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Monday, September 19, 2016

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.


Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

Lots of interesting stuff on the you tube. Many hours can be wasted, I mean enjoyed there, especially if it's viewed through the Roku and the television.

5:58 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers Linda Darnell's late career with 20th Fox:

By this point, Linda Darnell was far removed from the pretty Texas teenager who came to Hollywood at the age of 15. A failed marriage, an affair or two, ill-health, and the ready solace of the bottle shadowed her beauty. There was that and there was also "Forever Amber," the picture that was both one of the box office champions of 1947 and a sore disappointment for her studio, 20th Century-Fox.

She had been preparing for "Captain from Castile" when a panicked decision was made to replace Peggy Cummins with her as the titular character. It was not the first significant casting change to be made in this troubled production, as filming had begun with Vincent Price as Charles II, only for George Sanders to step into the role a month later. That the studio would make this film at all was something of a gamble. Kathleen Winsor's novel was a best seller, but a story about multiple sexual liaisons would have been too much for a Motion Picture Production Office still smarting from battles with David O. Selznick over similar depredations in "Duel in the Sun." Despite the bowdlerization that got it past that hurdle, its initial release was delayed when the Catholic Legion of Decency nevertheless condemned it. The necessary revisions to get Legion approval required another month and a half of filming, raising its budget to a massive $6 million. Even so, the initial bookings suggested that it might still make this nut, if barely. In its "Top Grossers of 1947," Variety had it tied for third in the "golden circle":

The Best Years of Our Lives (RKO) $11,500,000

Duel in the Sun (SRO) 10,750,000

Forever Amber (20th) 8,000,000

The Jolson Story (Col.) 8,000,000

Unconquered (Par.) 7,500,000

Life with Father (WB) 6,250,000

The Egg and I (U) 5,700,000

The Yearling (MGM) 5,250,000

The Razor's Edge (20th) 5,000,000

This list was simply an early estimate, however, based on "Forever Amber" being an "upped-admission" picture, meaning that seats would be sold at premium prices before it went into regular release. There was a downward revision when the actual gross from the United States and Canada came in at $6 million, resulting in a hot bath for 20th Century-Fox even with foreign revenues. Word of mouth was not kind to an adaptation that was a pale reflection of the novel, Technicolor aside.

No doubt this left Darnell's reputation with the studio severely tarnished. She'd campaigned for more important roles, and when she got one, she couldn't carry it. That an elephant couldn't have carried this picture was neither here nor there. Between "Forever Amber" and "The Lady Pays Off," she played mostly standard roles in standard fare that could have been played by almost any other leading lady, let alone one who had been one of the better femme fatales. Some were good, like "Slattery's Hurricane," but none were memorable.

There was also "A Letter to Three Wives," directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. She was excellent as a woman from the other side of the tracks who never stopped loving her husband, and it should have led to better things. It didn't, however, not at 20th Century-Fox or anywhere else. "The Lady Pays Off" was alright, but it wasn't a new beginning, just the beginning of the end.

1:23 PM  

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