For quite some time, today's movie (a beautiful, sudsy confection) was out of circulation with only a much-sought-after VHS release the only way to get one's hands on it. (I have one and idiotically chose not to sell it when they were going for well over $100 on eBay!) Now at last on DVD, the colorful splendor of Connecticut (and Troy Donahue) can be viewed by a wider audience.
Parrish (1961) was based on a 1958 novel concerning a young fellow named Parrish McLean who makes his way in the challenging, sometimes cutthroat, tobacco farming industry. As he grows into a man, he enjoys relationships with three highly-varied girls while also witnessing his mother's growing romance with a fat cat in the industry.
Joshua Logan became interested in filming the story and wanted to cast Clark Gable as the tobacco kingpin alongside his famed Gone with the Wind costar Vivien Leigh as Parrish's mother, but along the way these plans fell apart and Delmer Daves (who'd helmed the sensational hit A Summer Place, 1959) came in to write, produce and direct the picture.
Troy Donahue, whose career had received a boost from Daves' A Summer Place (and would continue to benefit from Daves direction in Rome Adventure, 1962) was cast in the lead. Claudette Colbert, who'd been absent from the big screen for six years, portrayed his mother and Karl Malden (quite a switch from Clark “The King” Gable!) won the role of the tobacco czar.
The film begins with Donahue and Colbert arriving at a ferry boat which is taking them part of the way to their destination of Connecticut where they intend to start life anew. Donahue, who'd been a deckhand on the ferry, bids farewell to its captain (who is played by John McGovern, memorable as the postal worker who gives Tippi Hedren directions to Rod Taylor's home in The Birds, 1963.)
This is the first glimpse audiences got of Ms. Colbert in the film and a rare one of hers to be presented in color. Colbert had done the Technicolor Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) for John Ford, but generally preferred to be filmed in black and white (and always, ALWAYS photographed from her left side except for the most fleeting moments here and there!)
Following an airplane flight, Donahue and Colbert are escorted by tobacco field hand Dub Taylor (whose accent is so authentically low-rent it can be difficult to understand him at times!) to their new home.
Sadly for Donahue, Colbert has neglected to mention to her new employer Dean Jagger that she not only has a teenaged son, but has brought him along to live with her. He tells her in no uncertain terms that the boy cannot live under the same roof as her on his property. As she has been hired to tutor and groom his teenaged daughter who's due home from school, the presence of a boy on the grounds just won't do!
While Colbert unsuccessfully tries to wear Jagger down on the subject, Donahue takes a walk and winds up in a tobacco field where several ladies are planting. First the subject of catcalls, he next stands patiently as veteran field hand Hope Summers explains to him how a tobacco plant is just like a baby and has to be carefully nurtured.
Meanwhile, fifteen year-old (in the storyline) Connie Stevens manages to glimpse beyond her heap of curls to see the tall young man before her and is immediately smitten. Before he even knows what's next, he's been hired on to work the fields (which are owned by Jagger) that very day, dress clothes and all, and is all set to move in with Taylor's sizable family!
Stevens takes him on a tour of the ramshackle house, being sure to point out “the john,” which has no lock, and where her own room is situated before taking him up to the attic where he'll be living (in marked contrast to the beautifully-appointed apartment that Colbert has been given.) Stevens is what Dorothy Zbornak would call “faster than Marcus Allen,” wasting no time in letting Donahue know how much she likes him.
She later takes Donahue to the tobacco barn where she informs him that when it's very hot at night, she comes there to sleep. “Raw.” Next, she gets the kiss of a lifetime from Donahue, but isn't able to take things any further because her date has arrived to take her out and this mystery man is someone she can't say no to. Afterwards, however, she comes home (the top of her dress not fully fastened) to find that Donahue has come down with tobacco poisoning. This requires a sensuous blotting of calamine lotion to ease the burning itch.
If you'll note the way Donahue is lit and photographed here, it's the sort of glorious, soft-focus, star-making cinematography that any young actor or actress would kill for. Parrish's cinematographer was Harry Stradling Jr., who was hired four times to photograph Barbra Streisand on film, which ought to tell you everything you need to know about his skill in that arena! (Stradling won two Oscars, for The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1945, and My Fair Lady, 1964, and was nominated a dozen other times.)
Meanwhile, Colbert's young charge has arrived home and is clearly going to be a bit of a handful. Diane McBain, a stunningly attractive young lady, is given the same awe-inspiring lighting as Donahue. She makes Colbert aware that she has a mind of her own and has no intention of living under the thumb of either her or her father Jagger.
Colbert good-naturedly attempts to establish herself as merely a friend, but McBain's having none of it, preferring to dart off on a date with one of her wealthy beaus than to even have dinner with her father on her first night back home.
