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Archive for the ‘1940’s’ Category

A scene from Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Barbara Stanwyck pretends to be an expert cook in Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Anyone who knows me, knows that one of my biggest passions (besides classic movies and music) is cooking and baking. I’m big on making baked goods and meals from scratch. Perhaps it’s the Merry Homemaker-1950’s Housewife that lurks deep in my soul, but I love spending hours in the kitchen. Really. I’m not too big on pre-packaged items, except for frozen pizzas (because everyone has their guilty pleasures, right?). My specialties are various lasagnas, risotto, cinnamon raisin bread, and fruit pies with crumb topping. I’m not bragging (really!), I just love to cook. My mom taught me when I was a kid and as I grew older, I just kind of ran off with it. I’m really thankful for her teaching me the basics.

But enough about me. Since I do a bit of research for upcoming posts (stop looking at me like that), awhile back I stumbled upon two soup recipes from Fred Astaire and Myrna Loy off the…Find-A-Death site. Yeah, that’s great, isn’t it? It really makes you want to try them out. In all honesty, I was looking up the mysterious death of Albert Dekker (which is really, really messed up), saw the link for Fred Astaire’s page and wound up searching the site for the next hour or so. I love getting sidetracked!

Fred Astaire’s Old-Fashioned Chicken Soup - Click For Larger ImageMyrna Loy’s Chicken-Pimento Soup - Click For Larger Image
Fred and Myrna: Culinary Experts!

Both the Fred and Myrna soup recipes seem to have come from some kind of celebrity soup book that had to be published in the 70’s. Mr. Astaire’s recipe is somewhat reminiscent of the soup and homemade noodles my mom taught me to make (minus the chicken feet–I once saw those in an international supermarket and nearly ran screaming out of the place), but you can tell that Myrna was an “open the can and heat it up” kind of gal. I asked Fred Astaire fanatic (I wouldn’t hesitate in calling her his number 1 fan!), Chris, where the recipe came from. Apparently it popped up in Parade or some sort of 70’s news magazine and it’s his mother’s recipe. It makes sense, because it’s pretty old fashioned and my mom got hers from her mother (my grandmother). It’s kind of complicated though, and I’ve now learned how to make mine in a pressure cooker. It eliminates the hours needed to boil, boil, boil the chicken and skim, skim, skim the froth off the top of the liquid.

Meal planning with Mrs. Damon RunyonIn other fun classic cooking news, I happened to find this mid-40’s ad proclaiming Mrs. Damon Runyon’s love for Swift Frankfurt’s. Although after reading the small print, I’m not sure if I’d really enjoy a night at the Runyon household, no matter how much I enjoyed A Slight Case of Murder (1938) or The Big Street (1942). Perhaps meal planning was different in the 40’s?

“Frankfurts. Not ordinary ones but the big, tender juicy Swift’s premium kind are a frequently-enjoyed dinner favorite at the Runyon’s house. “They’re a delightful change and really taste wonderful,” says Mrs. Runyon. Here’s a delicious combination she likes especially well: Swift’s Premium Frankfurts (simply simmer 5-6 minutes and serve immediately), Creamed Diced Carrots in Onion cups, Parsley Potatoes, Citrus Salad and Butterscotch Pudding.”

I can think of nothing more disgusting than a meal consisting of hot dogs, citrus salad and butterscotch pudding. And let’s not even mention the creamed carrots in onion cups! Did people really eat like this in the WWII era? Can you imagine the stomach indigestion and heartburn from that combination?

But then, I like Turkey and Peanut Butter sandwiches on Rye, so who am I to complain?

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Young, Mitchum and Ryan

Like my previously discussed Arthur Kennedy obsession, my love for Robert Ryan is just as great. It’s odd to think that less than a year ago, I barely knew who he was. But seeing The Wild Bunch (1969) changed all that. Ryan captivated me as the reluctant bounty hunter, Deke Thorton. to the point where I lit up every time he appeared on screen. While I love everyone in that film, I found myself concerned about his character the most. He intrigued me like you wouldn’t believe (it doesn’t hurt that he’s also really handsome) and therefore, my newfound obsession with Robert Ryan was born.

Besides his involvement in The Wild Bunch, Ryan is perhaps best known for his portrayal of the murderous anti-Semite, Montgomery, in Edward Dmytryk’s excellent 1947 film-noir, Crossfire (showing Saturday March 22nd at 8:15 am on TCM). Take one look at his filmography and you’ll see that more often than not, Ryan played psychotic heavies in about 80% of the films he was cast. This is probably due to Crossfire, in which he plays Montgomery as a man brimming with anger and hate, but in measured doses. He doesn’t, as they say, chew the scenery. Monty seems to be good-natured, until someone pushes the right buttons and his psychotic side comes forth. One of Ryan’s strengths was playing villains. No matter what the part, Ryan brought an intelligence to them. His villains were never over the top–instead, Ryan characterized them as thoughtful and quiet, never one dimensional cardboard cutouts. They thought before they spoke or lashed out. And while you hated them, you also felt a bit of sympathy towards them for being so evil. In movies such as Bad Day at Black Rock (1954) or House of Bamboo (1955), Ryan always stole every scene he was in. His mere presence was enough to capture your attention.

Robert Young as FinlayThe plot of Crossfire deals with the murder of Samuels (Sam Levene), who also happens to be Jewish. Investigating it is Captain Finlay (Robert Young), who suspects Mitchell (George Cooper) of committing the act, while another GI, Keely (Robert Mitchum), goes out on a limb to prove his friend’s innocence. Others getting tangled up in the mess are Mitchell’s wife, Mary (Jacqueline White), “nightclub hostess”, Ginny (the always sexy Gloria Grahame) and her dishonorably discharged husband (Paul Kelly). The missing piece of the puzzle is Montgomery, who not only killed Samuels at the beginning of the film, but also murders another GI, Floyd (Steve Brodie), the only witness at hand.

Crossfire first emerged as a novel entitled, The Brick Foxhole. It was written in 1945 by Richard Brooks, who would go on in later years to direct such classics as Blackboard Jungle, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and my personal favorite, Elmer Gantry. In the book, Conversations With the Great Moviemakers, Brooks, an ex-marine, explains that his novel was inspired by the group of men he was stationed with: “In my outfit, marines didn’t like black people, didn’t like Jews, didn’t like homosexuals, didn’t like Catholics. They didn’t like anybody except marines, Protestant marines, especially if they came from Texas or Atlanta.” In The Brick Foxhole, the character of Samuels was a homosexual and since the Hayes code disallowed “sex perversions”, he became Jewish. However, it turned out to be a timely change, especially with the horrors of the concentration camps beginning to surface.

