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It is a shame that Glenn Ford's stock as a Hollywood icon declined in his later years, even before his death in 2006 at the age of 90. One of several actors stuck with the unflattering brand "the poor man's Spencer Tracy" (James Whitmore was another recipient of this dubious distinction), Ford's characteristic languor went the way of the studio system in the 1960s. Of course, it had been precisely this stolidity that had boosted the actor to prominence in the first place. Born Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford on May 1, 1916, in the Quebec suburb of Sainte-Christine, Ford relocated with his family to California when he was eight. He began acting while enrolled at Santa Monica High School and performed with local stage companies after graduating in 1934. He made his film debut as the tuxedoed emcee of the Paramount short Night in Manhattan (1937), a job that netted the newcomer thirty-five dollars minus the rental fee for the tux. Trying his luck in New York, Ford worked as a stage manager for the Broadway production of The Little Foxes starring Tallulah Bankhead; standing in one night for a sick actor, Ford wound up with an offer to shoot a screen test for 20th Century Fox. Fox executives hated the test but nevertheless plugged him into the Dalton Trumbo-scripted Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence (1939), the first film in which he appears as Glenn Ford (a stage name taken from the Alberta town of Glenford, where his father had once owned a paper mill). Offered a miserly one-year contract by Fox, Ford signed instead with Columbia Pictures, where he excelled in young leading man roles until the outbreak of World War II. After his military service, Glenn Ford returned to Hollywood and scored with a string of hits.
Filmed as They Walk Alone, Richard Wallace's Framed (1947) was a bid by Columbia to repeat their success with Gilda (1946), in which cool and collected Ford had been paired with a smoldering Rita Hayworth, while twitchy George Macready stole the show as Hayworth's gimpy third wheel of a husband. Playing the part of the femme fatale in Framed was Janis Carter. Born Janis Dremann in 1913, Carter moved to New York after her graduation from Cleveland, Ohio's Mather College with the hope of an opera career. Thwarted in that dream, she was discovered by Daryl F. Zanuck while working as a model for the John Robert Powers Agency. Signed by Fox, Carter felt underutilized and broke her contract (with the consent of the studio) to try her luck at Columbia. A role in Night Editor (1946), in which her character exhibits sexual stimulation at the scene of a violent assault, won her the bad girl role in Framed. Ford (at the time, "Man of the Year" according to the Bobbysoxers of America) and Carter ("Motion Picture Sweater Girl" of 1946, by power of the National Knitted Outerwear Association) got along well during shooting but for the damage to Carter's alabaster skin from Ford's required five o'clock shadow. When the actress broke out in a rash, Ford was ordered to shave and his stubble was stippled on thereafter by the make-up department. Another amusing incident occurred when aircraft buzzed the Columbia Ranch where exterior scenes were being shot. With the sound of plane motors ruining take after take, Ford aimed a string of invectives at the heavens, prompting one crewman to crack "You invented the darn things, didn't you" - a reference to Ford's role as John J. Montgomery, inventor of the "aeroplane," in Gallant Journey (1946).
However Columbia may have wanted lightning to strike twice (one sheets for Framed assured moviegoers that this was "the same Ford who tamed Gilda"), the romantic triangle of Ford, Carter and Barry Sullivan hadn't quite the same potential for psycho-sexual magnetism. Critics were divided upon the occasion of the film's theatrical release in April of 1947 (at which time it was booked for play dates at the Pantages Hollywood and the RKO Hillstreet with George Archainbaud's King of the Wild Horses, starring Preston Foster) but even the naysayers were largely in agreement that Ford was the one to watch. "Ford shows distinct progress in the potency of his portrayals since his return from the service," wrote Edwin Schallert of the LA Times, while The Hollywood Reporter's Gene Friedman observed "Ford is excellent in a Bogart-like role and adds to it flashes of boyish personality that lift his portrayal well out of the groove." The critic for Film Daily found Ford "...well cast. The way they (audiences) want to see him" while also noting that Janis Carter was "very easy on the optics." The critics were less forgiving of the film's debt to previous noirs, from Gilda to Double Indemnity (1944). One wag went so far as to suggest that the makers of Framed owed James M. Cain a royalty check. Ultimately, this project was neither a high or low point in the arc of Glenn Ford's Hollywood career. Several important film roles lay ahead of him, including the male second lead (opposite Marlon Brando) in MGM's film of John Patrick's Pulitzer prize-winning Broadway play The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956).
Coincidentally, it had been an unpublished story by John Patrick that set the ball rolling on Framed. Hired to flesh out the tale for the movie was another writer, Ben Maddow. Born in Passaic, New Jersey, in 1909, the Columbia graduate worked during the Depression as an orderly at Bellevue Hospital and as a social service investigator; the latter vocation brought him daily into Manhattan's teeming immigrant slums. A passion for cinema pointed Maddow to an early affiliation with a Marxist documentary film group and he became a founder of the leftist newsreel The World Today. During World War II, Maddow was assigned to the Air Force First Motion Picture Unit, alongside John Sturges, William Wyler and Marvin Wald. Maddow's enthusiasm for the medium of the documentary influenced the realist verité of Jules Dassin's The Naked City (1948), which was produced by Maddow's Air Force buddy Marvin Wald. Throughout his Hollywood tenure, Maddow considered screenwriting merely a way to make a buck and cinema to be largely devoid of ideas. He had been a poet before the war, publishing and receiving merit under the pseudonym "David Wolff." (Nelson Algren and Allen Ginsberg were both greatly influenced by Maddow's poetry.) In 1952, Maddow published a novel, Forty Four Gravel Street, which laced standard pulp procedure with social (and socialist) commentary. Maddow wrote the screenplay for John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle (1950), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award®. Tainted by his involvement in the HUAC hearings, Maddow used Philip Yordan as a front for his screenplays for The Naked Jungle (1954) and Johnny Guitar (1954). He changed careers late in life to establish himself as an authority on photography, publishing several volumes of criticism before his death in October 1992 at the age of 83.
Producer: Jules Schermer
Director: Richard Wallace
Screenplay: Ben Maddow; John Patrick (story)
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Art Direction: Carl Anderson, Stephen Goosson
Music: Marlin Skiles; Arthur Morton (uncredited)
Film Editing: Richard Fantl
Cast: Glenn Ford (Mike Lambert), Janis Carter (Paula Craig), Barry Sullivan (Steve Price), Edgar Buchanan (Jeff Cunningham), Karen Morley (Beth), Jim Bannon (Jack Woodworth).
by Richard Harland Smith
Glenn Ford interview by Dina-Marie Kulzer, 1990
Glenn Ford, Forgotten Star by Jon Tedd Wynne
Film Noir: An Encyclopedia Reference to the American Style edited by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward
Ben Maddow: Affairs of the Skin by Woody Haut
Nelson Algren's Secret: The True Story Behind "City on the Make" by McMahon, Newcity Chicago
Glenn Ford obituary by Richard Severo, The New York Times
Ben Maddow obituary by William H. Honan, The New York Times John Patrick obituary by Eric Pace, The New York Times
The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim