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Ava Gardner Movies: From 'The Killers' & 'The Night of the Iguana'

Ava Gardner, Burt Lancaster, The Killers
Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster in Robert Siodmak's The Killers

Ava Gardner is Turner Classic Movies' Star of the Month of November. The Gardner film series begins tonight with a presentation of about a dozen movies in which the sultry actress can be seen in starring and supporting roles, and in lots of bit parts as well.

I'm not a fan of Robert Siodmak's The Killers (1946), a well-regarded film noir that earned the director an Academy Award nomination, but Gardner is excellent in a star-making turn and so is Elwood Bredell's black-and-white cinematography.

Albert Lewin's generally dismissed Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) I find quite affecting, chiefly because of Gardner's performance as a woman who finds love in death. Though not as gripping or atmospheric, Pandora reminds me of William Dieterle's Portrait of Jennie, released three years earlier.

Ava Gardner, in a role intended for Judy Garland (who was fired by MGM the previous year), is at her best as a part-black/part-white woman in George Sidney's Show Boat (1951), a career high for the director, and stars Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson. Though generally not all that admired, I find Show Boat one of the best MGM musicals of the '50s – perhaps the best.

John Lee Mahin penned the screenplay adaptation of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's Broadway musical based on Edna Ferber's novel.

Annette Warren dubbed Gardner's singing voice for the film – but curiously not for the Show Boat soundtrack record.

Schedule and synopses from the TCM website:

5:00pm Killers, The (1946)
An insurance investigator uncovers a string of crimes when he tries to find a murdered boxer's beneficiary.
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien, Albert Dekker Dir: Robert Siodmak BW-102 min.

7:00pm [Romance] Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)
A Spanish temptress falls for a haunted ship's captain.
Cast: James Mason, Ava Gardner, Nigel Patrick, Sheila Sim Dir: Albert Lewin C-124 min.

9:15pm [Musical] Show Boat (1951)
Riverboat entertainers find love, laughs and hardships as they sail along “Old Man River.”
Cast: Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner, Howard Keel, Joe E. Brown Dir: George Sidney C-108 min.

11:15pm [Romance] Knights of the Round Table (1953)
Queen Guinevere is torn between love for her husband and Sir Lancelot.
Cast: Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, Mel Ferrer, Anne Crawford Dir: Richard Thorpe C-116 min.

1:15am [Romance] We Were Dancing (1942)
A Polish princess gives up society for the love of a gigolo.
Cast: Norma Shearer, Melvyn Douglas, Gail Patrick, Lee Bowman Dir: Robert Z. Leonard BW-95 min.

3:00am This Time For Keeps (1942)
A newlywed goes to work for his disapproving father-in-law.
Cast: Ann Rutherford, Robert Sterling, Guy Kibbee, Irene Rich Dir: Charles Riesner BW-73 min.

4:15am Sunday Punch (1942)
A young girl copes with a boarding house full of boxers.
Cast: William Lundigan, Jean Rogers, Dan Dailey Jr., Guy Kibbee Dir: David Miller BW-76 min.

5:45am [War] Reunion in France (1942)
A Frenchwoman tries to help a downed U.S. flyer escape the Nazis.
Cast: Joan Crawford, John Wayne, Philip Dorn, Reginald Owen Dir: Jules Dassin BW-104 min.

7:30am [Suspense/Mystery] Kid Glove Killer (1942)
A police scientist investigates the mayor's murder.
Cast: Van Heflin, Marsha Hunt, Lee Bowman, Samuel S. Hinds Dir: Fred Zinnemann BW-74 min.

8:45am [Suspense/Mystery] Joe Smith, American (1942)
Nazi spies in search of government secrets kidnap a munitions worker.
Cast: Robert Young, Marsha Hunt, Harvey Stephens, Darryl Hickman Dir: Richard Thorpe BW-63 min.

10:00am Calling Dr. Gillespie (1942)
A wheelchair-bound doctor fights off a homicidal maniac.
Cast: Lionel Barrymore, Philip Dorn, Donna Reed, Phil Brown Dir: Harold S. Bucquet BW-84 min.