Robert RyanLike other actors of the era, Ryan enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1944, and while he never saw combat, he did become a drill instructor at Camp Pendleton in San Diego. It was during these years that Ryan read The Brick Foxhole. Afterwards, he got into contact with Brooks and told him that he would like to be considered for the role of Montgomery if it were ever made into a film. Brooks agreed. At that point, Ryan’s film career was rather short. He had been signed to Paramount for a brief period in 1940, but was dropped by the studio when they claimed that he was unsuitable for films. Now he was signed to RKO, where he appeared in second billed parts of a general nature. Perhaps Ryan saw Montgomery as a huge step forward–and it was. It not only garnered him rave reviews, but nabbed him the only Oscar nomination in his entire career. Ironically enough, Ryan would look back at the part with mixed feelings. While it did bring him to the public’s attention, it also lead to his being typecast as a villain. The public’s enthusiasm for Montgomery always mystified him, as he failed to see “the bone chilling evil I presumably projected.” Perhaps because in real life, Ryan was the complete opposite of his crazed characters. To say he was tolerant of other nationalities would be an understatement. Ryan despised racism, and was a supporter of many liberal political causes. He and his wife Jessica also founded a school, Oakwood, as they felt their children weren’t getting a proper education from the public and private systems. Whether through his acting or his social causes, Ryan wanted to make some kind of contribution to the world.

Mitchell’s flashbackCrossfire succeeds because of Ryan’s psychotic portrayal. When Keely (Mitchum) finds Mitchell (Cooper) and drags him into a darkened theater, Mitchell recalls a flashback from earlier in the night. Since he was drunk, his memory is hazy–yet, we see Montgomery and Samuels standing together, drinking. There’s a bit of an argument between the two and suddenly, Montgomery snarls, “No Jew is going to tell me how to two drink his stinking liquor!” It takes just the slightest word to set him off and expose the ugly hatred that lurks beneath. This is in contrast to the public persona of Montgomery that we see at the beginning of the film. When talking to Capt. Finlay, Monty has an almost wide-eyed and earnest innocence about him. But as the story progresses, more and more of Monty’s true nature is revealed. Right before the pivotal scene where Monty kills Floyd, he lashes out at him, yelling, “I don’t like Jews and I don’t like anyone who likes Jews!” For him, guilt by association is just as bad as being Jewish. But the one point that Crossfire lacks is the reason of why Monty hates the Jews so much. The most we ever get about his background is courtesy of Keely (Mitchum), who mentions that not much is known about him, except that Monty was a loner from all the way back. Did a Jewish person do something to him in the past? Or was he brought up to hate them? We’ll never know. Perhaps the book expounds on his character more, but for the film, it’s a pretty big flaw.

Gloria Grahame as Ginny

Besides Ryan’s standout performance, also of note is Gloria Grahame. Like Ryan, she was dumped by her old studio (MGM) and picked up by RKO. As Ginny (because she’s from Virginia–a fact that will be proven false later in the film), she’s both tough and vulnerable. As the “nightclub hostess” who gets involved with Mitchell, she lets her guard down when he offers to dance with her in the garden of the club where she works, The Red Dragon. Grahame is not only perfect for the role, but she’s also the perfect noir femme fatale. She’s sexy and seductive, with a bit of innocence thrown in for good measure. I absolutely love her in every movie of hers I’ve seen and her role in Crossfire is no exception.

Ginny and Mitchell share a danceFour’s a Crowd - Grahame, White, Young and KellyGinny’s husband
3 Scenes of Trouble: the innocent dance, the investigation and Ginny’s husband

One of my favorite scenes in the whole film occurs when Capt. Finlay and Mitchell’s wife, Mary, arrive at Ginny’s apartment to question her. Taking Ginny out of her nightclub element brings out her defensive side, only softening to admit that she did like Mitchell because she felt sorry for him. Finlay’s questioning is further complicated by the sudden appearance of Ginny’s husband, who admits that he had a conversation with Mitchell earlier in the evening. While he’s a slight character and their relationship is only a subplot, I find Ginny and her husband (I don’t think he was given a first name in the film)the staircase scene to be fascinating, a perfect example of how pre-war marriages failed when the men came home. It’s a subject examined more thoroughly in 1946’s The Best Years of Our Lives (the failing marriage between Dana Andrews and Virginia Mayo), but here it’s sort of a postscript, albeit an interesting one. In one of the most disconcerting scenes, Ginny’s husband continues to talk about his failing marriage while Capt. Finlay and Mary walk away, leaving him alone. He admits that he still loves Ginny, although she despises him. But no one cares about his words or him. It’s as though the war has turned him into a lost soul.

Robert Mitchum as KeelyWhich brings me to the other air of sadness that pervades Crossfire: the adjustment to normal civilian life that the returning soldiers faced. In the beginning of the film, when Keely tells Capt. Finlay about Mitchell, he explains that his current occupation is that of a printer and mentions that instead of the Purple Heart, he now works with purple ink. It’s a good example of how heroic men who once fought for our country are now reduced to menial jobs, since they received no formal job training afterwards. It really depresses the entire film. No matter what the “happy” ending is for Mitchell and his wife, their future is still going to be bleak. Not only is there his involvement with Ginny (as innocent as their relationship is, I would hate to find out my husband went to a “nightclub hostess”!) but he’s just a lowly painter as well. I’m sure his salary is hardly enough to support a wife on. It’s for these reasons that I find post-war movies to be interesting, since I think all the disillusionments really shaped the nation for the years ahead, finally culminating rebellious spirt of the 1960’s.

Robert Ryan as Montgomery

When it was released, Crossfire was a hit. Not only did it win Best Social Film at the Cannes Film Festival and the Edgar Allan Poe award for Best Picture, but it was nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor and Actress for Ryan and Grahame, Best Director for Dmytryk, Best Picture for Adrian Scott (producer) and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay. Grahame, Dmytryk and the film itself lost out to the year’s other “social” picture, Gentleman’s Agreement (Celeste Holm won the Best Supporting Actress statue and Elia Kazan won for Best Director), while Ryan lost to Edmund Gwenn in Miracle of 34th Street. A snarling killer is no match for a lovable man masquerading as Santa Claus!

Sadly, the success of Crossfire brought negative attention to the people involved: Dmytryk, RKO producers Paul Jarrico and Scott, and Robert Ryan. The head of RKO at the time, Dore Schary, quickly dismissed any claims against Ryan by using his Marine Corps background to get him off the hook. The others weren’t so lucky–while Dmytryk rebounded after his inclusion on the Hollywood Ten list and Jarrico went on to make the only blacklisted film, Salt of the Earth, Scott found himself completely ruined.

