Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Hitting the "Wall!"

We're still finding ways to catch a glimpse of movies that we've wanted to see for ages, but never got the opportunity to and today's is another example, an obscure 1963 flick called Wall of Noise. One of many Warner Brothers melodramas to be churned out of the studio in the 1960s, using plenty of their TV talent to fill in the parts, this one concerns an ambitious horse trainer who yearns for glory in the winner's circle while brushing up against more than a few folks who wouldn't mind taking him for a ride.

The movie opens in a teeny motel room with ladies' and men's clothing (and under- clothing) artfully strewn about in the wake of what was surely a night of passionate lovemaking. The camera comes to rest on sleeping Dorothy Provine who, in full unmussed makeup, is roused by an alarm clock that her paramour Ty Hardin thoughtfully turns off right away before he leaves. It's his apartment, but he has to head to work.

Work takes place at the fabled Hollywood Park Racetrack, which closed for good in 2013 and is about to become the home of both the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers when a state of the art stadium is completed next year. Hardin is a horse trainer on the cusp of notoriety for his insight and success at determining the strengths and weaknesses of various thoroughbreds. (The film crew took over the park for three solid weeks, lending the movie a sense of horse racing verisimilitude.)

He meets up with his li'l jockey buddy Jimmy Murphy, who is set to ride Frank's Choice in a race that day. Hardin intends to win the important race with this horse, moving him up from merely a trainer to a member of the elite winner's circle.

We're supposed to be listening to Murphy read all about Hardin's recent successes in the paper, how he moved up from exercise boy to the trainer of several promising horses, but it's difficult to concentrate on any of that when he's on the right side of the screen in painted-on jeans, saddling up the horse!

While Murphy takes Frank's Choice for a test drive, Hardin observes from a nearby deck with some of the other track notables; reporters, owners, etc... One of them is annoyed that Murphy, who he'd wanted to ride his own steed, is suddenly on site for upstart Hardin, not realizing that he and Hardin are old pals. (Hardin actually helped Murphy beat a battle with booze.)
Hardin declares that, while everything seems okay, Murphy (who has yet to consume any breakfast) needs to drop a few pounds prior to the race. He insists that the jockey be placed in a steam bath until he has wrung every excess bit of sweat out of him! When Murphy complains about this procedure, Hardin merely turns up the temperature further.
Next, the two head off to Hardin's girlfriend's modeling agency. It's clearly a cheesecake factory, with a buxom bottle blonde hovering over the receptionist's desk as they enter. Hardin can't resist taking a gander.
Inside one of the studios, Provine is posing in a skin-tight corset. She complains that she's like a tube of toothpaste that's being squeezed out but the photographer tells her she could have been used in a major campaign if she were five pounds lighter. Hardin leaves Murphy and Provine alone together to commiserate over their alleged weight issues. Murphy claims to have always harbored a yen for Provine, but she's always been stuck on Hardin.

Meanwhile, Hardin is in to see Provine's boss Simon Oakland. Oakland is placing a sizable bet on Hardin's horse and stands to turn $4,000 into $80,000 by the time the odds are all set.

He is dismayed, however, when he discovers that Murphy is going to be atop the horse. He doesn't trust that the young jockey is steady enough or trustworthy enough to do the job correctly. This sets both Murphy and Hardin off to the point where Murphy tells Oakland not to bet at all and Hardin tells Provine to go and get all their own savings out of the bank to bet on Frank's Choice.

At the track, Hardin is mortified to find that the horse seems to be avoiding putting weight on his rear right leg. He becomes alarmed that there is something wrong with his prized mount and doesn't know if he'll be able to race the horse or not.

Meanwhile, Provine is at the ticket window and is having severe second thoughts about placing all of Hardin's and her life savings on the line for a horse race. The impatient cashier presses her to make her bet and finally she departs without doing so. She has been counting on the money as a nest egg for her eventual marriage to Hardin.

Though other folks on site think that Hardin's horse is good to go, he determines that there is something definitely wrong with it and just before the race is set to start has Frank's Choice excused. Oakland is outraged by the decision.

Provine is dis- appointed, but ultimately confesses that she didn't bet on the horse to begin with. This enrages Hardin who feels that she betrayed her faith in him by not placing the bet. She storms off with Murphy in pursuit.

