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"TNT - Taylor 'n Turner - Together They're Terrific!" So went the ad campaign for MGM's Johnny Eager (1942). And indeed they were. Robert Taylor and Lana Turner, two of the most beautiful faces ever to appear onscreen, were dynamite in their one and only film together.
Since his film debut in 1934, the impossibly handsome Taylor had the women swooning over him with such films as Camille (1937), in which he made glamorous love to Greta Garbo. But men were put off by "The Man With the Perfect Profile" (as he was billed), and preferred the more macho image of stars like Clark Gable. So beginning with A Yank At Oxford (1938) in which Taylor showed off the hair on his chest, MGM began putting him in more he-man roles. Johnny Eager was another attempt by the studio to toughen up Taylor's image and rid him of the "pretty-boy" label once and for all. Sporting a new, manly mustache, Taylor plays a cold-blooded gangster who succumbs to the charms of Turner, the district attorney's daughter.
Their steamy onscreen chemistry carried over to real life, as the married Taylor fell hard for the sexy 21-year old blonde bombshell. In her autobiography, Turner admits to a romance, but not an affair. She says she "flirted," but she didn't want to be responsible for breaking up Taylor's marriage to Barbara Stanwyck. Taylor, however, told his wife that he was in love with Turner and asked for a divorce. Turner says she then cooled the flirtation, and Taylor stayed married. Whatever the truth, the attraction between the two stars only helped the film.
More importantly, both stars showed some real acting chops in Johnny Eager, and proved that they were more than just pretty faces. But as good as their performances were, they were overshadowed by that of Van Heflin as Taylor's alcoholic, intellectual best friend. Heflin's work won him an Oscar® as 1942's Best Supporting Actor.
As for exorcising Robert Taylor's glamour-boy image once and for all...well, as Wanda Hale gushed in the New York Daily News, "Taylor makes as handsome a gangster as you'd find if you'd go through the underworld with a fine-tooth comb." Still, glamour or not, Taylor's performance Johnny Eager is one of his best.
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Producer: John W. Considine, Jr.
Screenplay: John Lee Mahin, James Edward Grant, based on a story by Grant
Editor: Albert Akst
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Stan RogersSet Decorator: Edwin B. Willis
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Principal Cast: Robert Taylor (Johnny Eager), Lana Turner (Lisbeth Bard), Edward Arnold (John Benson Farrell), Van Heflin (Jeff Hartnett), Robert Sterling (Jimmy Courtney), Patricia Dane (Garnet), Glenda Farrell (Mae Blythe), Paul Stewart (Julio).
BW-108m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri