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Well, it's Melvyn Douglas month


slaytonf
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It's hard to assess his career in one sweeping statement.  He was a fine actor, adept at both comedy, and serious roles.  A leading man, he starred with many of the major leading ladies of his time.  But did he really attain stardom enough to carry pictures on his own?  The pictures he's best known for, he's not the top billed star.  Everyone knows his early work.  Like many others, he moved into television, though not series work, mostly TV movies.  His later film work in supporting character parts allowed him more opportunity to demonstrate his acting ability.  As a relic of the old-school "Acting," he was a good foil to the modern heirs of the Method.  We saw this tonight in Being There.  We'll see it again, most saliently in I Never Sang For My Father, with Gene Hackman. The battles between the son and father can be imagined as an echo of the clash of the different acting styles.  I don't think it was really the case, though.  I fancy Mr. Hackman and Mr. Douglas go along famously.  It's fun to watch--once.  The movie is a downer, and has a hard ending.

 

For Douglas fans, and I'm one, it's a good month, with many of his familiar favorites.  Of course, there will be omissions.  We won't see The Old Dark House, but that's on at other times.  I'd really like it if The Candidate was going to be shown.  A couple of films I'd like to highlight are The Toy Wife, with a wrenching performance by Louise Rainer, and Prestige, a raw white-man's burden pic.  

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Douglas is a fine actor, but that  mustache he always sported dates him as a man of the 1940's, when it seemed as if every other actor often had that same "look". (Don Ameche, Robert Taylor, etc.)  Alice Roosevelt Longworth once described the presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey as "the little man on the wedding cake", and that's the image I'll always have of Melvyn Douglas in his prime.

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Like many others, he moved into television, though not series work, mostly TV movies.

 

Actually,  in 1953 Douglas did star in a TV series called Steve Randall aka Hollywood Off Beat, as "a disbarred lawyer who had turned private eye in an attempt to regain his right to practice law".

 

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I recall Halliwell describing it along the lines of "routine, and wasting an excellent lead".

 

The Internet Archive has one episode (apparently the series finale):

https://archive.org/details/Steve_Randall_13

[Also has commercials for Esso and Heinz ketchup. I'm pretty sure the waiter in the latter is voiced by Mel Blanc.]

 

I just watched it. Douglas, who even in his youth came across as middle aged to me, seems a little long in the tooth for all this Philip Marlowe business. With his talent and stature he tends to overwhelm the modest C-movie going on around him. You get a weird vibe from seeing him in these low budget surroundings, as if Ronald Colman turned up in a Bowery Boys movie.

 

Curiously, although set in Hollywood this was filmed in a New York studio (Long Island City). That couldn't have been very common.

 

The executive producer was Marion Parsonnet, who wrote Gilda. And FWIW Marion was a man, which I did not know until a few moments ago. Apparently neither did the aforementioned Leslie Halliwell, who once referred to "Miss Parsonnet" when writing about Gilda.

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I am looking forward to THE TOY WIFE, which I've never seen before. 

 

THE OLD DARK HOUSE will air in October on TCM.

 

Douglas earned all the important acting awards-- two Oscars, a Tony, and an Emmy.

But both of his Oscars were supporting, roles in which he found a definite niche when he was too old to be a leading man. Most of his leading man roles were in films in which other actors were first choices for the roles.

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It's great to know The Old Dark House will be shown next month!

 

I'm not sure if it's slipped into the Public Domain or not, but the 1932 version of The Old Dark House has been available on youtube for a while.

 

Douglas is really wonderful in it- a very wry, fun-to-watch and fully invested performance from him, just as he is in the really inferior The Vampire Bat with Lionel Atwill from around the same time.

 

Charles Laughton is also good in ...Dark House, both he and Douglass could easily have felt they were "above" such material and given an openly disdainful, second rate performance (like their costar Ray Massey), but they don't and everyone wins for it (well, except Massey.)

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 A couple of films I'd like to highlight are The Toy Wife, with a wrenching performance by Louise Rainer....  

 

What performance by Luise Rainer isn't wrenching?

