Clinton Jones (Spencer Tracy), his wife Annie (Teresa Wright), and their teenage daughter Ruth Gordon (Jean Simmons) live together in a modest apartment outside of Boston. They’re a pretty typical family, but Ruth dreams of being anything but typical. More than anything else in the world, Ruth wants to become a great actress. She adores the actress Hazel Dawn and dreams of being able to have a career just like Hazel’s. Ruth’s stage aspirations are well-known to everyone close to her, except for her father. She doesn’t think he would approve of her going into the theater and it’s true, he’d much rather see her go off to school to become a physical education teacher. Annie would rather see Ruth just settle down and marry her boyfriend Fred (Anthony Perkins)
Ruth’s dreams of stage stardom only get bigger when she gets a response to a fan letter from her idol Hazel Dawn inviting her to come meet her backstage after a performance. Hazel knows about Ruth’s desire to be an actress and later sends Ruth a message saying she’s arranged for a Ruth to meet an important director. Eventually, she has to tell her father about her dreams of stardom when he insists on filling out her application to go to school to become a gym teacher. He has her doubts about whether or not she could make it as an actress, but is surprisingly supportive. However, he really wants her to finish school first and absolutely doesn’t want her to go to her interview with the director.
Part of the reason Clinton isn’t so willing to give Ruth his unrelenting support is because financial instability is a big concern for him. Not only for her, but because he’s worried about his own job and doesn’t think he’d be able to support her studying to become an actress. When he gets some news that assures him his job is secure, he promises to send her to acting school. Ruth is thrilled, but when something goes wrong at the last minute and Clinton loses his job, she refuses to let it hold her back. And sure enough, Clinton finds a way to help.
The Actress is based on actress Ruth Gordon’s own experiences as a teenager. Although it’s a story about Ruth, Spencer Tracy is the one who gets the richest role in the movie. Spencer Tracy was an expert at playing characters who could seem gruff and stern, but still had a soft side to them, and this is very much on display here. This was very much intended to be a tribute to Ruth Gordon’s father and Spencer certainly did him justice.
On the whole, it’s a very pleasant movie with just the right amount of sentiment. It may not be anything truly spectacular, but it’s still likable enough that I’d give it another watch if there wasn’t much else on television. The Actress is also noteworthy for being the film debut of Anthony Perkins.