Turner Classic Movies’ Star of the Month Jean Simmons’ film series comes to a close tonight, with the presentation of seven Jean Simmons movies. Directed by veteran Mervyn LeRoy, Home Before Dark is on right now.
Next in line is Richard Brooks’ Elmer Gantry (1960), which earned Burt Lancaster a somewhat undeserved Oscar. Lancaster gutsily tackles the role of a charlatan traveling preacher, but as was often the case in his career, “gutsy” didn’t exactly translate into “truthful.” Simmons, on the other hand, quietly shines as an Aimee Semple McPherson-inspired Christian preacher, and so does Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Shirley Jones as the traveling preacher’s pet sex worker.
Though hardly as hard-hitting as it could have been, Elmer Gantry should be mandatory viewing at Christian schools and churches everywhere. Adults will learn that if you sin, you’d better not get caught; kids will enjoy the circus fire.
Once again directed by Richard Brooks – her husband from 1960 to 1977 – in The Happy Ending (1969), Simmons delivers one of her least effective performances as a woman who abandons her family to “find herself” – and who hooks up with “aging” (as in, early 30s) escort Bobby Darin along the way. Academy members obviously thought otherwise, as Simmons received her only Best Actress Oscar nomination for this film – which is little more than a moralistic TV movie-of-the-week made for the big screen.
Also in the Happy Ending cast: once again Shirley Jones, John Forsythe, and always welcome veteran Teresa Wright. (Note: Simmons was also nominated for an Oscar for Hamlet, but in the Best Supporting Actress category.)
Mister Buddwing (1966) belongs to James Garner as a man suffering from amnesia: Simmons is just one of four women he meets up with; the others are Angela Lansbury, Suzanne Pleshette, and Katharine Ross. Watchable, but not nearly as intriguing as it could have been.
Directed by versatile veteran William Wyler, The Big Country (1958) is a solid – if a tad overlong – Western boasting a mostly first-rate cast: in addition to Simmons, there are Gregory Peck, Carroll Baker, Charles Bickford, and Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Burl Ives. Ah, and Charlton Heston, too. But no cast is perfect.
Schedule (ET) and synopses from the TCM website:
8:00 PM HOME BEFORE DARK (1958) A woman struggles to adjust to her unhappy marriage after time in a mental institution. Dir.: Mervyn LeRoy Cast: Jean Simmons, Dan O’Herlihy, Rhonda Fleming. Black and white. 137 mins
10:30 PM ELMER GANTRY (1960) A young drifter finds success as a traveling preacher until his past catches up with him. Dir.: Richard Brooks Cast: Burt Lancaster, Jean Simmons, Arthur Kennedy. Color. 147 mins. Letterbox Format
1:00 AM LIFE AT THE TOP (1965) After marrying the boss’ daughter, a workingman begins to doubt his abilities. Dir.: Ted Kotcheff Cast: Laurence Harvey, Jean Simmons, Honor Blackman. Black and white. 115 mins
3:00 AM THE HAPPY ENDING (1969) A middle-aged woman leaves her husband and children in search of herself. Dir.: Richard Brooks Cast: Jean Simmons, John Forsythe, Shirley Jones. Color. 112 mins. Letterbox Format
5:00 AM MISTER BUDDWING (1966) A man suffering from amnesia confronts a series of women in his search for his memory. Dir.: Delbert Mann Cast: James Garner, Jean Simmons, Suzanne Pleshette. Black and white. 99 mins
6:45 AM THE BIG COUNTRY (1958) Feuding families vie for water rights in the old West. Dir.: William Wyler Cast: Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker. Color. 167 min. Letterbox Format
9:45 AM UNTIL THEY SAIL (1957) Four sisters in New Zealand fall for Allied sailors en route to World War II. Dir.: Robert Wise Cast: Jean Simmons, Joan Fontaine, Paul Newman. Black and white. 95 mins Letterbox Format
Turner Classic Movies website.