When Sylvia Sidney was at her Depression-era peak, Paramount cast her time and again as the hero’s tremulous lower-class girlfriend. ”They used to pay me by the teardrop,” she said later. But while her haunting beauty led to typecasting, Sidney, who died of throat cancer on July 1, at 88, was in fact a skilled actress who fled Hollywood for the stage in the ’40s. The real Sidney was a feisty workhorse whose credits ran up until last year’s Fantasy Island revival. The Hollywood Sidney, fantasy though she may have been, still gave us some wonderfully shimmering moments.
Sabotage (1936): A timid London wife realizes her husband (Oscar Homolka) is a terrorist bomber. Sidney’s porcelain fragility slowly cracks in Hitchcock’s unrelenting thriller.
You Only Live Once (1937) Sidney falls in love and goes on the lam with Henry Fonda in this precursor to Bonnie and Clyde, a brilliantly bitter pill from director Fritz Lang.
Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (1973) The actress’ only Oscar nomination came for her ”comeback” — her first film role in 17 years — as neurotic housewife Joanne Woodward’s tough-talking mother.
Beetlejuice (1988) At 78, Sidney finally got a chance to shine in a comic role — as Juno, the chain-smoking afterlife bureaucrat in Tim Burton’s wiggy farce.