This week’s mystery movie was the 1961 Warner Bros. film “Susan Slade,” with Troy Donahue, Connie Stevens, Lloyd Nolan, Dorothy McGuire, Brian Aherne, Grant Williams, Natalie Schafer, Kent Smith, Bert Convy and Guy Wilkerson. Color by Technicolor.
This was Williams’ first feature film for WB. And yes, Donahue, Stevens and Williams were all in the hit WB TV series “Hawaiian Eye,” though Donahue is more associated with another WB TV series, “Surfside 6.”
Photography by Lucien Ballard, art direction by Leo K. Kuter, editing by William Ziegler, sound by Stanley Jones, set decoration by William L. Kuehl, costumes by Howard Shoup, dialogue supervision Bert Steiner, orchestrations by Murray Cutter, makeup by Gordon Bau, hairstyles by Jean Burt Reilly. Assistant director Russell Llewellyn. Music by Max Steiner. From the novel by Doris Hume, written for the screen and directed by Delmer Daves.
“Susan Slade” is available on DVD from Warner Archive.
I picked 1961 at random as a change from the recent string of films noir and mysteries. From there I decided on “Susan Slade.” Although it may seem that I have an unintentional Lloyd Nolan theme going on, I really chose “Susan Slade” because of John A. Alonzo, the marvelous cinematographer of “Chinatown,” “Farewell, My Lovely” and “Harold and Maude.” In previewing a showing of “Chinatown” back in the 1970s at the University of Arizona’s Gallagher Theater (RIP), Alonzo said that he got into photography because he was an actor and was enlisted to take headshots of his fellow actors. Note: The old Gallagher Theater was demolished in renovating the UA Student Union and the little AV room they’re calling the Gallagher Theater is nothing in comparison to the old one. I would say the UA should be ashamed, but any institution that paid a consultant to rebrand it as UArizona obviously has no shame.
“Susan Slade” is a very soapy movie about a young, innocent woman (Connie Stevens) who lives in the remote Chilean desert (where there are presumably no men around, at least no eligible ones) with her mining engineer father (Lloyd Nolan) and mother (Dorothy McGuire) who has apparently never warned her daughter about unseemly overtures from rakish adventurers while on a cruise liner. En route back to the Monterey Peninsula, the daughter encounters the rakish adventurer (Grant Williams) and their shipboard activities progress from shuffleboard to alcohol and unprotected sex.
Being a good, soapy movie, the rakish adventurer is soon knocked off in a mountaineering accident (who saw that coming?) while our innocent young woman has her baby, under the pretense that the child is her sister. Enter two attractive young men: The handsome but dull rich kid (Bert Convy) and the handsome son of a supposedly thieving accountant (Troy Donahue). Which one will she pick?
Ps. You might think a movie like this would have some sort of message about the dangers of premarital sex or unprotected sex, but since this is 1961, the movie’s real warning is to not let young children play with cigarette lighters, especially while the innocent young woman and her true love are having an intense conversation about love.
Writing in the New York Times (Nov. 11, 1961), Bosley Crowther predictably did not approve of such goings-on:
If you want to see what the words corny and cliche-ridden mean when prudently put to a motion picture, you might muster your mental fortitude, grit your teeth, don a pair of dark glasses and take a fast look at “Susan Slade.”
Of course it will have to be a long look if you try to sit through the whole thing, which went on yesterday at the Warner and the Trans-Lux Eighty-Fifth. For it runs just four minutes shy of two hours, a characteristic length for one of these soap-sudsy dramas that has practically nothing to say. You don’t really have to stick with it that long to get the message and the pitch.
…. We stuck with it out of morbid fascination, and can assure you it concludes with a cliche. Delmer Daves, who wrote the screenplay and directed (from a novel by Doris Hume) doesn’t toss one real, live, honest thing into it. It is all just one big, soft colored blob.
It is fashionable these days to hate-read Bosley Crowther’s reviews and he does get them wrong sometimes, as all critics will. But he’s right on the money about this one.
No, kid, don’t do it….
And no, they didn’t even try to make it look real.
For Monday, we have a rarity – a mystery baby – and incredibly enough, he does not approve of such goings-on.
Update: This is David L. Davis.
For Tuesday, we have a mysterious man in a hard hat. And Back of the Head Guy, who will appear Friday.
Here’s a slightly better look at Tuesday’s mysterious gent.
Update: This is John A. Alonzo with Lloyd Nolan as BOTHG.
Brain Trust roll call: Jenny M. (mystery movie, mystery baby and mystery person cropped out of the image).
For Wednesday, we have a mysterious gent.
Update: This is Grant Williams gazing soulfully at Connie Stevens.
Brain Trust roll call: Jenny M. (Tuesday’s mysterious gent and BOTHG) and Benito (mystery movie, Monday’s mystery baby and BOTHG).
For “Aha Thursday,” Monday’s mystery baby has a not terribly mysterious companion.
Update: This Natalie Schafer and David L. Davis with Dorothy McGuire rummaging around in the car for a tactical bag of baby gear.
We also have this non-mysterious gent. His companions have been cropped out due to insufficient mysteriousness. They will appear Friday.
Update: This is Bert Convy as the rich but dull Wells Corbett.
And finally, we have this unmysterious doctor. Back Of The Head Woman will appear Friday.
Update: This is Kent Smith delivering the news that a certain baby, though badly burned, will recover.
Brain Trust roll call: Howard Mandelbaum (mystery movie and all mystery guests), Sheila (Wednesday’s mystery guest) and Jenny M. (Wednesday’s mystery guest).
For Friday, our non-mysterious guests are in this situation….
Update: Grant Williams and Connie Stevens.
… followed by this situation….
Update: Connie Stevens and David L. Davis.
This unmysterious guest does not approve of such goings-on.
Update: This is Lloyd Nolan.
And this non-mysterious guest is not too keen on such goings-on.
Update: This is Dorothy McGuire.
And finally, we have this unmysterious guest.
Update: Troy Donahue.
Brain Trust roll call: Tucson Barbara (mystery movie and all mystery guests), Mary Mallory (mystery movie and all mystery guests), Howard Mandelbaum (Thursday’s mystery guests), David Inman (Thursday’s mystery guests), B.J. Merholz (mystery movie), Jenny M. (Thursday’s mystery guests), Sarah (mystery movie), Sylvia E. (mystery movie and all mystery guests), Anne Papineau (mystery movie and Thursday’s mystery guests), Sue Slutzky (mystery movie and all mystery guests), Thom and Megan (mystery movie and all mystery guests) and L.C. (mystery movie and mystery cast).