Actress Carol Lynley movies: From ‘Holiday for Lovers’ to ‘The Cat and the Canary’
See previous post about actress Carol Lynley: “Carol Lynley: ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ & ‘Bunny Lake Is Missing’ + Landmark Teen Pregnancy Drama.”
Listed below are several other notable Carol Lynley movies, from the late 1950s, when she became a contract actress at 20th Century Fox, to the late 1970s, shortly before she found herself stuck playing leads and second leads in little-seen, largely ignored, and long-forgotten fare.
‘Holiday for Lovers’
Henry Levin’s family/romantic comedy Holiday for Lovers (1959) features 17-year-old Carol Lynley as one of Clifton Webb and Jane Wyman’s two daughters – the other being Jill St. John – finding romance in Brazil. In Lynley’s case, love is manifested in the person of Bing Crosby’s son, Gary Crosby.
Holiday for Lovers was one of a number of 20th Century Fox box office disappointments released at that time, a period of turbulence at the studio that in no way helped Lynley’s budding movie career.
Including Blue Denim and Holiday for Lovers, she was to appear in seven Fox productions between 1959–1964.
‘Return to Peyton Place’
Directed by José Ferrer (Best Actor Academy Award winner for Cyrano de Bergerac, 1950), Return to Peyton Place (1961) was a far less successful sequel to Mark Robson’s Oscar-nominated 1957 blockbuster Peyton Place.
Even so, if (unconfirmed) online reports are accurate, this potboiler based on Grace Metalious’ novel was the one sizable moneymaker Carol Lynley starred in during her stint as a 20th Century Fox contract actress.
As in Blue Denim, Lynley (in the role previously played by Diane Varsi) once again flaunts social conventions, this time around – in a case of like mother (Eleanor Parker; Lana Turner in the original), like daughter – by having an affair with a married man (Jeff Chandler).
It gets more scandalous: in her upcoming novel, the young woman exposes all the filth hidden behind the white picket fences and spotless house façades of her small New England town.
And that’s when veteran Mary Astor (Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for The Great Lie, 1941) steps in to steal the movie from its more prominently billed stars.
In a role reportedly intended for Audrey Hepburn,* Carol Lynley, as a brunette for a change, plays the sister of Boston priest Tom Tryon in Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal (1963), based on Henry Morton Robinson’s “sensational” bestseller.
Despite qualms about the original’s low-caliber drama, Preminger’s great-looking big-screen version earned the veteran filmmaker his second and final Best Director Oscar nomination† (but no Best Picture nod).
Billed below Tryon and Austrian import Romy Schneider (in her de facto American film debut), Lynley has several of the film’s showiest scenes, as, after becoming engaged to a Jewish man (John Saxon) and losing him to bigotry and World War I, she finds herself once again both unmarried and pregnant (by somebody else).
* It’s odd that Otto Preminger would have wanted Audrey Hepburn to play the future cardinal’s sister, instead of his ethereal, European romantic interest – the larger female role that ultimately went to Romy Schneider.
† Otto Preminger was first shortlisted in the Best Director category for Laura (1944).
Denis Sanders’ low-budget cult classic Shock Treatment (1964) stars Stuart Whitman as an actor hired to “play” insane so he can be sent to the same mental institution holding a gardener convicted of decapitating his boss.
But is the gardener truly demented? And just by chance, did he also steal his headless boss’ dough?
Carol Lynley was cast as Whitman’s romance-stirring fellow patient.
Also in the cast: Lauren Bacall (“I lowered my professional sights totally to start working in pictures again, and agreed to be in a truly tacky movie, Shock Treatment…”) and Lynley’s fellow The Poseidon Adventure survivor Roddy McDowall as the garden-shear-happy horticulturist.
‘The Pleasure Seekers’
A well-regarded filmmaker in the 1940s, Jean Negulesco (Best Director nominee for Johnny Belinda, 1948) took a more crowd-pleasing route in the ensuing decade, with mixed critical and commercial results (e.g., the hit How to Marry a Millionaire, the costly disappointment The Rains of Ranchipur).
Nearing the end of his career, in 1964 Negulesco remade his Oscar-nominated box office success Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), the fluffy tale of three American women finding romance in post-war Rome.
