Tag Archives: smart talking gal

Smart Talking Gal #4: Susan Hayward

Susan Hayward

One of my favorite of all the smart talking gals is that lady with the baby face, biting talk, and magnificent mane of auburn hair, Susan Hayward.  Hayward started out specializing in types meaner and more inventively spiteful than a pack of Heathers:  Sis Hopkins, Adam Had Four Sons, And Now Tomorrow, I Married a Witch, and Forest Rangers.  She persecuted the dickens out of Judy Cannova, Ingrid Bergman, Loretta Young, Veronica Lake (the real witch), and Paulette Goddard.  Yet she had something that almost made you root for her.  Actually, many of us probably were rooting for her in Forest Ranger, where she set out to fix Paulette’s wagon after the latter unknowingly stole boyfriend and big dope Fred MacMurray.  More than one critic found unbelievable the feisty Susan wimping out in the midst of fire so Paulette could prove herself by saving her.
Filmmakers came to see that spark of something special in Hayward, upgrading her to roles where she might connive but still definitely win our admiration for her smarts and heart.  That snappy wordplay, that piercing insight into the heart of things, that defiant glare and tilt of her auburn-crowned head were combined with tenderness and integrity that had to be earned.  The men impelled to this Susan aren’t allured by a femme fatale but drawn by her strength, clear sight, and straight talk.  In They Won’t Believe Me, she snares philanderer Robert Young, but insists on a commitment to match her own .  Deadline at Dawn shows her tossing off cracks as a dancehall girl blowing away creeps, outfoxing a deceptive dame, and going toe-to-toe with gangsters. Still she ends up helping a näive sailor on leave who’s gotten himself caught in a murder frame.  She may dismiss him as “only a baby,” but she sticks around to show him the ropes and clear his name.  Then, Robert Montgomery in The Saxon Charm finds her too much for his slick, con artist charm when she coolly stands up to him and calls out his phoniness for her writer husband.
Three Hayward films that especially show that tough and smart look good on a gal are House of Strangers (1949), Rawhide (1950), and Top Secret Affair (1957).  In the first film, Hayward may initially seem to be your typical vamp, sporting slinky sequins and silks, lush red tresses, and clever with her cracks, especially when she temps tough-guy lawyer Richard Conte away from his Italian banking family and docile fiancée.  However, she’s the best thing that ever happened to him, getting him away from a family that has always been a hotbed of resentments and manipulations. When Conte goes to prison for trying to bribe a juror to save the father he’s defending for fraud, the fiancée promptly ditches him for one of his brothers.  Completely blind to having brought on his fall through oppression and disrespect of his other sons, the father (Edward G. Robinson), feeds the imprisoned Conte a steady diet of hatred and vengence in letters.  Our Susan sees right through things and marches straight past the portals of the father’s hollow mansion, to give Edward G. Robinson hell for destroying that son.  Finally, it’s her tough love that inspires Conte to leave behind his self-devouring family.  In fact, she’s independent enough to follow through on her promise to leave for good – his choice whether to wise up and join her.  One of my favorite of her lines comes early in their relationship. Conte tries to keep her in her place by bragging he’s too much for her to handle. Defiantly she retorts,  “Nothing hurts me.  That’s one of my complications.”
Rawhide is an especial favorite of mine.  In the mid-1800s, Susan is traveling cross- country by stage, on her own, with her toddler niece.  When at one stop she’s told a recent jailbreak makes it too dangerous for a woman to be allowed to go on with the stage, she not only refuses to disembark, but it takes two guys (including Tyrone Power) to get her off that stage.  Our Red is some determined woman.  Later, she insists on taking Powers’ gun with her when she goes for a bath in a hot spring.  He snidely comments, “What are you afraid of, coyotes?” and she shuts him up with, “Yeah, the ones with boots on.”  He tries to imply she’s a weak little lady by challenging if she knows how to use a gun, and our smart talkin’ gal of the West puts the man in his place with cool understatement, “I’ve seen them around.” Susan’s stay gets tougher as the jail breakers take over the waystation, but she is undaunted.  One guy tries to rough her up, and she smacks him good. After the jail breakers shoot Powers’ partner when he tries to escape, she sneers at the leader, “We won’t run away.  We’d hate to get shot in the back.”  She stays cool and strong and smart throughout, taking over from Power in secretly digging a hole in the adobe of the room where they’re being held prisoner. When the knife accidentally flies outside, she grabs the baby and pretends she has to take the kid outside to “do her business.”  That also inspires one of her smart cracks.  To her, “Got to take the baby out,” Zimmerman, the leader growls, “Where?”  She growls right back, “Where do you think?” Best of all, our smart talkin’ gal proves she’s smart actin’ at the end, as she reveals what she meant by “having seen guns around.”  Power is helpless under the gun of lowlife Jack Elam, so she manages to by grab a rifle and plug Elam, saving the day.
Top Secret Affair comes later, in 1957, and there is some talk from Hayward’s Dottie Peele about always wanting to meet a guy she could respect, marry, and have a family with.  Still, the only guy who can go toe to toe with her is Kirk Douglas’s general.  As the top of a media conglomerate that drives public opinion, but mostly for the better (no female Rupert Murdoch, she!), Susan gives us a smart, strong, articulate woman.  A newsreel featuring the general leaves her unimpressed with military propaganda, as she dismisses him with, “Look at him apple polishing the President (FDR).  I bet he voted for Wilkie.” Or “Bang, bang.  Like a kid with a space gun.”  The oversized image of his face doesn’t cowe her as the army might intend, as she instead dismisses him with, “Get back in your tank, turtlehead.”  The director gives us an intriguing cut to emphasize that Dottie Peele is no weak woman to be cowed by military might.  Right after General Goodwin tells his adjutant, “There’s only two kinds of women in this world: mothers and the other kind,” we cut to Dottie saying, “There’s only two kinds of men in this world – and I can handle both of them.”  Of course, the two end up together, but not before they have to plow through misunderstandings and reconciliations, the latter from mutual respect rather than deceit or submission.  Some remarks from Dottie let us know that even if she retires from media in marriage, she’ll not retire from speaking her mind and maybe a plunge into politics, though perhaps indirectly.

