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Starring Inger Stevens
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Remind Me
A Time for Killing

A Time for Killing

The suicide of Inger Stevens on April 30, 1970, shocked Hollywood, which promptly forgot about her. Stevens had enjoyed a solid if undistinguished run as a leading lady that capped an almost twenty year show business career on stage, on television, and in films. Yet at the time of her death Stevens seemed more a relic of the dimming studio system than of brash, experimental New Hollywood. Inger Stensland was born on Kungsholmen Island, in Stockholm, on October 18, 1934; her parents, Per Gustav Stensland and Lisbet Potthoff, had wed only five months earlier. Per Stensland was a schoolteacher who directed and acted in amateur plays, occasionally alongside his wife and sister, Karin Stensland Junker (who had a small role in the 1939 Swedish film Rosor varje kväll, directed by Per-Axel Branner). When she was six, Inger saw her father play Ebenezer Scrooge in a production of A Christmas Carol and knew some day she too would be an actress. That same year, her mother left the family (what at that point included two more children) to be with another man. At the declaration of World War II, Per Stensland immigrated to America, leaving Inger and one son (the other having been taken in by his ex-wife and her second husband) in the care of their aunt. He sent for his children in 1944, booking them passage on the S.S. Margaret Johnson. When the ship docked in New Orleans, Stensland was busy writing an academic thesis and had the children (who had already endured a six week transatlantic voyage) delivered to him in New England by the Travelers Aid Society.

Although her home life was now more intact than it had been in years, Inger had no illusions about the sanctity of family. Running away at age sixteen, she worked for a time as a burlesque dancer in Kansas, where a remarried Per Stensland had assumed a university position. Brought back by her father, Inger would leave again for good two years later. In New York City, she danced as a chorus girl, augmenting her income with work in the garment district. While studying at the Actor's Studio, she landed her first commercial and an agent, who changed her name to Inger Stevens and became her first husband. The marriage was short-lived but Inger was on her way.

Stevens made her Broadway debut in 1956 and worked regularly in live television. She made her film debut in MGM's Man on Fire (1957), opposite Bing Crosby, with whom she fell in love. The breakup of that relationship pushed Inger to her first suicide attempt, on New Year's Day, 1960. Despite being hobbled by depression, she worked steadily through the next decade, with roles on screens large and small, and replaced Barbara Bel Geddes' in the Broadway run of Jean Kerr's comedy Mary, Mary. Her greatest fame came as the star of the Screen Gems/ABC sitcom The Farmer's Daughter, in the role created by Loretta Young for RKO's 1947 film version. The series lasted three years and netted Inger Stevens a Golden Globe. When the show folded, she had several offers for work in features.

A Time for Killing (1967) was hardly a glamour assignment for Inger, who surely looked upon the violent western as another paycheck. Playing the kidnapped (by George Hamilton) fiancée of a Union officer during the last days of the Civil War did give her the opportunity to work with Hollywood legend Glenn Ford. Adapted by Halsted Welles (3:10 to Yuma, 1957) from the 1961 novel The Southern Blade by Colby Wolford and Harley Duncan (writing as Nelson and Shirley Wolford), the project was set to be directed by Roger Corman. The success of Corman's Edgar Allan Poe films had won him a development deal with Columbia. The studio nixed most of Corman's ideas (he made The Wild Angels [1966] on leave of absence) until finally agreeing to A Time for Killing, then called The Long Ride Home.

Corman hired Robert Towne to work on the script, participated in casting and location scouting, and was on location in Utah's Zion National Park when his customary frugality sent up red flags in the executive suites at Columbia. Although Corman was merely trying to get the most mileage out of his $2 million budget, the fear at the studio was that the project would end up looking cheap. Corman was summarily released from his contract and Phil Karlson (fresh from heading up The Silencers [1966], Columbia's initial entry in the "Matt Helm" series of spy spoofs starring Dean Martin) was placed in the director's chair. (Corman's protégé, Monte Hellmann, who had cut The Wild Angels, resigned from the picture in protest and was replaced by Roy Livingston.) Corman bounced from this disappointment to 20th Century Fox, where his The St. Valentine's Day Massacre was a big earner in 1967. A box office nonstarter in November 1967, A Time for Killing is of more interest now due to early appearances by Harry Dean Stanton and a twenty five-year old Harrison Ford. It would be a decade before either actor broke through to name recognition – Stanton in a run of gritty films (including Straight Time [1978], Alien [1979] and Paris, Texas [1984]) and Ford in Star Wars (1977) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and their respective sequels. By that time, Inger Stevens was long gone. She had enjoyed a succession of high profile assignments, acting for Gene Kelly in A Guide for the Married Man (1967), appearing opposite Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart in Firecreek (1968), reunited with Dean Martin for Five Card Stud (1968) and helping Clint Eastwood import his success in spaghetti westerns to America with Hang 'Em High (1968).

Rumors had long circulated of on-set love trysts (with Martin, Eastwood, James Mason, Anthony Quinn, Harry Belafonte) but what wasn't widely known at the time of her death was that Inger had married black entrepreneur Ike Jones in Mexico in 1961. In the spring of 1970, Inger completed a movie of the week with Burt Reynolds, with whom she is alleged to have had a tempestuous affair. The morning after a quarrel with Reynolds, she was discovered semiconscious in her Hollywood Hills home and died later that day. The coroner's report attributed her death to "acute barbiturate intoxication due to ingestion of overdose." She was thirty five years old.

Producer: Harry Joe Brown
Director: Phil Karlson, Roger Corman (uncredited)
Screenplay: Halsted Welles; Nelson Wolford, Shirley Wolford (novel "The Southern Blade")
Cinematography: Kenneth Peach
Art Direction: Daniel Haller
Music: Mundell Lowe
Film Editing: Roy Livingston
Cast: Inger Stevens (Emily Biddle), Glenn Ford (Maj. Tom Wolcott), Paul Petersen (Blue Lake), Timothy Carey (Billy Cat), Kenneth Tobey (Sgt. Cleehan), Richard X. Slattery (Cpl. Paddy Darling), Harrison J. Ford (Lt Shaffer), Kay E. Kuter (Owelson), Dick Miller (Zollicoffer), Emile Meyer (Col. Harries), Marshall Reed (Stedner), George Hamilton (Capt. Dorrit Bentley), Max Baer Jr. (Sgt. Luther Liskell), Todd Armstrong (Lt. 'Pru' Prudessing), Duke Hobbie (Lt. Frist), Dean Stanton (Sgt. Dan Way), James Davidson (Little Mo), Charlie Briggs (Sgt. Kettlinger), Craig Curtis (Bagnef), Jay Ripley (Cpl. Timothy Dwight Lovingwood), Dean Goodhill (Bruce).
C-89m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.

by Richard Harland Smith

Sources:
The Farmer's Daughter Remembered: The Biography of Actress Inger Stevens by William T. Patterson
Roger Corman: An Unauthorized Life by Beverly Gray
Roger Corman: Metaphysics on a Shoestrong by Alain Silver and James Ursini
How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime by Roger Corman
The Films of Harrison Ford by Lee Pfeiffer and Michael Lewis
The Inger Stevens Memorial Website, www.ingerstevens.com
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