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"Whenever an actor reaches a low ebb in his career, he contemplates retiring to become a used-car salesman," actor Robert Stack wrote in his 1980 memoirs Straight Shooting. "There is an alternative...go to work for a producer who turns out forgettable, low-budget films with actors who hope that these indiscretions will be forgotten as their stars rise to greater glory." So the Hollywood veteran described signing on for The Iron Glove (1954), a Technicolor costume drama set in the early eighteenth century and produced by Sam Katzman for Columbia Pictures' bustling but pinch-penny "B-hive." The Los Angeles-born, Europe-raised Stack had been the recipient of tremendous publicity early in his career when he was selected to be "the first boy to kiss Deanna Durbin," in Universal's First Love (1939). Stack enjoyed prominent placing in the war-themed The Mortal Storm (1940) and To Be or Not to Be (1942) before his own wartime service as a gunnery instructor in the US Navy. It would take a few years for Stack to regain the momentum of his early career. Ahead of him lay an important part opposite John Wayne in The High and the Mighty (1954), an Oscar® nomination for a supporting role in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind (1956), as well as the lead role of Eliot Ness in the Desilu TV series The Untouchables (1959-1963). Until the realization of those career milestones, however, Stack was obliged as a working actor to take whatever work came his way.
The Iron Glove was directed by William Castle, still several years before his signature work as "the King of the Gimmick" with such ballyhooed horrors as The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill (both 1959) and Mr. Sardonicus (1961). Castle had come to Columbia from theatre work in New York but his success as a reliable B-movie director-for-hire won him a three year contract at Universal-International. Although the association was profitable enough for U-I to offer to renew the contract, Castle returned to Columbia. Columbia was at the time undergoing dramatic changes with the advent of television, reducing both the budgets of its B-movies and their overall number per year. Although Castle had brokered himself a better salary and contract, the features to which he was assigned were cheaper and more rushed than they had been in the previous decade. (When Castle was forced to replace an ailing Lee J. Cobb as the star of The Houston Story in 1956, Columbia refused to allow reshoots of Cobb's replacement, Gene Barry, with the result being that both actors appear in the finished film.)
Shot under the working title The Kiss and the Sword, The Iron Glove is a romantic swashbuckler, with Stack's Jacobite adventurer pressed into service to find a Catholic bride for James Stuart (Richard Stapley), son of deposed King James II, and ensure a return of the British crown to the House of Stuart. Sam Katzman had wanted Cornel Wilde to play the patriotic Charles Wogan of Rathecoffey. Wilde's star wattage had dimmed since his milestone performances in Leave Her to Heaven and the Frdric Chopin biopic A Song to Remember (both 1946); a former member of the US Olympic fencing team, Wilde had just played D'Artagnan, Jr. in RKO's At Sword's Point (1952) but demurred from appearing in this swashbuckler as he set about forming his own Theodora Productions.
Katzman surrounded the reluctant Stack with some familiar faces in supporting roles: Alan Hale, Jr. (a decade from his defining role as The Skipper on the long running sitcom Gilligan's Island) and German actress Ursula Thiess. A discovery of Howard Hughes, Thiess had been enticed to come to America as a successor to Marlene Dietrich and as an exotic leading lady in such films as Monsoon (1952) and Hughes' own The Americano (1955), directed by William Castle on loan out from Columbia. During production of The Iron Glove, Thiess was well on her way to becoming the third wife of actor Robert Taylor. Taylor had been paired with "the most beautiful woman in the world" on a blind date arranged by his agent at the Coconut Grove in 1952; the pair married two years later. Thiess ended her Hollywood career on her own terms in 1956 but helped secure Taylor's participation in William Castle's The Night Walker (1964), even though it meant putting her husband on the big screen with his ex-wife, Barbara Stanwyck.
Producer: Sam Katzman
Director: William Castle
Screenplay: Douglas Heyes, Jesse Lasky, Jr., DeVallon Scott; Samuel J. Jacoby, Robert E. Kent (story)
Cinematography: Henry Freulich
Art Direction: Paul Palmentola
Film Editing: Gene Havlick
Cast: Robert Stack (Charles Wogan), Ursula Thiess (Ann Brett), Richard Stapley (Prince James Stuart), Charles Irwin (Timothy O'Toole), Alan Hale, Jr. (Patrick Gaydon), Leslie Bradley (Duke of Somerfield), Louis Merrill (Count DuLusac), Paul Cavanagh (Cavenly, advisor to Prince James).
by Richard Harland Smith
Straight Shooting by Robert Stack with Mark Evans (Macmillan Publishing, 1980)
Step Right Up! I'm Gonna Scare the Pants off America: Memoirs of a B-Movie Mogul by William Castle (Pharos Books, 1992)
Scare Tactic: The Life and Films of William Castle by John Law (IUniverse, 2000)
Lost in the Fifties: Recovering Phantom Hollywood by Wheeler W. Dixon (SIU Press, 2005)