Janet Leigh, discovered by former MGM star Norma Shearer, was one of the many pretty (and quite talented) actresses who were mostly underused and underappreciated by studio moguls, producers, and directors. During her years as a studio contract player, Leigh was usually stuck in the peaches-and-cream mold even though the actress had the ability to handle both fruitier and meatier roles.
Of the films Turner Classic Movies has scheduled for Janet Leigh Day on Tuesday, Aug. 26, at least two show the actress at her best.
The most famous one is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, in which Leigh chooses to take a shower at the wrong time and at the wrong place. The best one, however, is Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil, a mad, dark ride in which Leigh delivers a strong dramatic performance as Mexican (!) narcotics officer Charlton Heston’s American wife. Orson Welles overdoes his corrupt police captain, but Heston, for once, actually acts, while Marlene Dietrich and Mercedes McCambridge are excellent in cameos. As a plus, Touch of Evil boasts moody black-and-white cinematography by Russell Metty. (Though set at the Mexican-American border, some of the film’s exteriors were shot in Venice, not far from Muscle Beach.)
I haven’t watched Fred Zinnemann’s film noir Act of Violence, but I recall Mary Astor commenting in one of her autobiographical tomes that it was a relief to actually be doing a “real” film after showing up on the set to do fluff like the 1949 Little Women remake.
Scaramouche is one of the most enjoyable swashbucklers ever made. Leigh does only the peaches-and-cream bit, but Eleanor Parker is lively as the chief love interest and Stewart Granger is appropriately dashing in the title role. George Sidney directed with a balletic touch.
Schedule (Pacific Time) and synopses from the TCM website:
3:00 AM Romance Of Rosy Ridge, The (1947)
A farmer’s daughter falls in love with a man who fought against her family in the Civil War. Cast: Van Johnson, Thomas Mitchell, Janet Leigh. Dir.: Roy Rowland. Black and white. 106 min.
5:00 AM Hills Of Home (1948)
Lassie helps a Scottish doctor deal with his patients’ problems. Cast: Edmund Gwenn, Donald Crisp, Janet Leigh. Dir.: Fred M. Wilcox. Color. 97 min.
6:45 AM Angels In The Outfield (1951)
The short-tempered manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates mends his ways in return for a little divine assistance. Cast: Paul Douglas, Janet Leigh, Keenan Wynn. Dir.: Clarence Brown. Black and white. 99 min.
10:30 AM Scaramouche (1952)
In 18th-century France, a young man masquerades as an actor to avenge his friend’s murder. Cast: Stewart Granger, Mel Ferrer, Eleanor Parker. Dir.: George Sidney. Color. 115 min.
12:30 PM Confidentially Connie (1953)
An expectant mother hatches a series of madcap schemes to improve her husband’s financial standing. Cast: Van Johnson, Janet Leigh, Louis Calhern. Dir.: Edward Buzzell. Black and white. 72 min.
3:30 PM Act Of Violence (1949)
An embittered veteran tracks down a POW camp informer. Cast: Van Heflin, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh. Dir.: Fred Zinnemann. Black and white. 82 min.
5:00 PM Touch Of Evil (1958)
A narcotics agent risks his wife’s life to investigate a crooked cop. Cast: Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh. Dir.: Orson Welles. Black and white. 111 mins. Letterbox Format
7:00 PM Psycho (1960)
A woman on the run gets mixed up with a repressed young man and his violent mother. Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles. Dir.: Alfred Hitchcock. Black and white. 109 mins. Letterbox Format
9:00 PM Naked Spur, The (1953)
A captive outlaw uses psychological tactics to prey on a bounty hunter. Cast: James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Ralph Meeker. Dir.: Anthony Mann. Color. 92 min.
11:00 PM One Is A Lonely Number (1972)
A pretty divorcee tries to build a new life. Cast: Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, Janet Leigh. Dir.: Mel Stuart. Color. 97 mins. Letterbox Format