( in that it always makes me want to wrench my TV off the wall and throw it out the window.)

 

Seriously though, great post and thanks for starting the thread. Agree with everything you write about Douglas 100%.

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But both of his Oscars were supporting, roles in which he found a definite niche when he was too old to be a leading man. Most of his leading man roles were in films in which other actors were first choices for the roles.

Wow. Sounds like someone is not a fan. I have never heard of complaining about the fact that someone has two Oscars, making it sound like the actor was not good enough. As far as I'm concerned there is no 'but' about it. He was recognized by his peers for his outstanding contributions to the profession. Audiences enjoyed his performances. That is my definition of successful, regardless of how many lead roles he had or the circumstances of his casting. 

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Wow. Sounds like someone is not a fan. I have never heard of complaining about the fact that someone has two Oscars, making it sound like the actor was not good enough. As far as I'm concerned there is no 'but' about it. He was recognized by his peers for his outstanding contributions to the profession. Audiences enjoyed his performances. That is my definition of successful, regardless of how many lead roles he had or the circumstances of his casting. 

 

I didn't view the comment as a complaint,  just a fact.     I'm a fan of Douglas but MGM didn't consider him in the same league as their other male stars like Gable, or even Robert Taylor.    He was a solid actor but the studio didn't build films around him.

 

Of course he was successful and I don't see where anyone at this forum say he wasn't.   Oh, and there are always BUTS about anyone.    To me, a  comment like 'no but' is designed to cut off discussion.   People should feel free to BUT in with their BUTS.

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Maybe the best way to explain Melvyn Douglas' career is that he was good enough to make the team but not quite good enough to break into the starting lineup, ie ,  be the leading man.  In sports you have very talented players who spend a lot of time on the bench (or play in utility, substitute roles) because the other guy is a super star type player. When Douglas gets the opportunity to "play" he shows he's very capable of a fine performance.

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Maybe the best way to explain Melvyn Douglas' career is that he was good enough to make the team but not quite good enough to break into the starting lineup, ie ,  be the leading man.  In sports you have very talented players who spend a lot of time on the bench (or play in utility, substitute roles) because the other guy is a super star type player. When Douglas gets the opportunity to "play" he shows he's very capable of a fine performance.

 

Like the discussion on the impact Bette Davis had on other actresses while she was at Warner Brothers,   a studio can only have so many major stars.    It doesn't mean that so called secondary stars were not as talented (often they were more talented),  but that producers in charge of 'A' list productions were going to cast the major stars over the secondary ones.

 

But Douglas did have many leading roles,  but as someone already noted,  often he was a secondary male lead  (still a leading male character but not THE leading male character). 

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Actually,  in 1953 Douglas did star in a TV series called Steve Randall aka Hollywood Off Beat, as "a disbarred lawyer who had turned private eye in an attempt to regain his right to practice law".

 

Which comprised about the whole of his series work.  I should have made it clearer in my original post that he did little series work.  Too bad, I would have liked to see him guest on Columbo as the murderer.

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I would have liked to see him guest on Columbo as the murderer.

 

Douglas did a great guest shot on one of the best Fugitive episodes, "The 2130". He plays a computer programmer trying to help capture Kimble by predicting his future movements through his past behavior pattern -- but while doing so he becomes convinced Kimble is innocent, and has to prove it to skeptical Lt. Girard...

 

It's a solid variation on the man vs. machine theme that the increasing presence of computers was making popular, and of course has a great performance from MD. It's one of my favorite Fugitive episodes and holds up quite well -- if you can get past the fact that this intimidating electronic brain has all the computing power of a 1970s pocket calculator.

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I don't know what all this talk about him not a leading man originated. There are plenty of films where he is the love interest/leading man. Ninotchka, Theodora Goes Wild. A Woman's Face, That Uncertain Feeling. That's just four off the top of my head. He may not have been THE main leading man at whatever studio he worked, but in the 30's & 40's he worked with all the top female stars.

