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Hedy Lamarr ended her M-G-M contract with Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945), a rare comedy for the studio's exotic glamour girl. Lamarr plays a princess from a European kingdom who's staying in a New York hotel while she looks up an American reporter with whom she's fallen in love. A bellboy, played by Robert Walker, mistakes her for a maid, and believes she's fallen for him. Also living in the hotel is an invalid, played by June Allyson, who's in love with the bellboy. Eventually, as in all good fairy tales, the misunderstandings and romances get sorted out, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Lamarr, an Austrian native, had caused a sensation as a teenager by doing a nude scene in her first film, Ecstasy (1933). Signed to an M-G-M contract by Louis B. Mayer, she was equally sensational in her first American film, Algiers (1938), made on loanout to producer Walter Wanger. But in many of her M-G-M films, Lamarr was merely decorative, and while the films were successful, she had few roles which really challenged her. The studio also considered her difficult because she wanted to manage her own career, and would complain about the roles she was given. By the mid-1940s, the studio appeared to have lost interest in her. In her autobiography, Lamarr writes that when she finished one of her best films, Experiment Perilous (1944), made on loanout to RKO, M-G-M producer Joe Pasternak convinced her that she needed to follow that film with a comedy, so she agreed to do Her Highness and the Bellboy. Lamarr thought it was "a terrible movie, even though it made money." She claimed that the studio agreed with that assessment, and held it back for awhile before releasing it, but there may have been another reason Lamarr disliked the film: "Though I had star billing, the June Allyson part was really better."
Allyson was one of the studio's rising young stars. A Broadway singer and dancer, she had gone to Hollywood to appear in the 1943 film version of the Broadway hit, Best Foot Forward, in which she'd had a featured role. Her breakthrough film role came in Two Girls and a Sailor (1944) opposite Van Johnson. Her Highness and the Bellboy was Allyson's first of two roles opposite Robert Walker, also one of the studio's up-and-comers. They would also co-star in The Sailor Takes a Wife (1945), and she performed a number in the musical biography, Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), which starred Walker.
During production of Her Highness and the Bellboy, Walker's career was booming, but his personal life was a mess. He and his wife had arrived in Hollywood in 1942 with their two young sons and impressive movie contracts. Walker had been signed by M-G-M, and his wife, Phylis Isley, was under contract to David O. Selznick, who renamed her Jennifer Jones. Selznick soon became obsessed with Jones, and the day after she won an Oscar® for The Song of Bernadette (1943) in March of 1944, Jones filed for divorce from Walker. At the same time, Walker was getting great reviews for his first starring role, in See Here, Private Hargrove (1944). He was morose and drinking heavily, even as he co-starred with Judy Garland in The Clock (1945). His depression and his drinking continued during production of Her Highness and the Bellboy, which began filming in the late fall of 1944. Allyson recalled that "working with him was a strange and exhilarating experience....No other actor I've worked with could make a scene more true Bob could make you feel the scene with him as something urgent and surging with life." But he was "intense and moody," and would disappear for hours. "Whenever I look back at my career and all my co-stars, I think of Robert Walker, and I almost cry. I wish I could have helped him," Allyson later recalled. Walker never conquered his demons, in spite of doing good, and occasionally brilliant work, in films such as Strangers on a Train (1951). He died in 1951.
But in Her Highness and the Bellboy, moviegoers would only see Walker's boyish charm. Variety called his performance "terrif," and rated the film "a diverting romantic item with pleasing comedy relief." Other reviews were less favorable. Newsweek called it "escapist froth whipped up with a cement mixer," but most agreed with James Agee that it was at least "sporadically enjoyable through the friendliness of Robert Walker and Rags Ragland, the beauty of Hedy Lamarr, the sincerity of June Allyson."
Producer: Joe Pasternak
Director: Richard Thorpe
Screenplay: Richard Connell, Gladys Lehman
Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Urie McCleary
Music: Georgie Stoll
Film Editing: George Boemler
Cast: Hedy Lamarr (Princess Veronica), Robert Walker (Jimmy Dobson), June Allyson (Leslie Odell), Carl Esmond (Baron Zoltan Faludi), Agnes Moorehead (Countess Zoe)
BW-111m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri