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Ray Milland (Star of the Month)
Remind Me
,The Crystal Ball

The Crystal Ball

Ray Milland had been a reliable player first in his native UK and then in Hollywood for more than a dozen years when he made The Crystal Ball (1943), still two years from being recognized as a skilled actor for his performance in The Lost Weekend (1945). Here he has little more to do than be unreasonably attractive to Paulette Goddard, one of Paramount's top leading ladies of the early 40s. Goddard plays a penniless girl new to New York befriended by charlatan fortune teller Madame Zenobia. She falls for Brad (Milland), a young lawyer and boyfriend of one of Zenobia's "clients," and when the fortune teller is injured, takes her place, using her "powers" to break up the romance and claim Brad for her own.

That's about the extent of it; the film did nothing to either help or damage Milland's career much, although even the tepid New York Times review noted engaging performances by the leads and by William Bendix, injecting "a bright ray here and there as Mr. Milland's tough-guy valet." Actually, the cast is enlivened by several expert supporting players, not least Gladys George as Madame Zenobia. A promising young actress from the stage, George began her career in silents, but an accident that left her badly burned curtailed her leading lady career and she returned to stock and later Broadway. In the 1930s, she reemerged as more of a character actress, although she received acclaim for starring roles in Valiant Is the Word for Carrie (1936) and the enduring soap opera about wayward mother love, Madame X (1937). She's probably best remembered today, however, for her character parts as DuBarry in Marie Antoinette (1938), the floozy who cradles a dying Cagney in her arms in The Roaring Twenties (1939), and as Miles Archer's widow in The Maltese Falcon (1941). She had one more very notable role in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) before her career wound down. She died in 1954 at 54 years old.

During production, this film's title was changed from The Crystal Ball to Redheads Are Dangerous, and back again to The Crystal Ball. A pre-production Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Ginger Rogers was originally considered for the lead role, while a modern source noted that Charles Boyer was intended as her co-star. According to another Hollywood Reporter blurb, the picture was originally to close with a train sequence, but the script was rewritten to reflect transportation restrictions imposed during the war.

Near the start of The Crystal Ball, Goddard whistles the tune "(I've Got Spurs That) Jingle, Jangle, Jingle," a hit introduced in her previous movie The Forest Rangers (1942).

Yvonne De Carlo plays a small part as a secretary. It would be a few more years before she emerged from her string of uncredited bit parts with the lead in the period piece Salome Where She Danced (1945). De Carlo would play a number of noteworthy femme fatales in noir thrillers and Westerns over the years, and achieve television fame as Lily in the 1960s comedy series The Munsters.

The Crystal Ball was Goddard's third foray into the realm of supernatural comedy after two movies with Bob Hope, The Cat and the Canary (1939) and The Ghost Breakers (1940). She and Milland co-starred twice before in The Lady Has Plans (1942) and Reap the Wild Wind (1942) and would pair again for the period piece Kitty (1945).

Zenobia has been a popular name for exotic female characters, not just in film but in the literature of Nathaniel Hawthorne, P.G. Wodehouse, Robert Heinlein, Edward Gorey, and Edith Wharton. On screen, she has turned up as the title character of a 70s porn movie and in the person of Anita Ekberg, playing a version of the real-life Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, who led a revolt against the Roman Empire and established her own sizeable Middle East realm for a time.

Director: Elliott Nugent
Producer: Buddy DeSylva (uncredited), Richard Blumenthal (associate producer)
Screenplay: Virginia Van Upp, story by Steven Vas
Cinematography: Leo Tover
Editing: Doane Harrison
Art Direction: Roland Anderson, Hans Dreier
Original Music: Victor Young
Cast: Ray Milland (Brad Cavanaugh), Paulette Goddard (Toni Gerard), Gladys George (Madame Zenobia), Virginia Field (Jo Ainsley), Cecil Kellaway (Pop Tibbets), William Bendix (Biff Carter).

by Rob Nixon



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