He offers to take Provine to Florida with him, where he has a race planned. Though she is still stuck on Hardin, she agrees to tag along with Murphy rather than stay in the same town as Hardin. Back at his place, Hardin drowns his sorrows in a bottle of booze. But his troubles may be over...
He is summoned by a big shot construction boss, Ralph Meeker, who has recently begun investing in racehorses of his own and who wants a reliable, capable man to run his stables. Self-made millionaire Meeker's last name is Rubio and there are Rs all over practically everything he owns.
Later at the track, Hardin meets up with Meeker and some of his associates as well as Meeker's aloof, but striking wife portrayed by Suzanne Pleshette. (Pleshette is the top-billed star of Wall of Noise, but makes her first appearance more than 20 minutes in!) By the way, if the seated couple seems familiar, that's Jean Byron, the mother on The Patty Duke Show, and George Petrie, who played J.R. Ewing's put-upon attorney Harve Smithfield on Dallas.

Sparks fly pretty quickly as Pleshette looks Hardin up and down with eyes flashing and cheeks drawn in. They have an exchange regarding the importance of breeding versus performance!

When Meeker's horse Bright Challenge wins, he trots off to the winner's circle, leaving Pleshette in the dust, but Hardin politely escorts her to the area. (His line is actually, "Let me show you down..." Uh, sure!!) Once there, she is posed like the trophy wife she is rather than being a real part of Meeker's life. The horse has only won because Hardin had him re-shod prior to the race, though blowhard Meeker scarcely acknowledges Hardin's insight as to the horse's general health.

The following day, Hardin is ensconced at Meeker's stables (check out all the Rs!) He finds out that he was right all along about his own horse. A fracture was discovered in the steed's right hind leg during an x-ray. He's also informed that Murphy's career as a jockey was put on ice following a recent race. Then he receives an unexpected visit from Pleshette.

Based on personal experience, she advises Hardin to stand up to Meeker. Her exact words are "if you cater to him, he'll devour you." This was quite a step for her as she has yet to have set foot at her husband's stables, but apparently Hardin is worth the trip.

Hardin drops by Meeker's gorgeous beach house to discuss Bright Challenge, imploring him not to race the horse in a longer contest so soon after the recent shorter one, but he'll have none of it. Pleshette, sunbathing topless on the patio, is dismayed to see Hardin already giving in to her husband and all but begging him to buy a certain horse at an upcoming auction.
At the race on the big day, Hardin is still unsure about Meeker's horse's condition. (The hand shown here, by the way, is Napoleon Whiting who would soon join The Big Valley as The Barkley's trusted houseman Silas.) The horse cannot stand up to the challenge of the race and comes in a distant dead last...
Later, at the horse auction, a mortified Meeker is given "what for" by a disgusted Hardin. He publicly lambasts Meeker for having raced the horse when he shouldn't have. Not a great way to treat one's boss.
In return, Meeker pretends to want the horse that Hardin has had his eye on and bids the price up... to a point. Then just when it looks like he could win him, he bows out on purpose, leaving Hardin limp with disappointment. Pleshette tries to persuade Meeker and when he resists, she calls him a pig. (He replies that turning a pig into a gentleman was her job.)
Pleshette, taking pity on Hardin, decides to bid on a horse herself and tells Hardin that she will try to win one of her own that he can train. She winds up purchasing a wild Argentine stallion called Escadero who will need to be broken again before he can be raced. Hardin heads to the stables to get a stall ready and Pleshette opts to join him.

When he's tossed on his keister by the wild beast, his shirt sleeve is torn and his arm lacerated. Pleshette plays nurse by admin- istering to his injury. She wants him to get rid of the untamed animal though he still believes in keeping and training him.
As she continues to dress his wound (while undressing him with her eyes), she relays her situation with her unfeeling husband. It's more than clear that she's nothing but pretty window dressing for his empire of construction and racing enterprises.

Pretty soon, their passion bubbles to the surface and next thing you know they are making out and more (in Mamma Mia! we referred to this as "dot, dot, dot...!") The tack room has a small bed and its about to be used for more than a quick nap!
The following morning, Hardin awakes to the reality that he has just gone to bed with the boss's wife! In an uninten- tionally amusing moment, we can't help but note that he's still wearing not only his trousers, but his belt, too. I guess in 1963, he couldn't be implied to have slept au naturel after his tryst.

