Scandal at Scourie
Wednesday September, 23 2015 at 12:45 PM
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Greer Garson was nearing the end of her time at MGM, where the London-born actress had risen to Hollywood stardom--she was certainly past her days as the reigning Great Lady of the studio--when she made this pleasant-enough drama about a Canadian couple who adopt a troubled orphan, a suspected arsonist whose Catholic presence in their staunchly Protestant home causes all sorts of controversy and a wealth of difficulties for the husband's political ambitions.
In this role, Garson gets to recall the self-sacrificing mom of her Oscar®-winning Mrs. Miniver (1942), bolstered by the appearance here of her co-star from the earlier picture, Walter Pidgeon. This was their eighth and final film together (nine, if you count their guest-star cameos in The Youngest Profession, 1943). Pidgeon had stood by her side as Garson defied New York society snobbery in Mrs. Parkington (1944), the scientific community in Madame Curie (1943), competition from a ravishing 16-year-old Elizabeth Taylor in Julia Misbehaves (1948), the entire bloody German war machine in Miniver, and post-war rationing in its sequel, The Miniver Story (1950). Once again playing her husband, Pidgeon learns to give up his ambitions for Garson's higher ideals and her determination to do right by an unwanted child, much as she had done for other orphans in their earlier vehicle Blossoms in the Dust (1941). At least this time he is finally rewarded with a double bed to share.
In Blossoms, Garson had to contend with negative attitudes toward illegitimate children. Some of that surfaces here, too, but the real issue is religious intolerance, apparently still so strong in Canada at the time that Pidgeon's political opponents could use it against him and spark talk that the only reason he and his wife adopted a Catholic girl from Quebec was to curry favor with Catholic voters. According to information in the film's file in the collection of the Production Code Administration (the industry's self-censorship arm), there was much concern that the script portrayed the Catholics much more sympathetically than the Protestants. Without blatantly emphasizing ethnicity, the story also hinges on the tensions between French-speaking Quebec and the majority English-speaking provinces.
The working titles of this film--arguably even worse than the final release title they gave it--were "My Mother and Mr. McChesney" and "Vicki." It was directed by Jean Negulesco, on loan to MGM from Twentieth Century-Fox, where he had just completed Titanic (1953) and where he would return after this picture to direct Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and Lauren Bacall in the glossy comedy How to Marry a Millionaire (1953).
The troubled orphan is played by Donna Corcoran, part of a dynasty of child actors that also included sister Noreen (teen star of the TV series Bachelor Father) and brothers Hugh, Brian, Kevin (Moochie on TVs The Adventures of Spin and Marty), and the baby of the family, Kelly, who died young in 2002. Donna earlier appeared as the unfortunate girl under the "care" of psychotic babysitter Marilyn Monroe in Don't Bother to Knock (1952). Their father was for several years the chief of maintenance at MGM.
Despite the word "scandal" in the title, the picture, shot on location in Canada, was something any parent could take their child to see, a fact MGM exploited in its marketing of it as a "warm and wonderful" family film. In a year that also saw such adult releases as From Here to Eternity, Stalag 17, and The Wild One (all 1953), the gentle sentimentality of Scandal at Scourie got lost in the crowd. Garson's tenure at MGM, where she had racked up an impressive six Academy Award nominations the decade before, was over within the year. She would soon turn her focus to a successful stage and television career, making only six more theatrical features after this until her death in 1996 at the age of 91.
Director: Jean Negulesco
Producer: Edwin H. Knopf
Screenplay: Norman Corwin, Leonard Spigelgass, Karl Tunberg, based on the story "Good Boy" by Mary McSherry
Cinematography: Robert H. Planck
Editing: Ferris Webster
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Wade B. Rubottom
Cast: Greer Garson (Victoria McChesney), Walter Pidgeon (Patrick McChesney), Agnes Moorehead (Sister Josephine), Donna Corcoran (Patsy), Arthur Shields (Father Riley).
by Rob Nixon
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