Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Inglish" Lessons

Wow... It took a long, long time for me to finally get to see this elusive 1961 melodrama. Sometimes I thought I'd never see it, but TCM finally unearthed it last month. Claudelle Inglish was a sultry story starring the recently-discovered, blonde beauty Diane McBain. It examines the romantic exploits of a sharecropper's daughter who feels the bliss of first love only to be stung badly, thus turning her life (along with several others) upside down.

As the film opens, McBain (looking remarkably fresh-scrubbed compared to virtually every other role she ever played on screen) is a high school senior anticipating graduation. She is the dirt poor daughter of indentured farmers Arthur Kennedy and Constance Ford, though they strive to give her as presentable an appearance as possible. Their life in a glorified shack is a symptom of the life of poverty they have endured over the years.

Fellow student Chad Everett (looking simply edible) pursues her, gently at first and then with more ardor. He approaches McBain on the school bus, shy but determined, and asks if he can sit next to her the following day and also asks her out for a walk that evening. She's every bit as demure and reticent as he is, but how could anyone resist him?

Ford is aghast when McBain tells her that she has a date with Everett, who is in no better financial straits than they are, but McBain has no taste for money or position. She wants only to love and be loved by the man of her dreams, who happens to be Everett (and mine, too, as it turns out!)

They proceed to see each other often, whether working on the farm, dancing or attending a local carnival where she wins a little music box with a ballerina on top (which she amusing refers to as “the little dancin' doll.”)
One night, he takes McBain to a deserted part of the woods and the couple gives in to their passion. She looks up and sees only the tops of the trees wafting in the night breeze as Everett digs in for the kill. The pair decides to wed, though they cannot go through with their plans until he has finished a two-year stint in the U.S. Army.
Patiently, she waits for him, often by the mailbox, and for a while he writes her daily (while she has a return letter just the same.) Preparing for the big day, she puts payments on fabric at the local general store in order to create her trousseau. (Remarkably, she never turns out to be pregnant, which is a staple event in so many movies of this type!) At the store, run by Frank Overton and his wife Hope Summers, she attracts the attention of several local boys, including Overton's son Will Hutchins, but she can only think and dream of Everett's return.

After a dry spell of missives from Everett, she finally gets another letter from him, but it contains crushing news. Distraught, she falls to the dirt (a place where she will symbolically remain for much of the rest of the movie's running time!) Her mother tries to console her, but its no use. She loved Everett and only Everett. Ford nevertheless tries to emphasize that another boy, one from a better financial strata, will do her more good.
Meanwhile, her parents' landowner, Claude Akins, has had his eye on her. A widower, he can barely set eyes on McBain without sweating and salivating. Even though he wants her terribly, he still plays by the rules and goes to ask Kennedy if it's okay for him to pursue the young girl. Kennedy won't sell his daughter out, but also won't stand in the way if it turns out that she likes Akins.

Akins, bearing the gift of some red shoes she's been wanting, comes upon McBain clad only in a slip, washing her hair in the kitchen. Rapt with attention through the screen door, he knocks, but she doesn' t hear him. He goes around back to do the same, finally entering the house, where she scarcely seems to care that she's half-undressed! He professes his love for her only to be met with derision as she calls him old and fat. She does hang on to the shoes, though, and wears them on a date with Hutchins.
She and Hutchins go for a drive and finally come to rest in a secluded, woodsy area where she again gazes up at the treetops while he begins to have his way with her. McBain, emotionally empty after the fiasco with Everett, begins a steady descent into dangerous, reckless behavior.
Akins has gifted her with shoes, Hutchins has also provided her with a present and, still later that night, a knock at her bedroom window reveals young Robert Logan, gift in hand, wanting a date! At this point with three suitors in a single night, there's unintentional humor and one can easily see Carol Burnett parodying Claudelle Inglish on her famous show, with gift-bearing lovers coming out of the closet, the chest of drawers and the medicine cabinet as the poor girl tries to get some sleep!

Now, McBain has realized that she can use her feminine attributes to win clothing, jewelry and other beauty accessories. She has become the town tramp and can't even get through one song at the dance without switching partners three or four times. Her hair is more heavily-styled, she wears lipstick and her dresses are more form-fitting (though typically not audaciously sexy.)

