Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Summer re-runs: a lesser Bette !

I had never seen it but it was always considered one of the lesser Bettes after ALL ABOUT EVE, but TCM here dug up PHONE CALL FROM A STRANGER, 1952 which proved quite compulsive. A talky (very) drama with that lovely early '50s 20th Century Fox black and white look - before they went over to CinemaScope and De Luxe Color - written by Nunully Johnson and directed by that favourite of mine Jean Negulesco, it turns out to be another of those "doomed flight" scenarios popular that decade (JET STORM, JET ACROSS THE ATLANTIC, BACK FROM ETERNITY (Anita Ekberg label), SOS PACIFIC (Trash label) and of course THE CROWDED SKY - review at Troy Donahue label).

Our lead here is Garry Merrill, still looking good after ALL ABOUT EVE, who gets chatting to some others on a cross-country flight: showgirl Shelley Winters who looks great here, and her name is Binky Gay! on her first (and last) flight, moody Michael Rennie drinking and nursing his own secret, and that very annoying salesman Keenan Wynn - which increases one's resolve never to converse with strangers when flying. It is no secret that the plane crashes in bad weather and Gary is the only survivor of "the gang of four" - so he tracks down the families and loved ones of the other three ... and we find out all about them. There is exensive footage on the plane (and flying was certainly more roomy in those days) and all those flashbacks. Rennie had caused a fatal crash from reckless driving and blamed his passenger, alienating his wife (Beatrice Straight) who had to cover for him and their son does not know but blames the mother .... Binky (Shelley) was at loggerheads with her old actress mother-in-law but was setting her up as Bloody Mary in SOUTH PACIFIC with Oscar & Hammerstein! - take that Evelyn Varden!  

Bette appears in the final scene (just like she did as Catherine the Great in JOHN PAUL JONES in 1959) as the now crippled wife of Wynn whom she had left to run off with a playboy but he abandons her when she bangs her head while diving and is going to be left paralysed, but the annoying Keenan comes back to look after her.   So, nice little stories all tied together nicely with those plush Fox values and a cast and director who know how to deliver material like this. Pity there was not more for Bette to do, another missed opportunity after EVE then. She would have been getting into her mid-'40s here but, like those other early '30s stars, was already considered "old" or middle-aged ....

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