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Star of the Month: Dick Powell
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,The Reformer and the Redhead

The Reformer and the Redhead

The Reformer and the Redhead was the first film Dick Powell and June Allyson made as husband and wife, although they had appeared together once before, shortly before their 1945 marriage, in Meet the People (1944). They co-starred once more after this in Right Cross (1950), then Powell produced and directed You Can't Run Away from It (1956), a remake of It Happened One Night (1934) in which Allyson took the Claudette Colbert role opposite Jack Lemmon in the part Clark Gable made famous. But most critics and audiences agree this comedy was their most delightful venture together.

In The Reformer and the Redhead, Powell plays an attorney with political ambitions. He soon finds himself enlisted by the hot-tempered daughter of a zookeeper to help her father, who has lost his job for political reasons. Campaigning for mayor, Powell goes after the corrupt incumbent but almost loses the redhead when she suspects their budding romance is only political maneuvering. It all manages to end happily when Powell makes friends with one of Allyson+s favorite zoo animals, an affectionate lion named Herman.

Allyson later said she worked harder with her husband (whom she always called "Richard") than with any other co-star because she was afraid the public would see her, not as an actress, but only as his wife. This was aggravated by the fact that Allyson, once cast as the girl-next-door because of her sunny nature and adorable raspy voice, was by this point moving into a career phase that saw her being saddled with a new screen stereotype - sweet, supportive wives, most notably opposite James Stewart in The Stratton Story (1949), The Glenn Miller Story (1953), and Strategic Air Command (1955). In The Reformer and the Redhead, her character wasn't married yet but she was still playing an older version of the ing¿e role - spunky and girlish (though 33 years old at the time). It would be several years before she had her revenge on this typecasting, turning in a critically praised performance as Jose Ferrer's bitch wife from hell in The Shrike (1955).

Powell, 13 years older than his young wife, had gone through a similar typecasting struggle years earlier. A former band singer, he was signed to Warner Brothers in the 1930s for a string of crooner roles as the "juvenile lead" in such musicals as 42nd Street (1933), Dames (1934), and the "Gold Diggers" series, films that often featured his second wife, Joan Blondell. Powell tried hard to escape the rut the studio put him in, but that wouldn+t happen until several years after he left Warners. He fought hard for the role of Raymond Chandler's immortal private eye Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet (1944). His success in that part immediately turned his career around; once stereotyped as the clean-cut crooner, he now became one of the screen's pre-eminent tough guys of the late 40s.

By the time he made The Reformer and the Redhead, Powell was beginning to move into a new phase of his career. In her autobiography, Allyson said that while they were working on the picture, Powell studied and analyzed every aspect of the production. "We discussed his performance, how camera work could have been improved, lighting, angles at which a sequence had been shot," she noted. "He said he was in training to produce movies himself someday." His first producer assignment was for TV's Four Star Playhouse in 1952. His first feature as director was Split Second (1953). Over the next five years he directed and produced four more. It was production on one of these, The Conqueror (1956), that led many to speculate that it was responsible for his premature death in 1963. Filmed in Utah close to a nuclear test site, the set was likely to have been contaminated by radioactive fallout. Also, dirt from the location shoot was transported back to Hollywood to match the studio produced segments. Within a relatively short time, a disproportionate number of the cast and crew - including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, and Powell himself - developed cancer and died.

The Reformer and the Redhead marked the beginning of another "marriage," one of a professional rather than romantic nature. The movie lists Melvin Frank and Norman Panama as producers, directors, and screenwriters, the first of seven to co-credit the duo this way. They began collaborating as students at the University of Chicago, and later on the radio after moving to Hollywood in the late 1930s. This led directly to their first film script, the Bob Hope comedy My Favorite Blonde (1942). The two co-wrote several scripts throughout the 1940s before joining forces as multiple hyphenates with this project. In addition to their triple-duty productions, they worked together on several more over the decade, in one capacity or another, including a collaboration on the film version of their Broadway hit Li'l Abner (1959).

Directors/Producers: Melvin Frank, Norman Panama
Screenplay: Melvin Frank, Norman Panama; story by Robert Carson
Cinematography: Ray June
Editing: George White
Art Direction: William Ferrari, Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: David Raksin
Cast: Dick Powell (Andrew Rockton Hale), June Allyson (Kathleen Maguire), David Wayne (Arthur Colner Maxwell), Cecil Kellaway (Dr. Kevin Maguire), Ray Collins (Commodore Parker), Robert Keith (Tim Harveigh).
BW-90m. Closed captioning.

by Rob Nixon



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