Robert Ryan as MontgomeryGloria Grahame as Ginny
Robert Ryan and Gloria Grahame make Crossfire a classic

Despite this, Crossfire is still a movie that manages to hold up today. While many people say that it’s a bit heavy-handed in it’s handling of racism, I tend to think of it as an excellent film noir murder mystery first and an anti-racism film second. As with many films, it’s the fantastic performances by the entire cast that make Crossfire worth watching. But it’s especially due to Robert Ryan and Gloria Grahame, who were so rightly nominated for Oscars. They’re what gives the film it’s punch, creating two characters who try to suppress their true feelings, only to wind up wearing them on their sleeves. I’m not sure if any other actors/actresses could be good in those roles–both Ryan and Grahame give their characters that extra something that elevates them above the rest. It’s especially uncomfortable to watch Ryan’s Montgomery, since he’s such a hateful person, but it’s countered by knowing that he was the complete opposite of that persona in real life. That’s the mark of a great actor–to take yourself out of your element and make it completely believable.

In a curious side note, that brings this article together in a really roundabout way, The Brick Foxhole was reprinted and reissued in 1952 as a cheap paperback. However, the actor that graced the cover was not Robert Ryan, but…Arthur Kennedy. How about that?

Link: Another vintage magazine advertisement for Crossfire (large, good quality)

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I spent a good portion of today giving the house its weekly cleaning. You know, dusting, vacuuming, polishing the furniture, taking out the garbage–all those things that I would rather not do. And every time I clean, I always think of a particular scene from the movie, Penny Serenade (1941).

For those of you who have seen it, you already know the story. For those of you who haven’t, this is the plot in a nutshell: Irene Dunne and Cary Grant fall in love and attempt to adopt a child, only to encounter an unexpected tragedy that nearly tears them apart. It’s what everyone calls a tearjerker, although to be honest, I’ve never cried during this movie. Despite its downbeat plot, Penny Serenade is great because 1. I absolutely adore the pairing of Grant/Dunne. Not only are they absolutely perfect together, but I think she was Cary Grant’s best leading lady. And 2. I love how she works in a record store at the beginning of the film. From what I’ve seen, 1940’s record stores were pretty awesome. You could go into a booth and listen to records. If I were alive back then, you can bet that’s where I would have been working.

Anyway, the scene I was talking about was when Miss Oliver (Beluah Bondi) unexpectedly visits the home of Julie Adams (Irene Dunne). Since it’s a surprise visit, Julie isn’t expecting any visitors–instead, she’s spending the afternoon cleaning her house. What always gets me about this scene is the way she’s dressed:

Irene Dunne in Penny Serenade

Look at her! She looks absolutely adorable. Her hair is up in a turban/scarf, she’s wearing a cute dress and apron combo and if that weren’t enough, she’s also wearing heels. Heels! For cleaning and scrubbing the house!

Heels!

A full-length view of her outfitSince I wasn’t alive back in the 1940’s, I’m not sure if this is how housewives really dressed while cleaning or if this was Hollywood’s version of dressing for housework. After all, think of how many times actresses look absolutely glamorous and beautiful while on their deathbeds. Still, it seems absolutely ridiculous to wear high heels while cleaning, although I’m not sure if there was any other kind of shoe for women to wear. I think they had to wear heels by default.

Every time I start cleaning the house, I think about this scene. One time I tried to look a bit more presentable while doing all the chores. I tied my hair up in a cute scarf and put on some lipstick–no high heels though, since I like my legs intact and unbroken. Sadly, by the time I finished cleaning, I looked a little something like this:

Sweetums the Muppet

For more on 1940’s fashion, there’s a really informative wiki page here.

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Since I’ve been busy for the past few days (not to mention that my brain feels like it’s completely fried out from work), I’ve become semi-obsessed with movies that run from about 60-75 minutes in length. I think they’re what the studios used to call “programmers”: b-movies that were the second feature on the bill, usually made in a short amount of time and with stock members of the studio’s acting stable. I’ve seen quite a few in the last couple of days–I find they fill in the space quite nicely between eating dinner and getting caught up on the latest Governor sex scandal.

One of my favorites is 1932’s Union Depot, a Warner Brothers’ effort that stars Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Joan Blondell. Since it’s a depression era pre-code, you get all the trimmings: there’s Ruth (Blondell), a chorus girl who’s down on her luck, bums (Fairbanks and Guy Kibbee), a drunk (the lovable Frank McHugh), a counterfeiter on the lam (Alan Hale) and not one, but two sleazy sub-plots! Hurray!

Fairbanks and McHughThe beautiful Joan Blondellkibbee.jpg
Fairbanks and McHugh, Blondell and Kibbee. The latter three are standard in any early 30’s WB movie.

Union Depot is reminiscent of 1932’s Grand Hotel, except that it’s set in a train station and we’re treated to the exploits of the poor, instead of the rich. What I particularly enjoyed were the many subplots that managed to weave together by the end of the film. Since it’s a pre-code, the amount of sex is fairly shocking: when Ruth needs money, she’s willing to prostitute herself out to Chick (Fairbanks), a bum who’s posing as a rich guy thanks to the contents of a suitcase that the drunken McHugh left behind. However, Ruth can’t bring herself to do it and after having a change of heart, Chick decides to play “Sant-y Claus” and help her out. Ruth also has a deliciously twisted back story, which involves a perverted old man that she used to read dirty books too. She thought he was blind–he wasn’t, and when he whipped off his glasses and revealed a pair of evil eyes, Ruth ran for her life. Now, the pervert is hot on her trail and unbeknownst to Ruth, has followed her to Union Depot.

One of the scenes I got the biggest kick out of was in the diner where Chick orders a meal. When he places an order for “a nice tomato salad, a thick sirloin steak smothered in onions, some browned potatoes in creamed gravy, a flock(?) of hot biscuits and some honey, coffee and raisin pie a la mode”, you can only imagine what a meal that sumptuous would cost in 1932. Ready to find out? Here it is:

The grand total of $1.75!

Using this calculator, that meal would now cost a person $26.56. So back in those days, $2 was equivalent to $30 today. Talk about inflation! I’m always fascinated by the price of food in classic movies. It’s shocking to see a grocery store sign touting that a loaf of bread costs ten cents, while in today’s world, a loaf of bread is fifteen to twenty times that much! It insane.

