Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Centennial Tribute to Zachary Scott

Yesterday, February 21st, marked the centennial of the birth of a favorite actor, the always-interesting Zachary Scott.

Scott was born in Austin, Texas, and would pass on in the same city on October 3, 1965.

Best remembered as wealthy sleaze Monte Beragon in MILDRED PIERCE (1945), Scott excelled at playing cads, yet he was also very effective in sympathetic roles.

Scott's 1950 films alone serve to illustrate the breadth of his performances. In the least of these four parts, he's putty in the hands of evil Joan Fontaine in the highly enjoyable BORN TO BE BAD (1950), throwing over his sweet fiancee, Joan Leslie, in order to have Fontaine.

In SHADOW ON THE WALL (1950) he's heartbreaking as a man who's unjustly accused of murdering his unfaithful wife, thus facing the tragedy of permanent separation from his little girl (Gigi Perreau).

A child is also the focus of GUILTY BYSTANDER (1950), which might be Scott's finest performance, playing an alcoholic ex-cop strugglng to remain sober in order to search for his missing little boy.

Scott's biographer attributes some of the power of Scott's riveting performance as the wild-eyed, psychotic villain in COLT .45 (1950) to Scott's offscreen depression and drinking, as he sought to come to terms with his wife leaving him for writer John Steinbeck.

Scott's divorce from Elaine, his wife of 15 years, was final Christmas week of 1950, and in 1952 he married actress Ruth Ford, to whom he would remain married until his passing. Other than his unhappy divorce, Scott had a stable home life and was devoted to each of his wives in turn. Off the screen Scott seems to have been a class act, which is always refreshing to learn about an actor one admires.

There's an excellent book on the actor, ZACHARY SCOTT: HOLLYWOOD'S SOPHISTICATED CAD by Ronald L. Davis, published by the University Press of Mississippi. I read the 2006 hardcover edition, and last fall it was republished in paperback. Reviews have been posted by KC at Classic Movies, Kristen at Journeys in Classic Film, and Brandie at True Classics.

Zachary Scott movies reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: MILDRED PIERCE (1945), DANGER SIGNAL (1945), HER KIND OF MAN (1946), STALLION ROAD (1947), WHIPLASH (1948), FLAXY MARTIN (1949), GUILTY BYSTANDER (1950), SHADOW ON THE WALL (1950), COLT .45 (1950), BORN TO BE BAD (1950), LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE (1951), THE SECRET OF CONVICT LAKE (1951), LET'S MAKE IT LEGAL (1951), WINGS OF DANGER (1953), TREASURE OF RUBY HILLS (1955), and SHOTGUN (1955).

2015 Update: I've now posted a review of FLAME OF THE ISLANDS (1956).


Blogger Blake Lucas said...

What a coincidence. I had no idea it was his centennial but the night just before it, Thursday 2/20, we happened to throw on one of his movies, APPOINTMENT IN HONDURAS (1953). I had remembered this as kind of minor for the great Jacques Tourneur but enjoyed it a lot and was better than I remembered, with Tourneur's usual command of color, mood and atmosphere sustaining the matinee script, which seems to verge on being inane but never actually is if you approach it in the right spirit. Scott plays a role typical for him and as always is excellent, as also Glenn Ford and Ann Sheridan in the other leading roles, so it's very satisfying.

I too think GUILTY BYSTANDER might be Scott at his peak but would highly recommend to you and any other fans who haven't seen them two other of his movies: THE SOUTHERNER (1945) was directed by Jean Renoir and one of Scott's first movies--even though he had debuted as a villain in THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS, he hadn't been typecast yet and plays the hero in this, a completely sympathetic role of a struggling farmer and family man: Texan-born Scott is very natural in this beautiful movie as you would expect. At the other end of his career, THE YOUNG ONE, made 1960 I believe, is a Luis Bunuel films, challenging and provocative and Scott plays a complex character with both sympathetic and unsympathetic aspects --one feels this great director really appreciated him.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Blake! Thanks so much for your thoughts. I recently bought the VCI DVD of APPOINTMENT IN HONDURAS and have both that and THE SOUTHERNER sitting in my "to watch" stack by the TV! The Tourneur name connected with HONDURAS and Scott's atypical role in THE SOUTHERNER add to my interest in each. Looking forward to both very much -- not to mention THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS, which I also have yet to see!

Your note has prompted me to make a list of the Scott movies I haven't yet seen -- I have several of them on hand and need to make it a project to try to work through more of them!

Best wishes,

8:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite Scott role - in sympathetic mode - is THE UNFAITHFUL, a great movie with Ann Sheridan as his wife, and Lew Ayres and Eve Arden.

12:07 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Hi Laura
I think I recommended "The Southerner" to you when you posted on January 29th "Wings Of Danger". Now Blake has also made a strong recommendation. I will be really interested in your views on this when you reach it in your "stack".

Many years since I saw "Mask Of Demetrios" plus I don't have a copy. Classic film also.

5:06 AM  
Blogger Marlowe Craig said...

When I consider what might be my favorite film, The Southerner moves to the front of my mind, Scott's character its spokesman, "You called?"

8:59 AM  
Blogger Crocheted Lace said...

Zachary Scott has been under appreciated. Or appreciated only for Mildred Pierce and not for his versatility. I imagine it is a combination of a few events, his movie career was fading, he died young and never attained a TV career as a character actor. He wasn't around to make the ubiquitous guest starring roles in Perry Mason , Love Boat and Murder She Wrote. If he hadn't died, he might have been on Dallas! However, since I rarely watch TV shows, I've been able to concentrate on old movies, and I always watch a movie with ZacharyScott :--)
Scott is wonderfully sympathetic, cheerful and loving father at the beginning of "Shadow on the Wall" when his life seems to be perfect. The scene where he shaves and lets the kids watch is very sweet. And then the plot dives into noir melodrama.
Zachary Scott's presence always improved a mediocre movie, and made a top notch story excel.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

It's absolutely wonderful to read so many appreciative thoughts on this fine actor!

Vienna, I have a recording of THE UNFAITHFUL, that's another I'll be looking forward to seeing! (Someone needs to pay me to watch movies 'round the clock, there are so many I want to catch. I'm sure all of us here know that feeling, LOL.)

Jerry, I'll be sure to post my thoughts on THE SOUTHERNER when I watch it, and I'll look forward to comparing notes on it in more detail with you and others.

Marlowe, how interesting you consider THE SOUTHERNER perhaps your favorite film. High praise indeed.

Crocheted Lace, I really enjoyed your detailed take on Scott and SHADOW ON THE WALL. Now I want to rewatch that one! I liked your thought that "Zachary Scott's presence always improved a mediocre movie, and made a top notch story excel."

Thank you also, C.L., for the review link you sent to my attention! I will be using it when I write the next roundup, which will be late this week due to all my recent moviegoing in Los Angeles. I made four trips to three different Los Angeles venues in the past four days! :)

Best wishes,

12:31 AM  
Blogger KC said...

Thanks for the hat tip. I actually dropped by to read this because that biography made me love Scott so much more. He was not only good, but unique. His unusual style made him so much more interesting than your typical Hollywood star. It's nice to hear he's still being celebrated. I can't believe how much good stuff you are posting lately. It's amazing Laura!

8:48 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

KC, thank you so much for your comment, it brightened a hectic day last week!

So true that Scott was unique. He wasn't conventionally handsome but there is something very compelling about his persona, and he's got a great voice, too.

Best wishes,

11:52 PM  

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