Monday, June 03, 2013

TCM Star of the Month: Eleanor Parker

I'm especially delighted with TCM's choice for June's Star of the Month, the lovely and talented actress Eleanor Parker.

Eleanor Parker is a wonderful actress who somehow seems to not be as well remembered as some other actors, despite the fact that she was a three-time Oscar nominee. I'm not sure why that is, other than to guess that perhaps it's her chameleon-like looks and talent which allow her to disappear into her characters and seem quite different from film to film!

Eleanor Parker will be 91 this June 26th. As I wrote in my preview of this month, she's been part of my moviegoing life for about as long as I can remember, given that she starred in one of the first two movies I saw in a theater, THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965). That movie may have had a bigger impact on my life than any other; if only TCM could have shown that one too!

June provides a wonderful opportunity for those who love Parker to revisit her work and for those who aren't familiar with her to become acquainted with her movies. 34 of Parker's films will be shown on Monday evenings, grouped as "The Warner Bros. Years," Parts 1 and 2, "The MGM Years," and "Freelance Work." With so many Parker films on the schedule, each lineup runs well into the next day!

The series begins on Monday evening, June 3rd, with eight of Parker's early Warner Bros. films. The gem of the evening on the 3rd is THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU (1944), a WWII romance costarring Dennis Morgan. Parker and Morgan play a young couple whose chance meeting in Pasadena turns into romance and quickly marriage -- despite the awkwardness created by Parker's rather dysfunctional family. It's an original film I highly recommend.

The other films that night are an interesting grouping including "B" movies such as BUSSES ROAR (1942) and THE MYSTERIOUS DOCTOR (1943). One of those "B" films, CRIME BY NIGHT (1944), is an entertaining detective movie starring Jerome Cowan (a favorite here) and Jane Wyman as a detective and his gal Friday, with Eleanor the young ingenue. Also in the lineup that night: the conroversial pro-Soviet wartime film MISSION TO MOSCOW (1943).

Perhaps TCM will also slip in Parker's early wartime shorts MEN OF THE SKY (1942) and SOLDIERS IN WHITE (1942). There are no shorts currently listed on TCM's online schedule for the evening of June 3rd, but viewers should be alert for the possibility these could turn up in between Parker's full-length movies.  They're both in Technicolor and are quite interesting, both in terms of their wartime messages and to see how the shorts served as a training ground for young contract actors.

Part 2 of Parker's Warner Bros. years will be on June 10th, starting with her first Oscar-nominated role in CAGED (1950). It's a terrific evening of movies including the outstanding WWII drama PRIDE OF THE MARINES (1945) with John Garfield and the delightful romantic comedy THE VOICE OF THE TURTLE (1947) with Ronald Reagan. Seeing Reagan as the romantic lead in this charming film was a revelation; what an appealing performance! Viewers should note that THE VOICE OF THE TURTLE is shown on TCM under its later TV title, ONE FOR THE BOOK.

Also on the 10th: NEVER SAY GOODBYE (1946) is an amusing romantic comedy with Errol Flynn, and one of my daughters really loves and recommends the costume drama THE WOMAN IN WHITE (1948), costarring Alexis Smith. Jacqueline wrote about THE WOMAN IN WHITE at Another Old Movie Blog earlier this year.

The 10th wraps with IT'S A GREAT FEELING (1949), in which Parker has a cameo role along with several other Warner Bros. stars.

Parker's MGM years are the focus on June 17th, beginning in grand style with SCARAMOUCHE (1952), a swashbuckler which is greatly loved by many. The red-haired Parker -- strikingly made up -- and the film's lush Technicolor cinematography are two of its greatest attributes, but the entire movie is terrific. (What a disappointment to later learn from a Parker interview that she didn't enjoy working with Stewart Granger!)

INTERRUPTED MELODY (1955), in which Parker played polio-stricken singer Marjorie Lawrence, was her third Oscar-nominated role.  Glenn Ford costars.

