Cast & Crew
In Nebraska in 1880, after stealing their costumes from theater owner Mr. Hodges, Tom Healy and his Great Concert and Dramatic Company race their wagons to the Wyoming border, where Hodges' writ against them is invalid. Upon arriving at their next job in Cheyenne, the townspeople gape at the troupe consisting of Tom's girl friend and star, Angela Rossini; ingénue Della Southby; her mother, Lorna Hathaway; and Shakespearean ham Manfred Montague. Despite their worldliness, the actors are unnerved to witness the bodies of the two recent victims of hired gun Clint Mabry. Also dismayed is the dead men's partner, rancher Santis, who knows that Mabry has been hired by corrupt businessman DeLeon to kill the owners of the land that DeLeon wants to claim. As saloon and theater owner Sam Pierce leads the troupe into his building, Angie avoids Mabry's lewd stare, then eavesdrops as the killer taunts Santis for begging to be spared. Knowing that Angie's flirtatious, impulsive nature causes trouble wherever they go, Tom urges her to be good, and later leads the actors in rehearsing an opera. When Pierce sees them, he contends that the Cheyenne audience will not tolerate the show's theme of adultery, so that night, Tom agonizes over which play will best please the rough crowd. After asserting that it is vital that they succeed and escape trouble this time, Tom mentions settling down to Angie, who demurs, considering herself too young and "free" to marry. They soon perform Mazeppa , and Angie's appearance scantily clad and tied to the back of a galloping horse thrills the crowd, especially Mabry. Backstage, however, Hodges appears with a warrant for Tom's arrest, prompting Angie to persuade Pierce to pay off their debt in return for her company that evening. When Tom hears what she has done, he deduces the danger to come and prepares the troupe to flee once again. Angie hopes to win enough money to pay the debt and stay in town, and so joins a poker game. By the end of the game, she is forced to put herself up as collateral, and when Mabry calls her bluff, she loses to him. Just then, Santis enters the saloon, gun drawn, and as Mabry shoots him, Angie runs away. By the time the gunman gets to her room, the troupe is gone, but upon hearing that they have headed to the neighboring town of Bonanza, Mabry pursues them. When he finds them on the trail, Tom, who has heard that marauding Indians are nearby, invites him to join them, despite Angie's objections. That night, Indians attack and kill the drivers, but Mabry shoots two of them and the third flees. Realizing they will be attacked again, Mabry instructs the troupe to leave the wagons behind and run into the hills. There, as the Indians raid and burn the wagons below, Angie asks Mabry why he remains with them and he answers, "To protect my property." Heading for a mission on the other side of the mountain, the group is soon trudging through snow. Despite their exhaustion, Mabry urges them to keep moving, and along the way Angie avoids the gunslinger while Tom watches them warily and dodges Della's attentions. Eventually they reach clement weather, and when they camp, Mabry mentions the bet, forcing Angie to confess her wager to Tom. Disgusted, Tom stalks off, and Mabry follows Angie to a watering hole, where she reluctantly submits to his advances. Just then, Gallager, the henchman DeLeon has hired to kill Mabry so he will not have to pay him, shoots at them. He has mistaken Tom for Mabry, however, and Mabry disarms the shooter and forces him to reveal who hired him. Angie tries to look after Tom, whose leg has been wounded, but he has seen her emerge from the watering hole with Mabry and so pushes her away. They struggle to the mission, where Tom collapses. When he awakens, he refuses to listen to Angie's apology, informing her that the troupe is disbanded. Later, Mabry offers Angie $500 to go to DeLeon and threaten to expose his corrupt business practices unless he pays Mabry the $5,000 he owes him. With no other prospects, the plucky actress visits DeLeon in Bonanza and demands the money, then, as planned, waits in town for Mabry to return for the money. Soon after, a recovered Tom arrives in Bonanza with Lorna and Della, only to discover a building with the sign "Healy's Theatre." Inside, Angie reveals that she has bought the building with Mabry's money and deeded it to Tom, and although he originally refuses to accept the gift, she feigns incompetence, prompting him to agree to stay just long enough to stage another performance of Mazeppa . The first show is a success, but during the performance, Mabry sneaks backstage and grabs Angie, demanding his money. Tom is forced to defend Angie, and although he manages to knock Mabry down, he turns his back and Mabry draws his gun. The gunslinger is distracted, however, by DeLeon's men, who have learned of his presence and have surrounded the theater. While the troupe continues the play, Tom rescues Mabry by lashing him to the back of the play's horse, which then gallops through the audience and out of the theater. The audience is thrilled, but Tom is dejected to see that Angie has disappeared. Later, as he dims the theater candles, Tom sees Angie at the door. She informs him that she has repaid Mabry and sent him away, by securing a loan using the theater as collateral. Tom's exasperation turns to delight when Angie reveals that she signed the note as "Mrs. Tom Healy," and ignoring his sore leg, he sweeps her into his arms.