Have a look at some of the loot she has taken in as payment for her feminine favors:
Desperately unhappy and restless Mama Ford still wants her daughter to marry “up” and is in favor of Akins as a candidate. She is appalled that McBain will slip into bed with everyone in town, yet repel the one man who can give her security, social standing and material wealth. After one too many instances of failing to get McBain to see the light, Ford goes into her room, snatches up one of her dresses and decides she's going to land Akins for herself!
Kennedy, who has been too busy plowing the field to notice that his daughter has become a slut and his wife has become an adulteress, finally gets wind of the goings on and puts his foot down. He sends McBain to the local reverend Ford Rainey for counseling. This doesn't help at all and soon after McBain is inside the general store again, deciding which articles she's going to “work for.” The proprietor Overton can't bear to resist the tart he's heard so much about and decides to try her out in the stockroom while she's trying on a dress.
His frowsy wife Summers happens to come into the store during this and (very sadly, off-screen) catches them in the act! Presumably, McBain is tossed into the street and sent packing, though it surely stings to be deprived of the great soapy moment when Summers opened the stock room door and witnessed her husband canoodling with a girl half his age! All we see is McBain careening down the road and landing face first in (again) the dirt.

The old homestead is busy indeed with all sorts of guys, always in convertibles(!), zooming in and out with gifts for – and “dates” with – McBain. One night, while Hutchins is waiting for her (apparently unaware that she's recently been caught with his own father!), Robert Colbert shows up. Colbert had danced briefly with McBain and has now come to see about a few horizontal moves with her.
A fight ensues in which Colbert knocks the heck out of Hutchins. Since Colbert is the last one standing, she heads off with him and his fire-emblazoned car. Once back, Hutchins is lying in wait with a heavy wrench, determined to get Colbert back. Calamity ensues, causing everyone a significant amount of distress.

Just when things don't seem as if they can get much worse, Ford up and leaves her family. McBain, desperately sorry for her put-upon father, attempts to set things right, but will it be too late?
Claudelle Inglish, regardless of the fact that it was based on an Erskine Caldwell novel (dig this trashy cover!), contains many of the hallmarks of other Warner Brothers product of this time period. Susan Slade, which was also released in 1961 (and got The Underworld treatment here) has an extremely similar opening, albeit in a far more glamorous setting.

Caldwell (who wrote Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre) was known for his seedy tales set in the world of the working man, particularly the sharecropper. Note how later editions of the paperback feature a far more appealing-looking heroine on the cover.

The film also seems to subtly crib imagery from Warner Brothers' own earlier film Baby Doll (1956), which had a young, seductive, blonde Carroll Baker lounging on a wrought-iron bed and driving men to the edge of all reason. Note here the similarities between McBain (at top, below) and Baker (below, beneath McBain.)
Somehow (perhaps due to studio “block voting”), the film gleaned an Oscar nomination for its Costumes-Black and White, by Howard Shoup, a designer since the 1930s. I've enjoyed Shoup's clothing in a variety of movies including A Summer Place (1959), Ice Palace (1960), The Bramble Bush (1960) and Parrish (1961), but there is nothing even remotely special or appealing about any of the clothes in Claudelle Inglish! (Incidentally, I far prefer McBain's hair the "plain" way versus the severe bouffant she sports when she's being "bad" as seen here.) The young man with her here is Jan Stine, who enjoyed a brief career (about seven years) as an actor before departing the business in 1966.

Director Gordon Douglas worked as a child actor before eventually turning to direction (and working with a passel of child actors on the Our Gang comedies of the 1930s. He's seen here with Spanky, Alfafa, Darla, et al...) After working on several of The Great Gildersleeve movies, he worked on movies as varied as the sci-fi classic Them!, the musical Young at Heart and Liberace's howler Sincerely Yours.