Nov. 11

Ava Gardner, The Barefoot Contessa
Ava Gardner as a disguised version of Rita Hayworth in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's The Barefoot Contessa

Ava Gardner is back on Turner Classic Movies on Thursday evening (well into Friday morning), with four releases from the 1950s followed by the “Find Ava” section – seven titles from the '40s in which Gardner had bit roles.

The two highlights of the evening are John Ford's Mogambo (1953) and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's The Barefoot Contessa (1954).

Mark Robson's The Little Hut (1957) is a watchable comedy, while George Cukor's Bhowani Junction (1957), a soap-operaish melodrama set in India, is the evening's embarrassment. Both co-star Stewart Granger.

Among the Best Actress Oscar nominees of 1953, Deborah Kerr would have been my top pick for her adulterous wife in From Here to Eternity. Gardner would have been the runner-up for her vibrantly sensual performance in the African jungle-set Mogambo, a remake of Victor Fleming's Red Dust (1932).

In the old Jean Harlow role, Gardner is the only two-legged animal that is a match for the four-legged ones. Clark Gable (reprising his Red Dust role) looks tired, while Best Supporting Actress nominee Grace Kelly looks blonde.

Gardner should have been nominated for her antiheroine in The Barefoot Contessa, a classy, great-looking production that failed to impress a number of critics, who found it verbose and overlong. Personally, I find Contessa one of Mankiewicz's best, in addition to being Ava Gardner's very best movie while also boasting her most mature performance: a Rita Hayworth-like young woman destroyed by Hollywood stardom.

Schedule and synopses from the TCM website:

5:00pm Mogambo (1953)
In this remake of Red Dust, an African hunter is torn between a lusty showgirl and a married woman.
Cast: Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Donald Sinden Dir: John Ford C-116 min.

7:00pm Barefoot Contessa, The (1954)
A Spanish dancer becomes an international star but still longs to get her feet in the dirt.
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien, Marius Goring Dir: Joseph L. Mankiewicz C-130 min.

9:15pm Bhowani Junction (1956)
An Anglo-Indian beauty falls for a British officer as her country fights for independence.
Cast: Ava Gardner, Stewart Granger, Bill Travers, Abraham Sofaer Dir: George Cukor C-110 min.

11:15pm Little Hut, The (1957)
A neglected wife is shipwrecked on a desert island with her husband and her would-be lover.
Cast: Ava Gardner, Stewart Granger, David Niven, Walter Chiari Dir: Mark Robson C-90 mins

1:00am Young Ideas (1943)
A widow's grown children try to break up her romance with a college professor.
Cast: Susan Peters, Herbert Marshall, Mary Astor, Elliott Reid Dir: Jules Dassin BW-77 min.

2:30am [Musical] Swing Fever (1943)
A bandleader with hypnotic powers tries to train a boxer.
Cast: Kay Kyser, Marilyn Maxwell, William Gargan, Nat Pendleton Dir: Tim Whelan BW-81 mins

4:00am [War] Pilot #5 (1943)
While their buddy flies a suicide mission, World War II airmen recall the events that led him to this noble sacrifice.
Cast: Franchot Tone, Marsha Hunt, Gene Kelly, Van Johnson Dir: George Sidney BW-71 mins

5:15am Lost Angel (1943)
A girl raised to be a genius gets lost and discovers the simple pleasure of life.
Cast: Margaret O'Brien, James Craig, Marsha Hunt, Philip Merivale Dir: Roy Rowland BW-91 mins

7:00am [War] Hitler's Madman (1943)
The Nazis take revenge on a Czech village after one of their most sadistic commanders is assassinated there.
Cast: Patricia Morison, John Carradine, Alan Curtis, Howard Freeman Dir: Douglas Sirk BW-84 mins

8:30am [Musical] Du Barry Was A Lady (1943)
A night club employee dreams he's Louis XV, and the star he idolizes is his lady love.
Cast: Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Gene Kelly, Virginia O'Brien Dir: Roy Del Ruth C-101 mins

10:15am Blonde Fever (1944)
A woman fights to save her husband from a sluttish waitress.
Cast: Philip Dorn, Mary Astor, Felix Bressart, Gloria Grahame Dir: Richard Whorf BW-69 mins

Nov. 18

Ava Gardner, The Naked Maja
Ava Gardner, The Naked Maja

Ava Gardner returns to Turner Classic Movies this evening. TCM's Star of the Month will remain on TV all the way to late afternoon Friday.