Leo V. Matranga
Paul T. Salata
Neil K. Hooker
Harry J. Fleer
Iron Eyes Cody
Kenneth D. Clark
H. W. "peanut" Gim
Cindy, A Dog
Lewis E. Ciannelli
C. C. Coleman Jr.
R. D. Cook
Chief Jacinto Flores
John P. Fulton
Heller In Pink Tights - Heller in Pink Tights
In any case, Heller in Pink Tights is certainly a very unconventional western-set film, from its perplexing, off-putting title to its Italian star (Sophia Loren) to its emphasis on design, costumes and color rather than gunplay or traditional western action.
The picture has its immediate genesis in a Louis L'Amour novel called Heller with a Gun. In 1958, George Cukor was looking for a new project when he discovered that Paramount owned the rights to the L'Amour story and had already commissioned a screenplay by Dudley Nichols, the Oscar®-winning writer of The Informer (1935) and other great films including the westerns Stagecoach (1939) and The Tin Star (1957). Paramount was developing Heller for contract star Alan Ladd as a straight-ahead western. Cukor read the screenplay and zeroed in on a subplot about a theatrical troupe traveling through the old west, putting on stage shows. This reminded Cukor of a passion project he had long wanted to mount. In 1945, D.W. Griffith had described to Cukor an idea for a film about a theater troupe drawn from Griffith's own roadshow days as well as from the memoir (Good Troupers All) of a pioneer-era actor named Joseph Jefferson. Cukor, an expert in American theater history, was intrigued enough with this idea back in 1945 that he had his friend, playwright Maxwell Anderson, turn it into a screenplay, entitled Troupers West. Nothing came of it at the time. But now, in 1958, Cukor saw a chance to resurrect his old ideas by blending them into this new Heller project at Paramount. Indeed, even though Anderson doesn't get writing credit, Cukor's favorite scene in the movie -- the Indian raid on the wardrobe trunk -- was one that survived from Anderson's screenplay. That scene, incidentally, had also been described by Jefferson in his memoir and thus was based in truth.
Perhaps inevitably, various uncredited writers worked to hammer all this source material into a revised screenplay. During production, the formerly blacklisted writer Walter Bernstein was hired to rewrite it yet again, and he received screen credit with Nichols. (It was Nichols' final credit -- he died from cancer before the film opened.)
Paramount had a production deal in place with Italian producer Carlo Ponti and his wife, Sophia Loren, and the film was set up as a vehicle for her, which is not as crazy as it sounds since there actually were Italian acting companies touring the west during the pioneer days. With the emphasis of the movie now on Loren's actress character rather than the gunfighter of L'Amour's novel, the title Heller with a Gun was deemed misleading. Screenwriter Bernstein suggested "Heller in Pink Tights." The word "heller" is an archaic variation on "hellion" or "hellraiser," and audiences were surely as stumped by the word in 1960 as anyone would be today.
To play opposite Loren, Cukor wanted Roger Moore, then 32 years old, but the studio wasn't willing to take a chance on the still largely unknown actor. Cukor then mentioned Gregory Peck or Kirk Douglas, but the studio considered them too expensive. Paramount desired its own contract star Anthony Quinn for the part, and Cukor acquiesced. This angered Loren and Ponti because Quinn had already co-starred with Loren twice before -- on the Italian film Attila (1954) and the U.S. production The Black Orchid (1958) -- and Loren was not fond of him. But Quinn stayed on board Heller, and Loren would have to make the best of it.
She'd have to make the best of working with Cukor, too. She later said that he directed her by acting out her scenes and making her mimic him -- his gestures, his intonations, "even his eye movements." For the record, however, no one else in the cast complained of this, and it is highly unlikely that an actor's director like Cukor would have to resort to such tactics if there wasn't some reason for it. Quinn, who called Heller "an unfortunate film," later said of Cukor: "He worked more with Sophia than with me. Maybe it was the role, or maybe she was more demanding of his attention."
For the part of a young ingénue, Cukor went with 21-year-old Margaret O'Brien. No longer a cute little child actress, O'Brien was now an attractive young woman, and this was her first feature in four years. She loved working with Cukor and said her role here "was fun because I was kind of a vixen." Indeed, one critic wrote, "Margaret O'Brien's new sexiness will probably astound onlookers."
