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In 1961, Claudette Colbert had been absent from the big screen for six years before signing on for the second-billed mother role in the glossy Warner Brothers soap opera Parrish (1961), the first starring vehicle for boy-pinup-of-the-moment Troy Donahue. A typically straightforward and cleanly told effort from director Delmer Daves, it has elements that come across as quaint to a contemporary eye, between its surfeit of overheated teen sexuality and its almost fetishistic romanticizing of tobacco farming, but the effective efforts of the cast's able veterans keep it eminently watchable.
Daves' screenplay adaptation of the then-popular Mildred Savage novel followed the widowed Ellen McLean (Colbert), determined to provide adequate support for her teenage son Parrish (Donahue), by taking a household position with Connecticut tobacco farmer Sala Post (Dean Jagger). Ellen's duties are to consist of chaperoning Post's beautiful daughter Alison (Diane McBain). The overprotective father, however, didn't expect his new hire's hunky son to be part of the package. The resentful lad storms from the house to strike out on his own, and quietly gets hired as a laborer in Post's own fields. He's taken into the communal home of eccentric foreman Teet Howie (Dub Taylor), and is quickly subjected to the aggressive attentions of both Alison and Teet's pretty niece Lucy (Connie Stevens).
For her part, Ellen has caught the roving eye of Sala's business rival Judd Raike (Karl Malden), an ambitious grower with designs on buying his smaller neighbors out. She finds herself attracted to the ruthless Raike--not enough to become his mistress, but willing to entertain a marriage proposal. Afterwards, Parrish leaves the Post spread to work for his new stepfather--but after bearing firsthand the brutality with which Raike runs his operation, the young man elects a stint in the Navy. Parrish ultimately returns to the Connecticut River Valley with the intent of leasing his own plot to farm, but can't find any willing hands due to Judd's influence. Assistance comes in the unexpected form of Raike's daughter Paige (Sharon Hugueny), who's also got a sweet tooth for the hero. Matters come to a head when Raike's weaselly son Edgar (Hamilton Fancher) seeks to burn out Parrish's crop.
The project had initially passed in and out of the hands of Joshua Logan, who'd harbored the ambitious notion of reuniting Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable for the first time since Gone with the Wind (1939) to portray Ellen and Judd. Instead, Parrish was assigned to veteran director Delmer Daves, whose diverse resume had been marked by Destination Tokyo (1943), Pride of the Marines (1945), Dark Passage (1947) and 3:10 to Yuma (1957). He'd hit a career phase where he'd serve as Warner's wrangler for Donahue during the onetime journalism student's big-screen vogue, here as well as A Summer Place (1959), Susan Slade (1961) and Rome Adventure (1962).
In a 1960 New York Times interview regarding Parrish, Colbert declared that she "didn't really intend to make another picture. At this point I'd rather work on the stage. I'm a mature woman, but I can't suddenly put on gray hair and play character roles, and most mother parts are too Pollyanna-ish for me. I took this [role] because I felt it had a point of view. The mother wants to break the silver cord and lead a normal sex life of her own." At fifty-eight, Colbert retained the contemporary elegance and attractiveness that defined her screen persona, but Parrish would ultimately mark her last feature film appearance. It would be another twenty-six years until she next stepped before a camera--magnetic as always--in the TV miniseries The Two Mrs. Grenvilles (1987).
Producer: Delmer Daves
Director: Delmer Daves
Screenplay: Delmer Daves (written by); Mildred Savage (novel)
Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Sr.
Art Direction: Leo K. Kuter
Music: Max Steiner
Film Editing: Owen Marks
Cast: Troy Donahue (Parrish McLean), Claudette Colbert (Ellen McLean), Karl Malden (Judd Raike), Dean Jagger (Sala Post), Connie Stevens (Lucy), Diane McBain (Alison Post), Sharon Hugueny (Paige Raike), Dub Taylor (Teet Howie), Hampton Fancher (Edgar Raike), David Knapp (Wiley Raike).
by Jay Steinberg