Best Performance: Anna Novak, Black Fury
Karen Morley was such an underused actress. She was very good. Perhaps not quite as good as some other actresses of the time, and perhaps not as glamorous, but she deserved much better treatment than she recieved in Hollywood. Girlfriends, mob molls, tiny supporting roles where she didn't get the chance to really shine fill her career. She always played second fiddle (or sometimes thrid or fourth fiddle) to actresses like Greer Garson (in Pride and Prejudice) and Greta Garbo (in Mata Hari and Inspiration).
When she did get the chance to play the female lead, it was in films that didn't do much business. She sparkled opposite Franchot Tone and Walter Huston in Gabriel Over the White House. She did her best work as the female lead in Black Fury opposite Paul Muni. But even the female lead in that film was a small role. She was missing for the entire middle part of the film.
It's most likely her extremely leftist political views that got her little love in Hollywood. Even in the 1930s, long before communism was a huge issue in Hollywood, it was quite clear where Morley's sympathy's lied, especially when you look at some of the films on her resume. Gabriel Over the White House is practically a love letter to the destruction of democracy, a film where the President of the United states recieves some divine intervention and has the religious epiphany that it's a great idea to disband the Cabinet, and pretty much all of the government. Our Daily Bread and Black Fury are subtler films than Gabriel Over the White House, but looking at them it's easy to see why Morley was summoned by the House of Un-American Activities in the 1940s. Her career came practically to a standstill after the 1930s because of it.
Still, Morley is an actress who's always a joy to watch. She's charming onscreen, engaging in a way that a lot of actresses weren't, because she was so unglamorous. She seemed more like regular Joe movie goer than a bona fide movie star. She has an appeal that completely attainable.