The film also marks the return of Natalie Wood to Warner Brothers after the studio suspended her in 1958 for refusing to take a role in (depending on reports) The Devil's Disciple (1959), with Kirk Douglas, or The Young Philadelphians (1959), with Paul Newman. Wood had been forbidden to work as an entertainer during her enforced time off and the studio tried to smooth things over by giving her its most lavish dressing room, one that had been Joan Crawford's. Wood shared it with her poodle Chi Chi, who was ever-present during filming of Cash McCall, as was her smitten husband, Robert Wagner.
Garner had his own gripes with Warner Brothers, unhappy that his Cash McCall salary was almost the same as his Maverick pay. He also objected vocally to the studio's "sweat-shop" working conditions and the restrictions over taking outside work. Sensing a charismatic mover and shaker in Garner, then Screen Actors Guild president Ronald Reagan appointed him to the prestigious Board of Governors, providing a forum for the young actor to do something about these grievances.
Garner was well liked on and off the set for his non-celebrity ways. An avid golfer, he could have played at any of the exclusive clubs in town, with accompanying publicity, but he continued to use the public greens at Griffith Park that had been his stomping grounds long before fame.
According to Raymond Strait's biography James Garner, the actor was easygoing during work hours too. "Everyone on the set of Cash McCall loved Jim. He was always cooperative, always willing to listen, and didn't interfere with the director or the scriptwriters." Director Joe Pevney agreed. "He takes his work seriously, but never himself. He's a born clown like Red Skelton or Sid Caesar."
It's notable that Garner could maintain such an upbeat attitude considering the health problems that plagued him while filming Cash McCall. The days were long and began to take their toll on him with a variety of ailments, from sore throats to what was feared to be appendicitis. Though production shut down at a certain point, Garner recuperated and the film was completed on schedule.
The film's plot involves the twists and turns of high-finance finagling, with a girl, Lory Austen (Wood), thrown in as the deal-breaker. McCall tries to get close to the object of his affection by buying her father's (Dean Jagger) seemingly ailing plastics company. But from the corporate misunderstandings and hurt feelings that follow, McCall learns that grabbing and flipping the hard work of others doesn't mean as much to him as building a successful business. For Lory, he'll stick with the company.
Cash McCall had its premiere in Philadelphia, to mediocre reviews. Variety wasn't impressed: "Still, for audiences willing to accept a surface story with some romantic shenanigans, the picture will have attraction. Garner deserves better and so does Miss Wood. They are both intelligent actors capable of handling more incisive material." The Hollywood Reporter liked the film better, or at least Garner's part of it. "Whatever it is that makes a top-money-making star-James Garner has it..."
Despite the mixed enthusiasm, Cash McCall was a modest success at the box office, as observed by Hollywood Citizen News: "It's doing business and that's the important thing."
Just prior to his promotional tour for the film, Garner joined old friend and fellow Board vice-president Jimmy Lydon in a secret meeting to discuss SAG member grievances against Warner Brothers. The meeting had a huge turnout, mostly of younger actors, and it was clear that something at the studio would have to give. During the writers' strike of 1960, Garner walked off Maverick, which was in production for its third season. The studio sued...and lost. Aside from a few guest appearances, Garner would not return to television for a decade, working solely on the big screen.
Producer: Henry Blanke
Director: Joseph Pevney
Screenplay: Lenore J. Coffee, Marion Hargrove; Cameron Hawley (novel)
Cinematography: George J. Folsey
Art Direction: Malcolm C. Bert
Music: Max Steiner
Film Editing: Philip W. Anderson
Cast: James Garner (Cash McCall), Natalie Wood (Lory Austen), Nina Foch (Maude Kennard), Dean Jagger (Grant Austen), E.G. Marshall (Winston Conway), Henry Jones (Gil Clark), Otto Kruger (Will Atherson), Roland Winters (General Andrew Danvers).
by Emily Soares