He gets up to wash his face in the nearby sink and finds that Pleshette must have gone to the movies and seen BUtterfield 8 (1960!) She's left a lipstick message on the mirror for Hardin to meet her at Francini's restaurant at 7:00 that night.

First, though, Hardin needs to break in the new stallion Pleshette purchased. In this rousing sequence, Hardin (who had been around horses since boyhood and in his career on TV's Bronco) does a heavy amount of his own stunt work. Some of the more punishing moments are understandably done by a stand-in, but he nonetheless handles a great deal of the action himself.

Finally, once atop the bucking steed (who needs three other men to hold him steady), he is tossed to the ground in a heap, but he won't give up.
He's a little bit late to the restaurant where nervous Pleshette has been waiting and she is about to leave as he arrives. He's in over his head in such elegant surroundings. She admits that she went to bed with him to get back at her husband, but that something happened in the bargain. He agrees. She toasts him to "last night" while he corrects her with "To tonight!"

Trouble is, when he gets her to his (perm- anent?) motel room for some late evening canoodling, the lights are on! It seems Provine is back in town and has used her old key to gain entry...! Pleshette observes in annoyance as Provine waits for Hardin on his bed.

She's there on Murphy's behalf. He's fallen off a horse and also fallen off the wagon. She tries to get Hardin to hire him on as a jockey. She also confesses that nothing at all - zero - went on between the two of them down in Florida.
Finally, Hardin is free to bring Pleshette into his humble abode where she tells him she doesn't want to hear anything about his past. She wants to concentrate on the here and now. (And she pockets the key for herself!) Unfortunately, she's been observed entering his place by one of Meeker's henchmen...

A contrite Murphy has come to see Hardin at the stables. Hardin puts the little guy on Escadero and the horse bucks like mad, finally taking off in a galloping stride that amazes its trainer. I don't know how tall Murphy was, but next to 6'2" Hardin he is positively dwarfed in this movie.
Anyway, Murphy makes it clear that while he wanted to make a play for Provine, nothing took place between them. All during this exchange, Hardin's associate Murray Matheson does something it took me a while to appreciate. He looks Murphy over like a prime piece of meat and I'll be damned if, by the end of this movie they aren't a couple! You have to really look for all the subtle hints, but they are there...

Meeker's hired thug shows up and tells Hardin to get his stuff together and get out. He's fired! Hardin wants to hear it from the big man himself. When the henchman begins tossing Hardin's saddle around, a raucous fight between them erupts. Somehow Hardin manages to beat this guy who is almost twice his size in brawn.
Hardin has real trouble now, though. He's fired, but he's got Escadero on his hands for $6,600 and Meeker is claiming he never authorized the purchase (which is, in fact, the case. It was penniless Pleshette who "bought" him.) Hardin goes to Oakland for a loan to cover the cost of the horse. A reluctant Oakland will only agree to a short-term, 60-day loan with the animal as collateral.

A still-pining Provine, now back to work for Oakland, attempts to get Hardin's attention, but he will have none of it. Oakland, though, does take notice that the once-happy couple is all broken up now and he begins to salivate at the notion while looking Provine over carefully.

Hardin and Pleshette hook up once more at a beachfront tiki bar and this time he's peeved that her decision to buy the horse for him, but then deny it to Meeker, has put him in a vice.

She explains that she thought the only thing to come of it was that the horse would be taken back, but that's something Hardin never wanted since he still wants to present a winner on the track and he feels that Escadero is it. Pleshette warns Hardin that a vengeful Meeker may do him real harm if pressed.

Despite their differences, the two manage to come to terms and even share a passionate kiss on the shoreline right outside her fabulous beach house. Their affair continues unabated, though she sometimes loses patience with his devotion to the horse.
Murphy's suspension period is up and Escadero is looking good on the track. Hardin offers him another chance with the words, "The mount is yours, if you want 'im" as a hungry Matheson looks on salivatingly. It's incredible to see this deliberately obscured relationship unfold in a 1963 film!
The race proceeds and Escadero is wild, but exhilarating. Hardin and Matheson look on enthus- iastically (and we presume Matheson is focused on the horse rather than the jockey, but who knows?!) The horse wins the race, which allows Hardin the pleasure of showing Meeker that he ought not to have been so dismissive of him and the honor of entering him in another big race. Meeker offers to purchase the steed for $50,000, but Hardin flatly refuses.

