Friday, January 29, 2010

Next is Alexis...

The subject of today’s tribute is an actress who toiled away for years in more than a few (sometimes undemanding) feature film roles only to walk away and then return to some of her greatest ever acclaim, this time on the Broadway stage, followed by a smattering of more interesting film parts – Miss Alexis Smith.

Born in British Columbia, Canada in 1921, she later moved to Los Angeles and it was while in a college play there she was spotted by a Warner Brothers talent scout and signed to a contract in 1940. She would spend ten years at the studio and appear in over thirty films during that period of time.

Like most other starlets, she was put through rigorous and highly varied photo sessions in order to examine every facet of her appeal. She was posed and decorated in every conceivable way with differing hair, makeup, clothing (frequently swimsuits) and lighting. Though she looked fine with her hair down (and in real life preferred it fairly short and with just a soft wave to it), it was determined that she suited well the 1940s style, which was to pile it up on top as much as possible.

At 5’9” in her bare feet, she wasn’t going to be doing any Alan Ladd pictures! Her statuesque figure gave her an inherently elegant quality that was complimented by a sense of class and serenity. Her features were sharp and angular and there was a certain tightness across the eyes which didn’t matter much when she was young, but made it easier for her as an older adult to play roles with a degree of menace to them.

First, her roles were small, mostly uncredited even, but she swiftly showed promise and was rewarded in 1941 with the leading lady role in the Errol Flynn-Fred MacMurray flight movie Dive Bomber. The color film showed her off beautifully and she began to win better roles in subsequent movies. She also met a supporting actor on the set of this film who would later mean a lot to her, Craig Stevens.

Just a year later, she was cast opposite Flynn again in the wonderful boxing biopic Gentleman Jim, all about the legendary Jim Corbett. In all, she would work with Flynn four times and though her set of teamings with him pale a bit compared to those of his with Olivia de Havilland, she more than held her own. This time out she had a delicious give and take relationship with him and provided the romantic part of the plotline with a firm anchor.

Smith worked with many of the top stars of her day including Charles Boyer, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Bing Crosby, Clark Gable and William Holden. She also, however, has the distinction of having played opposite Jack Benny in a film he joked about for the rest of his career, The Horn Blows at Midnight. Though it is not regarded by most fans as the howler he always claimed it was, it had a disappointing box office showing and he frequently brought it up as a joke for decades after.

In 1944, she married fellow actor and contract player Craig Stevens. The couple remained together for close to 50 years, though the childless union was allegedly an arranged marriage in order to cover up their respective sexual identities. They surely felt something for each other, however, to have stuck it out until her death in 1993! He was later best known as TV’s Peter Gunn and, though he was a decent enough looking guy in his early years, I’ve really never been able to generate much excitement over him. He always seemed too disposably generic and unremarkable looking, especially from the 1950s on.

Smith continued to play female leads and second leads, often giving as much as she could to colorless parts, never performing badly, but also never having enough of interest to do that would generate any sort of award notice. In 1948, she filmed the fascinating mystery film The Woman in White, about a mid-19th century estate that is being “haunted” by an enigmatic young girl. This tale, which was adapted much later into a Broadway musical, offers terrific roles for the mammoth Sydney Greenstreet and especially John Abbott who plays an overwrought invalid. Smith, though the ostensible lead, was asked to portray the “plain” one while Eleanor Parker has the more showy (dual) role and more elaborate costume and hair trimmings.

As the 50s dawned, she found herself in some decent films along with some lesser ones, but always giving more to the projects than they warranted. For example, she lent talent, looks, presence and ability to a western film with a lackluster title like Wyoming Mail. She played a young lady bent on avenging the death of her father in Undercover Girl, a B-movie that also featured Scott Brady before he started down the road of weight gain that shifted his career path.

1951’s Here Comes the Groom, a musical starring Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman, signified a certain change of pace for her and she got a meaty role in 1954’s The Sleeping Tiger about a wife who is aroused by the arrival of a criminal Dirk Bogarde into her household. The Eternal Sea was with Sterling Hayden, who always cared more about the water and boats than anything else. She then played Bob Hope’s wife in Beau James, a rare Hope film in which there is a certain level of drama and emotion present.

In 1959, she enjoyed a strong role as a married woman who falls for young attorney Paul Newman in The Young Philadelphians. Her work in the movie was almost universally praised, but she would not follow it up with another film. In fact, though she did several TV guest appearances and one TV-movie, she would be absent from the big screen for about 15 years!

