MOVIES : Flashes in the Pan? Not Them

<i> Susan King is a Times staff writer</i>

The elderly innkeeper in “A Month by the Lake”; the benevolent priest and nun in “Les Miserables”; the ill-tempered seamstress in “How to Make an American Quilt.” These actors may look familiar, but unless you’re a hard-core film buff, you might not have a clue as to where you’ve seen them. Here’s a quick introduction to these seasoned veterans:

* Alida Valli, 74, who plays a kind Italian innkeeper in “A Month by the Lake,” is a veteran of 107 feature films, making her debut in 1936’s “The Two Sergeants.” Billed simply as Valli, she came to Hollywood in 1948 to star as the femme fatale opposite Gregory Peck in Alfred Hitchcock’s courtroom thriller “The Paradine Case.” She also appeared in the Frank Sinatra tear-jerker “The Miracle of the Bells.” She’s best known, though, as the mysterious, beautiful woman who loves the wrong man in Carol Reed’s 1949 classic “The Third Man,” which starred Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles. Valli also was featured in Luchino Visconti’s “Senso” and Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Spider’s Stratagem” and “Luna.”

* Like Valli, French actress Micheline Presle, who plays the understanding Mother Superior in Claude Lelouch’s “Les Miserables,” caught the attention of Hollywood in the late ‘40s. Presle, 73, starred opposite John Garfield in “Under My Skin,” a 1950 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s “My Old Man.” She appeared with Tyrone Power in 1950’s “An American Guerrilla in the Philippines” and co-starred in the turgid 1951 Errol Flynn swashbuckler “The Adventures of Captain Fabian.” Presle also appeared in the 1967 cult French film “King of Hearts.”

* Jean Marais, who plays Monseigneur Myriel in “Les Miserables,” is one of France’s most beloved actors. Marais, 81, teamed up with director-writer Jean Cocteau on several plays and movies during the 1940s. Their greatest collaboration was the 1946 classic “La Belle et la Be^te,” in which Marais still sets feminine hearts aflutter as the sexiest beast ever to grace the silver screen. They also made such acclaimed films as “Les Parents Terribles,” “The Eagle With Two Heads” and “Orpheus.”


Marais also starred in such films as “The Eternal Return” (scripted by Cocteau) and Jean Renoir’s “Elena and Her Men.”

* Lois Smith, 65, who plays the crabby Sophia in “How to Make an American Quilt,” received a Tony nomination in 1990 for best featured actress for “The Grapes of Wrath” and re-created her role as Ma Joad for the “American Playhouse” adaptation on PBS. Among her recent films are “Falling Down,” “Fried Green Tomatoes,” “Green Card” (as Andie MacDowell’s mother) and “Fatal Attraction.”

She is best known, though, for her award-winning role in 1970’s “Five Easy Pieces” as Jack Nicholson’s concert-pianist sister and as the nervous brothel worker who befriends James Dean in 1955’s “East of Eden.”