Hardin's also still able to get Pleshette in the saddle, though. She hands him a key with the address on it to a fantabulous glass-filled house with a swimming pool and nude statuary all over the place. He's to wait there for her until she can escape a party at her home with over 50 guests.
She turns up quite tipsy from all the partying and proceeds to tell him about how her family was very well-to-do and well-connected until the dough ran out. Meeker married her to add some class to the fortune he was amassing (including this house, which turns out to be theirs! Very "new money" vulgar even with its impressiveness.)

She tells Hardin that she loves him, but if she leaves Meeker she will have nothing but the clothes on her back. She encourages him to take Meeker's $50K so that they'll have something to go on. She can use the money to fight him in court for a better settlement. Hardin feels as if he'd be buying her with her husband's money. He prefers to race the horse and rake in a potential $250,000.
But back at the stables, Hardin is worried that Escadero is exper- iencing problems with one of his forelegs. He also fears that the horse is spooked by the "wall of noise," the roar of patrons in the stands that happens when a race is in progress. (Hilariously, thanks to Hardin's gently countrified accent, the title phrase comes out "wallah noise" instead of being said distinctly.)

A worried Murphy goes to visit Oakland, who is now squiring Provine around. Even though she still has to model for a living, she's eating everything in sight including banana cream pie. Oakland quickly grows irate at Murphy's weaselly attempt to gain more time on the loan and sends him packing.

Pleshette arrives at the stables and informs Hardin that she's about to leave for New York at Meeker's insistence. Hardin tells her that when their horse wins, she can leave Meeker and come with him instead. But Matheson and Murphy remain concerned about the horse and wonder if it ought to race.
In another (thankful) shirtless scene, Hardin is changing back at his motel when Murphy and Provine come by. She has his half of their initial savings and offers to let him have it to pay part of his debt to Oakland without running Escadero and hopefully secure an extension, but he declines.

She can't figure out why he won't take her up on it and even offers to give him all of the savings, her half too, so that he can keep this horse that, if healthy, will yield him thousands of dollars. Of course she has no idea that one reason he wants to race the horse and win it is so that he'll have the necessary funds to allow Pleshette to run off with him.

At times the (admittedly rather wooden) Hardin looks like the living embodiment of an early Ken doll.
I'm not kidding... this is 1961 Ken!
In the stands, Provine makes the ultimate sacrifice when she tells Oakland she'll give him $4,400 and herself (!) for the $6,600 horse! Oakland has been drooling for her for years now and after a bit of grumbling takes her up on her offer. He signs the title on the horse as "paid in full," but keeps the note in his pocket until after the race. He decides to bet on it himself since the odds are 12 to 1 and if he wins on $500, he'll get $6,000; a can't lose scenario.

When he goes to bet, Provine runs to the edge of the stands and tells Murphy that the horse is now paid for free and clear and doesn't have to run. She implores Murphy to tell Hardin this, which he does, but Hardin still decides that the horse has to run. None of these developments change what he must do to win Pleshette.