Ellen Drew and Dick Powell on the rooftopMoney is also a huge factor in Preston Sturges little known comedy, Christmas in July (1940). Like Union Depot, it’s also another “programmer”, this time starring Dick Powell and Ellen Drew, as well as Franklin Pangborn and Sturges’ favorites, William Demarest and Frank Moran. Jimmy (Powell) and Betty (Drew) are a working class couple who spend their evenings sitting on the rooftop of their tenement, listening to the radio. Jimmy is obsessed with winning a coffee slogan contest that he entered, and while Betty doesn’t exactly get his entry (“If You Can’t Sleep at Night, it isn’t the Coffee–It’s the Bunk!”), they both dream about the $25,000 prize money that would change their lives. When Jimmy’s co-workers trick him into thinking he’s won the contest via fake telegram, he and Betty go on a huge shopping spree where Jimmy finally buys Betty an engagement ring, as well as gifts for all their neighbors and a state-of-the-art davenport for his mother.

The self airing davenola!
Push button technology that includes a reading lamp, a radio and a self-fluffing mattress–
all for the low, low price of $198.50! Try getting a couch for that now.

Out of all the Sturges films I’ve seen, I have to say that Christmas in July has become one of my favorites. Clocking in at under 67 minutes, it’s not only funny and witty, but Sturges shows how the sudden accumulation of money changes the opinions of others who would have treated the couple like a bunch of nobodies beforehand. In that respect, Christmas in July is pretty depressing: money changes you in the eyes of others. It’s a sad, but true realization. Jimmy and Betty are the same people, only richer and yet, everyone fawns over them as though they’re newfound royalty. That is–until it’s revealed that Jimmy’s winning was a joke and suddenly, Jimmy is a “criminal” to those that had just fawned over him. It’s quite hypocritical.

Like Christmas in July…
Living the Good Life: Ellen Drew and Dick Powell in Christmas in July

I didn’t realize it until the other day, but Union Depot and Christmas in July are quite similar in tone. What makes them work is the ability for the audiences to identify with their characters: Ruth and Chick or Jimmy and Betty. Both stories are representative of their eras. With Ruth and Chick, they’re just struggling to make it through the depression like everyone else. And with Jimmy and Betty, they’re both working just to make ends meet, in hopes that one day they’ll be able to afford a better life. When both couples come into money, the first thing they do is splurge: a big meal for Chick and some new clothes for Ruth, while Jimmy and Betty run down to the local department store and buy an engagement ring. But despite their wealth, the one thing that really draws you into both stories is love. You get the feeling that each couple could wind up poor and still find a way to make it. Love is stronger than money and the tense situations that test each couple afterwards, prove it.

And that’s the beauty of the one hour movie: a big plot and good acting packed into half the time that a regular movie would take. Sure there are some clunkers, but there are hidden gems as well. The studios cranked these movies out like clockwork out only to fill out double bill features and to meet quotas that theaters set. But what the studios didn’t realize is that in some of these little films, such as Union Depot and Christmas in July, were just as uplifting and entertaining as an top-billed movie, maybe even more so. By the time the 60’s rolled around, the “programmer” was pretty much obsolete and that’s a shame. Thank goodness they’re still around for us to watch today. Although times have changed, good films haven’t and sometimes, you just need a little cinematic pick-me-up that only a well-crafted b-movie programmer can provide.

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Gig Young in 1943
WB headshot of Gig Young in 1943

Time hasn’t been kind to Gig Young. For most casual movie fans, his place in film history will be “that guy who killed himself and his wife”. Some may remember him for his role in a Doris Day movie or even for his fantastic performance in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, but otherwise, every article I read about him always makes note of that fatal incident. It’s impossible not to. But very rarely do I ever read about what a fine actor he truly was. Sure, he’s always mentioned in reviews of movies he appeared in, but briefly, as though he were an afterthought.

For me, seeing Gig Young’s name in the cast list usually seals the deal on a movie for me. If he’s in it, I’ll watch it. It’s that simple. He’s one of my favorite supporting actors, usually starring in films of very good quality. The problem was that he was overshadowed by the films leads: Ida Lupino and Glenn Ford, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Doris Day, Cary Grant, Sinatra, Clark Gable–the list goes on and on. He was a popular supporting actor throughout the 50’s and was finally rewarded with an Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1969 for his work in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Cursed by the Oscar win, his personal demons took over, leading him to the murder/suicide that ended not only his life, but that of his fifth wife as well. I’ve seen posts where people say they can’t watch a movie of his without thinking of this and it depresses me. He’s a wonderful actor and to ignore his work because of that is a shame. It also lead me to write this and to shed a little light on a career that deserved more accolades than it received.

After receiving a scholarship to the prestigious Pasadena Community Playhouse in the early 40’s, Gig was spotted by a Warner Brothers talent scout and was signed to a contract with the studio. Using his real name of Byron Barr, most of his early work was in bit parts that usually went uncredited. As he gained more visibility, the powers that be decided he needed a name change since there was already another Byron Barr in the business. The solution was simple: use the distinctive name of the character he just played in The Gay Sisters (1942). And with that Byron Barr became Gig Young.

Front of WB postcardBack of Postcard
A promotional postcard of Gig sent to a fan during his years at WB.
The back reads like a form letter.

Bette and Gig (Old Acquaintance)1943 was a good year for Gig. He appeared in two major releases, the first being Howard Hawks’ excellent war film, Air Force, while the second was the Bette Davis/Miriam Hopkins woman’s picture, Old Acquaintance. His career was interrupted by WWII and like other actors, Gig served his country with a stint in the Coast Guard. When he returned to Hollywood, he began gaining momentum by appearing in all sorts of movies, some high profile (MGM’s The Three Musketeers – 1948) to the lackluster (Escape Me Never – 1947, Wake of the Red Witch – 1948). One of the best from that period was the western, Lust For Gold (1949) in which he plays Ida Lupino’s scheming husband. It’s a fantastic role for Gig, one where he gets to play a truly nasty guy, unlike the nice guy parts he was usually given. Gig displays an edge that I’ve never really seen in any of his other films and it’s refreshing to see. In 1951, Gig returned to home studio of Warner Bros. and appeared with James Cagney in the drama, Come Fill the Cup. The part landed him his first Oscar nomination in a role he’d come to know too well: that of an alcoholic.

Cagney and Gig in “Come Fill the Cup” (1951)
Cagney and Gig in Come Fill the Cup (1951)

Throughout the 50’s, Gig seemed to take over “The Ralph Bellamy Role”: that of the handsome, yet somewhat bland guy who always finds himself getting dumped for the film’s leading man. In 1954, Gig appeared for the first time with Doris Day in Young at Heart, where he gets ditched for the surly, yet talented pianist played by Frank Sinatra. Doris and Gig would go on to star in three more films together: Teacher’s Pet, The Tunnel of Love (both 1958) and That Touch of Mink (1962).