Retitled The Pleasure Seekers, the reboot – with a screenplay by Blue Denim’s Edith Sommer (officially adapting John H. Secondari’s novel Coins in the Fountain) – had the action transferred to Madrid.
Billed below Ann-Margret and Anthony Franciosa (but above Pamela Tiffin), Carol Lynley was cast in a role that is (more or less) a cross between those of Jean Peters and Dorothy McGuire in the original, with an added touch of her Return to Peyton Place character: a secretary breaks the rules by falling in love with her married boss (Brian Keith).
Unlike Three Coins in the Fountain – but just like Holiday for Lovers and Shock Treatment – The Pleasure Seekers was a money-loser for Fox. The film marked the end of Lynley’s six-year association with the studio, though she would be back eight years later for The Poseidon Adventure.
Released the same year as Bunny Lake Is Missing, Alex Segal’s Harlow (1965) stars Carol Lynley as 1930s Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer actress and sex symbol Jean Harlow (Red Dust, Dinner at Eight), who died at age 26 in 1937.
Notwithstanding its stellar supporting cast (Ginger Rogers, Barry Sullivan, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Audrey Totter, Hermione Baddeley, etc.), this independent production was both cheaply and quickly made.
Filming – in black and white, in a process known as electronovision (high-resolution videotape) – lasted only eight days so the Carol Lynley Harlow could come out before Paramount’s bigger-budget Jean Harlow biopic of the same title, which happened to star another actress with an identically sounding first name, Carroll Baker.
The New York Times’ Howard Thompson expressed his acerbic disapproval of both the electronovision Harlow and its star:
The picture took eight days for filming, the last two due to inclement weather. It didn’t rain long enough. There is, front, center and anything but alluring, Carol Lynley as the nation’s movie sex goddess of the thirties. She squeaks, occasionally furrows her youthful brow and twitches her nostrils.
‘The Shuttered Room’
Following Bunny Lake Is Missing and Harlow, neither of which was financially successful, Carol Lynley, still only in her mid-20s, saw her Hollywood career take a nosedive.
Arthur Penn might have turned her into a compelling Bonnie Parker in Bonnie and Clyde. She and Robert Redford could have made an amusing newly married couple in Barefoot in the Park. She would have looked perfect as Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy’s daughter in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
Instead, Lynley became mired in a series of B movies that failed to capture either the interest of audiences or the goodwill of critics. Of the half-dozen such flicks released during that pre-The Poseidon Adventure period, the one notable title is perhaps David Greene’s The Shuttered Room (1967).
Based on a short story by August Derleth and H.P. Lovecraft, the New England-set, (Old) England-shot British horror thriller features Lynley and veteran Gig Young (Teacher’s Pet) as a couple facing some of the same inconveniences – an ignorant, idiotized, vicious rural crowd – encountered by Dustin Hoffman and Susan George in Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 revenge thriller Straw Dogs.
Things are actually a tad more complicated for the Shuttered Room couple, as they must also cope with an “entity” inhabiting their country home.
‘The Cat and the Canary’
Curiously, The Poseidon Adventure failed to have any noticeable effect on Carol Lynley’s standing as a film actress and/or box office draw.
Although busy on television, where female roles were more abundant, she would stay away from the big screen for over three years, returning in William H. Bushnell’s minor Israeli-U.S. gangster comedy The Four Deuces (1976), noteworthy for reuniting her with fellow Blue Denim player Warren Berlinger. From then on, Lynley’s motion picture career would almost invariably be relegated to low-budget, low-quality efforts with even lower box office appeal.
One exception of sorts is the haunted house comedy thriller The Cat and the Canary (1979), remarkable in that it boasts an all-star British cast (Wendy Hiller, Honor Blackman, Peter McEnery, Edward Fox, etc.) working under the direction of Radley Metzger, best known for sexually explicit features like The Opening of Misty Beethoven and Naked Came the Stranger.
In a role previously incarnated by Laura La Plante (1927), Helen Twelvetrees (1930), and, most famously, Paulette Goddard (1939), Lynley portrays a young heiress-to-be whose inheritance will be forfeited if, after spending one night at her deceased relative’s foreboding mansion, a doctor fails to pronounce her sane.
Below are Carol Lynley and Robby Benson presenting two Academy Awards in the short film categories at the 1979 ceremony, the year The Cat and the Canary came out. Winner Taylor Hackford would later direct An Officer and a Gentleman and Ray.