Her husband Stevens’ career was finally taking off with the success of his TV show Peter Gunn and the pair would occasionally work on a stage play together. In 1971, Alexis Smith, who had not been prominently in the public eye for about a decade and certainly had never been primarily thought of as musical star, was handed the role of Phyllis Stone in Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway show Follies. Concerning the reunion of a bunch of former Vaudeville performers attending their old theatre just prior to demolition (and featuring a large collection of talented stars whose peak time had rather gone by), Smith dazzled audiences with her acting, singing and startlingly high-kicking and energetic dancing! Her splash was such that she made the cover of Time magazine. She also won the coveted Tony Award for her role.

Her newfound success onstage led to her portraying Sylvia Fowler in a revival of The Women, followed by the part of lonely teacher Rosemary in Summer Brave (a reworking, by William Inge, of his classic play Picnic.) Ironically, both of these parts had been played earlier onscreen by Rosalind Russell. She wound up her amazing comeback on the stage with another Tony Award nomination for the otherwise unsuccessful musical fiasco Platinum. In the bargain, she attracted a small cult following among gay men.

Adding to her allure amongst the gay community was the publication in 1973 of Rita Mae Brown’s lesbian-themed novel Rubyfruit Jungle, which was dedicated to Smith and featured a blurb in tribute to her as part of the dedication. Ms. Brown considered the two decades older Smith to be the love of her life.

Smith then made a daring return to the big screen in the instant camp classic Jacqueline Susann’s Once is Not Enough. Based on an explicit bestseller (by the world-famous authoress who also penned the mega-hit Valley of the Dolls) but quite watered down as a film, it focused on the daddy worship of a young girl (the dreary Deborah Raffin) who sublimates her forbidden feelings by taking up with a much older man. Kirk Douglas played her father and Alexis appeared as his jet-set millionairess wife.

Brenda Vaccaro copped an Oscar nomination for her role as Raffin’s brazen friend, but apart from her (and the good looks of an underused Gary Conway), the primary reason to watch the film is for the stylish, knowing, cool performance of Miss Smith. Decked to the hilt in (sometimes amusing) Moss Mabry clothes, she adds immeasurable class, wit and presence to this all-star film (that also features George Hamilton, David Janssen and Melina Mercouri.) Her character is a fascinating blend of haughty arrogance, vulnerability, style, elegance and bawdiness and, in the final analysis, is a part that would have made her old boss Jack Warner keel over from shock. Just watch it and wait until she goes to meet “Joyce” for bridge.

She followed up this film with a haunting little thriller that made many a kid gasp while watching it later on television. Jodie Foster starred in The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane about a bright and independent-minded child who lives in a big house with a never-seen father. Smith took a smallish part as the overbearing and insinuating landlady and in doing so provided a master class to the world in how to deliver the most out of a part, whether or not it is considered major.

In her two brief scenes, she managed to inject a massive amount of subtext and a panorama of attitudes into her character. Looking terrific in a pair of Valentino-designed New England matron ensembles, she wrings every possible drop of interest, nuance and texture out of her role. Her scant screen time is a lesson in how to get the most out of every moment and not one solitary frame of her performance is lacking magnetism. She and Jodie share some delicious enmity in their dialogue.

A couple of years later, she portrayed a wealthy horse owner in the Walter Matthau family film Casey’s Shadow and then once again stepped away from screen work for a period of time. In 1982, she and her husband did roles in a French film for Joseph Losey called The Trout and in 1985 she played Cheryl Ladd’s mother in the TV movie A Death in California.

When Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas went to bat one final time together on the big screen in Tough Guys, Smith was enlisted to join them, though the 1986 fashion trappings did her no real favors aesthetically. She was cast in a television hospital series called Hothouse in 1988, but it was cancelled after 7 episodes.

More memorable for a lot of fans is her guest role on Dallas. She first appeared in 1984 as Lady Jessica Montford, the aristocratic (and unbalanced) sister of Howard Keel’s Clayton Farlow for 7 episodes. However, she was brought back in 1990 for 4 more episodes to reprise the role, terrorizing the Ewings, chiefly Miss Ellie, with a gun.

