powered by AFI
Susan Hayward and Kirk Douglas were two of the most in-demand actors of the 1950s, known for the intensity of their dramatic performances in such films as I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955) and I Want to Live! (1958, Hayward's Oscar® winner) and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) and Lust for Life (1956, two of three Oscar® nominations for Douglas). So it's odd that the only time they appeared on screen together was in the romantic comedy Top Secret Affair (1957). Douglas hadn't done such a film since My Dear Secretary (1948), while Hayward's last foray into the genre had been a supporting role early in her career in Young and Willing (1943). Game as they were to give it a whirl, the tepid critical and commercial reception to Top Secret Affair did little to encourage future efforts of this type. Hayward made only two more comedies (unless you also count Valley of the Dolls, 1967) before her early death in 1975. Douglas's efforts in the genre were equally sparse, counting only the G.B. Shaw satire The Devil's Disciple (1959) and the black comedy Western There Was a Crooked Man (1970) before taking on some lighter fare much later in his career.
Actually, neither star was originally intended for Top Secret Affair. Warner Brothers bought the hit novel Melville Goodwin, U.S.A. as a vehicle for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, but Bogart's illness--the cancer that took his life in 1957--prevented him from taking the role, and Bacall dropped out to care for him in his final months. By the time Hayward and Douglas were signed, just about everything but the characters' names from the original novel had been thrown out, and a new script by Roland Kibbee and Allan Scott was approved bearing little or no relation to Marquand's work. Hayward plays a publishing tycoon and the head of a news magazine (a notable resemblance to Clare Booth Luce and Time) who is determined to ruin the reputation of Army General Melville Goodwin (Douglas, in a role said to have been based partly on George S. Patton) after he is picked for an important diplomatic job over the civilian candidate she wanted. Their conflict inevitably turns to romance, and after misunderstandings involving spies and secret information land them both before Congressional committees, she decides what she really wants out of life is a husband and family (this being the 1950s), and they end up back in each other's arms.
Acting honors went not to the two stars but to a supporting cast consisting of Paul Stewart (Charles Foster Kane's loyal manservant in Citizen Kane, 1941) and Jim Backus (James Dean's father in Rebel Without a Cause, 1955, and Thurston Howell of the Gilligan's Island TV sitcom of the 1960s). Even here, the actors were not the first ones announced for the roles; a 1956 New York Times item said the parts would be played by Keenan Wynn and Walter Matthau. The cast also included John Cromwell, the director of Of Human Bondage (1934), Since You Went Away (1944), and The Goddess (1958).
The working titles of the film were Their Secret Affair and the original title of the Marquand novel from which the characters were derived. According to a November 1956 New York Times report, director H. C. Potter claimed that the film's title was changed to reflect that the screenplay no longer resembled the novel. Although Marquand's book also had an affair between the two main characters, it was an adulterous one. Making them single was only one of many changes made to the story before it hit the screen.
The musical score was written by Roy Webb, a seven-time Academy Award nominee for such films as My Favorite Wife (1940) and The Enchanted Cottage (1945), the latter directed by Top Secret Affair cast member John Cromwell. The cinematography is by Stanley Cortez, best known for his work on Orson Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter (1955), Cromwell's Since You Went Away, and another Susan Hayward vehicle Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947).
Top Secret Affair was the last film directed by H.C. Potter, who had also brought to the screen Loretta Young's Oscar®-winning performance in The Farmer's Daughter (1947), the Cary Grant vehicles Mr. Lucky (1943) and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), and two Fred Astaire movies, Second Chorus (1940) and The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939), the last of the Astaire-Rogers RKO pictures.
Director: H.C. Potter
Producers: Martin Rackin, Milton Sperling
Screenplay: Roland Kibbee, Allan Scott; based on characters from John P. Marquand's Melville Goodwin, U.S.A.
Cinematography: Stanley Cortez
Editing: Folmar Blangsted
Art Direction: Malcolm C. Bert
Original Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Susan Hayward (Dorothy Peale), Kirk Douglas (Maj. Gen. Melville Goodwin), Paul Stewart (Phil Bentley), Jim Backus (Col. Homer W. Gooch), John Cromwell (General Daniel Grimshaw).
by Rob Nixon