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The Light Touch

The Light Touch(1951)

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teaser The Light Touch (1951)

Richard Brooks' second directing job, following Crisis (1950), was The Light Touch (1952). His film career stretched back ten years, however, as he was already a successful screenwriter (Brute Force [1947], Key Largo [1948]), and he continued to both write and direct almost all his films including this one. The picture is a light-hearted tale of an art thief (Stewart Granger) who, in broad daylight, steals a Renaissance painting from an Italian museum for a villainous art dealer (George Sanders). Granger has his own plans, however, deciding he can get more money by faking the destruction of the painting and convincing Sanders to have several forgeries painted -- after which all the versions can be sold. He hires a nave young painter (Pier Angeli) to do the work, but when she discovers what's really going on, she tries to reform Granger. The New Yorker described this concoction as "drenched in prankish amiability."

The Light Touch may be a minor film, but it has the beauty of Italian and North African locations and the lovely Pier Angeli going for it. Cinematographer Robert Surtees said of photographing Angeli's face: "It has a quality of transparency so delicate that for the first time in my career I ordered a leading lady to wear no make-up."

The 19-year-old actress was appearing in only her second American film. Unfortunately, neither her career nor her personal life would play out as she hoped. She fell in love with James Dean while he was shooting East of Eden (1955), but her hyper-protective mother would not allow her to marry him. Angeli did end up marrying twice, but she later said the only man she ever loved was Dean. Her film career never quite blossomed either, despite a few promising turns (Teresa [1951],Somebody Up There Likes Me [1956]) , and she ended up appearing in some Eurotrash flicks such as In the Folds of the Flesh [1970] before her untimely death in 1971.

Stewart Granger came to work on The Light Touch because he was facing suspension from MGM for having refused to do another film, Scaramouche (1952). Studio executive Dore Schary said suspension could be avoided if he took a role in The Light Touch. (As it turned out, Granger ended up doing Scaramouche as well.) Granger wrote in his memoir: "I wasn't particularly enamored of the thought of working with [Richard Brooks] as I had heard he had reduced a small-part actor to tears. That actor was Ramon Novarro. The thought of anyone reducing one of my childhood heroes to tears filled me with anger, but that's Hollywood. When a star is down he's fair game for anyone. I had to agree in order to avoid suspension and went along to meet Brooks. His opening words [were], 'I have to tell you that I wanted Cary Grant.'" As Granger took this in, Brooks pulled out some photos of the film's leading lady. "'That's Anna Maria Pierangeli who'll play opposite you. Doesn't speak very good English but we'll get round that.' I spoke very good English but wondered how the hell I would get round his dialogue."

As for the actual production, Granger wrote only: "Making The Light Touch was fairly uneventful and I knew as I made it that it would add nothing careerwise to anybody connected with it. Pier Angeli was adorable with an anxious mother in attendance at all times and Brooks was his apparently usual, unpleasant self."

Co-star George Sanders was good friends with supporting player Mike Mazurki, whom he had met on the set of Samson and Delilah (1949). Oddly enough, these two actors with wildly contrasting screen personas had some things in common. Mazurki, a perennial movie heavy, was a former pro wrestler, and Sanders loved following wrestling news and other sports. Also, Sanders had Russian ancestry while Mazurki was of Ukrainian descent. Mazurki later said of Sanders, "There were sides to him the public and many of his co-workers never knew; he was a man about whom volumes could be written."

Sanders and Angeli, who appeared together once more in the Italian production One Step to Hell (aka King of Africa, 1968), died barely seven months apart in late 1971 and early 1972, both by barbiturate overdose. Sanders' death was clearly a suicide, while Angeli's remains a presumed suicide. Sanders was 65, and Angeli was 39.

Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Director: Richard Brooks
Screenplay: Richard Brooks; Jed Harris, Tom Reed (story)
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Gabriel Scognamillo
Film Editing: George Boemler
Cast: Stewart Granger(Sam Conride), Pier Angeli (Anna Vasarri), George Sanders (Felix Guignol), Kurt Kasznar (Mr. Aramescu), Joseph Calleia (Lt. Massiro), Larry Keating (Mr. R. F. Hawkley), Rhys Williams (Mr. MacWade), Norman Lloyd (Anton), Mike Mazurki (Charles).
BW-94m. Closed captioning.

by Jeremy Arnold

Sources:
Jane Allen, Pier Angeli: A Tragic Life
Stewart Granger, Sparks Fly Upward
Richard Vanderbeets, George Sanders: An Exhausted Life

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