Sunday, November 05, 2017

cinema obscura: two with june allyson

When the eternally youthful, all-American June Allyson died at age 89 on July 8, 2006, most of the coverage was devoted to her team-spirited work at MGM and the various “wife” roles that she played in a string of biopics.

Missing from the career appreciations were two atypical Allyson titles - José Ferrer's compelling "The Shrike" (1955) and Douglas Sirk's lovelorn "Interlude" (1957), both made and released by Universal-International.

The two are impossible to see (or even find) these days, although Turner Classic Movies had "Interlude" penciled in for a couple screenings in the recent past, only to subsequently substitute another title at the 11th hour.

The disappearance of “The Shrike” is particularly odd, given its lofty credentials. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1952 play by Joseph Kramm, the stage production won two Tony awards for José Ferrer – as "best actor in a play" and "best director of a play." On stage, Ferrer co-starred with Judith Evelyn, best known as the timid Miss Lonelyhearts, spied on by James Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954).

However, when Ferrer decided to transfer the play to film, his first as a director and with himself again in the male lead, he did the unforeseeable and hired Allyson to play the role of a bright, seemingly caring wife (seemingly) who relentlessly pecks and pecks away at her husband – much like the bird of the title – until she has effectively reduced him to a state of utter helplessness and frightening mental instability.

Never before had Allyson's sunniness been made to seem so untrustworthy - it's toxic actually - and she responds to the challenge with a memorably unsettling (and yet subtle) performance. With this film, Ferrer explored what the critic Richard Schickel described as Allyson’s “vaunted sweetness,” as well as the perilous state of marriage when one of its partners fairly drips -  and seduces - with venom. “It was a delicious combination,” Schickel commented in his book “The Stars” (1962) – "her surface sweetness and the inner viciousness of the role.” A great performance.

James M. Cain concocted the story for Douglas Sirk's "Interlude," which was remade a decade later in 1968 under the same title by director Kevin Billington - although, for some bizzar reason, Cain goes uncredited in the Billington version. Oddly, Cain only supplied the story to Sirk. He didn't pen the screenplay. That was done by a collection of other writers.

Both films are European-based soap operas about a young, impressionable woman (Allyson in the Sirk version, Barbara Ferris in Billington's) who falls for a married orchestra conductor (Rossano Brazzi and Oskar Werner, respectively). The heroines both suffer in achingly beautiful surroundings, although neither film is exactly an emotional knockout. And the remake is as difficult to see as the original.

Allyson playing a woman who falls for a married man and pursues an affair with him could have meant career suicide in the 1950s, especially for someone who played uncomplicated, perky woman in which Allyson specialized. But her performance here is another gentle reminder that it was foolish for one  to underestimate June Allyson.

It's interesting to compare the two versions of the material. The Sirk film, of course, has those matchless Sirkian qualities that he so freely exhibited at Universal-International during this ripe, productive period, while Billington's take on it is more realistic and kept afloat largely by the mesmerizing, mournful Werner and the lovely Virginia Maskell as his wife.

 The choice of music is also interesting. The remake has a classic Georges Delerue score. Lots of harpischords here - way over the top. Frank Skinner scored Sirk's film in a more traditional, studio-approved way.

Sirk opens his film with a song by the McGuire Sisters; Billington and Delerue use the inimitable Timi Yuro for the remake's haunting title song.

You know, I'd actually like to see "Interlude" again - both versions.

And certainly "The Shrike," which is begging for a remake of its own.
* * * * *
(from top)

~Vintage June Allyson
~photography: MGM 1947©

~Poster art for "The Shrike"

~Publicity shots of June Allyson and José Ferrer in "The Shrike"
 ~photography: Universal-International 1955©

 ~Poster art for "Interlude"

~Allyson and Rossano Brazzi in "Interlude"
~photography:  Universal-International 1957© 


Laura Randolph said...

Joe, you're movie madness continues. I've been following your work for years and I can't think of anyone else who would write about these two films. I am sick of always reading about "the usual suspects." Continued luck with your web site. It's really good!

Kevin Barry said...

I saw The Shrike years ago on a NYC late night special movie series called Schaefer Award Theatre (only 4 commercial interruptions!) and I have never seen it again. I remember that it had Saul Bass credits that were way too small to read on television.

joe baltake said...

Kevin- I can't remember the last time the film was televised, but years ago, I pruchased a VHS copy (presumably taped off TV), watched it a couple times and then passed it on to a friend who promised to pass it forward. -J

Bunuel said...

INTERLUDE is actually one of those circuitous projects. It's actually a remake of WHEN TOMORROW COMES, which was a 1939 movie starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer, directed by John Stahl. The script was handed to Sirk, but Sirk had no idea of its origins. He just knew it was a reworking of WHEN TOMORROW COMES and that the source was a story by James M. Cain. What Sirk discovered (after the fact) was that the actual "source" was SERENADE (which was also used as the source for an Anthony Mann directed movie - made in the same year!) and the remnant which ties INTERLUDE (and WHEN TOMORROW COMES) to the Cain source material is a scene where the hero and heroine seek refuge in a church.

Of course, SERENADE is notorious because it's one of the nastiest of Cain's books: a man practically rapes a Mexican woman, and they go on the run, and it turns out one reason they're running is that he was an opera singer who is impresario who was his homosexual lover. (It's been decades since i've read the book, but that much i remember.) In SERENADE, the impresario is turned into a woman - Joan Fontaine. (The opera singer is played by Mario Lanza.) In INTERLUDE the man is made into a conductor....

But Sirk didn't have time to investigate the script when he was handed it and given the schedule. But years later he said, if i knew the actual source, i would have tried to include more of the original story into the movie. (The book has a kick, which none of the film "versions" has.)

joe baltake said...

Bunuel! Thanks much for all the fascinating/compelling background. You've successfully whetted my appetite to revisit not only the two "Interludes," but also the two titles that you reference. And, of course, the film "Serenade" is Mann's. BTW, love your moniker. -J

Sheila said...

The James M. Cain story that Bunuel refers to as the source for all these movies is titled "A Modern Cinderella."

Jack said...

June Allyson was one of my mother's favorite actresses, so it was so nice to read about her again. What a lady. Not like today's actresses. Thanks for the memories.

Kiki said...

I saw both these movies when they came out and later on TV and thought Allyson was terrific in the Shrike. I couldn't get my head around the other one because Rossano Brazzi was always such a turnoff. I mean, I am Italian and cannot imagine any woman going for someone like him. Must have been the Chianti. That aside, The Shrike was the best role of Allyson-s career and reminds me of another movie I think came out around the same time == The Bad Seed. I don't recall who played the father but I remember the little girl ending the movie with "you still have me, daddy." Terrifying. k.

joe baltake said...

Hi Kiki- William Hopper, a character actor who was a regular on the “Perry Mason” TV series, played the father. -J

m.h. said...

Joe, I immediately set to work after reading the Allyson blog and I am obtaining the following films: INTERLUDE (Allyson); SERENADE; INTERLUDE (Barbara Ferris); the 1939 film (forget the name) from my video source. See what an effect the Allyson blog had on me? Four films are in the process of coming to me. Finally, regarding Allyson's "unusual" roles (like THE SHRIKE and INTERLUDE), you didn't mention one of her last films THEY ONLY KILL THEIR MASTERS. Of course, she had a minor role in that and I believe she played a lesbian in it(?).

ross said...

William Hopper was the son of Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper