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She Couldn't Say No (1954) was Howard Hughes' failed attempt to revive RKO's glory days of screwball comedy, when the studio made such classics as Bringing Up Baby (1938) and My Favorite Wife (1940). Although She Couldn't Say No never reaches the comedic heights of those films, the charm and chemistry of stars Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons, and the support of such veteran character actors as Edgar Buchanan and Arthur Hunnicutt, liven up an uninspired script. Simmons plays a rich young woman who returns to her hometown, where the locals helped save her life when she was a child. She begins lavishing money anonymously on the residents, but instead of improving their lives, her generosity causes problems. Mitchum plays the easygoing town doctor who falls for Simmons, and keeps her secret.
She Couldn't Say No was one of two RKO films Simmons and Mitchum made together. Its release also marked the end of Simmons' bizarre and complicated period under contract to the bizarre and complicated Howard Hughes. Simmons had been one of Great Britain's top stars when she left England in 1950 to join her future husband, actor Stewart Granger, who had just signed a contract with MGM. Shortly after she arrived in Hollywood, Simmons found out that Hughes had bought out her contract with Britain's J. Arthur Rank without telling her. Although her Rank contract had only six months to run, Simmons' agent told her that unless she signed a seven-year contract with Hughes, the tycoon would destroy her career by putting her in bad films. Not only that, but according to Granger's autobiography, it soon became clear that Hughes' interest in Simmons was more personal than professional. Newly married and in love with her husband, she resisted Hughes' advances. Things got so bad that at one point, a drunken Granger hatched a plot to murder Hughes. Simmons and Granger sued Hughes to limit her contract with him to three films, and for the right to make films for other studios between the RKO films.
Hughes then made Simmons' life difficult for the duration of her contract. All three films were made quickly, one after the other, in 1952. The first one with Mitchum, Angel Face (1952), gave Simmons a good role as a psychotic woman who murders her parents. But Hughes reportedly encouraged director Otto Preminger, who could be sadistic with actors, to bully Simmons throughout production, often reducing her to tears. Affair with a Stranger (1953) and She Couldn't Say No suffered from weak scripts, and the latter had a director - Lloyd Bacon - who was well past his prime.
Bacon had been working in films since 1913, and directing since 1926. He had directed some of the early Warner Brothers musicals like 42nd Street (1933) and Footlight Parade (1933). In fact, one of his early musicals was also called She Couldn't Say No (1930), although it had nothing in common with the 1954 film except the title. (That title has been used for two additional films, also with different stories.) Bacon had been one of Hollywood's most prolific and versatile studio directors, churning out 100 films of every genre, including biographies, comedies, and war films. But his later films were undistinguished. His final film, also an RKO-Hughes production, The French Line (1954), caused controversy because of star Jane Russell's revealing costumes.
Although She Couldn't Say No had been shot in 1952, Hughes tinkered with it for 16 months before releasing it. He tried out several titles, including Beautiful But Dangerous, Enough for Happiness, and She Had to Say Yes, before settling on She Couldn't Say No. When it was finally released, critics praised the stars, but most agreed with the Newsweek critic, who wrote that it "wastes the talents of two of Hollywood's finest properties." The Time critic called it "a hymn to a sexy title. It is sung in the praise of small-town life, but there are rather too many verses, and the performers do not seem to know the tune."
By the time She Couldn't Say No opened, the legal battle was over. Simmons won the case, and reportedly was awarded damages of $250,000 for the stress and aggravation Hughes had inflicted on her. She Couldn't Say No was also Mitchum's final RKO release. Both stars went on to make excellent films in the 1950s and 60s, and one more together, The Grass Is Greener (1960). By then, RKO was long gone. Hughes sold the company in the mid-1950s, and the RKO Hollywood lot became the home of Desilu, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's production company.
Director: Lloyd Bacon
Producer: Howard Hughes, Robert Sparks
Screenplay: D.D. Beauchamp, William Bowers, Richard Flournoy, based on the story "Enough for Happiness" by D.D. Beauchamp
Cinematography: Harry J. Wild
Editor: George Amy
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Carroll Clark
Music: Constantin Bakaleinikoff
Principal Cast: Robert Mitchum (Doc), Jean Simmons (Corby Lane), Arthur Hunnicutt (Otley), Edgar Buchanan (Ed Meeker), Wallace Ford (Joe), Raymond Walburn (Judge Hobart), Jimmy Hunt (Digger), Ralph Dumke (Sheriff).
BW-89m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri