Friday, April 20, 2012

Film Pairings — Before They Were TV Stars

Ann Sothern was “My Secretary” and starred in another popular sitcom called the “Ann Sothern Show.” Raymond Burr was “Perry Mason” and, later, “Ironside.” Lucille Ball was Lucy in the classic “I Love Lucy,” which is still in endless reruns and William Bendix was dad in an early TV show “Life of Riley.” But before television capped their careers (Ball and Burr probably couldn’t have outdone or escaped their iconic television characters), these small-screen legends were stars (lesser perhaps) on the big screen. TV’s crazy comic Lucy, was a vamp in The Dark Corner. We see lots of leg. And Burr, the upstanding Perry Mason (though Mason wasn’t quite so upstanding in the novels), was the heavy in The Blue Gardenia.

With this double feature, we are revisiting directors Henry Waxman and Fritz Lang (See Kiss of Death and The Big Heat — The Birth of Two Villains). The Dark Corner is the story of a private eye (Mark Stevens) who is trying to go straight after a stint in prison. However his shady past makes him the perfect fall guy for a murder someone else commits. William Bendix, TV’s lovable comic dad, plays an even shadier private eye and Clifton Webb is the sophisticated (witty, what else?) art dealer with a clever plan to get rid of his younger wife’s lover. The plot has enough twists and turns and talented supporting players to make this a very worthwhile film. Lucille Ball plays the secretary to the reformed P.I. and is, in fact, his backbone. There was a comic turn in her fine performance now and then, but not the broad comedy she would show the world later.

At roughly the same time Lucille Ball was making the move from film to TV, the lovely, more cynical Ann Sothern did the same, also with considerable success. Before that, she had a successful career playing the pals of the ingénues (Anne Baxter in this case). Raymond Burr in Fritz Lang’s The Blue Gardenia, is the believable womanizer and murder victim. He plies the sweet and innocent Baxter with Polynesian Pearl Divers, an umbrella’d drink of super potency. She goes home with Burr and blacks out. When Burr ends up dead, all signs point to Baxter as the murderer. Even she believes it might be true. She seeks help from newspaper columnist Richard Conte. The story isn’t as strong as The Dark Corner, but it’s a lot of fun just the same. The music is by Nelson Riddle. Nat “King” Cole has a gig in the nightclub, The Blue Gardenia. Even Superman (George Reeves) makes an appearance in the film — as the main cop. No cape. No tights.

My recommendation for the evening is to sip a bit of fine rum during the first film and then go all island with fancy rum drinks with the second. Look up such tacky Tiki rum drinks as The Virgin’s Lament or the Missionary’s Downfall. Don’t drive. Don’t commit murder.

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