Rex Harrison is Turner Classic Movies’ final "Summer Under the Stars" star today, August 31, 2013. TCM is currently showing George Cukor’s lavish My Fair Lady (1964), an Academy Award-winning musical that in the last several decades has lost quite a bit of its original patina of prestige — unfairly so, in my humble opinion.
Rex Harrison, invariably a major ham whether playing Saladin, the King of Siam, Julius Caesar, the ghost of a dead sea captain, or Richard Burton’s lover, is for once flawlessly cast as Professor Henry Higgins, who on stage transformed Julie Andrews from cockney duckling to diction-master swan and who in the movie version does the same for Audrey Hepburn. Harrison, by the way, was the year’s Best Actor Oscar winner. (See also: "Audrey Hepburn vs. Julie Andrews: Biggest Oscar Snubs.")
Following My Fair Lady, Rex Harrison will be seen in 20th Century Fox’s Anna and the King of Siam (1946), his first Hollywood movie. Directed by John Cromwell (the father of Babe’s James Cromwell), and co-starring Irene Dunne, Anna and the King of Siam is both much more modest-looking and much more entertaining than Walter Lang’s sumptuous film version of the stage hit The King and I. Now, although Irene Dunne’s Anna is as good as Deborah Kerr’s “I,” Harrison’s King of Siam isn’t nearly as effective as Yul Brynner’s. According to his then wife Lilli Palmer, Harrison directed himself (with the assistance of an acting coach) following a nasty feud with John Cromwell. Big mistake. (Note: Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat starred in Andy Tennant’s Anna and the King in 1999.)
More Rex Harrison movies: Vivien Leigh, Maureen O’Hara, Lilli Palmer
Directed by Tim Whelan, St. Martin’s Lane (1938) is a minor comedy of interest chiefly because it’s one of Vivien Leigh’s few pre-Gone with the Wind movies — in fact, it’s one of Leigh’s few movies, period. Harrison and Charles Laughton co-star.
I haven’t seen The Foxes of Harrow (1949), The Rake’s Progress (1945), or The Long Dark Hall (1951). The first title is a period drama co-starring Maureen O’Hara, and was directed by John M. Stahl, a veteran adept at handling romantic / psychological melodramas such as Back Street (1932 version), Only Yesterday, and Leave Her to Heaven.
The Rake’s Progress and The Long Dark Hall should be interesting as they are two British productions starring Rex Harrison and wife Lilli Palmer — generally an excellent performer. In the former, Harrison was yet to become a Hollywood star; in the latter, he was by then a Hollywood (and United States) pariah, following the 1948 suicide of 29-year-old All-American leading lady Carole Landis, with whom the 40-year-old foreigner known as Sexy Rexy had been having an affair. (See also: “Hollywood Scandals: Rex Harrison and Carole Landis Affair.”)
Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer would be divorced in 1957. That same year he married Kay Kendall, who died of leukemia at age 33 in 1959. Rachel Roberts (Best Actress Oscar nominee for This Sporting Life) and Welsh socialite Elizabeth Rees were two of Harrison’s other four wives.
And thus, TCM’s "Summer Under the Stars" 2013 comes to a close.
Note: For the record, Rex Harrison played Saladin in David Butler’s King Richard and the Crusaders (1954); Julius Caesar in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra (1963), opposite Elizabeth Taylor; the ghost of a dead sea captain in Mankiewicz’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), opposite Gene Tierney; and Richard Burton’s lover in Stanley Donen’s critical and commercial bomb Staircase (1969).
Rex Harrison movies: TCM schedule (PT) on August 31
3:00 AM MEN ARE NOT GODS (1936). Director: Walter Reisch. Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Gertrude Lawrence, Sebastian Shaw, Rex Harrison. BW-83 mins.
4:45 AM STORM IN A TEACUP (1937). Director: Victor Saville. Cast: Vivien Leigh, Rex Harrison, Cecil Parker. BW-86 mins.
8:30 AM OVER THE MOON (1940). Director: Thornton Freeland. Cast: Merle Oberon, Rex Harrison, Ursula Jeans. BW-79 mins.
10:00 AM KING RICHARD AND THE CRUSADERS (1954). Director: David Butler. Cast: Rex Harrison, Virginia Mayo, George Sanders, Laurence Harvey. C-114 mins. Letterbox Format.
12:00 PM UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (1948). Director: Preston Sturges. Cast: Rex Harrison, Linda Darnell, Rudy Vallee, Barbara Lawrence, Kurt Kreuger, Lionel Stander, Edgar Kennedy, Al Bridge aka Alan Bridge, Julius Tannen, Torben Meyer, Isabel Jewell, George Beranger, Ruth Clifford, Douglas Gerrard, Robert Greig, Sam Harris, J. Farrell MacDonald, Marion Marshall, George Melford, Max Wagner. BW-105 mins.
2:00 PM MY FAIR LADY (1964). Director: George Cukor. Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Gladys Cooper, Jeremy Brett, Theodore Bikel, Mona Washbourne, Isobel Elsom, John Holland, Henry Daniell, Sam Harris, Betty Blythe, Alan Napier, Barbara Pepper, Lillian Kemble-Cooper, Grady Sutton, Arthur Tovey. C-172 mins. Letterbox Format.
5:00 PM ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM (1946). Director: John Cromwell. Cast: Irene Dunne, Rex Harrison, Linda Darnell. BW-128 mins.
7:30 PM ST. MARTIN’S LANE (1938). Director: Tim Whelan. Cast: Charles Laughton, Vivien Leigh, Rex Harrison. BW-86 mins.
9:00 PM THE FOXES OF HARROW (1947). Director: John M. Stahl. Cast: Rex Harrison, Maureen O’Hara, Richard Haydn. BW-118 mins.
11:15 PM THE RAKE’S PROGRESS (1945). Director: Sidney Gilliat. Cast: Rex Harrison, Lilli Palmer, Godfrey Tearle, Griffith Jones, Margaret Johnston, Guy Middleton, Jean Kent, Marie Lohr, Garry Marsh, David Horne, Alan Wheatley, Brefni O’Rorke, John Salew, Charles Victor, Jan Van Loewen, Joan Hickson, Emrys Jones, Patricia Laffan, Howard Marion-Crawford, David Ward. BW-121 mins.
1:15 AM THE LONG DARK HALL (1951). Director: Reginald Beck and Anthony Bushell. Cast: Rex Harrison, Lilli Palmer, Tania Heald, Henrietta Barry, Dora Sevening, Ronald Simpson, Raymond Huntley, William Squire, Ballard Berkeley, Anthony Dawson, Denis O’Dea, Anthony Bushell, Henry B. Longhurst, Patricia Cutts aka Patricia Wayne, Meriel Forbes, Brenda de Banzie, Michael Medwin, Eric Pohlmann, Jill Bennett. BW-88 mins.
Rex Harrison movie schedule via the TCM website. Image of Rex Harrison hat in My Fair Lady: Warner Bros.