Also appearing in Heller in Pink Tights are veteran actors Edmund Lowe and Ramon Novarro. Novarro hadn't been on the big screen for ten years, but he had recently been getting lots of press attention due to the massive remake of Ben-Hur (1959) that was about to be released. Novarro, of course, had starred in the 1925 original, his most famous role. The renewed interest in the 60-year-old actor led to a career resurgence, with Heller followed by numerous TV guest spots as well as stage and radio gigs. Of Heller, Novarro said, "John Barrymore once told me that if I ever got a chance to appear in a film directed by George Cukor, it would be an experience I'd value, and I did greatly enjoy every moment working for Mr. Cukor." Margaret O'Brien later recalled Novarro as being "very sweet and very shy and quiet. He kind of kept to himself and was not haughty."
Probably the most important creative contributor to Heller was George Hoyningen-Huene, a famous Russian fashion photographer whom Cukor hired as visual consultant and color coordinator. Huene worked in this capacity on many Cukor films starting with A Star Is Born (1954), overseeing the overall color design by coordinating the heads of the costume, set, and lighting departments to achieve a unified whole. One might justifiably presume this to be the director's job, but Cukor loved Huene's eye and revered his input and ideas. Cukor was much more interested in the design challenges of this film -- the color, the atmosphere, the visual style and detail -- than he was in the plot (much to the dismay of the studio brass). Cukor told Huene that he wanted Heller to look "like a cross between Frederic Remington's paintings of the old west and Toulouse-Lautrec's renderings of music hall performers."
"It was a film," Cukor said, "which lent itself to color treatment, and it was very much Hoyningen-Huene's work. I believe that the West really did look like that." One Huene contribution that Cukor especially loved was the striking casino sequence, in which the men wear black, Loren's dress is white, and the walls and décor of the sets are red.
Cukor also remembered Huene venturing into the depths of the Paramount costume department and finding many "old costumes of the Crusades, the Revolution...all sorts of incorrect things falling apart, and he put them all together. It was so real on the screen, all the actors in the far west with this incredible mélange." According to Cukor's historical research, actors in the old west days really had worn a blend of such costumes.
The costumes of the Indians, too, were drawn from photos from the era. They look much dowdier than the Indians one usually sees in Hollywood movies. "Part of their costumes were discarded Civil War uniforms," Cukor said. "All these things were exact reproductions. When the troupe first arrives in the town and sees those dead Indians laid out on the boards, that was from photographs. And when the Indians attack the troupe and steal their costumes, that was based on something described by Joseph Jefferson in his autobiography. You see them finally caught and hanged, still wearing togas and Elizabethan ruffles -- a good, funny scene."
Production in early 1959 was a frenetic affair, with new script pages being delivered the mornings they were to be shot. As Walter Bernstein said, "Nobody knew what they were getting the next day. That was very tough on everybody." The reason for the big rush was that Carlo Ponti was on a tight schedule to start his next film with Loren, A Breath of Scandal, which would be the second of five Loren titles to be released in 1960.
Cukor spent five weeks overseeing the editing of Heller in Pink Tights. Paramount saw the cut and panicked, flummoxed over what to do with this odd hybrid of a movie. The studio ordered additional action scenes and re-edited the picture to try and make it more narrative-driven. All this was entirely without Cukor's involvement and much to his consternation.
Heller received mixed reviews despite the hatchet job, but the public stayed far away. The film was marketed as a western, plain and simple, when the true audience should have been art-house crowds. Any moviegoers expecting a typical action western were sorely disappointed (if the words "Pink Tights" in the title hadn't already tipped them off!).
In a 1964 interview, Cukor summed up his feelings on the uneven final product: "Visually and in the performances Heller was very diverting, even if it wasn't a very good story, and it annoyed me that the picture was passed over so lightly in America. Paramount had no real faith in it, they did some stupid cutting, and then it wasn't even released properly. It's a great pity, because among other things it seems to me a very interesting view of the West."