All the way to 1972, and our red-haired dynamo is still taking charge with wit, integrity, and insight.  In Heat of Anger, Hayward plays lawyer Jessie Fitzgerald, “the Portia of the Pacific.”  An established defense lawyer who’s not afraid to partner with rebel lawyer James Stacey for defending cantankerous Lee. J, Cobb, Susan is still on her toes, zipping around in her sports car and working the system with verve and smarts.  When the prosecutor attempts to cowe her with a sarcastic, “Your integrity overwhelms me,” she shuts him up with, “Well, I’ll embroider that on a pillow in needlepoint.” Partner Stacey tries to call her on snowing a jury into freeing a murderer, and she sets him straight:  “You win with the best case.  Juries decide.”  If Jessie raises an objection in court, it sticks. If the prosecutor tries to spring newly discovered information about her client in court, she turns it into evidence that could win jury sympathy and respect with, “No more coddling. Straight to the nerve.”  She even beats James Stacey at pool, as well as presses him to come out with what he hates about the client so that he finally gets on board with her.  And you better believe that client Lee J. Cobb, as much as he lumbers over her and snarls his anger, backs down under her steady and determined personality.  Yep, our auburn-haired whirlwind still had it!

Maybe the quip that best sums up Susan Hayward’s smart gal screen personae comes in one of her earlier films, Tulsa (1949).  Her character, Cherokee Lansing, becomes partners in wildcat oil drilling with Robert Preston.  When he calls her by her Native American name, Seenotawnee, her friend Jim Redbird replies, “In Cherokee, it means redhead.”  She correct Jim and says to Preston, “But to you, Mr. Brady, it means boss!”  This smart talkin’ red head will always be boss with us!

 

 

Color Image cover art for Alpha Video (2003)Tulsa
Black and white photographs of Susan Hayward from The Films of Susan hayward (Eduardo Moreno, Citadel Press, 2009)
Screen Shots from the following films:  Top Secret Affair (Warner Brothers, 1985, 2009) and Heat of Anger (Quality Video, DSSP, Inc, 2002)

 

Tell Me Another

I suppose I had thought that a person accumulated her experiences over the years and then, when retirement afforded her the leisure to go through her diaries, miscellaneous writings, and correspondence, she would have all that she needed to write her memoirs. I, that is, not she. All those boxes of papers I haven’t organized going back to the year dot, they could all wait until I had the time to go through them. Once I had the time, I had supposed, the floodgates of memory would simply open, and all the flotsam and jetsam of life would more-or-less fall into place. I realize now that I was counting on it. But as it turns out, events are conspiring to present a wholly different picture. 

For one thing, my mind seems to have gone completely blank. After all, over twelve-plus years Tell Me Another has accumulated more than…

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Smart-Talking Gals Two: Lucille Ball

Blog 12: Smart Talking Gals Two

 

Publicdomain LucyLucille Ball

Before Lucy became the daffy redhead of I Love Lucy fame in the ’50s, she was a sharp as a fox smart-talking gal in the late ’30s and ’40s. She had more than a few roles as a no-nonsense, sharp-witted, tart-tongued redhead, but the three that stand out the most for me came in the late 1940s: Easy Living (1949), Two Smart People (1946), and The Dark Corner (1946).

In Easy Living, Lucy’s Anne Lenehan is secretary to a football team owner/manager, played by Lloyd Nolan –– and she has it bad for good-guy-with-problems and star player, Victor Mature. But this gal in no moony pushover. She talks tough and keeps her guard up, deftly deflating Mature’s celebrity by dryly calling him “Miraculous” and warning him when a team mate gets cut, “You ride the gray train, too. Don’t wait until they shove you off.”