The movies themselves may not be exactly great, but Gardner's presence should be more than enough to make them worth at least a look.

Henry Koster's The Naked Maja (1958) has Anthony Franciosa as Spanish painter Francisco Goya. Perhaps Francisco Rabal was unavailable? (Luis Buñuel's deliciously sacrilegious Nazarin came out in 1959, so Rabal may have been busy working on that, who knows?)

You may think that in order to make the two Americans – Gardner is the other one – less absurd as Spaniards, the production opted to cast equally incongruous Italians in supporting roles, among them Amedeo Nazzari, Lea Padovani, Massimo Serato, and the usually excellent Gino Cervi. But no. The Naked Maja was actually shot in Italy. Hence, the Italian contingent.

Stanley Kramer's On the Beach (1959) is another message movie – about the end of the world thanks to all those nuke nuts out there – whereas 55 Days in Peking (1962) may well be Nicholas Ray's very worst effort. A badly miscast Charlton Heston stars.

Jack Conway's The Hucksters (1947) isn't one of the director's best, but some of the drama is good and the cast is mostly impressive. In addition to Ava Gardner, this tale of love and ambition in the world of advertising also boasts Deborah Kerr, Clark Gable, Sydney Greenstreet, and Edward Arnold.

Among the “Find Ava” offerings are She Went to the Races, Three Men in White, Two Girls and a Sailor, and Music for Millions. I've seen the last two, but don't recall spotting Ava Gardner in them.

Schedule (PT) and synopses from the TCM website:

5:00pm [Romance] Naked Maja, The (1959)
Romantic biography of the Spanish painter Goya and his relationship with the Duchess of Alba.
Cast: Ava Gardner, Anthony Franciosa, Amedeo Nazzari, Gino Cervi Dir: Henry Koster C-113 mins

7:00pm [Horror/Science-Fiction] On the Beach (1959)
After a nuclear war, U.S. sailors stationed in Australia deal with the end of civilization.
Cast: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, Anthony Perkins Dir: Stanley Kramer BW-134 mins

9:30pm [Romance] Angel Wore Red, The (1960)
A priest and a prostitute fall in love during the Spanish Civil War.
Cast: Ava Gardner, Dirk Bogarde, Joseph Cotten, Vittorio De Sica Dir: Nunnally Johnson BW-99 mins

11:15pm 55 Days At Peking (1963)
An American major leads the defense against Chinese revolutionaries in 1900 Peking.
Cast: Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, David Niven, Flora Robson Dir: Nicholas Ray C-162 mins

2:00am Hucksters, The (1947)
A war veteran fights for honesty in the advertising game.
Cast: Clark Gable, Deborah Kerr, Sydney Greenstreet, Adolphe Menjou Dir: Jack Conway BW-116 mins

4:00am She Went To The Races (1945)
A pretty scientist with a system for horse-race betting falls in love with a trainer.
Cast: James Craig, Frances Gifford, Ava Gardner, Edmund Gwenn Dir: Willis Goldbeck BW-86 mins

5:30am [Musical] Two Girls And A Sailor (1944)
Singing sisters create a World War II canteen and become rivals for the same man.
Cast: June Allyson, Gloria DeHaven, Van Johnson, Tom Drake Dir: Richard Thorpe BW-124 mins

7:45am Three Men In White (1944)
Young doctors compete for a prestigious position as Dr. Gillespie's assistant.
Cast: Lionel Barrymore, Van Johnson, Marilyn Maxwell, Keye Luke Dir: Willis Goldbeck BW-85 mins

9:15am [Musical] Music For Millions (1944)
A pregnant musician awaits her husband's return from World War II.
Cast: Margaret O'Brien, José Iturbi, June Allyson, Jimmy Durante Dir: Henry Koster BW-118 mins

