We’re onto Day Ten of the best time of the year: Turner Classic Movies’ Summer Under the Stars! For those of you who didn’t get the chance to read my pick for Esther Williams’ birthday or if you’re unfamiliar with Turner Classic Movies, Summer Under the Stars honors a different classic film star during each day in August by showing a twenty-four hour marathon of their films. After I found out that Hedy Lamarr would be one of the many stars honored this month, I knew that she had to be one of the three incredible ladies that I chose to write about! Without further ado, keep reading for my top five recommended films that TCM will be showing today in honor of Hedy Lamarr!
5. Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945) On TCM at 8:00am EST
Hedy plays against type as a visiting princess from an unnamed kingdom in this
lighthearted comedy that tears many of its motifs straight out of fairytale books. Her character, Princess Veronica, requires an escort and by an interesting chain of events clumsy bellboy Jimmy Dobson (Robert Walker) steps up to the plate, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend Leslie Odell (June Allyson). Despite how dreamlike the film’s plot seems, the making of the picture was anything but a fantasy. To begin with, Lamarr (who’s star was waning at the time) battled with MGM to get top billing. Much of the 1940s was spent accentuating the studio’s up and coming actors, but after a heated fight Louis B. Mayer agreed to bill Hedy first. However, she paid the price for it as most believe that the argument was a deciding factor in MGM choosing not to renew her contract, and so this was her last film under contract to any major studio. Costar Robert Walker had his offscreen troubles during the making of this film as well, as he was going through bouts of depression and a heated divorce at the time after estranged wife Jennifer Jones left him for studio mogul David O. Selznick. The situation left him in a state of despondency for the rest of his brief life, and his costars were amazed that he was able to portray such a comical and carefree character despite his real life hardships. This film is truly uplifting and sweet in spite of the struggles that those creating it faced, however, and it truly starts Hedy Lamarr’s tribute on a high note.
4. The Heavenly Body (1944) On TCM at 11:30pm EST
It’s in the stars that you should see this adorable romantic comedy! In it, Hedy plays Vicky Whitley, wife of astronomer Bill Whitley (William Powell). Bill discovers a comet and earns his place among the world’s most revered scientists, but soon he becomes so preoccupied with his discovery that he begins to spend more and more of his time at the observatory, much to the dismay of Lamarr. Soon Vicky fills her time with the neighborhood’s astrology expert, and begins to believe that the coomunity’s attractive new air raid warden is supposed to be her dream man. The misunderstanding makes Bill realize just how much he has neglected his wife, but is all lost, or will these two drift back into orbit? Either way, I find that Powell and Lamarr make a beautiful and witty couple, and Hedy’s acting makes me glad that Joan Crawford turned down her role, surprisingly stating, “It was about a girl who stands around and does nothing. I told the studio to give the part to Hedy Lamarr.” To me, Hedy does anything but stand around, and her glimmering personality makes this film a late night delight.
3. The Conspirators (1944) On TCM at 6:00pm EST
Unlike my number five choice, Hedy appears to play the exact sort of role that she was
known for when she appears as Irene Von Mohr in this suspenseful World War II drama. In this film, Vincent Van Der Lyn, a Dutch freedom fighter played by the always dashing Paul Henried, is forced to neutral Lisbon to escape Nazi persecution. During his time there he meets a group of underground conspirators, and over time he begins to assist their leader in identifying the traitor in their midst. This picture has endless parallels to the timeless classic Casablanca (1942), including leading man Henried as well as its great arsenal of supporting players that include Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, who appeared in both films. The Conspirators (1944) was also produced by Warner Bros. and uses the same composer and cinematographer used in Casablanca (1942), Max Steiner and Arthur Edeson, respectively. Even more so, Hedy was considered one of the top choices to play Ilsa in the aforementioned film, and did star in Algiers (1938), another great film that shares a plot with the classic. This is definitely the picture being shown today that I am the most excited to see that I haven’t had the chance to see, and I urge you to check out this evening thriller as well.
2. Comrade X (1940) On TCM at 3:00am EST
Okay, both my first and second pick are late at night, but I can’t help that they’re both so great! To start off my top two, Comrade X (1940) offers a perfect pairing of Clark Gable and Hedy Lamarr. Gable stars as Mckinley B. Thompson, a clever American reporter who uses the codename of Comrade X and a cut up handkerchief to smuggle vital information out of Soviet Russia. Eventually unassuming hotel valet Vanya (played by Felix Bressart, one of my favorite character actors) discovers his secret and uses the information to blackmail McKinley into escorting his beautiful daughter Theodore (Lamarr) out of the country, fearing that her Communist beliefs will get her killed. Despite dealing with such delicate subject matter, this film is laugh out loud hilarious and every single performance in it is memorable. I would go as far as to say that both Gable and Lamarr portray their most likeable characters yet, and if you’re looking for a film that seamlessly combines wit, farce, and plenty of WWII historical subtext in its script, look no further than this one.
1. Come Live With Me (1941) On TCM at 1:15am EST
Once again, I realize how unrealistic it is to include such a late night film on the lineup in
this list, but here I must protest and say that this is quite possibly one of the most underrated romantic comedies of all time. Hedy stars as a Viennese refugee who has illegally evaded deportation for months using the masculine name of Johnny Jones. Finally, the immigration department catches up with her, but feels so sorry for Hedy’s character that they give her one week to marry and stay in the country. To her dismay, however, her hotshot publisher beau is already married and Johnny quickly gives up hope. Nevertheless, all is not lost when she accidentally stumbles upon Bill Smith (James Stewart), a forlorn writer who is down to his last dime. Johnny quickly devises and offers a plan: Bill could marry Johnny so that she could stay in the country, and in return Johnny could pay for his expenses, which would allow him to write the novel he always dreamed of completing. In this film Lamarr and Stewart make for the most wonderful onscreen pair that I have ever witnessed, and I believe that it’s a downright shame that they were never paired together again. Hedy’s exotic and mysterious personality is the perfect contrast to James’ honest and All-American screen persona, and the two opposite stars make this picture a true must-see for any romance fan.
Once again, I’d like to thank Journeys in Classic Film for allowing me to participate in this blogathon, and I hope you check out my last entry covering my picks for Cyd Charisse’s tribute on August 14th!