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The House of the Seven Hawks

The House of the Seven Hawks(1959)


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teaser The House of the Seven Hawks (1959)

The House of the Seven Hawks (1959) was one of Taylor's final assignments for MGM. The role of a charter boat captain embroiled in postwar intrigue was no great challenge for the actor but Taylor needed income; remarried in 1954, he was a new father and was still paying alimony to ex-wife Barbara Stanwyck. His features coarsened by alcohol and nicotine abuse, Taylor brought a believable air of world weariness to this mash-up of The Maltese Falcon (1941) and To Have and Have Not (1944).

Metro had bought the rights to Victor Canning's The House of the Seven Flies in 1952, the year the novel was published in Great Britain and serialized in The Saturday Evening Post as House of Fear. Trade publications had announced that Canning would sail to America to write the screenplay but credit went instead to Jo Eisinger, a newspaperman turned Hollywood scribe who had adapted Gilda (1946) for Columbia and wrote the London-set noir Night and the City (1950) for Jules Dassin.

With Richard Thorpe at the helm, production shifted overseas to the Netherlands, to the canal towns of Maassluis and Hook of Holland, and The Hague. Interiors for The House of the Seven Hawks were filmed in London, at MGM British Studios in Borehamwood, where Thorpe and Taylor made Ivanhoe (1952) and Knights of the Round Table (1953). Few of Taylor's European costars will look familiar to American audiences but Donald Wolfit (cast as the dogged Inspector Van Der Stoor) was a revered Shakespearian actor whose career inspired Ronald Harwood's acclaimed stage play The Dresser and the Academy Award® nominated 1983 film adaptation directed by Peter Yates.

Robert Taylor holds the record for the longest-lasting studio contract for any actor in Hollywood: 24 years with Metro Goldwyn Mayer. At the start of his seven-year contract, Taylor's take-home salary was just $35 a week. Born Spangler Arlington Brugh on August 5, 1911, in Nebraska, Taylor's father was a grain merchant who took up the study of medicine to cure his chronically ill wife, Ruth Adaline Stanhope (a distant relative of 2004 Presidential hopeful Bill Richardson). As a high school student in Beatrice, Nebraska, "Arly" Brugh was popular with the fairer sex due to his matinee idol looks and his artistic and athletic prowess. He was a gifted orator, a cellist in the school orchestra, and a track star. He headed to California to study medicine and psychology at Pomona College, graduating in 1933. Intrigued by a dalliance in campus theatrics, he enrolled in the Neely Dixon Dramatic School, where he was spotted by Metro talent scout Ben Piazza. Joel McCrea, a Pomona alumnus, helped set up a screen test and the handsome, blue-eyed hopeful was soon on the studio payroll as Robert Taylor. In 1935, he was loaned out to Universal for Magnificent Obsession opposite Irene Dunne. The film was a hit and Taylor was quickly paired with Greta Garbo for Camille (1936) at Metro. Despite his popularity with moviegoers, Louis B. Mayer kept Taylor's salary the lowest of any Hollywood star.

In 1936, Taylor was set up on a blind date with a recently divorced Barbara Stanwyck at the Trocadero nightclub. The pair hit it off instantly but had to keep their relationship private due to Taylor's studio image as a good-looking, unattached bachelor. All that changed when Taylor's pretty boy looks prompted some gossip columnists to infer he was secretly gay. The pair were married in 1939 and divorced twelve years later; in the interim, Robert Taylor became a name in Hollywood. Although he had attracted attention as "The Man with the Perfect Profile," Taylor shifted to man of action roles in Billy the Kid, Johnny Eager (both 1941) and Bataan (1943). For the conservative right-winger, loyalty meant everything and Taylor rarely refused an assignment, even when it conflicted with his beliefs (as did Gregory Ratoff's semi pro-Communist Song of Russia in 1944). The parts offered Taylor grew fewer during the 1950s but he brought a persuasive gravitas to prominent roles in Quo Vadis (1951), Ivanhoe and Rogue Cop (1954). In The Last Hunt (1956), Taylor was a merciless buffalo hunter who engages in a prairie face-off with hero Stewart Granger and freezes to death while waiting to make the kill shot. During this time, Taylor was a conflicted but cooperative witness for the House Un-American Activities Committee and his testimony helped derail the career of character actor Howard da Silva.

Producer: David Rose (uncredited)
Director: Richard Thorpe
Screenplay: Jo Eisinger; Victor Canning (novel, "The House of the Seven Flies")
Cinematography: Ted Scaife
Art Direction: Bill Andrews
Music: Clifton Parker
Film Editing: Ernest Walter
Cast: Robert Taylor (John Nordley), Nicole Maurey (Constanta Sluiter), Linda Christian (Elsa), Donald Wolfit (Inspector Van Der Stoor), David Kossoff (Wilhelm Dekker), Eric Pohlmann (Captain Rohner), Philo Hauser (Charlie Ponz), Gerard Heinz (Inspector Sluiter), Paul Hardtmuth (Beukleman), Lily Kann (Gerta), Richard Shaw (Police Sgt. Straatman), Andre Van Gyseghem (hotel clerk), Leslie Weston (Tulper), Guy Deghy (desk lieutenant), Peter Welch (Gannett).

by Richard Harland Smith

The Films of Robert Taylor by Lawrence J. Quirk
Reluctant Witness: Robert Taylor, Hollywood & Communism by Linda J. Alexander
The Life and Loves of Barbara Stanwyck by Jane Ellen Wayne

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