Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Victor Mature Centennial

Actor Victor Mature was born January 29, 1913, in Louisville, Kentucky.

What looks to be a fine new book on the actor, THE FILMS OF VICTOR MATURE, has been published to coincide with the centennial of Mature's birth. It was preordered for me as a Christmas gift and just arrived a few days ago.

This softcover book by James McKay, which is over 200 pages including an index, is an excellent read thus far. It starts with a short biography and then details each of Mature's films, with production information, an analysis of Mature's performance, and information on how the film was received upon its release. Many -- but not all -- of the films are accompanied by a well-reproduced still. From a quick scan, the author's opinions of Mature's films and performances largely coincide with mine.

It's funny to think that years ago I didn't really like Mature all that much; maybe it's because the first films I saw him in as a child were musicals, MY GAL SAL (1942) and MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID (1952), and at the time he struck me as a bit awkward being the leading man in a musical. Little did I know then that he had appeared in the original Broadway cast of LADY IN THE DARK! And though he wasn't known for his musical talent, he appeared in several other musicals over the course of his career, including NO, NO, NANETTE (1940), FOOTLIGHT SERENADE (1942), and WABASH AVENUE (1950), among others.

In recent years Mature has become a real favorite of mine, appearing in some of the film noir titles I've enjoyed the most, I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941), KISS OF DEATH (1947), and CRY OF THE CITY (1948), not to mention a much-loved Betty Grable musical, SONG OF THE ISLANDS (1942).

His relatively little-known Western ESCORT WEST (1958) was an unsung pleasure I look forward to watching again, and the football drama EASY LIVING (1949) was a favorite discovery last year. I also got a big kick out of the somewhat cartoonish but highly entertaining DANGEROUS MISSION (1954).

And I haven't yet mentioned his very fine Doc Holliday in John Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946)! (Update: A new review of MY DARLING CLEMENTINE is here.)

A list of just some of Mature's additional well-known films: ONE MILLION B.C. (1940), THE SHANGHAI GESTURE (1941), MOSS ROSE (1947), FURY AT FURNACE CREEK (1948), SAMSON AND DELILAH (1949), THE LAS VEGAS STORY (1952), THE ROBE (1953), DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS (1954), THE EGYPTIAN (1954), and CHIEF CRAZY HORSE (1955). He had a terrific career filled with entertaining movies.

Mature never took himself seriously; there's a well-known anecdote that when a country club told him they didn't accept actors as members, he replied that he was no actor and had the reviews to prove it. The truth, however, is that Mature was a very fine, underrated actor who seems to be more appreciated in recent years. He was capable of conveying a great deal simply with his soulful eyes and his body language. KISS OF DEATH, in particular, would not be the superb movie it is without Mature's contribution. (He's seen at the right in a publicity still with costar Coleen Gray.)

Mature was smart with his money and worked infrequently after the early '60s. He enjoyed relaxing on the golf course and became a father for the first time when he was in his early 60s.

Victor Mature passed away in Rancho Sante Fe, California, on August 4, 1999. He was 86 years old.


2020 Update: A Birthday Tribute to Victor Mature.


Blogger Vienna said...

Thanks for the information on this new book. I like some of Victor's films like Las Vegas Story and The Big Circus and Violent Saturday.
I think I'll get the book as it seems well researched.

12:19 AM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Count me in as a fan as well. Heck, I think he gives the best performance in "The Robe", even outshining Oscar-nominated Richard Burton in that film.

When my mom was in the work force in the 1950s, her boss told her he served on the same submarine as Mature during World War II. He told my mom Mature was a great guy, with no airs or pretensions about him.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I've got all those movies, Vienna -- the first two from Warner Archive -- and look forward to catching up with them in the weeks or months to come! Thanks for the recommendations. I hope you'll enjoy the book. So far I'm finding it a good read.

Kevin, what a great story about your mom's boss. I love hearing positive stories like that. Thanks very much for adding your thoughts on a favorite Mature film!

Best wishes,

9:36 AM  
Blogger grandoldmovies said...

Good to know Mature is getting some recognition. I liked his performances in Kiss of Death, Easy Living, and especially My Darling Clementine, in which I think he gives the best Doc Holliday interpretation. He may not have taken himself seriously as an actor, but he always gave thoughtful, sincere performances.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

Enjoyed reading this - I haven't seen many Victor Mature films, but really like him in 'My Darling Clementine' and would love to see more of his work.

12:12 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Judy! CLEMENTINE is sure a good one, and it's a performance I've come to value more over the years as I've revisited the film.

I hope you can see more of his movies, there are some real classics alongside some films which are just plain old entertaining and worth catching!

Best wishes,

12:53 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Laura,

Thanks for the mention and the kind words about the book. Much appreciated. I hope you enjoy the rest of it. With such an entertaining film legacy I'm surprised TCM has never featured a season of his work. Perhaps the centenary will provoke some thought on the matter. I've enjoyed all of Vic's films, but I always have a special place for The Long Haul - my favourite British film noir.

Best Wishes

James McKay

2:11 PM  
Blogger dfordoom said...

I like Victor Mature with every movie of his that I see.

12:58 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much for the nice note, James! I continue to enjoy the book and am glad I've been able to call attention to Victor Mature in general and the book in particular!

I think there's a simple reason why TCM hasn't focused on Victor Mature for something like Star of the Month: the majority of his important films were for 20th Century-Fox, and TCM has to pay higher licensing fees for those films, along with Universal and Paramount. The majority of films shown on TCM are from MGM, WB, RKO, Columbia, Goldwyn, Allied Artists and so on.

TCM could get away with just licensing a handful of Loretta Young's Fox pictures for Star of the Month, because she did so many elsewhere earlier in her career and then freelanced in the '40s and '50s, but it would be tough to pull together a Mature lineup without licensing a whole lotta Fox movies. Some of his non-Fox titles such as ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., CAPTAIN CAUTION, THE LAS VEGAS STORY, and DANGEROUS MISSION do turn up on the TCM, happily.

I've never seen THE LONG HAUL and am adding it to my "to see" list, given your strong endorsement! Thanks so much.

Best wishes,

7:11 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

He's a likeable guy, isn't he, DforDoom? From what I read -- including from Kevin above -- it sounds like he was just as likeable offscreen which is always nice to hear.

Best wishes,

7:11 PM  
Blogger dfordoom said...

I'll second the recommendation for THE LONG HAUL. A great British noir with fine performances by Mature and by the great Diana Dors (the queen of British film noir).

10:51 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much for the additional mention of THE LONG HAUL. I see it's available on DVD and have bookmarked it!

Best wishes,

12:26 AM  

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