Cary Grant and Gig in “That Touch of Mink” (1962)

Oddly enough, That Touch of Mink has what I think is one of Doris Day’s most asinine roles, yet it’s my favorite movie of Gig’s. In it he plays Roger, Cary Grant’s neurotic financial analyst who holds a grudge against his boss for making him into a rich man. Roger was once a respected teacher of economics at Princeton, but gave it all up when Philip Shanye (Grant) offered him $50,000 and he’s never forgiven himself for selling out. He feels humiliated when Phillip raises his salary and gives him stock in the company for Christmas. “Like rubbing salt in the wounds,” Phillip deadpans after one of Roger’s diatribes.

When the playboy Phillip is rejected by the virginal Cathy Timberlake (Doris Day), Roger is elated at seeing his boss finally get shot down. In a scene where Cathy sends back all the clothes Phillip bought for her, Roger gives one of my most favorite movie speeches ever:

Roger: “When she sent this back she became a symbol of hope for all of us who sold out for that touch of mink.”
Phillip: “Roger!”
Roger: “You give us good salaries, paid vacations, medical insurance, old age pensions. You take away all our problems and you act like you’ve done us a favor. Well you haven’t! We enjoyed our problems and someday there’s going to be an uprising and the masses will regain the misery they’re entitled to!”
Philip: “Neurotics of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your psychiatrists.”

Gig in “That Touch of Mink” (1962)What I love so much about Gig in this role is that he plays Roger with a kind of quirky, wide-eyed enthusiasm and naivety. Despite being constantly cast in light comedies, Gig plays this unlike any other of his supporting roles. The scenes between him and Cary Grant are absolutely priceless and it gets even better when Roger is constantly mistaken as Phillip by Cathy’s roommate, Connie (a feisty Audrey Meadows). When he goes to visit Cathy, Roger gets slapped by Connie, beaten up with a broom, and then chased into a car by a gigantic dog. Elated, Roger shows Philip his battle wounds before heading to the hospital: “It’s the most satisfying day of my life!” Roger exclaims. “They thought I was you….and you deserved everything I got!” It’s hands down one of my favorite performances ever, by any actor and definitely in my top ten of all time.

Gig in Teacher’s Pet (1958)
Nobody likes a show-off: Gig as Dr. Hugo Pine in Teacher’s Pet (1958)

Gig also excelled in Teacher’s Pet (showing on TCM on Sunday, March 9 at 4:00 pm), the movie that garnered him his second Oscar nomination. As the attractive and knowledgeable Dr. Hugo Pine, Gig is once again the bright spot in the movie. I’ve always felt that Teacher’s Pet has a tendency to drag at times and I find the romance between Doris Day and Clark Gable a bit unbelievable (and I’m usually all for May-December romances). Gig doesn’t show up until halfway through the film, but when he does, the movie finally perks up. He turns in another great performance here. The nightclub scene where he proves what an expert he is at everything never fails to make me laugh. I love how Hugo Pine can do it all all, much to Gable’s chagrin: dance with Doris, play the bongo drums, speak Watusi and even hold his liquor–until the cool night air hits him, that is. Another funny scene occurs when Hugo is in his apartment, mixing up a homemade hangover remedy. When the doorbell rings, Hugo holds onto his head for dear life as though it’s about to fall off. I particularly enjoy how he moves the huge doorbell chimes apart, one by one, preventing them from clanging against each other. He’s hilarious. In that scene alone, Gig proves that he’s just as good at subtle physical comedy as he is verbal. It’s a really outstanding supporting performance (And on an unrelated note, you have to wonder why Doris never got her props either).

For the best all-around movies that Gig appeared in, I’d have to go with either the Tracy-Hepburn technological comedy, Desk Set (1957) or William Wyler’s tense hostage drama, The Desperate Hours (1955). In the former, he plays another victim of love, losing out to Spencer Tracy for Katharine Hepburn’s affections while in the latter, he plays a worried boyfriend who figures out that his girlfriend is being held hostage by escaped convicts. It’s a fine ensemble drama with excellent performances put in by every member of the cast, especially Humphrey Bogart and Fredric March. In one of my favorite books, Arthur Kennedy: Man of Characters, Kennedy remembers the hell director William Wyler put Gig through:

“I had a very difficult scene with Gig Young, a charming guy. It ran seven or eight pages. Gig initially had to act fresh. I tell him that the family written about in the newspaper is his girlfriend’s family. That has to register–and at the same time, he has to conceal his fear. We went through the whole scene and Wyler says, ‘The look on his face stinks! Do it again!’ We got up to 27 takes. I suggested we stop for a coke and then we did another 13! Wyler said “Print six, eight and 23. Then he said, ‘Move in for a close-up of Gig’s look.’ Gig was a damn good actor. After three or four takes, he was perfect–and Wyler printed it.”

Very rarely did Gig get to ever play a leading man part, and when he did, they came off with mixed results. One of my favorites is the 1963 MGM comedy, A Ticklish Affair, where Gig is a naval officer who falls hard for navy widow, Shirley Jones. Not only does he get her at the end, but he plays hero to her young son after a mishap with some giant weather balloons. It’s not going to be on any Top Ten lists in the future, but watching it is a good way to spend an afternoon.

Rita and Gig (The Story on Page One)Yet for all his talent, Gig could also be horribly miscast in roles that weren’t right for his style. Take the courtroom drama, The Story on Page One (1959) where Gig is a lonely divorcee who finds love with an abused and neglected housewife, played beautifully by Rita Hayworth. By this time, Rita was no longer the sexy, pin-up girl of the WWII era. She was, however, a fine dramatic actress that people failed to take seriously. Rita more than holds her own in this film, but Gig? Not so much. In so many scenes, such as where he tells Josephine (Hayworth) about the loss of his child, his acting rings false and throughout the whole movie, he’s merely adequate. It wasn’t that he couldn’t do serious work–because he definitely could. Maybe it’s the direction by Clifford Odets, but I just didn’t like him in this film. I feel that he was just completely wrong for the part, although he and Rita do compliment each other physically. And when Gig shares a scene with the great character actress, Mildred Dunnock (as his overbearing mother) she leaves him in the dust. Otherwise, it’s a good movie, with an exceptional performance by Tony Franciosa, as the lawyer who defends Gig and Rita. Another case of miscasting would occur a few years later in 1963’s Five Miles to Midnight--but then I think everyone–Gig, the stunningly gorgeous Sophia Loren, Anthony Perkins and especially the screenwriter–were miscast in that one. It’s not a good movie by any stretch.

