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This tale of the 18th century British dandy who rose to prominence on a sea of gambling winnings and bad debts, then fell as quickly when he angered the Prince of Wales, had been a hit on stage for Richard Mansfield. As a silent film, it had given John Barrymore one of his greatest successes - and a torrid affair with leading lady Mary Astor. There was no hanky panky on the set of MGM's lavish 1954 remake, but it proved a lucky charm for leading man Stewart Granger.
Ironically, though he had been eager to do the film at first, he tried to get out of it when he discovered that it was to be shot at MGM's British studio in Denham, to use up MGM assets frozen by the British government after World War II. Granger's wife, actress Jean Simmons, was assigned to a Hollywood-lensed epic, The Egyptian (1954) at the same time, and Granger didn't want to be separated from her. When the studio refused to let him out of the picture, at least the British star could console himself with the chance to see his family back home.
Co-star Elizabeth Taylor hadn't wanted to go overseas either, for much the same reasons. She was married to British actor Michael Wilding at the time, but his Hollywood commitments made it impossible for him to spend the entire shoot with her. As a consolation, the studio paid for them to take a six-week European holiday before shooting, even advancing her the money to add to her already growing jewelry collection.
Neither was too crazy about director Curtis Bernhardt, either. The German-born helmer was too much the martinet for them. When his instructions to Taylor got too lengthy, she would yawn in his face. And when he started swinging a large stick around to assert his authority on the set, Granger took it from him and broke it.
Yet Bernhardt brought a powerful visual sense to the film, using long takes in Cinemascope to give the picture a graceful quality. And the location shoot gave them the chance to shoot interiors at Ockwell Manor, a 15th-century mansion near Windsor Castle that helped make Beau Brummell a feast for the eyes.
Shooting in England also gave the film a strong supporting cast that included future stage star Rosemary Harris (The Lion in Winter,1968) and, as King George III and his son, the Prince of Wales, Robert Morley and Peter Ustinov. Morley's memorable performance as the mad George III would create some controversy when the film was chosen as the royal family's command performance for the year. Years later, however, the king's madness would be explored more fully in the much-praised The Madness of King George (1994), starring Nigel Hawthorne as the king and Rupert Everett as his son.
Director: Curtis Bernhardt
Producer: Sam Zimbalist
Screenplay: Karl Tunberg
From the play by Clyde Fitch
Cinematography: Oswald Morris
Art Direction: Alfred Junge
Music: Richard Addinsell
Cast: Stewart Granger (Beau Brummell), Elizabeth Taylor (Lady Patricia), Peter Ustinov (Prince of Wales), Robert Morley (King George III), James Donald (Lord Edwin Mercer), Rosemary Harris (Mrs. Fitzherbert)
by Frank Miller