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I don't know what all this talk about him not a leading man originated. There are plenty of films where he is the love interest/leading man. Ninotchka, Theodora Goes Wild. A Woman's Face, That Uncertain Feeling. That's just four off the top of my head. He may not have been THE main leading man at whatever studio he worked, but in the 30's & 40's he worked with all the top female stars.

 

This may not be the right way to put it, but Douglas never really feels like the leading man, so much as he feels like the leading prop for the leading ladies, and in many cases an almost interchangeable one at that.  Not that he's not a fine actor, it's just that his charisma factor is almost nonexistent compared to the true leading men of his day.

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Douglas never really feels like the leading man, so much as he feels like the leading prop for the leading ladies, and in many cases an almost interchangeable one at that.  Not that he's not a fine actor, it's just that his charisma factor is almost nonexistent compared to the true leading men of his day.

 

Douglas isn't Gable or Cagney, but he isn't George Brent either. He has great talent and even screen presence, but lacks that special element of danger/sex appeal (is there a word in English for this quality?) that will draw attention away from the leading lady.

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I don't know if I could be classified as a "Douglas Fan".  But I don't know why not.  I've certainly always LIKED him and the characters he played.  I also happen to think  his BEST performances came LATER in life.  HUD, BILLY BUDD, I NEVER SANG FOR MY FATHER, THE SEDUCTION OF JOE TYNEN,  GHOST STORY,  BEING THERE.

 

Say,  didn't he once test for the part of ASHLEIGH WILKES for GWTW, or was he just standing in when some ACTESS was testing?   

 

Funny thing, but when I was MUCH younger, I used to get him and FREDERICK MARCH confused.

 

Sepiatone

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Wow. Sounds like someone is not a fan. I have never heard of complaining about the fact that someone has two Oscars, making it sound like the actor was not good enough. As far as I'm concerned there is no 'but' about it. He was recognized by his peers for his outstanding contributions to the profession. Audiences enjoyed his performances. That is my definition of successful, regardless of how many lead roles he had or the circumstances of his casting. 

I didn't say I wasn't a fan. On rereading my post, my wording could have been better.

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I didn't view the comment as a complaint,  just a fact.     I'm a fan of Douglas but MGM didn't consider him in the same league as their other male stars like Gable, or even Robert Taylor.    He was a solid actor but the studio didn't build films around him.

 

Of course he was successful and I don't see where anyone at this forum say he wasn't.   Oh, and there are always BUTS about anyone.    To me, a  comment like 'no but' is designed to cut off discussion.   People should feel free to BUT in with their BUTS.

Douglas didn't have the sex appeal to compete with the top male stars like Gable, Cooper, etc........When I think of Douglas, I think of Richard Nixon, because Nixon first made a name for himself by calling Douglas' wife, Helen Gahagan, the "Pink Lady"(because of alleged Communist connections), when he ran against her in the California senatorial race.

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AndyM108, on 05 Sept 2014 - 08:29 AM, said:snapback.png

 

Douglas never really feels like the leading man, so much as he feels like the leading prop for the leading ladies, and in many cases an almost interchangeable one at that.  Not that he's not a fine actor, it's just that his charisma factor is almost nonexistent compared to the true leading men of his day.

 

Douglas isn't Gable or Cagney, but he isn't George Brent either. He has great talent and even screen presence, but lacks that special element of danger/sex appeal (is there a word in English for this quality?) that will draw attention away from the leading lady.

 

I think that this may be the word you're looking for:

 

KramerKavorka.jpg

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Say,  didn't he once test for the part of ASHLEIGH WILKES for GWTW, or was he just standing in when some ACTrESS was testing?   

 

Funny thing, but when I was MUCH younger, I used to get him and FREDERICK MARCH confused.

 

Sepiatone

 

He tested for Ashley opposite a very young Lana Turner- in waaaaay over her head reading as Scarlett- in a scene set after the war when they are both living at, and trying to maintain, Tara. The black and white footage exists and can be seen on Youtube. Neither one is right at all for the roles they are testing for (not a hint of southern accent from either), and I think it was Selznick who- in a memo- claimed Douglas was "too beefy" for the part.

 

ps- it's Fredric March. Weird spelling, I know.

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