Elizabeth Montgomery and GigWhile he turned in some of his best work during the late 50’s and early 60’s (The Story on Page One notwithstanding), his personal life was a mess. In 1956, Gig married Elizabeth Montgomery (daughter of actor Robert and of Bewitched fame). It was a stormy marriage, marred by Gig’s chronic drinking and Elizabeth trying to keep up with him. And since Gig had a vasectomy earlier in his life due to some health problems, children were also out of the picture. They wound up divorcing in 1963 and nine months later, Gig married his fourth wife, a real estate agent named Elaine Whitman. She bore him a child Jennifer, that he initially pronounced as a “miracle”, but later denounced her when he realized that he had to pay child support. Like Cary Grant, Gig also tried out LSD therapy to help him straighten out his life, but always found himself turning back to the bottle. In the book, Final Gig, it’s said that he had a habit of relying on women throughout his entire life. As a child, Gig was aware that he was the result of a “leak in the safe”. His father would constantly introduce him as “a little dumbbell” and both parents were emotionally unavailable, causing him to rely on his sister, Genevieve, for support. I’m not saying this is an excuse for any of his behavior, but it does give you a clue into what his mental state may have been like. You’d never guess that behind all those fantastic comedic perfomances was a man with a dark, turbulent, emotional state of mind.

Gig, Charles Boyer and David Niven on TV GuideBy the mid-60’s, the type of light comedy/sex farce movies that Gig usually nabbed supporting roles in were becoming out of fashion. He appeared in few movies during this time, mostly concentrating on work such as the sophisticated tv series, “The Rogues” (1964 – which also starred David Niven, Charles Boyer and Gladys Cooper). However, Gig’s luck would change in 1969. His former agent, Marty Baum, became the head of ABC Pictures, the company that was producing the depression-era drama, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Baum insisted that Gig take the role of Rocky, the emcee who presides over the dance marathon. Not many people were thrilled with this decision, since Gig was primarily known for comedies, not serious drama.

However, he proved them wrong. Gig’s acting ability is a revelation. You would never guess that this was the same man who starred in all those Doris Day movies. As Rocky, Gig manages to be both sleazy and boastful. To the public, he appears sympathetic while exploiting the participants’ troubles for the crowd’s entertainment. But behind the scenes he’s emotionless, caring more about the finances than the health and emotional well-being of the people involved. But there are glimpses into his character that contrast sharply with his slick, ruthless persona. Take the scene where one of the contestants begins to hallucinate from lack of sleep. As she screams that bugs are crawling all over her body, Rocky rushes forth and takes control of the situation. After the incident has died down, Gloria (Jane Fonda) sarcastically remarks, “I thought you would have put that on display.” To which Rocky soberly responds, “No. It’s too real.” Gig gives a layered, nuanced performance here, with an emotional depth that he never had the chance to display in any other movie before. Yes, Rocky is cold and callous, but he’s doing what he needs to do in order to survive during the Depression. While the rest of the cast is fantastic (Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, York and Red Buttons) and the direction by Sydney Pollack is excellent, it’s Gig’s performance that really stands out. He definitely deserved the Oscar that year.

Gig and Jane Fonda in “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” (1969)

Gig with his Oscar (1969)Gig always had apprehensions about winning or being nominated for an Oscar. As he once told Louella Parsons, “So many people who have been nominated for an Oscar have had bad luck afterwards.” And while being nominated certainly didn’t hurt his career, winning one most certainly did. His fourth wife, Elaine, says that what Gig wanted most “was a role in his own movie, one that they could finally call a ‘Gig Young movie.'” But that never happened and his seventies filmography proves it. No leading parts ever came his way after his win, and the movies he appeared in are of middling quality (some may argue about Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia though. I’ve never seen it, so I can’t comment). Gig’s alcoholism turned even more self-destructive than before. He was fired from Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles after showing up on the set suffering from delirium tremens. And if that weren’t enough, Gig was also fired as the voice of “Charlie” on the 70’s crime drama/jigglefest, “Charlie’s Angels”, because he was too intoxicated to read his lines. It’s a pretty terrible way to end such a great career.

Which brings us to the final note in Gig’s life, the horrible murder-suicide that will dog his name whenever you read about him. It would be impossible not to mention it because it’s a culmination of a very sad and very tragic life. For all the wonderful performances Gig put in throughout his career, he suffered miserably due to his life-long battle with the bottle. It’s noted that at the time of the incident, Gig was under the psychiatric treatment of Dr. Eugene Landy, the same “doctor” who treated Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys (and we all know how he turned out, the poor guy).

Despite all this, Gig is still one of my favorite actors. He was an excellent subtle comedian and in my opinion, I think that’s even harder than being an over-the-top one. It’s difficult to walk that fine line between making the audience believe in your character, while laughing at the same time and Gig always managed to pull it off. He not only had a flair for light comedic parts, but the charm to pull them off as well. And when the right script came around, he excelled in serious roles as well. I think it’s a shame that his tragic end overshadows his work and possibly keeps people from viewing his movies. I’ve seen a good majority of them and let me tell you, those people have no idea what they’re missing.

Links:

• An article on the marriage between Elizabeth Montgomery and Gig, plus a gallery of pictures.

• Gig Young’s Wikipedia entry

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Okay, so this isn’t a traditional Free-For-All-Friday blog post (FYI: a FFAF blog post is when readers say whatever they like in the comments–I mean, you’re more than welcome to do that, if you please), but I thought it would be fun to take a day off from my usual wordy critiques (as well as giving my brain a rest) and do a weekly post that contains fun classic movie related items. So for this first FFAF post, I give you a sampling of classic movie stars shilling beer, booze and Chesterfield cigarettes.

Joseph Cotten for Smirnoff Vodka (1958)
Two Joseph Cotten’s are Better Than One: Smirnoff Vodka (1958)*

In the good old days of Classic Hollywood, famous actors and actresses lending their name to products wasn’t a big deal. If anything, it was the standard. Unlike today’s actors who go overseas to do commercials because they don’t want you to know they’re doing them, you could flip through any popular magazine from the 40’s and see Barbara Stanwyck recommending Chesterfield cigarettes to her friends and fans. Imagine her doing that in today’s PC age! She’d be hit with lawsuit after lawsuit by fans who claimed that she encouraged them to smoke and since they’re dying of cancer, she should foot their bills. Complete and total madness.

