Faye Dunaway’s 10 best performances – ranked!

Ahead of the Oscar-winning actor’s 82nd birthday this weekend, we mark her finest moments, from camp histrionics to the most archetypal of femmes fatales

10. Dunston Checks In (1996)

A kleptomaniac orangutan wreaks havoc in a posh hotel, leading to some inspired farce involving bananas and small dogs. But the highlight is when Dunaway, as the snobbish hotel owner, falls backwards into a big cream cake with an orangutan on top of her. No apologies for including it in this selection since it is one of cinema’s finest moments.

9. Little Big Man (1970)

Dunaway plays the sexually frustrated foster mother of the picaresque protagonist (although Dustin Hoffman was actually four years older than her in real life) in one of the funnier episodes in Arthur Penn’s epic deconstruction of western myths. It’s a supporting role, but a memorable one, particularly when she is singing Bringing in the Sheaves while soaping him down.

8. Mommie Dearest (1981)

Poor Joan Crawford was only three years dead when Dunaway went heavy on the eyebrow crayon for this biopic based on Christina Crawford’s memoirs, which outed her mother as an abusive monster. Her co-stars alleged that Dunaway went full-method on set, and the film flopped, but her histrionic performance and one-liners such as “No wire hangers!” helped turn it into a camp classic.

7. Network (1976)

Dunaway won an Oscar for her performance as Diana Christensen, an ambitious TV news programmer who will stop at nothing in the quest for ratings in this smug, sloppy but prescient satire. Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay bulges with the sort of speechifying that impresses award-givers (and won him an Oscar too), although it’s a pleasure to watch Dunaway and her co-stars perorating away.

6. Barfly (1987)

Obviously there’s nothing funny about alcoholism, but Barbet Schroeder’s film of the writer Charles Bukowski’s semi-autobiographical screenplay is objectively hilarious. Mickey Rourke is a hoot as Bukowski’s alter-ego, with Dunaway matching him all the way as greasy-haired Wanda, who shows off her legs and beats up her love rival (Alice Krige) after snarling: “I’m gonna peel you away from your perfume!”

5. The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

Steve McQueen plays a jaded millionaire who dabbles in robbery, just for a laugh. Dunaway plays his would-be nemesis Vicki Anderson, an unfeasibly glam insurance investigator (29 changes of Theadora Van Runkle costume and a Ferrari Spider!) who plays sexy chess against him in this quintessentially 1960s heist movie, a breezy affair awash with split-screen and an infuriating earworm of a Michel Legrand score.

4. Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

Dunaway plays a fashion photographer who crouches down in weird split-down-the-side culottes to take edgy Helmut Newton-style sex-and-violence pics in this brilliant slice of giallo-esque baloney. She also has a psychic connection to the maniac who is stabbing her friends and colleagues to death, although this isn’t much help to anyone since each time her killer-vision kicks in, she stumbles around shrieking pointlessly.

3. The Four Musketeers (1974)

The second half of Richard Lester’s rollicking all-star Alexandre Dumas diptych provides Dunaway with a dazzling showcase as soignée arch-villainess Milady, lunging at D’Artagnan with a post-coital poisoned dagger when he uncovers her darkest secret, or posing as a victim to manipulate her Puritan jailer into – historical spoiler! – assassinating the Duke of Buckingham. Bravissima!

2. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Arthur Penn’s groundbreaking blend of nostalgia, slapstick, romance and ultra-violence, channelling the French New Wave, helped change the face of 60s Hollywood, rocketed Dunaway and her fabulous cheekbones to stardom, and launched a fashion trend for midi skirts and Bonnie berets. But it’s Bonnie’s last loving glance at Clyde (Warren Beatty) before they are gunned down that gives that shocking ending its bitter kick.

1. Chinatown (1974)

As Evelyn Mulwray, Dunaway has the trickiest role in this revisionist neo-noir, since she has to embody the archetypal femme fatale, all scarlet lipstick and duplicity, while simultaneously allowing the detective antihero (Jack Nicholson) to pick away at her defences and ultimately peel back the facade she has erected to shield herself (and at least one other person) from the unspeakable truth. It’s an astonishing performance, and utterly heartbreaking.


Anne Billson

The GuardianTramp

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