Sadly, Alexis Smith developed cancer of the brain and so her time with us ended when she was 72 before she could deliver even more compelling parts. Still, she was working almost up until her death. Her last film, Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence, in which she played a prominent 19th century society woman, was released posthumously. She graced us with her talent only as often as she felt like it, and there are long stretches of time in her onscreen resume with nothing there, but during the times she did work, she gave her everything. Her widower, Craig Stevens, died of cancer himself in 2000 and their estate was left primarily to charity, chiefly to a program that adapts locations for disability access.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Keeping My Stevens Even

Having recently profiled Miss Stella Stevens, it seemed only natural to throw a bone, so to speak, to her charming and handsome son Andrew, a hunk of cuteness who was a bit of a sensation from the mid-70s to the mid-80s (and who then turned into a straight-to-video action and softcore sex icon and has since become a low-budget film producer and part-time actor.)

To hop back to the beginning, Andrew was born to mama in Memphis, TN in 1955 before she was famous. (She was only 16 years of age when she had him, having been married the year before and then divorced the year after!) He appeared as a little boy at camp in her film The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, but really didn’t attempt an acting career proper until 1973 when he began winning roles on TV series such as Adam-12 and Apple’s Way and bits in movies such as Shampoo and his mother’s Las Vegas Lady.

In 1976, he was cast as Rod Taylor’s son in the pioneer saga The Oregon Trail, a TV-pilot that was picked up as a series. Sadly, the series only lasted for a few episodes before being cancelled, but it gave him a degree of primetime exposure. (This is not Rod Taylor with him, by the way, but costar Charles Napier.) He also appeared in several less than blockbuster movies such as Massacre at Central High (which has a cult following), the white trash masterpiece Vigilante Force and Day of the Animals, but these roles gave him experience and gained him contacts in the industry.

Possessing pretty blue eyes, a winning smile that showed off stunning dimples, thick hair that feathered perfectly in the almost-required style of the day and a smooth, well-toned body, Stevens had little trouble finding work whenever a charming young man was required.

A decent role in the Vietnam War film The Boys in Company C showed him off to good advantage. In fact, 1978 was a tremendous year for him all around. He had a major showcase in Brian De Palma’s The Fury, all about telekinetic kids being experimented on and exploited by a shady government agency. He played Kirk Douglas’ son (and the two of them appeared to be having a fun time filming the beachside scenes which open the film!), though the bulk of the movie was handed over to Amy Irving for some reason. It’s a film that many people find disjointed and indulgent, not to mention silly, but it was a major release at that time.
Then, also in 1978, he headlined a major miniseries based on a Revolutionary War-era John Jakes novel, The Bastard. He had the title role and his face was plastered on the covers of TV schedules all over the nation. The epic program had him surrounded by many familiar names (William Shatner, Buddy Ebson, Donald Pleasance, Patricia Neal, Eleanor Parker, Olivia Hussy, Lorne Greene and Kim Cattrall to name a few) and a sequel that also starred Stevens, The Rebel, was broadcast a year later.

This same year (!), he married Charlie’s Angels’ Kate Jackson and the two of them set about turning the old story Topper (about a couple of married ghosts who come around to lightheartedly torment a stuffy man they’d known previously) which had long ago been a movie starring Cary Grant and Constance Bennett into a workable TV series. (A successful TV show had also already been done years prior with Robert Sterling and Anne Jeffreys.) They filmed a TV-movie version of it, but it wasn’t particularly well received and a series never materialized from it. Jack Warden costarred as Topper. The couple had poured every bit of time and energy they could into the project and when it was over, they found they had no real life together as husband and wife, divorcing in 1980. He later married and had three children with his present wife Robyn.
Over the next couple of years, Stevens appeared in the Rich Man, Poor Man follow-up miniseries Beggarman, Thief, the telefilm Miracle on Ice, all about the 1980 US Olympic hockey team, and then was cast in Death Hunt, a Lee Marvin-Charles Bronson adventure film in which he portrayed a clean cut, red-clad Canadian Mountie amidst a bunch of grungy mountaineers.

In 1981, he did the TV movie pilot and the resultant (and short-lived) series Code Red, in which he played a fireman alongside Bonanza’s Lorne Greene. Andrew has always looked good in any type of uniform (see also, his 1979 TV movie Women at West Point.)

1982 brought one of his most infamous parts, that of celebrity stalker to newswoman Morgan Fairchild in The Seduction! The relentlessly tacky flick was a big cable and video rental success thanks to some nudity from Miss Fairchild and several tawdry (and often unintentionally funny) situations between the performers. His success in this movie would eventually lead him to exploit the genre further when his mainstream career began to peter out.