Stanwyck for Chesterfield
No Barbara, NO!: Stanwyck for Chesterfields (1950)

One more interesting thing I’ve noticed is that in the majority of the cigarette ads, there’s also a promotional line for whatever movie they’re appearing in at the time. So of course, it begs the question–were these stars really smoking Chesterfields, or were they just sold out to the company by their home studio or agent? Look at Claudette Colbert–she’s practically Chesterfield’s poster girl, appearing in no less than 4 ads during a span of 6 years! Either agent must have been getting good money from the Chesterfield people or Claudette really loved her smokes.

Colbert (1942) - Click for larger imageColbert, Lake, Goddard (1943) - Click for larger imageColbert (1946) - Click for larger imageColbert (1948) - Click for larger image
Claudette Colbert for Chesterfield: dressed as a nurse and giving our soldiers nicotine in 1942, with “So Proudly We Hail!” co-stars Veronica Lake and Paulette Goddard in 1943 and two solo ads in ’46 and ’48.

And of course, look how glamorous they look while smoking and drinking! Honestly, I haven’t smoked in about…ten years and I could kill someone from a cigarette right now. For some reason, I’m thinking if I lit up a Chesterfield, I’d somehow look like Rita Hayworth. Yeah, if I had a face lift maybe. And even that’s pretty suspect.

But on a personal note, my mother told me that my grandfather’s favorite brand of smokes were Chesterfields and he lived well into his 90’s, the miserable old coot.

Enjoy!

Chesterfield ads (click on thumbnail for larger version):

Russell (1942) - Click for larger imageMerman (1946) - Click for larger imagePower (1948) - Click for larger imageHayworth (1947) - Click for larger image
Rosalind Russell, Ethel Merman, Tyrone Power, Rita Hayworth

Mayo (1947) - Click for larger imageWyman (1950) - Click for larger image
Virgina Mayo, Jane Wyman

Beer (click on thumbnail for larger version):

EGR & wife - Click for larger imageKennedy (1953) - Click for larger imageDuryea (1953) - Duryea
Edward G. Robinson and wife, Arthur Kennedy, Dan Duryea

Smirnoff Vodka and Jim Beam (click on thumbnail for larger version):

Fontaine/Young - Click For Larger ImageRandall - Click for larger imageHarpo (1961) - Click for larger imageDavis/Wagner (1973) - Click for larger image
Joan Fontaine and Collier Young, Tony Randall, Harpo Marx, Robert Wagner and Bette Davis

For those of who abstain from vice – Cola and Gum! (click on thumbnail for larger version)

Stanwyck (1948) - Click for larger imageCrawford (1947) - Click for larger imageHeflin (1947) - Click for larger image
Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford for RC COLA (she’s rolling over in her grave), Van Heflin

Note: I collected all these ads over the years off ebay, where you can find many of them for sale. The only thing I did was straighten them out and color correct them

*According to this article, that advertisement of Joseph Cotten is supposed to be aimed at the 1950’s gay market. Uh, I really didn’t get that. I just thought there was two Joseph Cotten’s in one ad. I wonder if he would have posed if he knew that. Hmmmm.

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I’ve been on a big Gregory Peck kick as of late, which after four years or so, I’d say I’ve waited long enough. I’ve always read a lot of reviews where people complain that he’s somewhat of a “wooden” actor. I’ve never thought that about him, but I can understand where people are coming from. He has that stoic, clipped manner of speaking and what other people take as wooden, I take as calm and collected. To each his own though.

Gregory Peck shirtless
Gratuitous shirtless shot of Gregory Peck–because I can.

But for those people who do find him “wooden”, I’d highly recommend William A. Wellman’s 1948 western, Yellow Sky, where he’s anything but. He’s dangerous and sexy, while Anne Baxter matches him moment for moment. Its plot revolves around a gang of bank robbers that make their way through the desert, only to wind up in a deserted town called Yellow Sky. Soon after, they meet its only inhabitants, a woman nicknamed Mike and her Grandpa. However, when the gang realizes the two are hiding gold, they decide to make quick fortune by robbing them.

For all the William A. Wellman movies I’ve seen, this quickly became one of my favorites. Not only is it a solid western, but the relationship between “Mike” (Anne Baxter) and “Stretch” (Gregory Peck) is fascinating. Yellow Sky isn’t just a western–it’s a psychological one. Hands down Anne Baxter’s characterization of Mike steals the show here. Yes, she’s mainly known as the backstabbing bitch in All About Eve, but in Yellow Sky, she shows a great range of emotion. It’s sounds a bit trite, but Mike wants to prove that she’s just as tough as one of the guys, even favoring a men’s nickname instead of using her real name, Constance Mae. She lives by her own strict moral code. And while Mike is a tomboy, she’s a Hollywood tomboy. Petite in size, her hair is neatly coiffed and even though she spends the entire film in a non-nonsense blouse and black jeans, they show off her best assets. It’s no wonder that she elicits lust in most of the gang.

Since they’re the focus of the story, the main relationship is between Mike and Stretch. While Mike hates all the men, it’s Stretch that she seems to hate the most. Gregory Peck is fantastic in this role (but then I love when he plays bad boys). He constantly pursues Mike despite warning all the other men in his gang to stay away from her and Grandpa (John Russell). It’s almost as though he feels he has first dibs on her because he’s their leader. In their first meeting, Stretch asks her what she’s so afraid of, to which Mike defiantly answers, “Nothing.” It’s a lie of course, but there’s no way Mike can show any other emotion besides “tough.” She feels that even the slightest hint of femininity would be a sign of weakness and with the six men who just intruded their lives, Mike intends to be just as tough as them.

baxter_rifle.jpgIn addition to giving Stretch a mean right hook when he attempts to steal her rifle, she’s ready to shoot anyone at a moment’s notice. But what’s nice about the character of Mike is that she’s not a caricature of a tomboy. For example, she isn’t anything like Doris Day in Calamity Jane. Wellman was smarter than that. In less assured hands, the character of Mike could have easily been one to laugh at. You take Mike seriously because she is serious and Anne Baxter manages to bring her to life in a wonderful way. There’s nothing humorous about her. You don’t doubt for a second that Mike’s first instinct would be to shoot a man right below the belt. The only person she cares about is her Grandpa and she’d fight to the death to keep him safe. Her loyalty towards him isn’t just because he’s her Grandpa, but because he treats her with respect. In a conversation, he proudly tells Stretch that not only is Mike as “tough as a nut”, but that she was raised by Apaches. In so many westerns, anyone who is raised by Indians is immediately treated as though they have the plague. Not only do Grandpa and Mike have a good relationship with the Apaches, but Mike has turned out to be a real fighter. Her Apache upbringing is a source of pride, not shame, for him.

