The Girl He Left Behind (1956) Again Teams Tab and Nat
Pampered Tab Hunter drafted into the peacetime
army after college grades slip. So staying in school was how to stay out of
uniform in 1956? The device would work, at least for a while, into the Vietnam era.
50's conscription hung over boys through latter part of that decade, this after threat Korea had posed. Even Elvis got the
compulsory invite. Being no war was on, Tab has to show mettle saving pals from
errant grenades and maneuvers gone wrong. He's a wiseacre no real army would
have tolerated, insolent to officers and going roughshod over drill
instructors. Jack Webb in a following year's The D.I.would have had him busted
out before end of a first reel. So The Girl He Left Behindmust be a comedy, as pressed by
narrating Daws Butler, who I'll bet was added to cue laughs not otherwise forthcoming.
Underlying story, but not the script, was by Marion Hargrove, who'd done close
to a same thing for MGM during WWII. Cooperation was Army-extended, FortOrd
a location site. Tab Hunter plays surly against dream teen grain in
anticipation of good work he'd do in Gunman's Walk, Natalie Wood in thankless
title role. These two were what love teaming had come to at Warners by 1956.
Jack Warner told director David Butler to pick a
young cast "from stock" and weed out ones thatdidn't click. Salary
to these was $75-150 per week, so risk was slight. Butler preferred new-signed James Garner to
Hunter for a lead, but J.L. was sold on another Tab-Nat to follow The Burning Hills. Garner plainly had presence the star lacked. I wonder if his part might
have been shaved to protect Hunter, as was Martha Vickers in deferenceto less
exciting Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep. Eagle eyes may spot other hopefuls in
khaki; one I noted was future Fly-head model Brett Halsey. Again on Jack Webb
topic, I wonder if his D.I. was part-riposte to service insult that was The
Girl He Left Behind. Both addressed peacetime defense after singular fashion,
Webb's being at least his idea of semi-doc treatment. Each now play like
off-rail time capsules, which doesn't in any way reduce their fun potential.
The cloudy image at left, from going-on sixty
years ago, is Tab Hunter and Natalie Wood at peak of shared fame, appearing
with The Burning Hills at the Chicago
theatre, from which fire escape theygreeted"teener" throng. The Girl He Left Behind would open at the WindyCity's
State-Lake a few months later to "shaky" boxoffice, taking half in
its second week of what Giant realized in an eighth at the Chicago Theatre.
Elvis and Love Me Tender was trumping Tab-Nat at the Oriental. Overall for The
Girl He Left Behind showed less than half of profit realized by The Burning
Hills, WB wrapping the Hunter-Wood parlays with these. Competition for teen
allowance had become fierce by late '56. Along with new-arrived Elvis and what
footage was left of James Dean, there were rock and roll pics byincreased
number and cheap chillers aimed downwind to kids (that same Chicago week saw
Curucu, Beast Of The Amazon and The Mole Peoplealso licking The Girl He Left
Behind). As with The Burning Hills, WB sold Girl with sex emphasis, "The
Boy With The Barracks Bag and The Girl With The Overnight Case," though here it's inferred that the couple do spend a night together, judging by
a hotel room embrace that dissolves to the pair drinking orange juice a next
morning, that device borrowed from The Caine Mutinyof a couple years before.
Warner Archive has The Girl He Left Behind available on DVD.