In time, he went to work for Warner Brothers where he directed hunky Clint Walker in Fort Dobbs, Yellowstone Kelly and Gold of the Seven Saints (his film just prior to Inglish.) His next film after this was Elvis Presley's Follow That Dream. He was also the director of the colorful, campy, back-to-back Carroll Baker career-enders Sylvia and Harlow. Having successfully worked with Frank Sinatra in Young at Heart, he made four more films with him including (as shown here, lying in the sand) Tony Rome. His final film was Viva Knievel!, starring the daredevil cyclist Evel Knievel. Douglas died of cancer at age eighty-six in 1993 and it is rare to find publicity shots of him without a cigarette.

McBain is an Underworld favorite and has been profiled here alone and in movies like Ice Palace. This was her really big break after two supporting parts and a large handful of TV guest appearances. She's extremely lovely in Inglish and does a terrific job with the sordid material (although one can't fail to mention occasional “crazy eyes” during a couple of her intense scenes.) Just look how lovely she (and costar Hutchins) look in color below.
This is surely one of her more naturalistic performances, at least in the first third of the film, as compared to her other glamorous roles. Lasting film stardom didn't come her way and after being underutilized in the overpopulated psychiatric drama, The Caretakers, she made a few other films before (like a few others in Inglish) working with Elvis in 1966's Spinout. She is still with us today at age seventy-one.

Kennedy (who won second-billing here) had a prolific career as a much-admired character actor with only occasional leading man roles (such as in 1951's Bright Victory), perhaps due to his looks which were slightly menacing and not conventionally handsome by the standards of 1940s and '50s Hollywood. During his career, he was five-times nominated for an Academy Award, but never won. His sole Best Actor nom was for Bright Victory, but that year it was won by Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen. He also lost the Golden Globe that year to Fredric March in Death of a Salesman, an adaptation of the play in which he'd originated the role of Biff (which Kevin McCarthy inherited for the movie.)

His Supporting Actor nods were for 1949's Champion (the winner being Dean Jagger in Twelve O'Clock High), 1955's Trial (the winner being Jack Lemmon in Mr. Roberts, though Kennedy did take home the Golden Globe), 1957's Peyton Place (in which he was an unforgettably slimy bastard, somehow losing to Red Buttons in Sayonara!) and 1959's Some Came Running (the statuette going to Burl Ives in The Big Country.) That last year, he was nominated alongside his old Salesman costar Lee J. Cobb, who was up for The Brothers Karamazov. Also in 1959, he'd played Troy Donahue's father opposite Constance Ford as Sandra Dee's mother in the splendiferous A Summer Place. Kennedy died in 1990 at the age of seventy-five of a brain tumor.

Ms. Ford has also been profiled here, though it was in the earliest days of the site (before I contracted diarrhea of the mouth!), so it's not particularly long or in-depth. In the aforementioned A Summer Place, Ford gained entry into Poseidon's Underworld Hall of Fame for her blisteringly nasty depiction of an obsessive, repressed mother. She followed that up with a role as Joan Crawford's henchwoman nurse in The Caretakers. Her character in Inglish is more desperate than mean. It's neat to see her working with Kennedy under these varied conditions.

At the time of this film, Ford was very busy, having done Home from the Hill in 1960, Rome Adventure, House of Women, All Fall Down and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari all in 1962 and a wealth of TV amidst it all. Daytime TV would prove to be a fertile home for her talents when in 1967 she joined the cast of Another World as Ada, the loving but firm mother of ever-complicated Rachel. There she would remain, much-beloved, until her death in 1992 of cancer at age sixty-nine.

Lanky Hutchins began acting on TV and in small film roles during the mid-1950s. In 1957, he was cast as Tom Brewster in the western series Sugarfoot (his character's nickname.) It was part of the Cheyenne family, rotating with that show and Bronco until 1961. Hutchins could never quite get a foothold in the movies, with Merrill's Marauders in 1962 his only one for several years. In 1966, he worked with Elvis (and McBain again) in Spinout, followed by 1967's Clambake, another Elvis effort (to use the term loosely.)

