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Dean Martin's reputation as one of Hollywood's most underrated actors ismore than upheld by Ada, a 1961 political potboiler. Although he offers oneof his more convincing performances as a backwoods hick whorebels against the political machine that has made him governor of anunnamed southern state, critics generally dismissed the film. It even earned Martin's co-star, Susan Hayward, the Harvard Lampoon's WorstActress Award.
Ada was based on a 1959 novel by Wirt Williams that, in turn, wasinspired by the career of Louisiana's Governor Jimmie Davis, who hadrecently been re-elected. Davis had been floated for governor in 1944 byHuey Long's political machine and had charmed voters at rallies with hisperformance of "You Are My Sunshine." For the film, Martin had an originalsong to croon, "May the Good Lord Bless You Real Good."
The film was put into production to capitalize on the recent success ofsuch steamy best-sellers as Peyton Place (1957) and take advantageof the screen's new permissiveness. In this case, the selling point wasHayward's role as a prostitute (still referred to in veiled terms in thescript) who marries Martin after a drunken night of partying, becomes hislieutenant governor by some strange machination, then reforms the statewhen her husband is sidelined by an automobile accident.
The part seemed tailor-made for Hayward, who was floundering in search ofsuitable vehicles after her Oscar® win for I Want to Live! in1958. A recent attempt at comedy in The Marriage-Go-Round (1961)had fallen flat and she was no longer being offered the kindof gritty dramatic vehicles that had brought her to stardom. SinceAda was helmed by her favorite director, Daniel Mann -- who, withproducer Lawrence Weingarten had shepherded her to an Oscar® nominationfor I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955) -- she thought she had another winneron her hands. Moreover, the stage-trained Mann had already directed threeOscar® winning performances - Shirley Booth's in Come Back, LittleSheba (1952), Anna Magnani's in The Rose Tattoo (1955 -Hayward's competition at the Oscars® that year) and Elizabeth Taylor's in Butterfield8 (1960) - making a meaty role like this seem a strong careerchoice.
In this case, however, appearances were deceiving. With a script by comedyspecialist Arthur Sheekman and television writer William Driskill and aquestionable supporting performance by British actor Wilfrid Hyde-White,whose Southern accent kept slipping, Ada was uneven at best. Forher part, Hayward was more interested in her happy marriage to Georgiabusinessman Floyd Eaton Chalkley than in fighting to make a great picture.Nor did her lack of rapport with Martin help. She never warmed to herco-star (though, in truth, she rarely warmed to any of her co-stars),deeming him "vulgar." Martin kept out of her way, spending most of hisoff-camera time practicing his golf swing. Although he impressed Mann withhis professionalism, the actor would later quip, "The experience was enoughto drive a man to drink" (in Beverly Linet, Susan Hayward: Portrait of aSurvivor).
Although Ada was largely savaged by the critics, most of them did have favorable comments about Dean Martin's performance and the film enjoyed a modest success at the boxoffice, helped greatly by the recent release ofHayward's lavish soap opera re-make of Back Street (1961) forproducer Ross Hunter. Surprisingly, when Hayward washomebound while fighting her final battle with cancer in the '70s,Ada was the one film of hers she asked visiting friends to screenfor her. She had to be somewhat pleased when her big scene, a tiradeagainst hypocritical club women who look down their noses at her, drewapplause from her friends.
Producer: Lawrence Weingarten
Director: Daniel Mann
Screenplay: Arthur Sheekman, William Driskill
Based on the Novel Ada Dallas by Wirt Williams
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Edward Carfagno
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Susan Hayward (Ada), Dean Martin (Bo Gillis), WilfridHyde-White (Sylvester Marin), Ralph Meeker (Col. Yancey), Martin Balsam(Steve Jackson), Ford Rainey (Speaker), Larry Gates (Joe Adams), Mary Treen(Clubwoman).
BW-109m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller