Doug Sirk Doing Romance-Comedy
Darnell Places Bet With U-I and The Lady Pays Off (1951)
Made back in day when actresses could be over-the-hill at 28, case here for Linda Darnell, free-lancing after career so far spent at Fox. Latter had fresher faces to focus on --- Jean Peters, Debra Paget, both these and more with same dark tresses plus youth, which thanks to alcohol/tobacco intake, Darnell saw slipping away. On her, 28 looks older, and few recalled just how young she'd been at a start (only fifteen when screen debuted in Hotel For Women). Difference was Darnell excelling when cast right, that sheer chance at 20th where volume was valued over merit, a circumstance all of industry labored under. Pictures had to be got out to cover overhead and feed distribution channels, both these necessarily filled by product, however good or bad. Trouble by early 50's was so much of it coming back at a loss, for which television, and often old-hat contract talent, could be blamed. That last included Darnell, whose wage was weekly reminder to Fox bookkeeping that her peak had past.
The Lady Pays Off looked like fresh beginning. She'd get $7500 per for a guaranteed ten weeks (according to excellent Ronald L. Davis bio of Darnell), pretty good if not the percentage biggest names took for the jump to Universal-International. Lady's comedy was sold as saucy, which it wasn't, and unpredictable, where it was anything but. Stephen McNally of overworked U-I lead men was spared customary villainy, this being fluff, but interesting is fact his part mirrors what he did in The Lady Gambles but two years earlier, also for U-I. Kid-in-support Gigi Perreau was being built as 50's moppet find, but markets had changed, so if she didn't get to be a star, Perreau had at least ongoing character work opposite meaningful names that would spark latter interviews. The Lady Pays Off is solid where one is predisposed to enjoy U-I in the 50's, bustle of contract folk and all pics assuming welcome sameness. Directing is Douglas Sirk, a basis for interest today, but let's credit him finally for plowing done outside melodramas, The Lady Pays Off further instance of Sirk capacity for whatever genre. He was probably the most efficient man on U-I's directing payroll, none with his imprint being outright bad, and a number indeed quite good. There's no DVD of The Lady Pays Off, so I caught it off You Tube, where quality squeaks by, again provided you're not too picky. We often take what we can get in this viewing world.