11:15am Maisie Goes To Reno (1944)
On a trip to Reno, a Brooklyn showgirl tries to stop a soldier and his wife from divorcing.
Cast: Ann Sothern, John Hodiak, Tom Drake, Marta Linden Dir: Harry Beaumont BW-90 mins

1:00pm Great Sinner, The (1949)
A young man succumbs to gambling fever.
Cast: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Melvyn Douglas, Walter Huston Dir: Robert Siodmak BW-110 mins

3:00pm East Side, West Side (1949)
A chic New York couple is torn apart by a seductive model.
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, James Mason, Van Heflin, Ava Gardner Dir: Mervyn LeRoy BW-108 mins

Nov. 25

Ava Gardner, Richard Burton, The Night of the Iguana
Ava Gardner, Richard Burton in John Huston's The Night of the Iguana

Ava Gardner's Star of the Month tribute on Turner Classic Movies wraps up tonight.

The best bets are John Huston's The Night of the Iguana and John Frankenheimer's Seven Days in May, both released in 1964.

The former is one of Tennessee Williams' overheated melodramas, but it's also one of Williams' most touching and complex. Surprisingly, Gardner, only 41 but looking about ten years older, is one of the film's weak elements; her performance feels artificial and completely out of place especially considering that Richard Burton, Deborah Kerr, and Oscar-nominated Grayson Hall create flawless characterizations.

Unfortunately, the dishonest, moralistic ending – to please braindead studio executives, censors, and audience members – nearly ruins the whole thing.

Seven Days in May depicts the workings of a military coup in the United States. Three actors with liberal credentials (at least back in the '60s) – Burt Lancaster (an ACLU card-carrying member well into the '80s), Kirk Douglas, and Fredric March – star in this taut political drama that earned Edmond O'Brien a best supporting actor Oscar nod. (In my view, March, as the U.S. president, is the cast member that deserved the supporting actor nomination.)

Ava Gardner doesn't have much to do in Seven Days in May – her role is tantamount to a cameo – but, however briefly, she does lighten up the screen.

John Farrow's Ride, Vaquero! (1953) shows that Howard Keel could be a quite effective dramatic actor when given the chance, while Robert Stevenson's My Forbidden Past (1951) – “A beauty with a skeleton in her closet seeks revenge on the suitor who jilted her” – sounds like it could be fun. Scene-stealers Melvyn Douglas and Lucile Watson are both in the cast.

Schedule (PT) and synopses from the TCM website:

5:00pm Night Of The Iguana, The (1964)
A defrocked priest surrenders to the sins of the flesh in a Mexican hotel.
Cast: Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, Sue Lyon Dir: John Huston BW-118 mins

7:00pm Seven Days In May (1964)
An American military officer discovers his superiors are planning a military coup.
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Fredric March, Ava Gardner Dir: John Frankenheimer BW-118 mins

9:00pm [Romance] Mayerling (1968)
True story of Austria's Crown Prince Rudolph and his tragic love for a commoner.
Cast: Omar Sharif, Catherine Deneuve, James Mason, Ava Gardner Dir: Terence Young C-127 mins

11:15pm [Western] Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean, The (1972)
A self-appointed judge cleans up a corrupt western town twice.
Cast: Paul Newman, Roy Jenson, Gary Combs, Fred Brookfield Dir: John Huston C-123 mins

1:30am [Western] Ride, Vaquero! (1953)
Ranchers in New Mexico have to face Indians and bandits.
Cast: Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, Howard Keel, Anthony Quinn Dir: John Farrow C-90 mins

3:15am [Western] Lone Star (1952)
A frontiersman helps out with Texass' fight for independence from Mexico.
Cast: Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Broderick Crawford, Lionel Barrymore Dir: Vincent Sherman BW-95 mins

5:00am My Forbidden Past (1951)
A beauty with a skeleton in her closet seeks revenge on the suitor who jilted her.
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Ava Gardner, Melvyn Douglas, Lucile Watson Dir: Robert Stevenson BW-70 mins

6:15am Bribe, The (1949)
A sultry singer tries to tempt a federal agent from the straight-and-narrow.
Cast: Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, Charles Laughton, Vincent Price Dir: Robert Z. Leonard BW-98 mins

 

TCM website.

Photo: Doctor Macro


         
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