He played legendary comic strip character Dagwood Bumstead in the shortlived 1968 sitcom Blondie before eventually turning to work as a circus clown and ringmaster! To my mind, he always wore a bit too healthy an amount of mascara when working on-screen, so the clown makeup would have been no big stretch! However, even though he isn't really my thing (too skinny!), he was sometimes very attractive, was capable of an array of characterizations and has a devoted following of fans who fondly remember his brief window of stardom. Now eighty-two, he recently popped up as Josh Duhamel's grandfather in the 2010 film The Romantics. Good for him!

Brawny Akins was born with a face only a mother could love, but it served him well over a busy, forty-year career as a character actor. Able to play both amiable and menacing roles, he proved useful in countless movies and TV shows. He had his own series, Movin' On, from 1974 – 1976 and then parlayed a recurring part on 1978's B.J. and the Bear into another series of his own, The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo from 1979 – 1981. He's shown here holding back some eager travelers in the now-forgotten television rehash If It's Tuesday, It Still Must Be Belgium (1987) and, yes, that is a young Courtney Cox next to him! Akins worked up until his death from cancer in 1994 at the age of sixty-seven.

Overton began working in movie bit parts in the 1950s and quickly began appearing often on television. Noted for his stern visage and for playing roles older than his actual age, he is known to Trekkers for having played Elias Sandoval in the Star Trek episode This Side of Paradise in 1967. He died of a heart attack that same year at only age forty-nine, which means that he was only about forty-three when he did Inglish. (Hope Summers, who played his wife here was twenty-two years his senior!)

There is a profile at this site on the yummy Chad Everett. At the time of filming Inglish, he was literally fresh out of the gate. He'd done a couple of TV guest roles on Warner Brothers shows like Bronco, Surfside 6 and Hawaiian Eye, but this was his film debut. Of course, he would get the most mileage out of his later hit show Medical Center (1969 – 1976), but he works still today. He recently costarred on a TV show called Chemistry and appeared as a guest on Castle this year. He is seventy-six years old. (Editor's note:  We just lost Chad on 7/24/12, just a few days after this post, to lung cancer. So sorry to see him leave this world...)

Colbert got started at Warners just a tad earlier than Everett, beginning in at the tail end of the 1950s. The year Inglish was released, he had the dubious distinction of being dressed the same as his lookalike James Garner and placed in the series Maverick, which Garner had just decided to vacate. Garner's character was Bret Maverick and Colbert was named Brent Maverick, his brother. He balked at this piece of cookie-cutter recasting and only had to appear twice in the part. His best-known role was in The Time Tunnel with James Darren (shown below) from 1966 – 1967, though that part was entirely sexless unlike the rogue he plays here (named Rip Guyler!) Colbert retired in the mid-1990s and will turn eighty-one next week.
Rainey is familiar to fans of The Bionic Woman for his role as her adoptive father Jim. An actor in many stage film and TV projects from the late-1940s on, he passed away in 2005 at age ninety-six from a series of strokes. He had also played Abraham Lincoln on Colbert's series The Time Tunnel in 1966, as depicted here.

Logan (who at times looks much like Robert Wagner in the film – Don't believe me? Check him out here with Connie Stevens and with Wagner inset!) was, like Everett, making his film debut. He had been playing a recurring role on 77 Sunset Strip since 1961 and would continue to do so until 1963. He hit a career rough spot in the mid-1960s, but rebounded somewhat in a series of movies about The (Adventures of the) Wilderness Family. Having retired in the late 1990s, he is now seventy-two.

Claudelle Inglish is a much-neglected movie, never seeing the light of day on video and having rarely been shown on television. I don't know that it can be described as good, but it's rarely boring! What's really striking about it to me is that for 1961, there is a lot of implied sexuality. Time and again, I thought to myself that something might happen, but then figured that, given the era the film was made in, “they wouldn't dare” and yet they did! True, nothing much is shown, but I can see this having been rather steamy in its day. And, naturally, no one who sins in a Production Code-era movie gets off scot-free.
The shot depicted here is not present in the finished film.  In fact, I don't believe that Everett's and Hutchins' characters ever meet on-screen.  Having seen this picture before viewing the film, I thought to myself, "My God, how hard can it be, having to put up with two handsome young men pawing for your attention?!," especially when one of them is Chad "Tight Pants" Everett! Nevertheless, what a great way to watch so many favorite Warner Brothers contractees doing their thing!