Over at the tobacco field, trouble is brewing thanks to the presence of wire worms, which are destroying the freshly-planted crop. Most of the workers are reluctant to stay and work overtime through the night, but Donahue is willing, inspired by his employer Jagger's own integrity and work ethic.
Stumbling to his mother's apartment in the dark of night rather than heading to Taylor's shack, which is further away, Donahue is nearly run down by a car careening up the driveway. It is driven by McBain, just now arriving home from a late date.
She gets her first good look at Donahue and, like most other females in the movie, is instantly attracted to him. She suggests that they finish off some of the champagne that she has leftover in her car, but he begs off after such a staggeringly grueling night in the field. Again, both of these performers are given lustrous close-ups during the scene.
Now feeling some stirrings for McBain, Donahue is beginning to become torn and his canoodling partner Stevens can sense it. She confronts him about it at the filed, but he remains evasive. (I love the color of this sky blue jacket against the green of the foliage, the gold of his hair and the orange of his face. Ha!)
Colbert sagely warns her son about getting his heart broken one way or another, though he isn't apt to listen to her too closely regardless of their obvious affection for one another.
Repeated challenges at the field result in a total replanting, which depletes Jagger's supply of starter beds. As Donahue is finishing up one day, he is accosted by a young lady on a bicycle (Sharon Hugueny) who takes an interest in what's going on.
We later find out that she is the daughter of nearby tobacco king Karl Malden, who lives in a splendiferous mansion and owns very nearly all of the surrounding territory. (I'm a sucker for anything grand and stately like this, probably thanks to being raised in a one-bedroom house!)
Malden has three children and rules them with an iron fist. The two sons (one of who is married) and daughter Hugueny are all expected to live by his rules and report to him anything and everything they see regarding the local tobacco industry. Should they fail to do so, they are reprimanded and humiliated by him.
Malden finally drags it out of his kids that Jagger is facing potential ruin over the loss of his crop and promptly buys up the only available starter plants, offering then to “bail out” Jagger – at a price. Jagger informs Malden that he would gladly go belly up than to accept anything at all from him.
Prior to this terse meeting and directly after it, Malden has met and become intrigued by Colbert. Her attractive, ladylike ways and attempts to smooth over all the bad blood between the men pique his interest and he decides it would be nice to see her socially. She, as a practically penniless widow with a wayward son, isn't exactly against the idea of dating a wealthy tycoon either.
Stevens is having an increasingly hard time getting through to Donahue and the two find themselves arguing when she suggests that his mother is dallying with the area's biggest hot shot Malden. Donahue is incensed at her implications, and, confused by his own feelings when it comes to romance, blows up at her.
Trouble is, Stevens is grappling with her own set of issues. She's going to have a baby! Naïve Donahue, who's only been in the area a little while, wonders if it is his though Stevens is five months along. She easily could have duped him into claiming responsibility, but she gamely opts to inform him that he's clear of any burden.
Now things are beginning to heat up a bit between Malden and Colbert. With both he and his children vacationing at the same oceanside resort as McBain, he arranges for a romantic evening on his yacht. However, Colbert deftly informs him that she isn't about to be his resident squeeze. It's got to be marriage or nothing.
McBain has to head back to school, but has made plans for Donahue to sneak onto the train with her for most of the way. She erupts, however, when she discovers that he has agreed to escort the knocked-up Stevens to an annual dance out of the goodness of his heart. When he refuses to back down from his promise, we see a McBain's snarly side as she announces that she hates him more than she has ever hated anyone or anything!
Malden agrees to marry Colbert and they enjoy a colorful ceremony followed by an extended honeymoon. Once back home, it is decided that Donahue will move into the big house in order to get to know his new step-family.
Hugueny is delighted with Colbert, but alcohol-loving son David Knapp, along with elder son Hampton Fancher and his wife Saundra Edwards, make it clear that they aren't exactly in love with this new wrinkle in the family canvas. Fancher, in particular, makes his displeasure known when he won't even shake Colbert's hand.
Fancher lets Donahue know that he has no intention of standing for Donahue's association with a “tramp” like Stevens and cockily asserts his position to him privately. However, Donahue stands up for himself, adding that Fancher had better learn how to treat Colbert with more respect.
Donahue pays a visit to his old pals at the tobacco shack and finds that Stevens' baby has been born and, not coincident-ally, the entire family has new clothing and the rathole of a house they live in has all new furniture, a television and a spanking new refrigerator, stocked to the hilt. It seems that Stevens' baby was fathered by someone with plenty of (hush) money.
