Gary Cooper movies on TCM: Iconic star at both his best and his worst
Gary Cooper is Turner Classic Movies’ “Summer Under the Stars” star today, Aug. 30. Unfortunately, TCM isn’t presenting any Cooper movie premiere despite the fact that most of his Paramount movies of the ’20s and ’30s remain unavailable on television or home video/DVD.
Tonight’s features are Frank Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Howard Hawks’ Sergeant York (1941), and Billy Wilder’s Love in the Afternoon (1957).
A Columbia release, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town solidified Gary Cooper’s stardom and helped to turn Jean Arthur into the studio’s top female star. The socially conscious tale – screenplay by Robert Riskin – of a small-town Vermont hick who becomes the prey of city slickers after inheriting a fortune, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is a tad overlong and, like just about every Frank Capra movie, highly sentimental.
What saves the film from that section of hell reserved for earnest, well-intentioned movies are several clever lines/situations and the acting of the two leads – Cooper and Arthur are both excellent – and of several supporting players (Douglas Dumbrille, Margaret Seddon, etc.).
‘Sergeant York’: Sentimental jingoism
Directed by Howard Hawks, the jingoistic Sergeant York was a huge box office hit – the biggest domestic release of the year – eventually earning Academy Award nominations in 11 categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Gary Cooper), Best Supporting Actress (Margaret Wycherly), Best Supporting Actor (Walter Brennan), and Best Original Screenplay (Harry Chandlee, Abem Finkel, John Huston, Howard Koch.)
In fact, Sergeant York was so popular that despite well-regarded efforts such as The Dawn Patrol, Twentieth Century, Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, The Big Sleep, Red River, I Was a Male War Bride, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Rio Bravo, this long-winded, sentimental flag-waver turned out to be the one movie to earn Howard Hawks an Oscar nomination.
Gary Cooper had done (and would do) more effective work elsewhere and, at age 40, looked about 45 and much too old for the part of the 30-year-old, turkey- and German-killing Tennessee hick Alvin C. York. Much too old to be 16-year-old Joan Leslie’s romantic interest, too. (Not from a moralistic standpoint; it was just hard to believe she would have been so infatuated with a man who looked – much – more than old enough to be her father.) But no matter. Cooper took home that year’s Best Actor Oscar and the New York Film Critics Circle Award, thus beating William Randolph Hearst’s bête noire and one of the greatest screen characterizations of the decade: Orson Welles’ Charles Foster Kane of Citizen Kane fame.
First (and last) Walter Brennan Oscar loss
As an aside, a somewhat surprising Sergeant York loser was Walter Brennan, who had been previously nominated for three Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards – and who had taken home three Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards: Come and Get It (1936), Kentucky (1938), The Westerner (1940). The 1941 winner was veteran Donald Crisp for John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley.
Now, it’s good to remember that back in those days, Screen Actors Guild and Screen Extra Guild members could vote for the Academy Award winners in the acting categories, Best Picture, and Best Original Song. That may help to explain several of the Academy’s top choices from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s.
Walter Brennan’s career continued all the way into the late 1960s (in addition to the 1975 release Smoke in the Wind), but he would never receive another Oscar nomination. Brennan died at age 80 in 1974.
‘Love in the Afternoon’: Sentimentalized Lubitsch rehash
Billy Wilder’s Love in the Afternoon attempts to recreate an Ernst Lubitsch movie of the early ’30s – and fails miserably. In fact, this romantic comedy-drama is one of Wilder’s very worst films despite a prestigious cast: Gary Cooper as an American businessman, Audrey Hepburn as the Parisian woman half his age with whom he falls in love, and Maurice Chevalier as her father.
A key part of the problem is that both Cooper and Hepburn – the latter made up and coiffed to look as if she were in her mid-teens – are at their most calculatingly “cute.”* And that means a shockingly subdued Maurice Chevalier – who had hammed it up in the Lubitsch classics The Love Parade, The Smiling Lieutenant, One Hour with You, and The Merry Widow – is the film’s chief thespian asset.†
What’s mind-boggling about Love in the Afternoon being such a misfire is that in the late 1930s Billy Wilder, then a screenwriter, had collaborated with Lubitsch on Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife and Ninotchka. In other words, Wilder had felt The Lubitsch Touch. For that reason, one would have expected to feel at least a soupçon of it in Wilder’s effort. But no; Love in the Afternoon is a showcase for the filmmaker’s usual heavy hand all the way through.
