Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Foxfire (1955)

FOXFIRE, starring Jane Russell and Jeff Chandler, has been sitting near the top of my Netflix Instant queue for some time now. When I noticed earlier this week that FOXFIRE would be leaving Netflix at month's end due to the expiration of Netflix's contract with Starz, I squeezed it into my schedule. I'm glad I made the time, as I enjoyed it very much.

FOXFIRE is based on a novel by Anya Seton (DRAGONWYCK). It has a number of cool things going for it: 1) Jane Russell, sassy as ever; 2) Jeff Chandler, one of the notable hunks of the '50s (what can I say?); 3) Dan Duryea, who always adds an interesting dimension to a troubled character; 4) a title song by Henry Mancini and Jeff Chandler, sung by Chandler; and 5) terrific Technicolor location filming at the Apple Valley Inn in Apple Valley, California. There's more info on the beautiful, windswept inn in my post on HIGHWAY DRAGNET (1954).

Jane plays Amanda Lawrence, an Eastern socialite who accompanies her mother (Frieda Inescort) to an Arizona resort. Amanda meets half-Apache mining engineer Jonathan "Dart" Dartland (Chandler) and they fall in love -- or maybe lust -- at first sight, followed by a whirlwind wedding ceremony.

Amanda is crazy about Jonathan and eager to adapt to life in the little mining town where he lives, but she struggles with her moody, insecure husband's dark moods. She doesn't understand the emotional walls Jonathan frequently seems to put up between them until she visits an Apache reservation and meets his mother (Celia Lovsky).

This is a very enjoyable film with the great Universal Technicolor look of the '50s. It has a unique story and setting, as well as a sympathetic heroine who is coping with a new lifestyle and racially prejudiced locals along with trying to figure out her new husband. The viewer roots for the tenacious Amanda and hopes she and Jonathan will make a success of their marriage.

Russell and Chandler were both perfectly cast and have excellent chemistry. As a side note, I do wish Russell's hair wasn't quite so short; I've never understood the '50s trend for actresses to wear "helmet hair," which appears matronly to the modern viewer.

Dan Duryea plays the alcoholic town doctor who quickly starts to carry an unrequited torch for Amanda. The doctor is charming when he's sober, but it's a bit hard to understand what his nurse Maria (Mara Corday) sees in him -- or why he ignores the beautiful Maria, especially when it's clear that Amanda is only interested in her own husband.

The early part of this 87-minute film feels truncated. One minute Amanda's mother is booking a flight trying to separate her daughter from her new love, and the next minute Amanda is racing to Jonathan's home and they discuss a problem with a telephone. It felt like there was a scene or two left on the cutting-room floor that should have been left in. For that matter, although I tend to be a fan of shorter films, I would have welcomed a somewhat longer film which delved even more deeply into the characters and their story.

The supporting cast includes Barton MacLane, Arthur Space, Robert F. Simon, Charlotte Wynters, Eddy Waller, and Beulah Archuletta (THE SEARCHERS).

FOXFIRE was directed by Joseph Pevney. Pevney directed several films I've enjoyed, including Jeff Chandler's next film, FEMALE ON THE BEACH (1955). He also directed AIR CADET (1951), TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR (1957), and THE CROWDED SKY (1960).

This film isn't available on DVD or VHS, and in a matter of hours it will no longer be available from Netflix streaming. It seems as though this film would be a good candidate to be released in the Universal Vault DVD-R series sold through Amazon.

January 2019 Update: This film is now available in a 92-minute print on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber. My review of the Blu-ray is here.


Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks for the heads-up on when it will air. This movie was playing on the "Andrea Doria" the night it sank off New England. Bizarre, trivia, I know.

5:03 AM  
Blogger Ellie said...

Jeff Chandler... What a hunka hunka burning love he was. Right up there with Stephen Boyd & Guy Madison. Guilty Pleasures all.

7:06 AM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

I recorded this one off the Westerns channel and am looking forward to watching it.

Helmet hair? I love it and I know exactly what you mean. Ginger Rogers sports one in "Tight Spot" and it could be the most unappealing hair do I've ever seen.

7:45 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

That is an awesome bit of trivia, Jacqueline! I remember you writing about the ANDREA DORIA in the past. I hope you get to see it!

Ellie, I'm with you, I'm quite taken with Mr. Chandler. :)

Kevin, glad you liked that phrase -- I'll be watching for it when I see TIGHT SPOT! Let me know what you think of the movie!

