Jeanne Crain was one of 20th Century Fox's biggest stars of the 1940s and early 1950s – one who led a tragic life, not at all like her charmed (and charming) on-screen characters. Crain is also Turner Classic Movies “star of the evening” tonight, Jan. 7.
I've always had a soft spot for Jeanne Crain. Anything she's in, I'd recommend. But the movies TCM is showing tonight would be worthwhile even if I weren't a major Crain fan.
Russell Rouse's The Fastest Gun Alive (1956) is currently on. A little-known Western released by MGM, this “minor” effort is one of my all-time favorites in that genre. If Fred Zinnemann's High Noon was subversive (and it was), The Fastest Gun Alive subverts High Noon's premise a bit further: here, the hero who saves the day is what many (not me) would call a “coward” – he's terrified of gun duels even though he's the fastest gun alive. Glenn Ford plays the recalcitrant gunslinger; Crain is his wife.
Jeanne Crain is at her most charming in Walter Lang's lyrical State Fair (1945), the type of “family” movie that normally gives me stomach cramps but that here works like magic. Cast (Crain, Dana Andrews, Fay Bainter, Donald Meek, etc.), direction, screenplay (adaptation by Paul Green and Sonya Levien), color cinematography (Leon Shamroy), songs (Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II) – just about everything is in the right place.
State Fair offers even a bit of “subversion” mixed in with the cornball Middle America proceedings, e.g., inebriated state fair judges, a horny hog, and a girl from the wrong side of the tracks (beautifully played by Vivian Blaine). Crain's singing voice was dubbed by Louanne Hogan.
Crain received her only Oscar nomination for Pinky (1949), directed by Elia Kazan (who replaced John Ford). Unfortunately, though she tries valiantly, Crain is out of her element here. But really, could anyone in his/her right mind believe that she is Ethel Waters' grandchild trying to “pass for White”?
Crain's Oscar nod should have been for Margie (1946). Will TCM show this delightful – and hard-to-find – title anytime soon?
Schedule (PT) and synopses from the TCM website:
5:00pm [Western] Fastest Gun Alive, The (1956)
A reformed gunslinger's past keeps catching up with him.
Cast: Glenn Ford, Jeanne Crain, Broderick Crawford, Russ Tamblyn Dir: Russell Rouse BW-89 mins
6:39pm [Short Film] Short Film: One Reel Wonders: Main Street Today (1944)
7:00pm [Musical] State Fair (1945)
An Iowa family finds romance and adventure at the yearly state fair.
Cast: Jeanne Crain, Dana Andrews, Dick Haymes, Vivian Blaine Dir: Walter Lang C-101 mins
8:45pm [Short Film] Short Film: One Reel Wonders: That's Why I Left You (1943)
9:00pm Pinky (1949)
A light-skinned black woman returns home after passing for white in nursing school.
Cast: Jeanne Crain, Ethel Barrymore, Ethel Waters, William Lundigan Dir: Elia Kazan BW-102 mins
Photo: Via Doctor Macro