Thursday, September 01, 2011

A Birthday Tribute to Yvonne DeCarlo

Lovely and talented Yvonne DeCarlo was born in Vancouver on this date in 1922.

I never gave a great deal of thought to DeCarlo until a few years ago; I'd grown up knowing her as Lily Munster -- but I was more of an ADDAMS FAMILY fan -- and then I knew her as one of the stars of MCLINTOCK! (1963) which my children watched over and over (and over!) again when they were little.

A few years ago I saw a very good BIOGRAPHY show on DeCarlo's interesting life, which included a background as a dancer and the challenging MUNSTERS years supporting her family after her stuntman husband was seriously injured making HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962).

Around the same time I saw the BIOGRAPHY episode, I saw DeCarlo in BUCCANEER'S GIRL (1950) and was completely charmed by the combination of her beauty and her great sense of humor. Since that time I've been actively seeking out her films.

DeCarlo was a longtime Universal contract player, toiling in bit parts throughout the early '40s. She had her breakthrough role in SALOME, WHERE SHE DANCED (1945), which can be seen at no charge by subscribers to Amazon Prime. She appeared in a variety of films, from the exotic (SONG OF SCHEHERAZADE and CASBAH) to film noir (BRUTE FORCE and CRISS CROSS) to many, many titles which were part of Universal's "golden era" of Westerns in the late '40s and '50s.

My favorite DeCarlo film seen to date is the Western comedy THE GAL WHO TOOK THE WEST (1949), in which she's trying to decide between Scott Brady and John Russell, while keeping them from killing each other. I like her attitude in the film, which I've read reflects some of the real DeCarlo -- she accepts her beauty as a given, but doesn't take herself too seriously and is very good-natured.

She was teamed with Joel McCrea in the Westerns THE SAN FRANCISCO STORY (1952) and BORDER RIVER (1954), and she also starred in TOMAHAWK (1951), a solid Western costarring Van Heflin. I just saw the latter film last weekend.

Yvonne was chosen by Cecil B. DeMille to appear as Sephora, the wife of Moses, in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956). DeMille's granddaughter, Cecilia, has recounted being in awe of the exquisitely beautiful DeCarlo, and said DeCarlo was an extremely nice and friendly woman.

There are many DeCarlo films I've not yet seen. Unfortunately, a significant number of her '40s Universal films have not been made available to viewers. Hopefully that will change in the future thanks to "manufactured on demand" DVDs and/or streaming.

Happily, some of her films from the late '40s and '50s can be seen thanks to Encore Westerns and Netflix Instant Play. In addition to a couple of the titles already mentioned, Encore has shown BLACK BART (1948) and CALAMITY JANE AND SAM BASS (1949) in recent months. Several more titles can be seen on Netflix.

Additionally, a few of her films are out on DVD; these include some of the aforementioned titles and SEA DEVILS (1953) with Rock Hudson, SHOTGUN (1955) with Sterling Hayden, and BAND OF ANGELS (1957) with Clark Gable.

Yvonne DeCarlo passed away January 8, 2007, at the age of 84, leaving behind over 120 film and TV credits, including all those early bit parts.

I've only begun to explore her films, and I look forward to enjoying many more in the years to come.

2012 Update: I've reviewed several DeCarlo films within the past year: CRISS CROSS (1949), SILVER CITY (1951), SEA DEVILS (1953), SHOTGUN (1955), and RAW EDGE (1956).

2013 Update: Here's a link to my review of Yvonne's 1987 memoir, YVONNE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY.

2014 Update: I've now reviewed BLACK BART (1948).

2015 Update: Here's a review of FLAME OF THE ISLANDS (1956).

2017 Update: Here are reviews of SOMBRERO (1953) and A GLOBAL AFFAIR (1964), as well as an account of seeing CRISS CROSS (1949) at one of the locations where it was filmed, Union Station.

2019 Update: Here's a review of FRONTIER GAL (1945).

2020 Update: Here's a review of KISMET (1944), in which DeCarlo had a bit role the year before she hit stardom, and a brand-new review of BUCCANEER'S GIRL (1950), now available on Blu-ray.

And here's a new article on Yvonne and her Westerns for my Western RoundUp column at Classic Movie Hub.


Blogger Karen said...

I love Yvonne DeCarlo. I haven't seen her in much at all (other than the Munsters, of course), but she is the star of one of my favorite films noirs, Criss Cross, and that's all it took to make me a fan. Thanks for saluting her on her birthday! She is most deserving.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

It's wonderful you would write about her, Laura. She remains so underrated, mostly because so many of those films seem to require her more as decorative presence than for "great actress" type histrionics. May I suggest that this type of role which characterizes her career is just as difficult to play well, and she always makes it believable. Meanwhile, in more obviously serious roles, she's just as good. A great example is "Criss Cross"--where she is one of the definitive femmes fatales in film noir, yet down to earth and dimensional in a way that is not a given for that type of character.

I would say run don't walk to get the DVD of "Band of Angels"--her finest hour. Although it is a couple film (with Clark Gable also at his best) it is the heroine's journey that takes us through the whole film and De Carlo is magnificent throughout. One of the masterpieces of Raoul Walsh--and it's saying a lot I know, but in the fullness of time it has become my favorite of all his films.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm really delighted to hear from two more DeCarlo fans, Karen and Blake! CRISS CROSS is very high on my "to watch" list; I have a DVD waiting for me!

Although I didn't mention it in my post, I was musing that perhaps one reason DeCarlo tends to be overlooked is that relatively few of her films were what might be called "classics." Yet she appeared in film after film which simply delivers fun entertainment -- and as Blake suggests, it probably took quite a bit more skill than she's given credit for to play her kinds of roles. I particularly admired her work in THE GAL WHO TOOK THE WEST, in which she displayed a deft comic touch. It's a shame movies like that and BUCCANEER'S GIRL are so low-rated in some quarters (Leonard Maltin's book gives each movie 2 stars, which I'd suggest is a full star too low). They are delightful.

Blake, that is quite an endorsement of BAND OF ANGELS. I'm looking forward to seeing it!

Thank you both again for joining me saluting Miss DeCarlo on her birthday!

Best wishes,

1:45 PM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Count ms as a fan of "Buccaneer's Girl" too. It's on DVD on a set of Universal pirate movies which I just saw last week at Big Lots for $3.

I think she's tremendously underrated in "The Ten Commandments." I love that film, and everyone in it is larger than life, but DeCarlo delivers the most grounded and warm performance in the film. She's like a breath of fresh air after 75 minutes or so of chest beating.

I second Blake's advocacy of her performance in "Criss Cross". I really do need to see "Band of Angels."

7:20 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Here's some good news from TCM's November schedule: BAND OF ANGELS will be shown November 17th.

DeCarlo can also be seen with Victor Mature in TIMBUKTU (1959) on November 9th and in an episode of SCREEN DIRECTORS PLAYHOUSE on November 8th.

Best wishes,

10:13 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

One more DeCarlo title on TCM in November: BRUTE FORCE (1947) on November 2nd.

Best wishes,

10:14 PM  

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