He played the young boyfriend of 13-years older Yvette Mimieux in the TV film Forbidden Love and then played sidekick to Charles Bronson in the feature film 10 to Midnight. This movie had Bronson and him as detectives on the trail of a vicious serial killer in a scenario that drew inspiration from three different real life cases. Bronson’s character starts to do things his way rather than by the rulebook, which, thanks to Death Wish, audiences had come to expect from him by then. I recall enjoying the movie because, for some reason, the killer always got naked before dicing up his victims (!) and his apprehension only occurred after a nude jog down a city street!

Stevens made yet another attempt at a series with the primetime soap Emerald Point N.A.S., but once again, the show was off the air after less than two-dozen episodes. This was in spite of a cast that included Dennis Weaver, Richard Dean Anderson (later of MacGyver fame), Susan Dey, Sela Ward, Robert Loggia, Jill St. John, Robert Vaughn and the lickable Charles Frank.

Anyone who was alive in 1985 should remember the splendiferously tacky miniseries Hollywood Wives, based on Jackie Collins’ sleazy book (for which she has since penned various sequels, stopping just shy of Hollywood Window Washers.) Just the mention of it brings back aural memories of Laura Brannigan's synthy title song. It was one of the most heavily watched miniseries of the decade and boasted an unbelievable assortment of stars including Anthony Hopkins (!), Rod Steiger, Candice Bergen, Angie Dickinson, Suzanne Somers, Stefanie Powers and Robert Stack. I can never forget Mary Crosby on the phone telling a lover (I think it was Steve Forrest) who had just gotten out of the shower not to bother drying off because she was just going to get him all wet again! Stevens played an ex-prostitute trying to attempt a legitimate career in show business. However, he also played a deranged, murderous, heavily wigged and bearded nutjob whose every onscreen moment was a sidesplitting screamfest of riotous camp and preposterousness! It’s not outside the realm of possibility to suggest that this outing sealed the deal on poor Andrew’s career in feature films. He scarcely appeared in any type of major movie again, turning instead to the video market.

First, though, probably sick to death of trying to launch his own successful show, he joined the cast of Dallas for a couple of seasons, playing Casey Denault. He filmed 33 episodes over the course of about two years and added some welcome hunkiness to the program.

His mother Stella directed him in a small, cheesy, but endearing, comedy called The Ranch, in which he played a businessman who loses everything he owns and winds up operating a mud bath spa on a dilapidated plot of farmland.

In 1990, he co-wrote the film Night Eyes for himself and it proved to be a massive success in the video rental arena. This opened up a new chapter for him as he alternately wrote, directed, produced and/or starred in a large assortment of action or sex-oriented movies that were designed to make money for a small budgetary output. Occasionally, he’d find a small role for mom. He canoodled with such sexy starlets as Tanya Roberts, Heather Thomas, most often Shannon Tweed and even old pal Morgan Fairchild (in Point of Seduction: Body Chemistry III, the title paying tribute to their long ago masterpiece.)

Needless to say, these gems aren’t high on my list of viewing preferences. I might have seen one or two back in the early 90s. Nevertheless, Stevens has carved out a career as a very busy producer, occasionally taking a bit part in the projects if the mood (or need?) strikes him. Most of the films he’s put forth have starred folks like post-success Wesley Snipes, Steven Seagal and Kevin Sorbo, so maybe he shouldn’t leave space on the mantle for an Oscar, but amongst all the relative junk, he occasionally has had his hand in more mainstream fare such as The In-Laws and The Whole Ten Yards (not that these are destined to be classics, either, I’m afraid!)

I’m mostly content to watch him doing his thing during the decade or so of work he did when he was considered a prize pinup and a handsome, appealing sidekick.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Madame X" Marks the Spot

Some people like to cry at movies, some don’t. Some people are not invested enough in a movie to let it move them in the first place. I typically jump off the cliff into a film so that I’m open to whatever emotions it can bring out in me. And I count myself as one who loves to cry at movies. I suppose I find it a release of some sort. Many movies have brought me to tears, some very unexpectedly. My favorite one for generating the waterworks is 1966’s Madame X.

Now this is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s glossy, far-fetched, at times overwrought and, by many peoples’ standards, dated. To me, though, it’s a sentimentally delivered fable of mother-son love that never, ever fails to “get” me at the climax.

