Jane Wyman, unfairly known by many merely as Ronald Reagan’s first wife, is the “star of the day” on Turner Classic Movies on Tuesday, Jan. 4. TCM will be presenting eight Wyman vehicles beginning at 3 a.m. Pacific Time. Those range from the B comedy He Couldn’t Say No (1938) to Wyman’s most famous film, Johnny Belinda (1948), which earned her a Best Actress Oscar.
Some find Wyman a lesser talent, but I’ve always enjoyed her screen presence, whether as a blonde or a brunette, whether in dramas or comedies. In Johnny Belinda, for instance, she showed what a sensational dramatic actress she could be when given the chance. In addition to Wyman’s Academy Award win, this drama about a kind doctor (Lew Ayres) and a young deaf-mute (Wyman) who becomes a rape victim, received eleven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Jean Negulesco), and Best Actor.
Wyman is also fine in Alfred Hitchcock’s British-made Stage Fright (1950), though Alastair Sim steals the show in that mystery thriller. She is also much better than her material in the musicalized – and ill-advised – The Awful Truth remake Let’s Do It Again (1953), co-starring Ray Milland. Alexander Hall, the director of several entertaining comedies and romances of the 1940s, (mis)handled the proceedings.
And finally, Wyman acquits herself well in Robert Wise’s So Big (1953), a remake of a 1932 Barbara Stanwyck melodrama. For decades, only Wyman’s version was available for viewing. TCM has since shown the Stanwyck movie a few times.
Schedule and synopses from the TCM website:
3:00am He Couldn’t Say No (1938)
A timid advertising man learns to fight for the girl of his dreams.
Cast: Frank McHugh, Jane Wyman, Cora Witherspoon, Diana Lewis Dir: Lew Seiler BW-57 mins
4:00am [Musical] My Favorite Spy (1942)
Bandleader Kay Kyser leaves his bride at the altar to help catch international spies.
Cast: Kay Kyser, Ellen Drew, Jane Wyman, Robert Armstrong Dir: Tay Garnett BW-86 mins
7:15am Johnny Belinda (1948)
A small-town doctor helps a deaf-mute farm girl learn to communicate.
Cast: Jane Wyman, Lew Ayres, Charles Bickford, Agnes Moorehead Dir: Jean Negulesco BW-102 mins
9:00am [Suspense/Mystery] Stage Fright (1950)
An acting student goes undercover to prove a singing star killed her husband.
Cast: Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding, Richard Todd Dir: Alfred Hitchcock BW-110 mins
11:00am [Romance] So Big (1953)
A schoolteacher-turned-farmer fights to save the land and her son.
Cast: Jane Wyman, Sterling Hayden, Nancy Olson, Steve Forrest Dir: Robert Wise BW-102 mins
1:00pm [Romance] Miracle in the Rain (1956)
When a lonely woman’s wartime lover dies, her loneliness threatens her life.
Cast: Jane Wyman, Van Johnson, Peggie Castle, Fred Clark Dir: Rudolph Maté BW-107 mins
3:00pm [Musical] Let’s Do It Again (1953)
A divorced couple finds it impossible to stay out of each other’s lives.
Cast: Jane Wyman, Ray Milland, Aldo Ray, Leon Ames Dir: Alexander Hall C-94 mins