I mentioned dignified, gentlemanly, and usually a little dull Walter Pidgeon the other day, wishing he had been cast as Jane Powell’s grandfather in A Date with Judy (1948) so he could (more or less) have dated Carmen Miranda on-screen. Had that happened, you could forget Greer Garson – and Tracy-Hepburn, Ladd-Lake, Loy-Powell, Flynn-de Havilland, Garbo-Gilbert, and Abbott-Costello. Pidgeon-Miranda would have been the movie couple for all time.
No such luck, unfortunately. But Walter Pidgeon fans, nonfans, and those who don’t know Pidgeon from Adam can check him out on Thursday on Turner Classic Movies. Thirteen Pidgeon films will be presented as part of TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars” series, though nothing “new,” like, say, A Most Immoral Lady (in case it still exists), Big Brown Eyes, or Sextette. (See Walter Pidgeon movie schedule below.)
But there’ll always be Greer Garson, with whom Pidgeon can be seen in two of their most famous vehicles, the Oscar-winning Mrs. Miniver (1942) and the Oscar-nominated Madame Curie (1943), and in two of their weakest vehicles: Mrs. Parkington (1944) and Julia Misbehaves (1948), the latter a “change of pace” for the couple that didn’t quite work out.
Personally, I’m no fan of either Mrs. Miniver or Madame Curie, both of which I find dramatically stilted. But both are worth a look as historical curiosities.
Pidgeon, however, is at his best in Forbidden Planet (1956), a curious – and still very much relevant – sci-fier featuring Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis, and the quirky Robot later seen in the TV series Lost in Space. Fred M. Wilcox directed.
The Hot Heiress (1931) surprised me because I wasn’t expecting anything out of it. Found this Clarence Badger comedy an amusing pre-Coder, while Ona Munson (Belle Watling in Gone with the Wind) is excellent in the title role.
H. C. Potter’s slow-moving, old-fashioned The Shopworn Angel (1938) is sheer moralizing melodrama; making the story even more absurd, Margaret Sullavan leaves Pidgeon for James Stewart. Had I written that tale, the young woman would have stayed with the wealthy, older man and lived happily ever after in decadent luxury. (The 1928 version starred Nancy Carroll, Gary Cooper, and Paul Lukas.)
Executive Suite (1954) is a different kind of “sheer moralizing melodrama” – one that boasts a top-notch cast and some terrific performances that help raise the level of its patronizing storyline. Barbara Stanwyck, for one, deserved that year’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her stellar turn as The Cool Heiress, the daughter of a business magnate who had the nerve to die without leaving an heir to the company’s throne.
Others who are quite good in this tale about money, power, family, honor, and honesty, all set within the framework of an idealized business world that exists only in Old Hollywood movies, musty books, and far-right conventions are Fredric March, the underrated June Allyson, and Pidgeon himself.
Nina Foch, one of the film’s weaker links in front of the camera, received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod. Others in the cast: William Holden, Paul Douglas, Shelley Winters, Louis Calhern, and Dean Jagger.
Robert Wise, already getting increasingly sentimental (despite the innovative “non-music score” approach), directed from a screenplay by the renowned Ernest Lehman (Sabrina, North by Northwest, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), who adapted Cameron Hawley’s lah-lah-land bestseller.
Schedule (PT) and synopses from the TCM website:
3:00 AM Sweet Kitty Bellairs (1930)
An 18th-century English flirt wins the heart of a notorious highwayman. Cast: Claudia Dell, Ernest Torrence, Walter Pidgeon. Director: Alfred E. Green. Color. 63 min.
4:15 AM Hot Heiress, The (1931)
When a society woman falls for a riveter, she tries to pass him off as an architect. Cast: Ben Lyon, Ona Munson, Walter Pidgeon. Director: Clarence Badger. Black and white. 79 min.
5:45 AM Shopworn Angel, The (1938)
A showgirl gives up life in the fast lane for a young soldier on his way to fight World War I. Cast: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Walter Pidgeon. Director: H.C. Potter. Black and white. 85 min.
7:15 AM Flight Command (1940)
A cocky cadet tries to prove himself during flight training. Cast: Robert Taylor, Ruth Hussey, Walter Pidgeon. Director: Frank Borzage. Black and white. 116 min.
9:15 AM Design For Scandal (1941)
A reporter is assigned to dig up dirt on a lady judge. Cast: Rosalind Russell, Walter Pidgeon, Edward Arnold. Director: Norman Taurog. Black and white. 85 min.
10:45 AM Julia Misbehaves (1948)
A showgirl returns to her stuffy estranged husband when their daughter gets engaged. Cast: Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Elizabeth Taylor. Director: Jack Conway. Black and white. 99 min.
12:30 PM Mrs. Parkington (1944)
A lady’s maid marries a man whose prospects push her into high society. Cast: Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Agnes Moorehead. Director: Tay Garnett. Black and white. 124 min.
3:00 PM Executive Suite (1954)
When a business magnate dies, his board of directors fights over who should run the company. Cast: William Holden, June Allyson, Barbara Stanwyck. Director: Robert Wise. Black and white. 105 min.
5:00 PM Man Hunt (1941)
An Englishman goes behind enemy lines to assassinate Hitler. Cast: Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett, George Sanders. Director: Fritz Lang. Black and white. 102 min.
7:00 PM Madame Curie (1943)
The famed female scientist fights to keep her marriage together while conducting early experiments with radioactivity. Cast: Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Van Johnson. Director: Mervyn LeRoy. Black and white. 124 min.
9:15 PM Mrs. Miniver (1942)
A British family struggles to survive the first days of World War II. Cast: Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Teresa Wright. Director: William Wyler. Black and white. 134 min.
11:45 PM Forbidden Planet (1956)
A group of space troopers investigates the destruction of a colony on a remote planet. Cast: Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen. Director: Fred M. Wilcox. Color. 99 min.
1:30 AM Calling Bulldog Drummond (1951)
The British sleuth comes out of retirement to help catch a band of thieves armed with military weapons. Cast: Walter Pidgeon, Margaret Leighton, David Tomlinson. Director: Victor Saville. Black and white. 80 min.
I have admired Walter Pidgeon ever sunce I saw him in “Forbidden Planet” when I was 10 years old. later I found out we shared a birthday, which only made me a greater fan of his work. “Forbidden Planet” is the Sci-Fi flick by which I judge all others.