This is not to say that there aren’t hysterically amusing camp moments throughout. It’s just that, thanks to a completely committed piece of acting by star Lana Turner, the emotion really does peck its way through all the trappings and provide the need for a Kleenex. I would imagine that folks moved by Imitation of Life or An Affair to Remember, along with others of that ilk, would be most likely to fall for this.

Based on a French play from 1909, the story was filmed again and again. Versions (some from other countries) were produced in 1916, 1920, 1929, 1937, 1948, 1954 and then came this one in 1966 (and in 1981 a TV remake!) The basic story is of a young woman who marries into a wealthy family, has a son and then falls into an adulterous relationship which causes her to have to depart in shame, never allowing her son to know that she still exists. The plotline and setting are tweaked in each one, but the same story nugget remains in all. (The TV-version substituted a daughter for the son, thus upsetting the dynamic completely, though it at least had Tuesday Weld in the title role and Eleanor Parker as her nemesis.)

Miss Lana had had a rollercoaster of a career and was enjoying an upswing in popularity in the early 60s thanks to the stratospheric success of Imitation of Life and a series of other glossy romantic dramas that followed in its wake. She bought the rights to Madame X in order to co-produce (with pal Ross Hunter) another winner for herself. They tried to get the masterful Douglas Sirk to direct it, which might have taken it to another level, but he was unwell and so David Lowell Rich, a TV director, wound up at the helm. Additionally, it took writers a couple of years to sweep out the cobwebs of the heavily dated story and come up with something that would work for contemporary audiences. Even after their toiling, the story creaked more than a little.

They did effect some changes, though, that worked rather well. One was making the husband more of a sympathetic character rather than a judgmental lout. The biggest (and best) change was making the villain the mother-in-law (isn’t that always the way?) Thus, in this version, the husband isn’t informed of the true circumstances of his wife’s disappearance, lending another layer of emotional torment to the proceedings.

Turner played Holly Parker, a good-natured lady who happens to have come from a lower level social status than that of her new husband, Clay Anderson. John Forsythe was chosen to play the man (though it must be admitted that it’s a fairly colorless role and he brings rather little dynamic to it in the final analysis), heir to the fortune and political standing of a family not dissimilar from The Kennedy’s (though clearly far smaller in number!) Their house in the film, incidentally, is one that would later be purchased by Hugh Hefner and turned into The Playboy Mansion!

As the gorgon of a mother-in-law, Estelle Anderson, Constance Bennett ended a virtual 15-year hiatus from feature films to take the part. Though she had done several TV anthology appearances, it constituted a big return for her and she marked the occasion by having various cosmetic procedures done. One industry chatterbox, Sheilah Graham, even remarked that Bennett looked younger on the set than Turner, who was seventeen years her junior! Certainly, Bennett was thinner, as she’d been cigarette slender for most of her life while Turner always had to be careful not to get too pudgy. Bennett topped off her new face with a (hilarious) and impenetrable helmet of red dyed hair in a sort of Mary Tyler Moore flip (the initial scenes were meant to take place in the early 40s!) It's entirely possibly that there has never been a more bizarre head shot than the one shown here.

Bennett brings a fire-breathing, hate-filled intensity to the role and mouths off some deliciously nasty dialogue. Her Winston-tinged voice rasps various insults at Turner when not cooing over her beloved son, though always with a controlling vibe. Like a serpent, she encourages Turner to mess up so that, when she does, she can be there to eradicate her from their lives. The scenes between the two actresses are fascinating to behold, never more so than when Turner comes tearing through the house frantically, hoping to ask Bennett for help, but instead being confronted by Bennett’s true feelings.

That moment, by the way, of Turner pouncing up the (countless) stairs while Frank Skinner’s musical score wails at full steam, is probably one of my favorite moments in all of cinema. I love stairs anyway and the way Turner runs in her snug skirt, with tears pouring, as she races to find Bennett sends me to the moon.

And why is she running? Well, when Forsythe was out of town on one of his endless politically motivated trips, love-starved Turner fell under the spell of the local lothario, Ricardo Montalban. A brief, but highly passionate, romance blossomed, but then she realized that it was Forsythe she truly loved. Her final meeting with Montalban didn’t go well at all, to say the least.

Now armed with the material she has always needed to send Turner packing, Bennett arranges a new identity, a standing bank account and other means necessary to remove the daughter-in-law she despises. Turner acquiesces in order to spare her little boy the shame of a scandal involving his mother.