Producer: Carlo Ponti, Marcello Girosi
Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: Walter Bernstein, Dudley Nichols, based on the novel Heller with a Gun by Louis L'Amour
Cinematography: Harold Lipstein
Art Direction: Gene Allen, Hal Pereira
Music: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Film Editing: Howard A. Smith
Costume Design: Edith Head
Cast: Sophia Loren (Angela Rossini), Anthony Quinn (Thomas 'Tom' Healy), Margaret O'Brien (Della Southby), Steve Forrest (Clint Mabry), Ramon Novarro (De Leon), Edmund Lowe (Manfred 'Doc' Montague), George Mathews (Sam Pierce), Frank Silvera (Santis).
by Jeremy Arnold
Allan R. Ellenberger, Margaret O'Brien: A Career Chronicle and Biography
Warren G. Harris, Sophia Loren: A Biography
Gavin Lambert, On Cukor
Enrico Lancia, Sophia Loren
Emanuel Levy, George Cukor: Master of Elegance
Robert Emmet Long, George Cukor: Interviews
Patrick McGilligan, George Cukor: A Double Life
Andre Soares, Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro
Heller In Pink Tights - Heller in Pink Tights
TCM Remembers - Eileen Heckart
Eileen Heckart, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Butterflies Are Free (1972), died December 31st at the age of 82. Heckart was born in 1919 in Columbus, Ohio and became interested in acting while in college. She moved to NYC in 1942, married her college boyfriend the following year (a marriage that lasted until his death in 1995) and started acting on stage. Soon she was appearing in live dramatic TV such as The Philco Television Playhouse and Studio One. Her first feature film appearance was as a waitress in Bus Stop (1956) but it was her role as a grieving mother in the following year's The Bad Seed that really attracted notice and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Heckart spent more time on Broadway and TV, making only occasional film appearances in Heller in Pink Tights (1960), No Way to Treat a Lady (1968) and Heartbreak Ridge (1986). She won one Emmy and was nominated for five others.
TCM REMEMBERS DAVID SWIFT, 1919-2001
Director David Swift died December 31st at the age of 82. Swift was best-known for the 1967 film version of the Broadway musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (he also appears in a cameo), Good Neighbor Sam (1964) starring Jack Lemmon and The Parent Trap (1961), all of which he also co-wrote. Swift was born in Minnesota but moved to California in the early 30s so he could work for Disney as an assistant animator, contributing to a string of classics from Dumbo (1941) to Fantasia (1940) to Snow White (1937). Swift also worked with madcap animator Tex Avery at MGM. He later became a TV and radio comedy writer and by the 1950s was directing episodes of TV series like Wagon Train, The Rifleman, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Playhouse 90 and others. Swift also created Mr. Peepers (1952), one of TV's first hit series and a multiple Emmy nominee. Swift's first feature film was Pollyanna (1960) for which he recorded a DVD commentary last year. Swift twice received Writers Guild nominations for work on How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and The Parent Trap.
TCM REMEMBERS PAUL LANDRES, 1912-2001
Prolific B-movie director Paul Landres died December 26th at the age of 89. Landres was born in New York City in 1912 but his family soon moved to Los Angeles where he grew up. He spent a couple of years attending UCLA before becoming an assistant editor at Universal in the 1931. He became a full editor in 1937, working on such films as Pittsburgh (1942) and I Shot Jesse James (1949). His first directorial effort was 1949's Grand Canyon but he soon became fast and reliable, alternating B-movies with TV episodes.. His best known films are Go, Johnny, Go! (1958) with appearances by Chuck Berry and Jackie Wilson, the moody The Return of Dracula (1958) and the 1957 cult favorite The Vampire. His TV credits run to some 350 episodes for such series as Adam 12, Bonanza, Death Valley Days and numerous others. Landres was co-founder in 1950 of the honorary society American Cinema Editors.
BUDD BOETTICHER 1916-2001
When director Budd Boetticher died on November 29th, American film lost another master. Though not a household name, Boetticher made crisp, tightly wound movies with more substance and emotional depth than was apparent at first glance. Instead of a flashy style, Boetticher preferred one imaginatively simple and almost elegant at times. Because of this approach films like The Tall T (1957), Decision at Sundown (1957), The Bullfighter and the Lady (1951) and Ride Lonesome (1960) have withstood the test of time while more blatantly ambitious films now seem like period pieces.
Budd was born Oscar Boetticher in Chicago on July 29th, 1916. With a father who sold hardware, Boetticher didn't come from a particularly artistic background. In college he boxed and played football before graduating and heading to Mexico to follow what's surely one of the most unusual ways to enter the film industry: as a professional matador. That's what led an old friend to get Boetticher hired as a bullfighting advisor on the 1941 version of Blood and Sand. Boetticher quickly took other small jobs in Hollywood before becoming an assistant director for films like Cover Girl. In 1944, he directed his first film, the Boston Blackie entry One Mysterious Night. Boetticher made a series of other B-movies, like the underrated film noir Behind Locked Doors (1948), through the rest of the decade.
