Robert Stack is one of those actors I know but at the same time I don’t. I’ve watched many of his movies, but despite his good looks my focus while watching them was almost invariably on somebody or something else: Carole Lombard, Jennifer Jones, Joan Crawford, Dorothy Malone, Farrah Fawcett, Peter Graves, an inflatable doll. (I should add that I’ve never seen Stack’s Elliot Ness.)
Hopefully that can be rectified – minus The Untouchables omission, of course – on Monday, Aug. 16 ’10, as Turner Classic Movies will be showing no less than fourteen Stack films as part of its “Summer Under the Stars” series.
Among those are six TCM premieres. They are:
- William Castle’s period adventure The Iron Glove (1954);
- Bwana Devil (1952), notable as the first 3D feature distributed by a major Hollywood studio;
- My Outlaw Brother (1951), co-starring Mickey Rooney and Wanda Hendrix;
- John Farrow’s John Paul Jones (1959), a monumental bore in which Bette Davis has a guest role as Catherine the Great;
- John Cassavetes’ crime comedy Big Trouble (1986), featuring Peter Falk and Alan Arkin;
- William Castle’s Western Conquest of Cochise (1953), with John Hodiak.
The Last Voyage (1960), which I’ve never seen, sounds like a precursor to The Poseidon Adventure. Stack acquitted himself remarkably well in William A. Wellman’s precursor to Airport, the (near)disaster flick The High and the Mighty (1954); if Stack’s performance is as good in The Last Voyage, then that alone would make the movie worth a look.
Directed by Douglas Sirk, the overripe The Tarnished Angels (1957), a love triangle based on a novel by William Faulkner, should have become a cult classic on a par with Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space. It’s so godawful it’s mesmerizing.
Dorothy Malone, for her part, should have become a major cult figure as well, for both The Tarnished Angels and Sirk’s Written on the Wind (for which she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar), released the previous year and also pairing her with Stack and Rock Hudson (1957’s top box office attraction in the US, according to exhibitors).
Thanks to both Sirk efforts, Malone’s bosomy figure has probably inspired thousands of plastic surgeons the world over. Her performance isn’t exactly great, but she can walk, talk, and wear a tight sweater in a manner that would put Jayne Mansfield, Sophia Loren, and Pamela Anderson to shame. Stack and Hudson all but disappear whenever she’s on screen.
And have no doubt: there’s nothing cartoonish or “child-like” about Malone’s character. She’s all-woman. (Note: Malone can also be found in The Last Voyage.)
Frank Borzage’s The Mortal Storm (1940) is a well-intentioned, interesting anti-Nazi piece that is of special interest because it was released before the US entered World War II. Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, and Frank Morgan star.
Sullavan was a good actress, but she is as believable playing a small-town Fräulein as Marlene Dietrich playing a Dallas native. As for the presence of James Stewart, well, Helmut Dantine hadn’t arrived in Hollywood by that time, I don’t think. Stack doesn’t fare that much better, but he does look good.
The Caretakers (1963) offers a latter-day Joan Crawford, third-billed after Stack and the way underrated Polly Bergen, while A Date with Judy (1948) offers Jane Powell, Carmen Miranda (as someone called “Rosita Cochellas”), and Elizabeth Taylor in Technicolor.
The Caretakers, about doctors and nurses in distress, takes itself very seriously, but A Date with Judy is pure fluff, what with Jane Powell worrying that Carmen Miranda may have seduced her grandfather, who looks just like Wallace Beery. Poor Miranda deserved better – say, Leon Ames (who’s also in the movie), or even Lewis Stone. Cool song: Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh’s “It’s a Most Unusual Day.”
For those who see marriage longevity as a sign of personal integrity: Robert Stack was married only once, from 1956 to his death in 2003.
For those who see the Oscars as evidence of quality work: Even though he’s one of the film’s leads, Stack was nominated as Best Supporting Actor in 1956 for Written on the Wind. (He lost to Anthony Quinn for Lust for Life.)
Schedule (PT) and synopses from the TCM website:
3:00 AM Date With Judy, A (1948)
A teenager thinks her grandfather is involved with a fiery Latin singer. Cast: Wallace Beery, Jane Powell, Elizabeth Taylor. Dir.: Richard Thorpe. Color. 113 min.
5:00 AM Fighter Squadron (1948)
A dedicated flyer pushes himself and those around him during a perilous World War II campaign. Cast: Edmond O’Brien, Robert Stack, Rock Hudson. Dir.: Raoul Walsh. Color. 95 min.
6:45 AM My Outlaw Brother (1951)
A ranger tries to pry his brother from the Mexican bandit gang he’s joined. Cast: Mickey Rooney, Wanda Hendrix, Robert Stack. Dir.: Elliott Nugent. Black and white. 82 min.
8:15 AM Bwana Devil (1952)
A British railway engineer in Kenya tries to capture the lions attacking his workers. Cast: Robert Stack, Barbara Britton, Nigel Bruce. Dir.: Arch Oboler. Color. 79 min.
9:45 AM Iron Glove, The (1954)
A Scottish adventurer infiltrates the court of George I to prepare for a revolution. Cast: Robert Stack, Ursula Theiss, Alan Hale, Jr. Dir.: William Castle. Color. 77 min.
1:00 PM John Paul Jones (1959)
The hero of the Revolutionary War clashes with Congress. Cast: Robert Stack, Bette Davis, Marisa Pavan. Dir.: John Farrow. Color. 126 min.
3:15 PM Caretakers, The (1963)
A progressive psychiatrist clashes with the conservative head nurse at a state institution. Cast: Polly Bergen, Robert Stack, Joan Crawford. Dir.: Hall Bartlett. Black and white. 98 min.
5:00 PM Mortal Storm, The (1940)
The Third Reich’s rise tears apart a German family. Cast: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Robert Young. Dir.: Frank Borzage. Black and white. 100 min.
6:45 PM Tarnished Angels, The (1957)
A newsman falls for the wife of a barnstorming pilot whose work he’s covering. Cast: Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone. Dir.: Douglas Sirk. Black and white. 91 min.
8:30 PM Last Voyage, The (1960)
Passengers and crew fight to escape a sinking ocean liner. Cast: Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone, George Sanders. Dir.: Andrew L. Stone. Color. 91 min.
10:15 PM Airplane! (1980)
When a flight crew falls ill, the only man who can land the plane is afraid of flying. Cast: Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen. Dir.: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker. Color. 88 min.
12:00 AM Big Trouble (1986)
An unhappy wife tries to get her insurance agent to help her kill her husband. Cast: Peter Falk, Alan Akin, Beverly D’Angelo. Dir.: John Cassavetes. Color. 93 min.
1:45 AM Conquest of Cochise (1953)
A cavalry major tries to prevent an Indian war. Cast: John Hodiak, Robert Stack, Joy Page. Dir.: William Castle. Color. 71 min.