From here, the story takes Turner to various international locales including Switzerland, Holland and Mexico. She just isn’t allowed to return to the US. Ever. She is turned into a brunette and has money to live on, but is haunted by the loss of her little boy, her husband and the special life they had intended to live together. Eventually, she becomes addicted to the liqueur Absinthe (and not the kind that’s now available at the local pony keg!) and slides into a state of degradation.

While in Mexico, a duplicitous con man played by Burgess Meredith decides to exploit Turner’s past in order to extort money from her husband Forsythe (who has no idea she is even alive.) This, along with her desire to never have her son know about how low she’s come, leads her to extreme measures and places her at the lowest physical and emotional ebb yet.

This is where Turner began to have problems in real life! Always presented in her films as the ultimate in glamour and beauty, often with splendiferous and expensive wardrobes, the best lighting, the best makeup (things she still experienced in the early part of this picture), she now had to be aged, deglamorized and made to be as haggard as possible. The entire enterprise began to wear her down and she found herself fighting with her longtime makeup man Del Armstrong and also with co-producer (and career savior) Ross Hunter. She wore a veil from her trailer to the set, desperate not to be seen or photographed in this way except for the movie cameras.

Ironically, the dejecting experience of being made to look as horrible as possible gave her a desperation and an unhappiness that came through perfectly in her performance. No one had ever seen Turner look like this (including herself!) and in the end she wound up giving the type of performance that no one had ever seen her give! Her scenes on the witness stand and thereafter are among the best she had ever provided to a viewing audience and really should have merited an Oscar nomination.

Her moments in the final segment of the story, during which she is defended in court by the impossibly beautiful Keir Dullea (best known for his role as an astronaut in 2001: A Space Odyssey), tug at the heartstrings unmercifully and Dullea only adds to this, thanks to his own guileless and earnest portrayal. His blue eyes sear the screen as he endeavors to save the life of the woman he knows only as Madame X. (An actor whose movie career began with a splash, but soon lost steam, Noel Coward referred to him as "Keir Dullea, Gone Tomorrow..."!)

The film only did middling business at the box office, though reviews tended to be kind, especially to Turner. Audiences, by 1966 (perhaps quite a bit earlier!), had ceased to buy into the sentimental and melodramatic type of story that was being told here. However, time has been kind to the movie since modern viewers basically tend to look at all films of the past as relics anyway and scarcely differentiate between what came out in 1956, 1958, 1962 or 1966 when assessing their value now. To those who can go along for the ride, the emotional reward is there.

For comparison's sake only, look at this still from the 1937 version with Ruth Chatterton and her seamy tormentor and then below it a 1966 shot of Turner and Meredith.

One thing that makes this one fun now for viewers of a certain age is the supporting cast. Forsythe, of course, went on to star as Blake Carrington on Dynasty. Montalban became famous to a whole new generation of audiences as Mr. Rourke on Fantasy Island and as Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Meredith played The Penguin on TV’s Batman. John Van Dreelen, a Dutch actor with extensive American credits, has a significant role as a concert pianist who comes very close to giving Turner happiness in her second life. Coincidentally, he would later play the minister during the infamous Moldavian massacre episodes of Dynasty. As was often the case, Hunter utilized his favorite actress Virginia Grey as one of Turner’s society friends.

As for Bennett, she died tragically of a cerebral hemorrhage soon after filming wrapped and never lived to see the film released. Like Turner (who once sported a “Million Dollar Wardrobe” by Edith Head in Love Has Many Faces), Bennett was also considered a major fashion figure in her heyday and felt at times that audiences were coming to her films merely to see what she had on! Her quote at the time was, “They come to see me and go out humming the costumes.” Nevertheless, she was, for a time, one of the very highest paid performers in Tinseltown.

This really marks the spot at which the old-fashioned type of “women’s picture” ceased to exist in its formulaic manner. Certainly it was the last time it would be done up with all the Jean Louis gowns, the lush music, the glamorous sets and so on. Hunter moved on to different styles of motion pictures and Turner never had another film worthy of her talents. She did have the monumentally troubled TV series The Survivors, which was cancelled after fifteen episodes, and six well-regarded appearances on Falcon Crest, but that came to a halt after she irritated the star, Jane Wyman.

Next time you’re in the mood for some glossy, garish fun, give this movie a shot. Just be sure you have the Kleenexes handy in case the emotional finale happens to work its magic on you! As with so many older films, a primary plot element is given away on the back of the video cover. I haven’t revealed it here, though it’s well known among cinema buffs. See if you can resist finding it out before watching.