Wednesday, May 24, 2006

William Lundigan Double Feature:

Like a number of actors who never quite made it to the first rank of movie stars, William Lundigan is someone who I think was much better in supporting roles or as a B-movie lead. I prefer him in 40's films such as SUNDAY PUNCH or SANTA FE TRAIL (also the later INFERNO), but in the early 50's, Fox starred him in a handful of A-movies, two of which I'm writing up today. I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN is based on an autobiographical novel from 1910 about the life of a "circuit rider's" wife, that is, the wife of a minister who travels around a circuit of churches in a geographic area, in this case, the hills of Northern Georgia. Susan Hayward is the city girl who marries Lundigan, the country preacher. While the two actors make a believable and appealing match, it's never explained how they happened to pair up in the first place. Hayward quickly gets the hang of hill country life and the rest of the episodic film follows the various joys and sorrows of the pair and their flock. Gene Lockhart is a storekeeper whose daughter (Barbara Bates, Phoebe from the last scene of ALL ABOUT EVE) is dating mildly wild youth Rory Calhoun; Lockhart's not happy about it, but since Lundigan likes the boy, we know that by the end of the film, Dad will come around. Alexander Knox plays an outcast atheist who won't allow his kids to attend church, but a Christmas charity event opens his mind a bit. There are tragedies along the way: a boy drowns during a Sunday school picnic, one character loses a baby, and during a flu epidemic which takes several lives, Hayward has a crisis of faith and almost goes back to the big city. Lynn Bari has a small role as a big city gal who sets her cap for Lundigan by getting him to give her one-on-one bible lessons, until Hayward breaks it up and sends Bari packing. Veteran character actress Ruth Donnelly appears as a neighbor. Some of the lovely exterior scenes were shot on location in Georgia. Lundigan gives a solid and believable performance. [FMC]

DOWN AMONG THE SHELTERING PALMS doesn't fare as well; it comes off as a second-rate mix of elements of South Pacific and Teahouse of the August Moon. In the months after WWII, a group of GIs stationed in the Pacific are anxious to get home, but instead find themselves put in charge of occupying tiny Midi Island. The staggering number of attractive native women ("50 Dorothy Lamours!" yells one soldier when he arrives) puts the men in a good mood at first, but after strict non-fraternization rules come down, frustration sets in. Lundigan is the captain in charge, David Wayne is his sidekick, and Jane Greer is the lovely daughter of a missionary, who is given an office job and arouses the pent-up passions of the men. Early in the movie, Greer sings for the entertainment of the men, but later, it's startling when Lundigan and Wayne burst out in song in the middle of a conversation. There are a few other songs here and there, but the movie doesn't commit to being a musical. Mitzi Gaynor, a native woman who is given to Lundigan as a gift (by native chief Billy Gilbert) gets a couple of numbers, and Gloria DeHaven, as a conniving reporter, sings "All of Me." Gene Lockhart is fine as the missionary, famous talk show host Jack Paar has a small role as a GI, and Alvin Greenman (Alfred the janitor in Miracle on 34th Street) has a nice comic turn as a secretary. George Nader, who would briefly be a Hollywood glamour boy in the late 50's, and Lyle Talbot are credited with small roles, but I didn't notice either one, though I did see Lee Marvin in a one-line bit. Lundigan seems at sea here, like he's uncomfortable in the part, and though it's not a terrible movie, there's no real reason to search this one out. [FMC]

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