Screenwriter and Lubitsch collaborator Samson Raphaelson (Broken Lullaby, Trouble in Paradise) summed up Love in the Afternoon while commenting on a particular scene at the beginning of the film, when a street-cleaning truck aims its water jet at two young Parisian lovers who remain oblivious to the fact that they’ve been drenched.
What a mistake! Now, if I were doing that scene with Lubitsch, we would have first shown the truck spraying water moving toward the young lovers. But when the truck gets to them, the water shuts off. After it passes them, then the water starts up again. Now, that’s the Lubitsch Touch!
Gary Cooper’s (much) younger leading ladies
Audrey Hepburn (b. 1929) was hardly an unusual leading lady/romantic interest for Gary Cooper in the later stages of his career. Below is the list of his movie babes throughout the 1950s.
Keep in mind that Cooper – born in 1901 – began the decade nine years older than he was when he starred in Sergeant York. And that Joan Leslie was born in 1925.
- Lauren Bacall (b. 1924) and Patricia Neal (b. 1926) in Bright Leaf (1950).
- Mari Aldon (b. 1925) in Distant Drums (1951).
- Ruth Roman (b. 1922) in Dallas (1951) and Blowing Wild (1953).§
- Jane Greer (b. 1924) in You’re in the Navy Now (1951).
- Grace Kelly (b. 1929) and Katy Jurado (b. 1924) in High Noon (1952).
- Phyllis Thaxter (b. 1919) in Springfield Rifle (1952).
- Roberta Haynes (b. 1929) in Return to Paradise (1953).
- Susan Hayward (b. 1917) in Garden of Evil (1954).
- Denise Darcel (b. 1925) and Sara Montiel (b. 1928) in Vera Cruz (1954).
- Dorothy McGuire (b. 1916 or 1918) in Friendly Persuasion (1956).
- Julie London (b. 1926) in Man of the West (1958).
- Suzy Parker (b. 1932) in Ten North Frederick (1958).§
- Maria Schell (b. 1926) in The Hanging Tree (1959).
- Rita Hayworth (b. 1918) in They Came to Cordura (1959).
Gary Cooper’s final leading lady was Deborah Kerr (b. 1921) in The Naked Edge (1961).
§ Barbara Stanwyck (b. 1907) had the female lead in Blowing Wild, but she played the part of a domineering wench. Ruth Roman is the one who gets our hero at the end. In Ten North Frederick, Geraldine Fitzgerald (b. 1913) is Cooper’s shrewish wife from hell.
† Maurice Chevalier’s co-stars were Miriam Hopkins and Claudette Colbert in The Smiling Lieutenant, and Jeanette MacDonald in the other three films.
One Hour with You was co-directed by George Cukor.
TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars” series ends tomorrow with a multi-film Shelley Winters showcase.
See also: Gary Cooper controversial Friendly Persuasion.
Gary Cooper movies: TCM schedule (PT)
3:00 AM IT’S A BIG COUNTRY (1952). Director: Clarence Brown. Don Hartman. John Sturges. Richard Thorpe. Charles Vidor. Don Weis. William A. Wellman. Cast: Van Johnson. Janet Leigh. Fredric March. Ethel Barrymore. William Powell. Keefe Brasselle. Gary Cooper. Gene Kelly. Marjorie Main. Leon Ames. S.Z. Sakall. Lewis Stone. James Whitmore. George Murphy. Nancy Reagan (as Nancy Davis). Keenan Wynn. Angela Clarke. Robert Hyatt (as Bobby Hyatt). Sharon McManus. Uncredited: John Ericson. Ned Glass. John Gordon. Narrator: Louis Calhern. Deleted Scenes: Ann Harding. Jean Hersholt. B&W. 89 mins.
4:30 AM TODAY WE LIVE (1933). Director: Howard Hawks. Cast: Joan Crawford. Gary Cooper. Robert Young. Franchot Tone. Roscoe Karns. Louise Closser Hale. Rollo Lloyd. Hilda Vaughn. Uncredited: Murray Kinnell. Ernie Alexander. Carlyle Moore Jr. Frank Marlowe. David Newell. Bert Moorhouse. Glen Cavender. Jimmy Aubrey. Ronald R. Rondell. B&W. 113 mins.
