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RKO Studios were in a corporate crisis in 1953 when they cast Robert Mitchum, Linda Darnell and Jack Palance in Second Chance, a tense, Latin American-set thriller. The studio had been out of action for several months because of owner Howard Hughes' attempt to sell it, only to discover the buyers had links to organized crime. That uncertainty had shut the place down for months, so when Hughes took it back, at a profit, he needed something spectacular to put them back on the map. He found the answer in this tale of a boxer on the skids (Mitchum) who hooks up with runaway gun moll Darnell south of the border, prompting the unwanted attentions of mob hit man Palance. The whole thing ends up on a cable car about to plunge into a deep mountain chasm, and to give the final scene some extra punch Hughes decided to film the picture in 3D, a gimmick recently developed in desperate hopes of luring television viewers back into movie theaters.
Hughes also hoped to take advantage of Darnell's impressive figure by shooting her in 3D. The beautiful star had always fascinated the tycoon. According to legend, he even had offered to buy her from one of her husbands, cinematographer Peverell Marley. They had dated off and on, so when Darnell left her original home studio, 20th Century-Fox, Hughes tried to put her into films at his own RKO. Darnell had put on weight since leaving Fox, however, and refused to wear the form-fitting gowns Hughes had picked for her. Instead, the glamorous star spent most of the film in a conservative suit.
When Mitchum got his first look at the script, he was convinced that 3D was the picture's only selling point. In fact, he complained so much about the nonsensical plot the studio brought in another writer to punch it up -- former newspaperman Sydney Boehm, who would score a hit that year with The Big Heat. The studio also had to contend with re-write demands from the Mexican government, who would not allow them to film on location unless they deleted references to the Latin women as "tamales" and Mitchum's line "Latin American men beat their women once a week regularly, and if they did not the women would miss the beatings."
Shooting in Mexico hardly proved an advantage. After weeks of shooting in Taxco, the company only had a few overhead shots of Mitchum and Darnell racing through the city's streets. An open-air boxing sequence shot in Cuernavaca produced other problems. The set was so hot that Mitchum, who had experience as a boxer, had trouble looking like the match's winner. He kept sagging from the heat. And the local extras looked into the camera so much director Rudolph Mate eventually had to re-shoot the entire thing when the company returned to Hollywood.
At least the Mexican shoot produced the kind of bad publicity that Mitchum's fans doted on. The studio had arranged for Mitchum and Palance to participate in a charity event to raise money for the Mexican chapter of Boys Town. Mitchum's on-stage appearance to present them with a $5,000 donation was marred by some rowdy American students. When one of the students got in the star's face, Mitchum decked him. The PR people rushed both actors to a nearby nightclub, where another fight broke out -- this time with a drunken general who had gotten a little too familiar with Palance. When gunshots broke out, Mitchum got his and Palance's wives out to the limos, while Palance covered him by throwing a table at the shooters.
Mitchum and Palance got into a fight of their own once they were back in Hollywood. During their climactic battle on the doomed cable car Palance, who liked to psych himself up before his scenes, got carried away with the action and hit Mitchum in the head. The star retaliated by delivering a hard punch to Palance's stomach, and the screen villain promptly puked all over the star.
With so much chaos and mismanagement, Second Chance naturally wound up a success. Not only did it do well at the box office -- Mitchum always credited his fans, or as he called them, "the great unwashed" -- but it won respectable reviews, particularly for the final suspense sequence. The only major complaints were about the 3D process, with which critics and audiences were already tiring. Nonetheless, it was not one of Mitchum's favorite experiences (feelings he had no trouble sharing with gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, much to the studio executives' dismay). It would prove to be the last film he made at RKO. One previously completed picture would be released later, and he would finish out his ten-year contract with the studio with loan-outs before turning down a supporting role in Cattle Queen of Montana (1954).
Producer: Sam Wiesenthal
Director: Rudolph Mate
Screenplay: Oscar Millard, Sydney Boehm, D.M. Marshman, Jr.
Based on a story by Marshman
Cinematography: William E. Snyder
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Carroll Clark
Music: Roy Webb
Principal Cast: Robert Mitchum (Russ Lambert), Linda Darnell (Clare Shepard), Jack Palance (Cappy Gordon), Sandro Giglio (Cable Car Conductor), Rodolfo Hoyos, Jr. (Vasco), Reginald Sheffield (Mr. Woburn), Margaret Brewster (Mrs. Woburn), Roy Roberts (Charley Malloy), Dan Seymour (Felipe), Fortunio Bonanova (Hotel Manager), Milburn Stone (Edward Dawson).
BW-83m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller