Not every Hollywood marquee name’s life deserves a full-length documentary, but Marsha Hunt — ’30s starlet turned wartime character actress turned outspoken, blacklisted activist — has made the most of her glamour-tinged, humanitarian-focused century on Earth. (She reached that birthday milestone last year.)
Roger C. Memos’ awkwardly assembled but compelling mash note “Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity” should prove catnip for Turner Classic Movies obsessives and scholars of Hollywood’s darkest political era. As articulately told by Hunt herself, primarily, in interviews that showcase her elegant mien, fiercely intelligent eyes, poised diction and sense of drama (“The clouds were gathering … the rain came”), the movie flits across decades in which the New York-raised performer navigated Hollywood’s enchanting ups and, after the Red Scare swept show biz, disturbing downs.
She’s the last surviving member of the marquee-rich Committee for the First Amendment, and tension-filled blacklist anecdotes abound, including a chilling encounter with a legendary director. Her ingenue days as a romantic lead paled in her mind to her later MGM years playing, as she charmingly describes character-acting, “all the other people.” Because when her career ground down in the 1950s, she tirelessly worked for causes — refugees, world hunger, the United Nations, homelessness — and showed how much she truly cared about “other people.”
As long as the world worshiped fame, Hunt realized, that light could be redirected where it was most needed, and in our toxically fused celebrity-political climate, that focused, principled, humane simplicity of purpose feels as resonant as ever.
‘Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity’
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino