Happy birthday to Faye Dunaway, who was put on this Earth 75 years ago (on January 14, 1941) for a reason: to play grand, old-school divas, aristocrats whose diction is as perfect as their cheekbones, women whose icy exteriors often crack to reveal volcanic passions beneath.
In recent years, she's been relegated to bit parts, but in her prime, she commanded the screen in a way that harkened back to the glamour goddesses of old Hollywood. Here are the five movies you need to see to grasp the full Faye.
'Bonnie and Clyde' (1967)Dunaway became a star and a fashion icon as beret-wearing bank robber Bonnie Parker. Arthur Penn's true-crime saga is a landmark in American film history, a turning point in Hollywood's depiction of adult content, and a film whose brutal ballet of violence still has the power to shock, but at its heart is the oddly tender romance between Dunaway's Bonnie and Warren Beatty's Clyde Barrow, Depression-era outlaws who play up to their reputation as media sensations. Even then, Dunaway was making art out of layers of self-aware theatrical artifice.
'The Thomas Crown Affair' (1968)Dunaway played Pierce Brosnan's shrink in a winking cameo in the not-bad 1999 remake, but for a stylish heist thriller/cat-and-mouse romance, you can't beat the original "Crown," where Dunaway matches wits with dashing playboy/thief Steve McQueen. The King of Cool had a lot of screen love interests over the years, but Dunaway was the only one who looked like she could eat him for breakfast and be back on the prowl by lunchtime.
'Chinatown' (1974)Dunaway gives her most romantic and tragic performance as the femme fatale who pulls private eye Jack Nicholson into a morass of unspeakable evil. Actually, she tries to rebuff his chivalry with the icy facade she's built to hide her horrifying secrets, but he can't help himself. Her brittle beauty and inner torment haunt him, as they will you.
'Network' (1976)Dunaway won a Best Actress Oscar as the soulless TV executive who'll stop at nothing to drive up ratings. She could have been a cardboard villain, but she's wilier than that. Like other Dunaway characters, her Diana knows how others perceive her and smartly plays to their preconceptions. Besides, in this bleak, prescient satire of TV sensationalism and corporate shamelessness, she's just one villain among many, a symptom of a corrupt system for which there's plenty of blame to go around.
'Mommie Dearest' (1981)Dunaway went full diva in this Joan Crawford biopic, giving a performance so unrestrained that it all but ended her career as an actress whom viewers could take seriously. But it's really not fair to dismiss Dunaway's Crawford or the movie itself as mere camp excess. After all, she's playing Crawford as a woman who lived her life like she was the tragic, misunderstood heroine of a Crawford movie. If she occasionally turns into a gargoyle (as in the infamous wire-hanger sequence), well, so did Crawford. Dunaway's many layers of artifice prove essential here. At any rate, it's a performance that has to be seen to be believed.