Malden holds a reception in order to introduce his new bride to the people of the area (and I do adore these sorts of cinematic soirees, also to be found in movies like Madame X, 1966, and later to inspire prime-time soaps like Dallas and Dynasty.) Among the invitees are Hayden Rorke, known to many for his work on I Dream of Jeanne from 1965-1970 and a frequent player in films directed by director Daves. It's beginning to become clear to Donahue that his newfound stepsister Hugueny is turning into a young lady.
Also present at the party is Poseidon's Underworld's favorite extra Leoda Richards who, in this sequence anyway, is given closer, front and center proximity to the camera than lead actress Colbert!
Now that he's ensconced in Malden's family, Donahue is offered a position with the expansive family business. Malden demonstrates, via a massive relief map in his office, how he owns all but a few parcels of tobacco farmland in the region. He grants Donahue the key position of a checker, who goes around to each field and takes note of anything and everything that is occurring on site.
Malden's office is enormous and contains little besides that big map and an imposing desk. Note the wallpaper done in golden tobacco leaves! He impresses upon Donahue that he will work long and hard, but the reward will be worth it.
After a controversial series of events, first a raging fire at a competitor's field and then a bout with blue mold, Donahue and Malden can no longer see eye-to-eye and Donahue departs to join the U.S. Navy. (This farewell kiss between McBain and Donahue is not present in the finished cut of the movie.)
McBain, devastated that nothing is going her way with Donahue, agrees to marry Malden's son Knapp, resulting in yet another defection from Jagger's household to the dreaded enemy.
While Donahue is away on a submarine, Hugueny is growing up and becoming more and more ladylike with each passing day. Finally, she turns eighteen (an event punctuated by a hilarious scene in which most of the cast gathers in a semicircle and sings “Paige has a birthday, Paige has a birthday!” followed by a hokey countdown from numbers 1 to 18!)
All along, Hugueny corresponds back and forth with Donahue until her father gets wind of it and throws one of his customary fits. Hugueny has now begun, however, to stand up for herself and face him down a bit more than she once did.
In the bowels of his submarine, Donahue receives letters and, in one instance, a boxed cake from Hugueny and whiles away his evenings dreaming of her. Her photos are tacked up in his bunk, yet in a hysterical on-screen moment, he rolls over and lies down only to reveal a hovering 8x10 glossy of Colbert, imposingly situated right next to his face!!
Once sprung from the navy, Donahue comes back home and is reunited with his mother and with now-curvy Hugueny. He also witnesses a domestic meltdown between McBain and her unhappy husband Knapp.
Settling on a career plan, he decides to work the recently dormant land of Jagger rather than deal with Malden. The two work out a deal that has Donahue almost singlehandedly planting and raising a tobacco crop of his own. (In one humiliating shot, shown below, Donahue is shown with his old sailor cap down around his ears as he pilots a tractor up and down the rows and into the barn.)
Before the movie has ended, Donahue has watched one girl become trapped in a personal hell, another girl come to terms with the life she has brought upon herself and another girl rises to his side in order to help him become his own man. It oughtn't to be hard to figure out which is which.
He also sees his mother finally put her foot down about the man she's married to and settles the score with arch-enemy Fancher who, by this time, has managed to disgust even his own father Malden.
SusanSlade (1961, again opposite Stevens), Rome Adventure (1962, with his short-term wife Suzanne Pleshette) and Palm Springs Weekend (1963.) After the western A Distant Trumpet (with Pleshette and McBain) and My Blood Runs Cold (1965), his career became more and more sporadic as he lost his contract and his type fell out of favor. After a serious bout with alcohol and drugs and various roles in low-rung projects, he died of a heart attack in 2001 at age sixty-five.
McBain and have profiled not only she herself, but several of her movies such as Ice Palace (1960), Claudelle Inglish (1961) and The Caretakers (1963.) Parrish offers her at her most ravishingly lovely. Offscreen since 2001, she is currently seventy-three. (Why in the hell isn't there a DVD commentary available for this movie with Stevens and McBain?)
Winding up, I give you an alternate cover of the movie tie-in paperback novel...
...and its back side, which features photos and an amusingly “steamy” description of the story.
A later reissue of the book distanced itself from Troy and Connie and featured a highly sensual anonymous couple in the midst of a clinch! (I love this sort of artwork nonetheless.)
Look at this (Spanish or Mexican?) poster that has each of the gals (as themselves, not in character) hanging on the phone in wait for Donahue's call!
Then there was this ad which promised the prize of a Hollywood contract to the winner of a contest and which featured the four young stars of Parrish.
Finally, if you know of my affection for oddball trading cards of movies and stars, then first take a look at this publicity photo from the movie (already strangely awkward thanks to Donahue's loony expression and McBain's sensuous one.)