TV actress Carol Lynley: Ratings champ ‘The Night Stalker’ + ‘Fantasy Island’ visits
On the small screen, Carol Lynley was seen in a handful of high-profile made-for-TV movies aired in the first half of the 1970s. Here are two of them:
- Broadcast the same year The Poseidon Adventure hit theaters, John Llewellyn Moxey’s mystery thriller The Night Stalker (1972) became the most widely watched made-for-TV feature up to that time. The plot chronicles the search for a serial killer who might just happen to be a vampire. Darren McGavin is the cop investigating the case; Lynley is his girlfriend/apparent sex worker, a relatively brief and none too effectual role or performance – though her character is the one who comes up with the vampire possibility. Yet she succeeds in stealing all her scenes just by being on screen.
- In Jerry Jameson’s The Elevator (1974), she is one of the stars whose day is ruined after the titular contraption gets stuck between the floors of a Los Angeles high-rise office building. Revealing their fears and hopes and lies while awaiting rescue are veterans Roddy McDowall, Myrna Loy (The Thin Man), Craig Stevens (TV’s Peter Gunn), and Teresa Wright (Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for Mrs. Miniver, 1942), plus armed robber/claustrophobe James Farentino. (Note: As the getaway car driver, Lynley doesn’t actually get stuck inside the elevator, but her day is ruined all the same.)
For the most part, however, Carol Lynley’s TV appearances – much like those in motion pictures – were mind-boggling cases of “What’s a beautiful, charismatic actress like you doing in a dump like this?”
As a TV series guest star, among her dumpy surroundings were The Love Boat, The Fall Guy, the daytime soap opera Another World, and no less than 11 Fantasy Island episodes.
Below is Carol Lynley, ever the actress, reciting “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre in December 2002. As a bonus, at the end she briefly performs a “scene” – playing both her screaming self and Stella Stevens – from The Poseidon Adventure.
The comeback that never was
In her 2000 San Francisco Chronicle interview, Carol Lynley, then 58 years old and an actress for more than four decades, made an assessment of her professional position and future possibilities:
“Hollywood is afraid of middle-age women. I think it has something to do with menopause. But I feel I’m going to have a latter-day career like Jessica Tandy and Ruth Gordon. I don’t mean to sound conceited, but I am a very talented actress, and I have my head screwed on right. I’m not going to drug clinics, I look good, and I’ve got all my marbles. So I really believe I’ll be back.”
Even so, there would be no Rosemary’s Baby- or Driving Miss Daisy-like comeback in her future. Or any veritable comeback, for that matter.
Lynley’s final TV appearance was a guest spot in a 1990 episode of the series Monsters. Her final feature film role was as a grandmother in John Carl Buechler’s little-seen 2003 fantasy A Light in the Forest – despite the title, no connection to her movie debut.
Three years later, she took part in the short Vic, directed by Sylvester Stallone’s son Sage Stallone, and featuring fellow 1960s celebrities Clu Gulager (TV’s The Virginian) and John Phillip Law (Barbarella).
And thus Carol Lynley’s film career came to an end.
What might have been
Those who appreciate her work as an actress in The Cardinal and/or Bunny Lake Is Missing – or even Blue Denim and The Poseidon Adventure – can only lament what could have been had Carol Lynley been cast as the female lead in well-received releases of the 1960s and 1970s.
Or, in the early 21st century, had big-name filmmakers with a knowledge and appreciation of 1960s American cinema taken the trouble to offer her suitable supporting roles.
As it is, Bunny Lake Is Missing, for one, is always worth another look.
Lauren Bacall quote via her autobiography, By Myself.
20th Century Fox box office figures: Stephen M. Silverman’s The Fox That Got Away: The Last Days of the Zanuck Dynasty at Twentieth Century-Fox.
Actress Carol Lynley The Shape of Things to Come image: Film Ventures International.
Ginger Rogers and Carol Lynley Harlow image: Magna.
Image of actress Carol Lynley in The Pleasure Seekers with Ann-Margret and Pamela Tiffin: 20th Century Fox.
“Actress Carol Lynley Movies: Dazzling Girl-Next-Door Willing & Able to Break Social Conventions” last updated in October 2019.