Jack Carson, 1910-1963
TCM's "Star of the Month" for January 2008 has been James Cagney. Cagney made a lot of wonderful movies, but I must admit that I tend to be a fan of the character actors, as they always make the movies they're in interesting, but don't get the recognition that they deserve. So, I'd like to recommend one of Cagney's movies by way of mentioning one of the supporting actors: The Strawberry Blonde, with co-star Jack Carson, airing on TCM at 5:45 AM ET Thursday (January 31).
Carson plays Cagney's long-time friend, a user who has a knack for committing frauds, but leaving Cagney on the hook for them. The movie opens with Carson needing emergency dental work from Cagney -- an altogether frightening prospect, as the movie is set at the beginning of the 20th century, at a time when dentistry was significantly less advanced than it is today. We're led to believe that there's something between Cagney and Carson -- and that something is eventually revealed in one long flashback.
Amongst the things Carson has done to Cagney is to take the girl Cagney wanted: the title "strawberry blonde", played by Rita Hayworth. So while Carson gets to marry Hayworth, Cagney is "stuck" with Hayworth's friend, Olivia de Havilland. (Not a bad compromise, I suppose.) I won't give away any more of the plot, except to point out that you should stay for the end credits: instead of the traditional end credits we get an encore of the song "And the Band Played On", complete with lyrics and bouncing ball to follow the lyrics and sing along.
But more on Carson. He's wonderful, and possibly best-remembered as the oily, smarmy "friend", a role not dissimilar to the Wallace Fay that he would play a few years later in Mildred Pierce. But that's far from Carson's only "other man" role. Indeed, you can see him in another such role alongside Cagney in The Bride Came COD, at 11:30 PM ET January 30. (Actually, I could have used this movie as a springboard for a discussion of character actors, as it's got the uniquely-voiced Eugene Pallette playing Bette Davis's father.) Finally, Carson was also the "other man" for Myrna Loy in Love Crazy.