10 Classic Hollywood Screen Tests

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Sometimes, in this age of gratuitously 3D movies, third-time-around remakes, and Saw IV, we look back with longing at the Golden Age of Hollywood, when the stars were glamorous, talented and tiger blood-free and studios were willing to take a chance on films that were more art than blockbuster. As far as we’re concerned, nothing’s better than a peek behind the scenes at an industry and time period we love, so we’ve been thrilled to see a lot of classic Hollywood screen tests pop up recently (especially over at Open Culture). In the interest of amateur film study and thinking about the good old days, we thought we’d compile a few of the best here for your old Hollywood dreaming and black and white swooning. So without any further ado, we present ten classic Hollywood screen tests, from Brando to Hepburn to Garland.

Marlon Brando as Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause

In the mid 1940s, Warner Brothers started developing the film that would become Rebel Without a Cause, based on Robert Lindner’s book Rebel Without a Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath. In 1947, they called 23-year old Marlon Brando in for a screen test, reading from a partial script. Though he’s pretty phenomenal in it (of course), the studio wasn’t ready to move on the project — in 1950 a new script was written, and in 1955, as we all know, James Dean appeared in the iconic film. Which brings us to…

James Dean as Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause

This screen test is all about the chemistry between James Dean, Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood. When your parents just don’t understand, it’s your friends that matter, and this was a three-way match made in angsty teen heaven.

Marlene Dietrich as Lola Lola in The Blue Angel

Bout d’essai Marlene Dietrich screentest

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It doesn’t get much better than Marlene Dietrich’s screen test for the part of Lola Lola in the 1930 film Der blaue Engel (The Blue Angel). Needless to say, she got the part, and it led to her overwhelming international fame.

James Dean and Paul Newman as Aron Trask and Cal Trask in East of Eden

1955’s East of Eden/ was to be Dean’s first major big screen role, but not Paul Newman’s. He lost out to Richard Davalos, but we can’t feel too badly for him. He made a splash a year later in Somebody Up There Likes Me, and in the long run he made out a fair shade better than Davalos. Salad, anyone?

Audrey Hepburn as Princess Ann in Roman Holiday

The role of Princess Ann was originally written for Elizabeth Taylor — Hepburn was relatively unknown at the time, but her screen test won her the part. Clearly, the director made the right choice: Hepburn’s portrayal of the escaped Princess won her, among other things, an Academy Award for Best Actress.

Marilyn Monroe as Elle Arden in the unfinished Something’s Got to Give

Due to repeated absences, Marilyn Monroe was fired from this film in June of 1962. The producers secured Lee Remick to replace her, but her costar Dean Martin refused to make the movie with anyone but his dear Marilyn. Fox was forced to rehire her, and planned to resume filming in October of that year, but two months later, on August 5, 1962, she died, and the film died with her. Compare this clip with this early screen test of Monroe’s that we can’t identify (let us know if you can!) – the difference between the beginning and end of her career is amazing, though perhaps not unexpected.

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind

Though the overacting is almost unbearable by today’s standards, you have to admit that Leigh positively sparkles in this screen test. If you like Gone With the Wind, you should also check out this supercut of the many, many actresses that tried out for the role.

Judy Garland as Helen Lawson in Valley of the Dolls

The 45-year-old Garland won this role, but was fired after she came to set drunk. As far as we can tell, she’s drunk in the screen test (though she looks fabulous), so we maintain the producers should have known what they were getting into. Garland was replaced by Susan Hayward.

Greta Garbo as the Duchess in La Duchess de Langelais

This is another screen test from a film that was never made, and to be honest, Garbo doesn’t do much but play with her hair and gaze around, but she looks so severe and gorgeous we couldn’t look away for the whole two minutes. Those eyebrows!

Joan Crawford as Lucy Harbin in Straight-Jacket

Okay, so this isn’t a screen test proper, but a wardrobe and makeup test. Still, it’s so amazing that it’s like a short film in and of itself. Still looking painfully gorgeous at 60, that woman.