6:30 AM FRIENDLY PERSUASION (1956). Director: William Wyler. Cast: Gary Cooper. Dorothy McGuire. Anthony Perkins. Marjorie Main. B&W. 138 mins.
9:00 AM ONE SUNDAY AFTERNOON (1933). Director: Stephen Roberts. Cast: Gary Cooper. Fay Wray. Neil Hamilton. Frances Fuller. B&W. 69 mins.
10:30 AM MEET JOHN DOE (1941). Director: Frank Capra. Cast: Gary Cooper. Barbara Stanwyck. Edward Arnold. Walter Brennan. Spring Byington. James Gleason. Gene Lockhart. Rod La Rocque. Irving Bacon. Regis Toomey. J. Farrell MacDonald. Warren Hymer. Pierre Watkin. Sterling Holloway. M.J. Frankovich. Uncredited: Harry Davenport. Susan Peters. Kenneth Harlan. Jim Thorpe. Fritzi Brunette. Ann Doran. Hal Prince. Wyndham Standing. Maris Wrixon. B&W. 123 mins.
12:45 PM TASK FORCE (1949). Director: Delmer Daves. Cast: Gary Cooper. Jane Wyatt. Wayne Morris. Color. 117 mins.
3:00 PM THE WRECK OF THE MARY DEARE (1959). Director: Michael Anderson. Cast: Gary Cooper. Charlton Heston. Michael Redgrave. Color. 105 mins. Letterbox Format.
5:00 PM MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (1936). Director: Frank Capra. Cast: Gary Cooper. Jean Arthur. George Bancroft. Lionel Stander. Douglas Dumbrille. Raymond Walburn. H.B. Warner. Ruth Donnelly. Walter Catlett. John Wray. Uncredited: Margaret Seddon. Margaret McWade. Irving Bacon. Billy Bevan. Gino Corrado. Ann Doran. Emma Dunn. Muriel Evans. George Cooper. Bess Flowers. Robert Ellsworth. George ‘Gabby’ Hayes. Arthur Hoyt. Paul Hurst. Warren Hymer. Gladden James. Charles Lane. Edwin Maxwell. Frank McClure. George Meeker. Mayo Methot. James Millican. Dennis O’Keefe. Bert Moorhouse. Franklin Pangborn. Paul Porcasi. Hal Price. Lillian Ross. Arthur Rankin. Gustav von Seyffertitz. Pierre Watkin. B&W. 116 mins.
7:15 PM SERGEANT YORK (1941). Director: Howard Hawks. Cast: Gary Cooper. Walter Brennan. Joan Leslie. Margaret Wycherly. George Tobias. Stanley Ridges. Ward Bond. Noah Beery Jr. June Lockhart. Dickie Moore. Clem Bevans. Howard Da Silva. Charles Trowbridge. Harvey Stephens. David Bruce. Carl Esmond (as Charles Esmond). Joe Sawyer (as Joseph Sawyer). Pat Flaherty. Uncredited: Lane Chandler. Murray Alper. Elisha Cook Jr. Clyde Cook. Jean Del Val. Frank Faylen. Donald Douglas. Roland Drew. Creighton Hale. George Irving. Russell Hicks. Selmor Jackson. Joe King. Rita La Roy. Edward Keane. Tully Marshall. Frank Mayo. Charles Middleton. Frank Orth. Ray Teal. Theodore von Eltz. Gig Young. B&W. 134 mins.
9:45 PM LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (1957). Director: Billy Wilder. Cast: Gary Cooper. Audrey Hepburn. Maurice Chevalier. B&W. 130 mins.
1:45 AM GARY COOPER: AMERICAN LIFE, AMERICAN LEGEND (1991). Director: Richard Schickel. Cast: Clint Eastwood. Color. 46 mins.
Samson Raphaelson quote about Love in the Afternoon: Scott Eyman’s Ernst Lubitsch: Laughter in Paradise.
Gary Cooper Sergeant York image: Warner Bros.
Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper Love in the Afternoon image: Allied Artists, via Doctor Macro.
Jean Arthur and Gary Cooper Mr. Deeds Goes to Town image: Columbia Pictures.
Gary Cooper movies’ schedule via the TCM website.