Also on the 17th: Vincente Minnelli's HOME FROM THE HILL (1960), recommended by film historian Blake Lucas in a recent comment, and Parker's three films with Robert Taylor: MANY RIVERS TO CROSS (1955), VALLEY OF THE KINGS (1954), and ABOVE AND BEYOND (1952). MANY RIVERS TO CROSS is goofy fun, with Parker highly animated while chasing Taylor around on the frontier, and I've got a soft spot for the "archaeologists in Egypt" movie VALLEY OF THE KINGS. ABOVE AND BEYOND is the really superb film of the Parker-Taylor trio, about the pilot charged with the responsibility of dropping the first atomic bomb at the end of of WWII.

I'm a bit surprised TCM isn't showing her MGM film ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1953), a film with William Holden which I'm pretty sure has aired on the network in the past. (Update: ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO is being shown on Encore Westerns Channel this month on June 4th, 14th, and 15th.)

The final evening, June 24th, features Parker's freelance work. The night starts off with her Oscar-nominated role in William Wyler's DETECTIVE STORY (1951), but I'll be honest and say that's a movie I strongly disliked; in fact, it's one of the movies I enjoyed least in the last few years, which was a surprise given my admiration for other Wyler films I've seen. The movie certainly has its admirers so viewers should check it out and judge for themselves.

A MILLIONAIRE FOR CHRISTY (1951) and THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS (1956) are lightweight but entertaining, with Fred MacMurray and Richard Carlson costarring in the first film and Clark Gable in the latter.  Parker is seen here with Gable on the KING AND FOUR QUEENS set.

The schedule also contains two films Parker made with Frank Sinatra, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955) and A HOLE IN THE HEAD (1959).

A Parker film I wish TCM had been able to show is THE NAKED JUNGLE (1954), which finds her teaming with Charlton Heston to battle killer ants in the South American jungle. It may sound hokey, but it's a heck of an entertaining movie, available on DVD or Amazon Instant Video. I recommend watching it during the month along with the TCM lineup! I've never reviewed it here so perhaps I'll try to fit it in this month, as it's been a few years since my last viewing.

For more on Eleanor Parker, this tribute site contains many photographs and screen captures.

For more on TCM in June, please visit TCM in June: Highlights. Happy viewing!

December 9, 2013 Update: Eleanor Parker, 1922-2013. Farewell to a remarkable actress.


Blogger Vienna said...

Lovely to see all these titles, so many new to me.Eleanor was such a beauty.
I too like Valley of the Kings.
There's another Never Say Goodbye I like - with Rock Hudson, Cornell Borchers and George Sanders.

7:42 AM  
Blogger David Lobosco said...

My grandfather always used to say my grandmother looked like Eleanor Parker. Both were beautiful women. It is amazing the body of excellent work Eleanor Parker did and she has been retired for years now. Glad you and TCM are remembering her.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Ah, yes, MANY RIVERS TO CROSS--I always enjoyed that so much, especially Eleanor Parker as the humorously aggressive heroine--she's wonderful in that one. It's a lot of fun.

I'm sorry too that THE NAKED JUNGLE isn't on the schedule, one of her very best--a terrific movie. And ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO is a first-rate Western.

On the other hand, there are so many good ones she is in that they do have. You are right to call attention to THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU, a very underrated movie from early in Delmer Daves' directorial career (he also did PRIDE OF THE MARINES) as well as Parker's--when I saw THOUGHT on TCM, Robert Osborne said this was the movie that made her a star.

And no one should forget about HOME FROM THE HILL; it is surely one of the all-time great melodramas.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Waves of Gray said...

I am quite embarrassed to say that I don't know much about Eleanor Parker's life or career. More accurately, I don't know anything about her at all. I will rectify that as soon as possible. Thank you for making me aware.

1:59 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

"Naked Jungle" is a terrific film and one of George Pal's best! Heston and Parker play off each other with a sensual (as opposed to sexual) chemistry that makes this picture smolder! And the final confrontation with "the marabunta" is truly frightening. A GREAT picture!


6:11 PM  

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