Eleanor Parker, who turns 91 in ten days (June 26, 2013), can be seen at her most radiantly beautiful in several films Turner Classic Movies is showing this evening and tomorrow morning as part of their Star of the Month Eleanor Parker “tribute.” Among them are the classic Scaramouche, the politically delicate Above and Beyond, and the biopic Interrupted Melody, which earned Parker her third and final Best Actress Academy Award nomination. (Image: publicity shot of Eleanor Parker in Scaramouche.)
The best of the lot is probably George Sidney's balletic Scaramouche (1952), in which Eleanor Parker plays one of Stewart Granger's love interests – the other one is Janet Leigh. A loose remake of Rex Ingram's 1923 blockbuster, the George Sidney version features plenty of humor, romance, and adventure; vibrant colors (cinematography by Charles Rosher); an elaborately staged climactic swordfight; and tough dudes parading around in tights and wigs.
Scaramouche is centered, to put it quite literally, on avenging bastard Stewart Granger, who's out to get meanie, effete swordmaster Mel Ferrer. But it's Eleanor Parker's flaming red hair that nearly steals the show. Parker is a lively presence as a low-brow stage actress who falls for Granger's actor-in-disguise.
I find the buoyant George Sidney version of Scaramouche way more entertaining than Rex Ingram's stately take on Rafael Sabatini's novel. Ingram's version, however, is much more faithful to the book. Ramon Novarro starred as André-Louis Moreau a.k.a. Scaramouche, with Alice Terry as his love interest, Edith Allen as the actress, and Lewis Stone as Scaramouche's nemesis. MGM stalwart Stone and fellow Scaramouche 1923 player John George have small roles in the 1952 remake.
Polio and opera singing: Interrupted Melody
Eleanor Parker delivers an appropriately grandiose performance as opera diva Marjorie Lawrence in Curtis Bernhardt's melodramatic but entertaining Interrupted Melody (1955). Co-starring Glenn Ford and featuring a very young Roger Moore, the film turned out to be one of Parker's biggest box office hits. She lost that year's Best Actress Oscar to Anna Magnani in The Rose Tattoo.
Lizzie (1957), about a woman suffering from multiple-personality disorder, is considered a poor man's version of Nunnally Johnson's The Three Faces of Eve, released that same year and a respectable success that earned Joanne Woodward the Best Actress Oscar.
Directed by Ronald Neame (The Poseidon Adventure), the Chinese-set The Seventh Sin (1957) was a poorly received remake of the Greta Garbo star vehicle The Painted Veil (also remade in 2006 with Naomi Watts), while Eleanor Parker supports Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in How to Steal the World (1968), a mash-up of a couple of episodes from the TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. shown in theaters outside the United States. Of note, the big-screen The Man from U.N.C.L.E. reboot currently in the works is reportedly to star Man of Steel's Henry Cavill (replacing Tom Cruise) and The Lone Ranger's Armie Hammer.
Above and Beyond: Dropping the A-Bomb on Hiroshima
Robert Pirosh's cliché-ridden Valley of the Kings (1954) is a waste of Eleanor Parker's talent and, really, for the most part so is Melvin Frank and Norman Panama's Above and Beyond (1953). At least the latter film, though lacking in drama and psychological or political insights, offers some historical interest, as it revolves around the U.S. government's decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Robert Taylor plays Paul W. Tibbets, the pilot assigned to that mission. Above and Beyond earned Beirne Lay Jr. an Oscar nomination for Best Motion Picture Sory.
Infinitely more interesting than Frank and Panama's film is a Paul W. Tibbets interview published in The Guardian in 2002. Here's a Tibbets quote, answering a question about his thoughts on people saying “Let's nuke 'em,” or “Let's nuke these people.”
Oh, I wouldn't hesitate if I had the choice. I'd wipe 'em out. You're gonna kill innocent people at the same time, but we've never fought a damn war anywhere in the world where they didn't kill innocent people. If the newspapers would just cut out the shit: “You've killed so many civilians.” That's their tough luck for being there.
Don't expect to hear any bit of dialogue even remotely similar to the above quote in Above and Beyond.
Eleanor Parker today on TCM
8:00 PM SCARAMOUCHE (1952). A young man masquerades as an actor to avenge his friend's murder. Dir.: George Sidney. Cast: Stewart Granger, Eleanor Parker, Janet Leigh, Mel Ferrer, Henry Wilcoxon, Nina Foch, Richard Anderson, Robert Coote, Lewis Stone, Elisabeth Risdon, Howard Freeman, John Dehner, John Litel, Carol Hughes, George Baxter, Douglass Dumbrille, John Eldredge, John George, Rex Reason, Dorothy Patrick. Color. 115 min.
10:00 PM INTERRUPTED MELODY (1955). Australian opera singer Marjorie Lawrence and her battle against polio. Dir.: Curtis Bernhardt. Cast: Glenn Ford, Eleanor Parker, Roger Moore, Cecil Kellaway, Peter Leeds, Evelyn Ellis. Color. 106 mins. Letterbox Format.
12:00 AM HOME FROM THE HILL (1960). A southern landowner's family is torn apart by the revelation that he has an illegitimate son. Dir.: Vincente Minnelli. Cast: Robert Mitchum, Eleanor Parker, George Peppard, George Hamilton, Everett Sloane, Luana Patten, Anne Seymour, Constance Ford, Ray Teal. Color. 150 mins. Letterbox Format.
2:45 AM LIZZIE (1957). A mousy woman discovers she has two other personalities. Dir.: Hugo Haas. Cast: Eleanor Parker, Richard Boone, Joan Blondell, Hugo Haas, Ric Roman, Dorothy Arnold, Marion Ross, Johnny Mathis. Black and white. 81 min.
4:15 AM HOW TO STEAL THE WORLD (1968). Secret agent Napoleon Solo fights to stop a top-secret plot to conquer the world. Dir.: Sutton Roley. Cast: Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Barry Sullivan, Eleanor Parker, Leslie Nielsen, Leo G. Carroll, Tony Bill, Peter Mark Richman, Hugh Marlowe, Dan O'Herlihy, Ruth Warrick, David Hurst. Color. 90 min.
6:00 AM THE SEVENTH SIN (1957). An adulteress tries to redeem herself by helping to fight an epidemic in China. Dir.: Ronald Neame. Cast: Eleanor Parker, Bill Travers, George Sanders, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Françoise Rosay, Ellen Corby. Black and white. 93 min.
7:45 AM MANY RIVERS TO CROSS (1955). A pioneer woman sets her sights on a trapper. Dir.: Roy Rowland. Cast: Robert Taylor, Eleanor Parker, Victor McLaglen, Jeff Richards, Russ Tamblyn, Alan Hale Jr, John Hudson, Rhys Williams, Josephine Hutchinson, Sig Ruman, Rosemary DeCamp, Russell Johnson. Color. 95 mins. Letterbox Format.
9:30 AM VALLEY OF THE KINGS (1954). Archaeologists clash with graverobbers. Dir.: Robert Pirosh. Cast: Robert Taylor, Eleanor Parker, Carlos Thompson, Leon Askin, Kurt Kasznar, Aldo Silvani, Victor Jory. Color. 86 min.
11:15 AM ABOVE AND BEYOND (1952). The pilot who helped drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima struggles with the demands of the dangerous mission. Dir.: Melvin Frank and Norman Panama. Cast: Robert Taylor, Eleanor Parker, James Whitmore, Larry Keating, Larry Gates, Jeff Richards. Black and white. 122 min.