Friday, August 16, 2013

TCM honors Ann Blyth on her 85th birthday

You're just waiting for Mildred to smack her, aren't you?
Ann Blyth (l.) in a tense scene with Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce (1945)

I didn't realize that today was the 85th birthday of actress Ann Blyth, who is probably best remembered for playing ingrateful daughter Veda in the 1945 classic Mildred Pierce, for which Blyth was nominated for an Oscar. That's airing tonight at 8:00 PM on TCM, as TCM has made Blyth today's star in Summer Under the Stars. If for some bizarre reason you've never seen Mildred Pierce before, I can strongly recommend it. However, having blogged about it before and having recommended it on a number of other occasions when TCM aired it, I'd like to mention a different Ann Blyth film: Slander, which is airing at 6:30 PM.

Blyth plays Connie Martin, a housewife and mother who is married to Scott Martin (Van Johnson). Scott is a successful puppeteer, working on one of those kids' shows that were a staple of local television back in the 1950s when there was a lot of locally-produced non-news programming. (News is a cheap moneymaker for local broadcasters, which is why there has been such an increase in the amount of news on most local stations. That, and it can be passed off as a public service for the FCC licensing reviews. But that's another story.) Scott, however, has a secret, which is that before becoming a puppeteer, he had a past life that included a stint in prison for armed robbery. For understandable reasons, Scott doesn't want this to become public, as he'll lose his audience when parents freak out over a criminal entertaining their kids. Connie knows, and still loves him.

Enter HR Manley (Steve Cochran). Manley is the publisher of one of those gossip rags from the era that predated even the National Enquirer. Nowadays, Scott Martin's story would wind up on TMZ, but back then there was no internet. And frankly, Manley isn't all that interested in Martin's past on its own. Scott, however, grew up in the same town as some woman who has gone on to become a famous actress, and knew her fairly well when they were both young. Surely there must be some dirt on her. So Manley comes to Connie, and tells her of Scott's prior conviction. Connie of course knows about this, but Manley has a trump card: either Scott and spill the beans on the famous actress, or Manley can spill the beans on Scott. Nice.

Slander is one of those shorter black-and-white movies with a conscience that MGM was making a lot of in the 1950s. For the most part, it's an OK movie, although the movie's sympathies are obvious, as Manley is too much of a one-dimensional character. I mean, even his mother (Marjorie Rambeau) hates him for printing the scandal sheet. And yet, there have always been a lot of people who read the stuff then, and watch it now. Manley's magazine was based on real magazines like Confidential, which even used juvenile armed robbery convictions in the case of Rory Calhoun. Ironically, I don't think there's any slander in the movie. If the magazine were guilty of anything, it would have been libel and not slander. But truth is a defense to libel, and the movie never suggests that there are any lies to be printed about Scott Martin.

All of the actors give competent performances, even if the movie has the decided feel of a second-tier production while the executives would have been more interested in something like Silk Stockings that MGM released in the same year. The movie is also hurt somewhat by an ending that seems unrealistic. Still, it's more than worth a watch. Even though it's stuck firmly in the 1950s, Slander is about a theme that will always be with us. As far as I'm aware, Slander hasn't received a DVD release, not even from the Warner Archive.

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