Hi, everybody! I’m back again with what will likely be my final blogathon entry for March. This time I’m celebrating one of my favorite actors, and one that I feel is among the most underrated of all time, Jack Lemmon. As always, I’d first love to thank the gracious hosts of this blogathon, Crítica Retrô and Wide Screen World, for choosing such a wonderful person to write about. I wish this blogathon all of the success possible, and without further ado, on with the post!
I must admit that I had a little bit of trouble at first when I was attempting to choose a film to write about for this great blogathon. I was in the mood to discuss something that I hadn’t seen before, yet at the same time I’m such a huge fan of Jack Lemmon that I had already seen most of his fantastic work. Finally after perusing his filmography, I found one that made me laugh out loud just by hearing the premise, and I knew that I simply had to review it. Hold on to your hats, folks, because You Can’t Run Away From It (1956) is a musical remake of It Happened One Night (1934), a film beloved by all who have seen it that starred Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, and the first film to win every single major Academy Award in the same year. Needless to say the stars of this film, Jack Lemmon and June Allyson, had some large shoes to fill. The remake was helmed by Dick Powell, June Allyson’s then-husband, who served as both producer and director. It was Powell’s third time in the director’s chair, and at the time he and June Allyson had been one of the reigning couples in Hollywood for eleven years. Their marriage would only last seven more years after the completion of this picture, however, as Powell died of cancer in 1963. It’s suggested that the film The Conqueror (1956), the film that he directed just before You Can’t Run Away From It (1956), attributed to and perhaps caused his death as he decided to film in St. George, Utah, 137 miles away from one of the US government’s nuclear testing sites. The filmmakers knew about the government’s activities in the area, but the government assured them that the tests would not be hazardous to the cast and crew. Despite their reassurance, 91 out of the 220 people who worked on the film developed some form of cancer, and 46 eventually died from it, including lead actors John Wayne and Susan Hayward, as well as director of The Conqueror (1956) and today’s film, Dick Powell.
If you’re familiar with the original classic It Happened One Night (1934), you’ll definitely pick up on all of the similarities to You Can’t Run Away From It (1956). In fact, you could probably say that there are more similarities than differences between the two. Both films begin with heiress Ellen “Ellie” Andrews (played by June Allyson in this film) being held prisoner by her father on his yacht just after her marriage to a man that he doesn’t approve of. She’s inconsolable and completely uncooperative with the yacht’s crew members, even throwing a hairbrush at one of them for attempting to bring her food during her defiant hunger strike. One of the most apparent differences in the remake is that Ellie’s father A.A Andrews is played by Charles Bickford, giving a Texan flair to the whole film as a result. His character half-heartedly attempts to calm Ellie down before letting her know that her new husband, Jacques Ballerino (Jacques Scott), decided to wait for her in her hometown of Houston rather than their wedding location in Alcapulco, and that A.A planned to keep her on the yacht and have the marriage annulled. Furious, Ellie decides to jump ship and swim ashore, planning to find her own way to Houston and into the arms of her husband. She manages to evade her father’s crafty detectives, who are already on the lookout for her, by paying a trustworthy-looking old lady to buy her the last bus ticket to Tuscon, Arizona. While on the bus, she meets out of work newspaper man Peter Warne (Jack Lemmon), whom she loathes at first but eventually warms up to after he helps her out of multiple sticky situations, including his gallant attempt to retrieve her stolen luggage and his success in getting her away from George Shapley, a slimy individual who attempts to make passes at Ellie on the bus. Once Peter finds out who she really is, the two make a deal: He assists her to Houston and her husband, while she gives him the exclusive story of her travels, saving his career in the process. But when Peter and Ellie start to fall in love along the way, they find out that they can’t run away from it!
The other glaringly obvious difference between this film and It Happened One Night (1934) is the multitude of songs, with the lyrics penned by the legendary Johnny Mercer, who wrote many classic film songs including “I’m Old Fashioned” from You Were Never Lovelier (1942), “That Old Black Magic” which appeared in Bus Stop (1956) and The Nutty Professor (1963), and most famously the song “Moon River”, which Audrey Hepburn immortalized in Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961). The music for the songs was supplied by Gene de Paul, who had previously worked on the iconic musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). Five songs appeared on the soundtrack overall: “Howdy Friends and Neighbors”, sang by one of the bus’ passengers Fred Toten (played by Stubby Kaye), “Temporarily”, an adorable tune in which Peter and Ellie gripe about their living situation, “Thumbin’ A Ride”, which musically explains the scene which made It Happened One Night (1934) so famous as Ellie (originally played by Claudette Colbert) lifts her skirt to show her leg and successfully hitches a ride after Peter (originally played by Clark Gable) fails to do so with his thumb, “Scarecrow Ballet”, an insrumental song during which Ellie dances with a scarecrow, and of course “You Can’t Run Away From It”, the lovely and fitting title song performed by a wildly popular group at the time, The Four Aces. Of the five numbers in the film, I honestly was only impressed by “Temporarily” and “You Can’t Run Away From It”. While I feel that “Howdy Friends and Neighbors” worked for the plot, I don’t understand why it was wasted on such a minor character, one who was in fact only in the film to sing the song. I felt that both “Thumbin’ A Ride” and “Scarecrow Ballet” were both completely unnecessary, with the first practically ruining the iconic scene that appears in the original film, and the second being an obvious time killer that stopped the plot dead in its tracks.
Despite my misgivings for the majority of the songs, I must say that You Can’t Run Away From It (1956) was far better than I expected it to be. Jack Lemmon absolutely shines in the role of Peter Warne, and though he obviously doesn’t bring the gruff manliness to the role that Clark Gable naturally did in the original, he did bring a unique sort of magic and a different kind of street smart character that only he could pull off. His vocals thoroughly impressed me as well, even though you might say that he talked through a couple of the songs rather than sang them. It’s obvious that Dick Powell was trying his best to put all of the spotlight on his wife June Allyson, but it’s easy to see that Jack Lemmon stole the show in spite of Powell’s efforts. While her portrayal of Ellie Andrews was fine, I feel that it lacked the cleverness and wit that Claudette Colbert brought to the part, and unforunately this film further cements my opinion that June Allyson simply wasn’t right for musicals. It may be an unpopular opinion considering how many she appeared in and how well they did at the box office, but her singing voice just never appealed to me. Overall, I would strongly recommend watching this film for Jack Lemmon as well as the delightful story, and I feel that it really did justice to the original classic. I urge any who are curious to check out It Happened One Night (1934) first though, because many of the sly witticisms were taken from the film word for word, and the remake allows them to come off so naturally that a moviegoer who only saw You Can’t Run Away From It (1956) would probably think that the iconic lines were completely unique.