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Teaming up for the only time in their film careers, Ava Gardner and Robert Mitchum made a formidable screen duo in 1951's steamy Southern melodrama My Forbidden Past.
Gardner is Barbara Beaurevel, a poor New Orleans beauty, circa 1890, who inherits a fortune from her grandmother. But the family's money may have been earned by less-than-reputable means, which could spell disaster for the newly-respectable Barbara. Amid opulent sets and lavish costumes, Gardner's Barbara is determined to use the new funds to win the love of married man Dr. Mark Lucas (Mitchum). Helping in the break-up scheme is her cad cousin Paul (Melvyn Douglas), who's been told to woo the doctor's wife. But when the wife (Janis Carter) dies, Dr. Lucas is accused of murder. Barbara comes forward at the last minute to clear his name, at the cost of revealing her sordid family background to the town.
The role of Barbara was originally slated for Ann Sheridan, but RKO mogul Howard Hughes decided against Sheridan as a femme fatale in the movie, and borrowed the sultry and beautiful Gardner from MGM for the vixen role. A lawsuit against Hughes and the studio followed, but Sheridan later settled out of court and was given a part in RKO's Appointment in Honduras in 1953.
My Forbidden Past was a test of the public's acceptance of Mitchum's own recent past: the actor had been jailed briefly on marijuana charges in 1949. Studio chiefs and theater owners were anxious about how Mitchum would be received by fans, but they shouldn't have worried. The prison stint seemed to accentuate Mitchum's bad-boy persona, and swooning and screaming women greeted the actor at his appearances to promote the movie. "While Ava Gardner is receiving a wonderful reception, all bedlam breaks loose when Mitchum appears on stage. He had to take five encores at the first show," one theater manager wrote to Hughes.
Although gossip columnists had hoped to report that Mitchum and Gardner had a torrid affair on the set of My Forbidden Past, they had to settle for Mitchum and Gardner confessing that they were only good friends. Mitchum jokingly called her "Honest Ave -- because she doesn't have to pad her bust," and she confessed to an attraction to the Oscar®-nominated actor in her 1990 autobiography Ava: My Story, stating, "Let me make a frank admission: if I could have gotten him into bed, I would have. I think that every girl who ever worked with Bob fell in love with him, and I was no exception." A more recent biography, Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don't Care by Lee Server, however, states that Mitchum and Gardner did indeed have an intense sexual affair. "Mitchum would tell friends that Ava got serious fast. She told him they should go away together; he should leave his family and keep house with her. He told her she'd have to ask Dorothy [his wife] about that. And she claimed that she did. Ava said she phoned the house, said, 'You've had him for ten years. Give somebody else a chance. ' 'What does Bob say? ' 'He said to ask you. ' 'Okay, so you asked me. The answer is no. ' "
Producer: Polan Banks, Sid Rogell, Robert Sparks
Director: Robert Stevenson
Screenplay: Leopold Atlas, Marion Parsonnet, Polan Banks (novel)
Cinematography: Harry J. Wild
Film Editing: George Shrader
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Alfred Herman
Music: Frederick Hollander
Cast: Robert Mitchum (Dr. Mark Lucas), Ava Gardner (Barbara Beaurevel), Melvyn Douglas (Paul Beaurevel), Lucile Watson (Aunt Eula), Janis Carter (Corinne Lucas), Gordon Oliver (Clay Duchesne).
BW-71m. Closed captioning.
by Amy Cox