - David Lean's autobiography has some interesting details of Charles Laughton's comments and thoughts on de Banzie and her creation of Maggie. I agree with David Lean on this - de Banzie was 42 playing a 30 year old, but she summed up the love and ambition of Maggie, a clever and intelligent woman living in a time of repression and lack of opportunity for women, most wonderfully.

    1. I have found out more about Brenda de Branzie and her life, most particularly from professional theatre magazines such as 'The Stage' and 'Variety'.
      De Banzie began her acting career in 1926, playing with a repertory theatre in Eccles, now in Greater Manchester. After this she was in rep in Bradford and Leeds in the early 1930s before moving on to Harrogate in 1936.
      De Banzie probably met her husband, Rupert Marsh, while in Rep in Bradford. They married in 1936, at Royston, Hitchen in Hertfordshire. Marsh was the son of a very important couple, Alexander Marsh and Carrie Baillie, who toured a Shakespearian Company throughout Britain, including Ireland, and possibly to Australia, during the early twentieth century.
      Brenda de Banzie and her husband, Rupert Marsh, had a son, Antony Marsh in 1936. He too became an actor. According to his obituary of his father, published in The Stage, 18th September, 1997, just after his father died at the age of 91, Marsh and his family traveled so extensively that their only constant point of reference was Crewe station where they went every Sunday, waiting for two carriages of props etc to be fastened to yet another train to take them to another location for the week.
      De Banzie's first appearance in the West End was in 'Du Barry was a Lady' in 1942. The play had previews in Manchester and that might well have been how and why De Banzie had gained her place in the production. This may also have been the commencement of the connection between Rupert Marsh and Binkie Beaumont, the famous and flamboyant theatrical entrepreneur, Marsh ceasing to act and becoming a stage manager for the Beaumont company in 1948.
      By the late 1940s and 1950s Brenda de Banzie was appearing both on stage and in films, often in small character parts. But in 1950 she had lead parts in Christopher Fry's Venus Observ'd and Jean Anouilh's Points of Departure, which was loosely based on the classic story of Orpheus and Eurydice. De Banzie played the Mother to Dirk Bogarde's Eurydice. She was described as being 'kittenish' in this playful part. This was followed by a number of different roles in the West End, including 'Murder Mistaken' in 1951-2 and on Broadway.
      Alongside this her screen career developed.
      Very touchingly after her death in 1981 Brenda de Banzie's husband placed messages of remembrance in 'The Stage' every year on the anniversary of loosing her. This was dedicated to Brenda de Banzie, 'with love and gratitude'.

  8. Just discovered this great site and so much more about de Banzie. She caught my eye Pink Panther role, a handsome lady of indeterminate wealth. Wonderful to watch her during Fran Jeffries wonderful song and dance number "It had better be tonight."

  9. Wonderful actress, completely underrated and not used in enough suitable films. Hobson's Choice one of my favourite films - have watched it on freeview twice this last few days, wonderful.

  10. a beautiful women captured forever on film

  11. Skilled truthful actress.Multi-faceted perf in The Entertainer. She manages to be touching and annoying, strong, vulnerable and beautiful.

  12. Rather humbled by everyones extensive knowledge. I know only that she was wonderful in Hobsons Choice which is a delight to watch. I will look out for the other films mentioned.

  13. She was something else. A great actress, pity there is no one like her today.

  14. I believed I loved Hobson's Choice, due to Charles Laughton's astounding depiction of a mediocre, (with a modicum successful of course,) life. I now see that without Brenda de Banzie, the genius of the play, would only have been quite amusing. The script is objective but also rather male oriented. De Banzie's conviction, both in the part and as an actor levels the field. Moreover, she was an excellent role model, as far as I can see, as a strong and able woman! An underrated talent, definitely.