10 comments:

joel65913 said...

Another movie I have long sought to see. I caught a few brief scenes years ago on an afternoon movie program but started watching somewhere in the middle and wanted to catch it from the beginning so decided to wait, who knew it would be so elusive! I missed the recent TCM showing noticing that it had been on the next day! Hopefully they'll show it again soon.

I have no great affection for the leads but absolutely love Constance Ford, I was a devoted fan of Another World all the time she was a cast member-her Ada was the toughest, most plain spoken broad on TV, she was always able to cut right through any artifice in any story and deliver the goods to perfection.

Arthur Kennedy is another undervalued performer. Even when
he was playing a total scum bucket there was almost always a sort of
wounded vulnerablity and easy charm behind it which made his characters relatable.

Two actors who when you saw their names in the credits you knew no matter how bad the film was there would at least be something worth seeing contained therein.

Michael O'Sullivan said...

That's a post ! I discovered CLAUDELLE a year or two ago - also Jean Simmons as HILDA CRANE, a 1956 Fox meller with Guy Madison! - both fascinating on the roles of women in that era. As good as YOUNGBLOOD HAWK or PARRISH or SUSAN SLADE!

Michael O'Sullivan said...

My favourite Chad moment is (not having seen his tv work here in England) his water delivery boy in the tight pants in Cukor's campfest THE CHAPMAN REPORT as the nympho Claire Bloom, like a vampire in the shadows, watches him deliver the water ....

NotFelixUnger said...

Thanks for another great post and thanks to the commentators as well. I am constantly amazed at the number of movies I've never seen but would love to. One more trip to www.amazon.com's used DVD section! If that fails there's a new site I've discovered: vedio.pressplayhouse.com

They have stuff you can't find anywhere else and near as I can tell everything is $14.99 including shipping!

Great post!

Michael O'Sullivan said...

Sad to report that Chad too has now passed away, aged 75. He will be remembered for his roles in Claudelle, Chapman Report etc. and that delirious Singing Nun !

Craig said...

Came across this posting on this movie when looking up stuff on Chad Everett who was one of my childhood favorite actors. Sad that he has passed. I did not even know he had been battling lung Cancer. He is so near my parents age and my mother was a huge fan. We both loved Medical Center.

Ive not heard of this movie but would love to see it. Ive not seen but only one of Diane McBain's work and that was in Spinout. I thought the was radiantly beautiful.

I also have enjoyed Will Hutchins in the Elvis movies and lately have been watching The Time Tunnel with Robert Colbert. You didnt mention this but Robert was also famous for playing Stuart Brooks on The Young & THe Restless as the patriarch of the 2 families The Brooks and THe Fosters which began that soap.

Anyway sounds like a good movie. HOpe to see it someday. And RIP Chad Everett and thanks to him for sharing his talents all these years.

Poseidon3 said...

Welcome, Craig, and thank you for taking the time to comment. If you swim around The Underworld, you will find more of Diane, Chad and probably quite a few other of your favorites from movies & TV. I tend to profile people of similar attributes, though I also attempt to branch beyond that on occasion (such as my occasional tributes to character actors.) Thanks much!

Ken Anderson said...

I've somehow never seen this film, yet it sounds right up my alley. I suppose it is as you say, it's so rarely screened. You make it sound very good in a camp-trash way, and I like the cast, especially Constance Ford, who's always good for a lot of worried looks and super-intense emoting. Thanks for all the backstory on the actors too. It's always one of the things that distinguishes your posts from any other I read. So thorough and always enjoyably full of factoids.

Taylor Maddux said...

To Poseidon and any other Diane McBain fans who might not know, she wrote an auto-bio about two years ago. I'm reading it now. I'm about 73% through, according to my Kindle, and have found it a very enjoyable read.

Poseidon3 said...

How great for her!! I love Diane so much. I'll definitely have to check that out. I just read a good interview with her yesterday in the book "Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema," though I was sad that she and Joan Crawford didn't get on. I suspect McBain was just too young and pretty!