Best wishes,

10:35 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Laura, this is to see if I can get past the new "prove you're not a robot/double password" thing. I had no end of trouble with this trying to buy a movie elsewhere. Want to make some comments on FOXIRE later if I find I can do it.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Blake, I've noticed that recently the passwords on Blogger have become much harder to read and complete successfully. You got through! It's a shame that spammers make this necessary, making it more difficult for those who want to comment.

I'd love to hear what you have to say on FOXFIRE, please do share when you have time! Will look forward to it. :)

Best wishes,

4:00 PM  
Blogger Patti said...

Hi, I've never visited your blog before. I saw a comment you left on Sidewalk Crossings, so I popped by. Reading that you talk about homeschooling, I just had to introduce myself. I homeschooled my kids all the way through high school...just graduated the last one last year. Now that I'm in a new season of life, I am devoting more time to blogging.

I've got to tell you, I am tryng to cultivate a liking for Westerns, and I like Audie Murphy alot, so I had one of his movies (Destry) in my instant queue. I thought it cut off tomorrow (3/1); alas, no, it was gone today when I went to watch it. Oh, well, you snooze you lose, right?

I am not very familiar with Jeff Chandler, though there are a few movies on my YouTube watch list which have him in.

Have a great evening,

9:02 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Patti!

I'm catching up on comments after a busy week -- welcome! Always nice to hear from another film fan and homeschooler.

If you happen to have Encore Westerns Channel, they've been showing DESTRY periodically...the same package of Starz movies that has been pulled from Netflix shows on the Encore channels. Hope you get to see it!

I've just become acquainted with Jeff Chandler's work in more recent years and have come to enjoy him. Hope you get a chance to sample some of his films as well as more good Westerns. I highly recommend the blog 50 Westerns From the 50s for lots of great info on Westerns!

Best wishes,

3:28 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

OK, here goes--I must tell you that the double password thing still doesn't usually work me for the first time, but my other posts have all gotten through.

Laura, you move so fast with your blog that I'm sure no one will read this but you, so will keep this kind of short but wanted to say a few specific things.

One, I like this movie very much too and have seen it three or four times. I believe you have caught exactly it's one flaw--it could be longer; at least ten or twelve minutes would have done a lot for these characters and relationships that are always interesting. It's not as if say 99-100 minutes would have made it too long for a double feature. I especially wish there had been some resolution to the Duryea/Corday relationship--they are both sympathetic characters, despite his alcohol problems, and I'd be more satisfied if he came around to appreciating her. It doesn't seem to me that Mara Corday is a consolation prize!

That said, I just really like it, and it's one of my favorite movies of director Joseph Pevney, who works a range of genres but is especially good at melodramas (you've seen FEMALE ON THE BEACH). I mentioned here sometime ago that he directed Loretta Young's last two films you are waiting on, BECAUSE OF YOU (which is much in this vein, and also with Jeff Chandler as male lead) and the charming, kind of Capraesque IT HAPPENS EVERY THURSDAY, more of a comedy with dramatic elements.

Also, though you mentioned Anya Seton, I think you made an inadvertent oversight in not mentioning screenwriter Ketti Frings, who is very interesting as a writer for movies and kind of a specialist in these "troubled marriage" melodramas--in that vein, she also wrote BECAUSE OF YOU and, memorably, THE SHRIKE, directed by Jose Ferrer and which she adapted from a play--the title character is played by June Allyson, turning her "supportive wife" persona of so many movies on its head to telling effect.

Among director Pevney's movies, along with those mentioned, I do believe the very best of all is THE MIDNIGHT STORY (1957, same year as his lovely TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR and in fact they opened on a double bill!)--this is a different kind of melodrama, more related to film noir though I wouldn't describe it that way, but a kind of beautiful, tragic, intimate crime story starring Tony Curtis, Marisa Pavan and Gilbert Roland--this one, at least, is close to a masterpiece in my book. Of course, this too is a Universal-International movie (black and white CinemaScope) and I hope you get to see it sometime.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Blake, thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts on FOXFIRE. I always thoroughly enjoy your insights! (BTW, this review may not be seen again by the blog's regular readers who keep up with the blog as posts go up, but it will get hits anytime the movie plays on Encore Westerns, so there are sure to be interested readers in the future!)

Really appreciate you calling my attention to the name Ketti Frings -- I'll be watching for her credit in the future. As luck would have it, I just received a copy of BECAUSE OF YOU a few weeks ago (the same lovely friend who sent me Gail Russell movies!). Very much looking forward to seeing it -- the more so having read your comments.

Pevney is someone I'm really coming to appreciate -- each of his films which I've seen to date has been very enjoyable. I'll jot down MIDNIGHT STORY on my "watch for it" list!

Thanks again so much!

Best wishes,

11:33 PM  

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