There are plenty of interesting scenes and one of them occurs at the watering hole, which is to be a source of trouble for Mike. After being accosted by the men, Stretch steps in and tells them to stay away from her and Grandpa. Immediately, Mike rewards him with a look of tenderness. It’s the first real emotion (besides anger) that we see from her. Is it because she sees Stretch respects not only her, but her Grandpa as well?

However, Stretch refuses to take his own advice and treks over to the house to see Mike. After tackling her to the ground and kissing her, Mike repeatedly headbutts(!) him and tells him “You stink!”, but not before wiping her mouth as though his kisses were poison. It’s interesting to see that Mike’s first reaction after physical violence is to verbally assault him. It’s a one-two punch of hitting him below the belt. She then ends their “rendezvous” by shooting at his head–although she aims to miss. Later, when she and Grandpa are Illustration of a Womanwalking back to the house, Mike tells him, “He made me feel..I don’t know.” But she does know. Mike has made her feel like a woman for the first time in her life. Wellman then cuts to Mike’s room, in which a picture of an elegantly dressed lady is pinned onto her wall. Seeing it fills her with disgust and causes Mike to angrily tear it into pieces. It’s a great moment of self-loathing–she hates herself for feeling something that she’s been trying so hard to suppress. Although having such a picture on her wall in the first place clues us into the fact that Mike longs to be as pretty as any other woman out there. In that one short scene, we sense Mike’s vulnerability for the first time. It’s easily one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie.

A famous Wellman shadow shot
Wellman was known for odd angles and shots. Here, Grandpa and Mike stand in near darkness.

What makes Yellow Sky so interesting is how the relationship between Mike and Stretch progresses. It’s not a full blown love affair–there are things that Stretch does and says that are questionable–yet it’s enough to gain Mike’s trust. Stretch is the first man besides her Grandpa to treat her with a respect. He doesn’t look down at her. It’s clear that even after their first kiss (albeit a forced one), Stretch is bothered enough by Mike’s disgust, that he appears the next day wearing a fresh shirt while his face is clean shaven. Upon seeing his efforts to impress her, Mike’s facade begins to crumble.

Bull Run saves the dayWhile the relationship between Mike and Stretch grows, the one between her and the rest of the gang is precarious. When she goes down to the watering hole a second time, she’s physically attacked by Lengthy (John Russell) while Half Pint (Henry Morgan) and Walrus (Charles Kemper) cheer him on, with the latter yelling, “Ride her cowboy, ride her!” It’s a particularly disturbing scene, especially for 1948. Since the code was in effect, the most you see is Lengthy pushing Mike against a tree while she tries to beat him away. But it’s clearly a prelude to rape. It’s even more disturbing when Walrus tells Stretch afterwards that she was asking for it. This scene also lets you know that Lengthy sees right through Mike’s tough act. He doesn’t see her as an equal. For Lengthy, she’s just another woman to take advantage of.

However, it has to be noted that the youngest member of the gang, Bull Run, (Robert Arthur) does respect Mike. When he sees Lengthy attacking her, he’s the only one to step in and pull him off, only to need saving by Stretch in the end. In some respects, both Bull Run and Stretch are somewhat alike. While they try to keep up their tough facades, their basic sense of decency hasn’t been corrupted yet and after such a particularly brutal scene, it’s refreshing to see. The only difference is that Bull Run is naive to the ways of the world, while Stretch has seen it all and is wise to the ulterior motives of his gang. This certainly affects the fates of their characters at the end of the movie.

Widmark, always the villianThe relationship between Stretch and Dude (Richard Widmark) is probably second to that of Mike and Stretch. When Dude sees that Stretch is falling for Mike, he knows that he’s of no use to the gang anymore. Women mean absolutely nothing to Dude. He was burned by an old girlfriend in the past and he’s nothing but bitter towards them now. Not only does he make numerous attempts to overthrow Stretch as their leader, but he’s also a silent witness to many moments where both Mike and Stretch let their guards down. He revels in their downfalls, knowing that the more Stretch becomes emotionally attached to Mike, the sooner he can make off with the gold. Greed is Dude’s only motivation in life. He and Lengthy are both soulless in their pursuit for the gold and when Stretch finally backs out of a deal that would wipe out Mike and Grandpa for good, the gang finally turns on him. It’s interesting to see that Mike is the only one who immediately tries to protect him. As the gang attempts to shoot him down, Mike covers him, therefore risking her own life so they can make their way back to the house together. It’s a nice twist, especially seeing the malevolence she had towards him when they first met.

Peck and Baxter

It’s another facet that makes Yellow Sky so interesting to watch–the gender lines become blurred when it comes to Mike and Stretch. In two separate, but pivotal scenes (the rape scene and the aforementioned shootout), they both save each other from possible death. Unlike most westerns, Mike’s character doesn’t suddenly turn into that of “damsel in distress.” If anything, it’s Stretch who becomes the damsel! Once he falls in love with Mike, therefore respecting her, his gang loses respect for him. Without Mike’s protection, he would be a dead man since it’s hard to fight when there are five against one. The roles have reversed and it’s an interesting path for Wellman to go down, but it’s certainly one that he treaded down before. Although the genres and situations are different, his 1937 film, A Star is Born is another movie that has similar gender relations. The up-and-coming actress (Janet Gaynor) becomes a star, while the once-famous husband (Fredric March) is reduced to the role of Mr. Vicki Lester. In order to save him, she must give up her own career and she doesn’t do it because she has to–she does it because she loves him. Yet, the literal death of her career becomes a figurative one for him. It’s heartbreaking to watch and for a director that was nicknamed, “Wild Bill”, he certainly had a sensitivity for relationships and how they work.

While Yellow Sky is a rough western with a love story thrown in, it’s not too sappy. In fact, it’s presented in such a way that you think Stretch is saving Mike from herself. Audiences back then may have thought that all Mike needed was the love of a good man to change her mind, but there’s so much more to it than that. It’s the proof in the final scene (which I hate to spoil, since it’s so good) that Mike saved Stretch from himself as well. The building of their whole relationship was based on seeing each other as equals and in the end, that’s exactly what they are. Love saves the day and all that sappy stuff notwithstanding. They saved each other from themselves by letting their facades down and admitting that they needed love. What’s that old saying–No man is an island? I think it applies here perfectly.

It’s a shame to see that despite a dvd release, Yellow Sky isn’t that well-known today. Especially when you compare it to Gregory Peck’s other bad boy western, 1946’s campy Duel in the Sun. While the basis of that was a soap opera-type love story, Yellow Sky is so much more than just a love story between Mike and Stretch. It’s about the survival and relationships between people, no matter what the odds are against them. And that’s always a timeless topic.

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