Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I'm not a fan of Susan Hayward's overwrought performances in the string of 50's women's melodramas that made her a star, but this one, her first starring vehicle, is a little less bombastic than the others and is fairly enjoyable, especially when you're watching for the real-life context. Hayward plays a nightclub singer named Angelica Evans who was supposedly modeled after singer and actress Dixie Lee; in the beginning, her career is on the rise, but she lets it take a backseat to her life as wife to crooner Ken Conway (Lee Bowman), based on Bing Crosby, who has just gotten a job as a singing cowboy on the radio. He adopts a twangy style of singing and, scheduled at 6 in the morning, isn't having much success until Hayward gives birth; because he's on the air while she's having her baby, he sings a song he wrote for her, in his normal singing voice, and he's a smash hit. His show is moved to 6 in the evening, he develops a fan base, and he begins touring. The emotionally insecure Hayward, who always needed a drink before she went on stage, starts drinking again to face the crowds of fans and business people who are suddenly part of their lives. As Bowman's career becomes more and more of a priority, her drinking becomes more obvious; a doctor (Carl Esmond) advises Bowman to give her more attention, but when Hayward suspects that Bowman and his assistant (Marsha Hunt) are having an affair, things spiral downward quickly. After she physically attacks Hunt at a party, Bowman initiates a divorce and seeks custody of their daughter. Hayward tries to restart her singing career, but she gets drunk opening night and misses the show. She kidnaps her little girl, leading to a climactic scene involving a fire, but also to a too-abrupt redemption for all, including Bowman who suddenly decides it’s time to make time for Hayward.

I like Hayward here, a whirlwind but not as over-the-top as she could get later in films like I WANT TO LIVE!; she was nominated for an Oscar for this film. Bowman, usually a supporting player, does a fine job as the Crosby stand-in; it also helps that the man who dubs his songs (Hal Derwin) has a bit of the Crosby lilt in his voice. Eddie Albert is likeable as a songwriter buddy of Bowman's. I especially liked Hunt as the potential "other woman" and the way her relationship with Bowman remains ambiguous until the end. Dorothy Parker co-wrote the original story. In real life, Crosby was quite a drinker early in his career, and as he gained fame (and control over his drinking), his wife slipped into alcoholism which led to her early death a few years after this film was released. This is shot in a murky noir style which fits its mood. The song Bowman sings for Hayward, "Life Can Be Beautiful," is quite nice, if overused by the end. [TCM]

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