Thursday, August 05, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Tip on a Dead Jockey (1957)

One of my favorite actors, Robert Taylor, was born 99 years ago today in Nebraska. It thus seemed fitting to pick out a Taylor film to watch this evening.

TIP ON A DEAD JOCKEY, based on a novel by Irwin Shaw, is one of the last few films Taylor made during his lengthy career at MGM. Unfortunately it's a slow-moving, fairly muddled mess. It has a nice cast and a top-drawer production team, including a score by Miklos Rosza, photography by George Folsey, and costumes by Helen Rose, but the film isn't up to the quality standards which characterize most of Taylor's films for MGM.

The drawbacks include a hazy script with somewhat unsympathetic characters, as well as a lackluster depiction of foreign settings, which might as well have been filmed in California...or maybe they were! Among other things, there are too many car rides with overly obvious back projections.

Taylor plays a Korean War pilot, Lloyd Tredman, who has "lost his nerve" and can no longer fly. Unable to resume his career as a commercial pilot after the war and reluctant to face his wife, he sends her a letter requesting a divorce and loafs around Madrid, partying and mooning over the pretty wife (Gia Scala) of his best friend (Jack Lord).

Tredman's wife (Dorothy Malone) arrives in Madrid to find out what's wrong with her husband, and simultaneously a shady character (Martin Gabel) offers Lloyd a very large sum of money to make a "delivery" by plane. Will Tredman turn to a life of crime in return for easy money as a smuggler? Will he fly again? Will he reunite with his wife? Viewers can probably figure out the answers before starting the movie.

Despite the title, the film has little to do with horses, other than a critical race midway through the movie. The focus shifts away from the track as soon as the race serves its dramatic purpose.

Marcel Dalio, who plays a friend of Taylor's, gives the only lively performance in the movie. Taylor and Malone are both very capable actors, but there is only so much they can do with the script. Taylor's mopey character, in particular, has murky motivations which I felt were not explained in a believable, compelling manner.

Some flying sequences near the end of the film are the most interesting scenes in the movie, but it's a bit of a slog to get to that point.

TIP ON A DEAD JOCKEY was directed by Richard Thorpe. It was shot in black and white CinemaScope and runs 98 minutes.

This film isn't out on DVD or video, but it can be seen on cable on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is here. (Update: This movie is now available on DVD via the Warner Archive.)

Dorothy Malone is now 85. She gave an enjoyable interview to the Los Angeles Times last year in conjunction with the DVD release of PEYTON PLACE. (2010 Update: Dorothy Malone has passed away at the age of 82.)

Links to reviews of many more Taylor films can be found in my April post written when he was the Turner Classic Movies Star of the Month. Taylor made a significant number of movies which are well worth checking out...just put tonight's movie at the bottom of the list.


Blogger A said...

I love Robert Taylor!

8:02 AM  
Blogger Carrie said...

Yeah, I was hooked on the Twin Beech flying sequences - prob. only because that's what he flew in real life!

2:40 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

So do I, Amanda! :)

I was thinking about that when I watched it, Carrie (and knowing your interest in aviation, I wondered if you'd seen it!). It would have been neat if he'd really done some of the flying.

Best wishes,

3:59 PM  

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