Now the climactic race begins, with Provine stuck in the stands with the lecherous Oakland...
...Pleshette stuck in the stands with her repulsive husband...
...and Hardin leaning against the railing waiting for Murphy to ride his horse to victory. But what happens at the end I would never reveal. And there are a couple of interesting things that take place before it's all over. If you wish, you may watch for yourself HERE.
Pleshette had made a splash on Broadway as Anne Bancroft's replacement in The Miracle Worker and it won her a Warner Brothers' contract. And though she did some TV at that time, her contract was for feature film work only, making her exempt from the sort of "hamster on a treadmill" treatment that many other contractees faced. She also got to work at other places such as when she played Annie the schoolteacher in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963.)
Raven-haired Pleshette was often paired with blond men on screen.
Pleshette with Missy during filming.
At this time, she seemed always squared off with a blonde for the love of her man in films like Rome Adventure (1962) with Troy Donahue and Angie Dickinson or A Distant Trumpet (1964) with Donahue (to whom she was briefly married) and Diane McBain. There was also Youngblood Hawke (1964) with James Franciscus and Genevieve Page and A Rage to Live (1965) with Ben Gazzara and Bethel Leslie. She continued to work in movies, but ultimately gained the greatest fame through the popular sitcom The Bob Newhart Show. She was forced into doing Wall of Noise after refusing to appear in Palm Springs Weekend (1963), which ironically also featured Hardin. Stefanie Powers inherited that role, to her chagrin. Pleshette died from aftereffects of lung cancer in 2008 at age seventy.
This is how our lovers looked in color.
Hardin had been working in movie bit parts of the late-1950s when he was hired by Warner Brothers to fill a void left when Cheyenne's Clint Walker was engaged in a dispute over his own contract. The result was Hardin's own western Bronco, which ran for a few years. His biggest opportunity came with The Chapman Report (1962) for which he barely dressed at all and which remains a favorite of many viewers. He also turned heads in PT 109 (1963) There's a whole post about him and his career right here. His final years were filled with lots of outrageous political rhetoric and controversy (and he did write to me here, but I didn't publish his quite eye-popping comments.) He passed away in 2017 at age eighty-seven, having been married eight times!
Hardin on his cycle, which he drove to work each day.
Provine was a busy Warner Brothers performer, working as a guest on many TV shows and costarring on The Alaskans and The Roaring 20's. She also worked in the memorably epic comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and The Great Race and That Darn Cat! (both 1965), among others. She married in 1968 and retired from acting for the most part within a couple of years. In 2010, she died at age seventy-five of emphysema. It can be a little disarming to see the cast of a film nearly all die from that or lung cancer or heart disease and have them smoking like freight trains throughout! Anyway, Provine has a very loyal following which I never really got, though her work in this movie has helped me understand it better. She did quite well in it.

Meeker's career on screen began in 1951 and lasted to 1980. He also has a full profile at Poseidon's Underworld right here. Adept in his later years at portraying crooked-mouthed big shots and assholes, he was quite a handsome gent in his youth. Meeker passed away in 1988 at age sixty-seven of a heart attack.
Ralph jr makes a cameo in the top picture (from Code Two, 1953!) In Wall of Noise, Meeker is still "dressed-left" in a shiny dark suit, but I wasn't able to get a good capture of it.
Oakland began his career, surprisingly enough, as a concert violinist, which is quite a contrast to the hard-edged roles he played as an actor. He did well as tough guys and often played cops (as in Psycho, 1960, West Side Story, 1961 and Bullitt, 1968.) Always busy in movies and on countless TV episodes, he worked up until 1983 when he was claimed by cancer at age sixty-eight.

Matheson is a highly familiar face to movie buffs and fans of classic television. Australian born, but with a high class accent, he played many upper-crust British characters, soldiers and administrative figures over the course of his lengthy career. (Projects you may have seen him in include Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, 1955, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, 1967, and shows like The Twilight Zone, Banacek and Charlie's Angels.) He acted from 1941 through 1983, passing away in 1985 at age seventy-two.

Murphy was a professional boxer who worked in bit parts for movies in the mid-1950s (such as Autumn Leaves and Somebody Up There Likes Me, both 1956) before segueing into billed parts along about the time of Wall of Noise. Though he continued to act through the early-1980s (including guest spots on The Monkees and Bewitched), he never got that one part that might significantly launch his career as an actor (he also acted as road manager for Sammy Davis Jr for a time as an alternate means of employment.) Still with us today, he is now eighty-four.

If there is any residual doubt about the nature of Murphy's role, I give you his opening scene in which he is lying asleep in a stall with some hay on his belly. Hardin comes over with Frank's Choice and has the horse eat the hay out of Murphy's torso and crotch area to which he awakens, at first delighted, then appalled. Hardin's dialogue is, "Frank's got bad sinuses... eatin' down like that helps 'em drain." The movie-makers knew what they were doing...

I'll end with a couple of striking foreign posters that really play up the romance aspect of the movie, with wonderfully torrid artwork. Overseas, the movie was called "Two Women for Joe" and "Wall of Dollars!" The horseplay aspect was minimized in promotion.
The End!