Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Star of the Month, Joel McCrea, part 1

I'm sure you can figure out which one is Joel McCrea.A lot of people over on the TCM message boards have wanted Joel McCrea to be Star of the Month for some time, and this is the month they finally get their chance. TCM will be showing films with McCrea every Wednesday night in prime time, leading into Thursday morning. McCrea spent the last 15 years or so of his career doing a lot of westerns, but before that he made a lot of other films. TCM is spending this first week in May showing some of those other films. Several of them I've recommended in the past, such as The Palm Beach Story, which is on at 9:45 PM. (The picture at left has McCrea and Claudette Colbert from The Palm Beach Story.) That's followed at 11:30 PM by The More the Merrier. Ond of the last films this week is One Man's Journey, which is all the way at 9:15 AM tomorrow morning. This week, however, I'd like to mention a McCrea film I don't think I've evern mentioned before: Bed of Roses. Unlike the other films I've mentioned above, it doesn't seem to be available on DVD. It's also airing in the middle of the night, at 4:15 AM, so you're going to have to record this one.

Joel McCrea is nominally the male lead, but he's not really the star. That would be Constance Bennett. At the start of the movie, Bennett (who plays Lorrie) is just getting out of prison along with her friend Minnie (Pert Kelton). Both of them are small time con artists whose stock in trade runs along the lines of acting like prostitutes, and then getting their clients drunk and stealing their money. In order to get away from the prison authorities, the two hop aboard a steamboat plying the Mississippi River in Louisiana. Lorrie tries the same scam, but this time it's discovered that she has the missing money. To escape going back to prison, Lorrie jumps ship, literally jumping into the Mississppi, and eventually getting dragged aboard a cotton barge run by Dan (here's Joel McCrea). There's clearly a sexual attraction between the two. But Lorrie wants more out of life than the captain of a barge can provide her, so when the barge gets to New Orleans, Lorrie gets off and immediately starts trying to live the good life. At least this time she's doing it slightly less dishonestly, by becoming the mistress of the wealthy Mr. Paige (John Halliday).

Being a mistress isn't all it's cracked up to be. If Bennett hadn't been under contract to RKO, she might have seen Joan Crawford over at MGM in Possessed a year or two earlier, and realized this was a bad idea. Besides, she really loves hot Dan. She realizes, though, that Dan could never love a kept woman, and could only love her if she makes her living honestly. So Lorrie decides to leave Mr. Paige and do honest work in a department store!

Eighty years on, the plot of Bed of Roses rather strains credulity. Do people like this even exist any more? I suppose there are gold diggers and there are still certainly boat captains and con artists, but I don't think they lok at all like what you see on the screen here. That having been said, the movie is quite enjoyable. McCrea and Bennett work well together, and their scenes together on the barge display a surprising sexual tension. Granted, it's nothing like today where things can be more explicit even than the pre-Code films like Bed of Roses. But there's something about the passion between Bennett and McCrea that's just palpable. Bed of Roses is well worth a watch.

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