Why is she so acerbic? Another player comments sympathetically to Mature, “She was married to a heel” –– whom we later find out ran around on her and was so bad that even his pop, Lloyd Nolan, condemns him as, “No good.”

There’s a neat little scene in Mature’s train compartment that shows Ball at her fast-talking best, just letting her integrity shine through tiny cracks in her cynicism. Mature asks what she’s doing in there, and she quips, “Just for a change of pace, I want to be with someone who doesn’t like me.” When Mature turns that into a crack about her having dated most everyone else on the team, she sets him straight with a little anecdote about her being the subject of a story on “The New York Girl,” that ends with telling her date she had “a lovely evening” and “kissing him good night.” Then she lets him know how she feels, but that she’s no pushover, by kissing him before saying, she’s had a lovely evening and then leaving.

So, what’s really keeping then apart? His wife, whom he loves –– the dope! This time out, it’s the wife who’s greedy, superficial, and a two-timer, EasyLivingselling herself to a wealthy older man to get a boost for her decorating business. Now it’s the other woman who’s the loyal, sharp, wise one –– and Vic’s too much of melon-head to catch on. He almost does, but then decides to literally “slap some sense” into his wife –– leaving us relieved that Lucy’s Anne dodged that bullet, even if not everyone in 1949 figured that one out. You never know, though.

In Two Smart People, Ball plays Ricki Woodner, master con artist, who matches wits right off the bat with another primo scammer, Ace Connor (John Hodiak). Right at the picture’s start, they have a clever little exchange about ortolans (look it up or watch the movie!) and plums, before they each Lucy15proceed to masterfully undo the other’s plot to take the same pigeon. Ricki follows Ace onto a train he’s taking for a roundabout gourmet lover’s trip back to New York where he’s cut a deal to take the rap for some bonds he stole, without actually having to return the $500,000 they’re worth. Ball’s character starts off with a plan to get even with Connor for scotching her swindle, but the two end up falling in love, without either getting too soft. When Ace cracks that she’s going soft, Ricki knowingly comments, “Pretty sure you can walk away from this? You might change, too.”Lucy17a In the end, Ricki outfoxes Elisha Cooke’s crooked hood, who’s been on their trail and tried to get her to help him cheat Connor. Lloyd Nolan (again!) is along for the ride, literally, as the detective bringing in Connor, but joining him in making the trip back one last fling before the con artist has to take on five years in the pokey, all while trying to dope out where Ace has hidden the bonds. Both guys have way too much class to even think of taking a poke at Ricki –– and if you see her in action, you’ll figure they made a smart choice.

The last movie, The Dark Corner, is probably one of the best parts for Lucille Ball –– and she gets top billing! Once again, Ball is an all-knowing secretary, deftly demonstrating her wit, loyalty, and authority by parrying the intrusive questioning about her P.I. boss from a police detective with, “I don’t know anything you couldn’t find out by asking Mr. Galt.” Lucy2When the detective pushes his luck, she shuts him down with, “I sharpen pencils, do the typing, answer the phones, and mind my own business.”

 

 

Her earlier comment to the policeman about her boss, “I like him,” tips her hand that she might be sweet on him. Lucy However, when she tells Galt to put his detecting skills to work and find her a pair of nylons, her flirting is sharp and sexy; she’s nobody’s pushover and he’s got to impress her. Galt takes her out to dinner and then the arcade, and after a successful run in the batting cage, she quips, “What else can I beat you at?” when he tries to put the moves on her, she cracks, “I know when you’re pitching a curve at me.” Galt humorously defends himself with saying that you can’t blame a guy for trying “to score,” and she cracks back, honesty and authority wrapped in wit, “‘I don’t play for a score; I play for keeps,’ said she with a smile.” Lucy4aKathleen gives him an equally clever check at the end of another date, when she stops him at the door and he “innocently” asks if he can’t even come up “for a drink of water.” Without skipping a beat, she smiles dryly, “Pitching low and outside.” She’s not turning him down out of virginal innocence or prudery; she knows she’s worth more than just a toss in the hay. No one’s going to take advantage of her. Galt’s grin and goodbye show he enjoys and respects her street smarts, humor, and independence.

And Kathleen shows herself a valuable ally in practical ways. She doesn’t lose her nerve following Lucy7a thug type (William Bendix!), cleaning up a crime scene for a murder’s frame job of Galt, tracking down clues, stalling the cops, and figuring out the real genius behind the murders. Lucy8aSo, when Kathleen tells Galt, “C’mon, open up the steel safe. I want to know. I want to help,” he knows she’s going to see him through his troubles with the cops, a former crooked partner who’d sent him inside on a bum rap, and a murder frame. He knows that she has the insight, the smarts, and the guts to be as good as her word. He’s got a primo smart-talking gal in his corner.

Lucy13a

Images from The Dark Corner and Easy Living @1949 and 1946, respectively, RKO Picture; images from Two Smart People @ 1946  MGM.  Color image of Lucille Ball from Google Public Domain Images of Lucille Ball.