Boetticher really hit his stride in the 50s when he began to get higher profile assignments, including the semi-autobiographical The Bullfighter and the Lady in 1951 which resulted in Boetticher's only Oscar nomination, for Best Writing. Sam Peckinpah later said he saw the film ten times. Other highlights of this period include Seminole (1953) (one of the first Hollywood films sympathetic to American Indians), the stylishly tight thriller The Killer Is Loose (1956) and the minor classic Horizons West (1952). In the late 50s, Boetticher also started directing TV episodes of series like Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip.
In 1956, Boetticher started a string of films that really established his reputation. These six Westerns starring Randolph Scott are known as the Ranown films after the production company named after Randolph Scott and producer Harry Joe Brown. Actually the first, Seven Men from Now (1956), was produced by a different company but all of them fit together, pushing the idea of the lone cowboy seeking revenge into new territory. The sharp Decision at Sundown twists Western cliche into one of the bleakest endings to slip through the Hollywood gates. The Tall T examines the genre's violent tendencies while Ride Lonesome and Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) have titles appropriate to their Beckett-like stories. The final film, Comanche Station, appeared in 1960.
That was the same year Boetticher made one of the best gangster films, The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, before watching everything fall apart. He and his wife decided to make a documentary about the famous matador Carlos Arruza and headed to Mexico. There Boetticher saw Arruza and much of the film crew die in an accident, almost died himself from an illness, separated from and divorced his wife (Debra Paget), and then spent time in various jails and even briefly a mental institution. This harrowing experience left him bankrupt but he still managed to complete the film, Arruza (1968), which gathered acclaim from the few who've been able to see it.
Boetticher managed to make just one more film, My Kingdom For... (1985), a self-reflexive documentary about raising Andalusian horses. He also made a cameo appearance in the Mel Gibson-Kurt Russell suspense thriller, Tequila Sunrise (1988). He died from complications from surgery at the age of 85.
By Lang Thompson
TCM Remembers - Eileen Heckart
The working titles of this film were Heller with a Gun and Wagon Train. A written prologue before the credits states that, in an era of famous gunmen, one actress became a legend of the Old West with her beauty and flirtatiousness. The opening credits roll in the style of a silent film reel. In April 1957, Daily Variety announced that Michael Rennie had formed an independent production company with author Louis L'Amour to produce L'Amour's story, entitled Heller with a Gun, and hoped to star Marlene Dietrich. By August 1957, Los Angeles Times stated that their company, named Ren-Mor Productions, planned to shoot the film in early 1958 with Anne Baxter as a possible lead, and would develop a television series from the same story.
According to information found in the file for the film in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library, Paramount bought the options to L'Amour's story for $25,000 in March 1958 and in September 1958 hired Zoë Akins to write an outline. After Akins died of cancer on October 29, 1959, Dudley Nichols took over the writing assignment, and Walter Bernstein was then hired in February 1959. Although the Paramount files note that January Lustig, John Dunkel and Alec Coppel also wrote early versions of the script, their contribution to the final film has not been confirmed, and only Nichols and Bernstein received onscreen credit. Heller in Pink Tights marked the last film for Nichols (1895-1960).
An April 1958 "Rambling Reporter" item in Hollywood Reporter mistakenly referred to Heller in Pink Tights as being based on a Ray Wander story entitled Layover at El Paso. The Paramount Collection information states that location shooting took place in Arizona in Tucson and the Empire Ranch in Sonoyta, as well in Bronson Canyon, CA. Late 1958 and early 1959 Hollywood Reporter news items list Jack Warden, Marion Lorne, Jack Lemmon and James Garner as possible lead actors in the picture, but none appeared in the final film.
Heller in Pink Tights marked the first Western film for both director George Cukor and star Sophia Loren. Modern sources describe Cukor's exhaustive research into the lives of late eighteenth-century theater actors in the West. The character of "Angela Rossini" was based partially on real-life Western theater star Adah Isaacs Menken, who famously strapped herself to a horse while wearing flesh-colored tights for a performance of the play Mazeppa, which was based on a Lord Byron poem.
After filming ending in April 1959, Hollywood Reporter reported the budget as $3.5 million. Some modern sources assert that after Cukor spent five weeks supervising the editing of Heller in Pink Tights, Paramount re-cut the film to the director's distaste. The picture received positive reviews, with the New York Times critic praising Loren's performance as one of the most warm and natural of her career. The film marked the last for Ramon Novarro, who was murdered in 1968.
Released in United States Spring March 1960
Released in United States Spring March 1960