THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER: Blu-ray (2oth Century-Fox, 1956) Twilight Time
In 1951, noted author, William Bradford Huie wrote of an impoverished young woman from Mississippi who went to Hollywood to stake her claim on a career as an actress. This dream, short-lived, she turned instead to prostitution to pay the bills, moved to Honolulu and took up work in – what else? – a brothel that she later took over and used as a springboard to buy up real estate cheap, becoming a ruthless wartime profiteer. Huie’s allegory for the decline of American society became a best seller, and, the first in a trilogy of books thus themed: The Americanization of Emily and Hotel Mamie Stover being the other two. By the mid-fifties, 2oth Century-Fox outbid the other majors for the rights to produce the first in Huie’s runaway potboiler series; attaching their numero uno sexpot, Marilyn Monroe to the project. Monroe, alas, turned Fox down, leaving the part wide open for her Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) co-star, Jane Russell to step in. Given the stringencies of Hollywood’s Production Code at the time, the screen incarnation of The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956) feels more like a minor mutiny than an ‘all out’ revolution, or gestalt to decry the times; director, Raoul Walsh and screenwriter, Sidney Boehm forced to make huge concessions that blunted the generally seedy nature of the story.
Hence, Russell’s Mamie is not a whore – just misunderstood, and, curiously run out of town (the bookends relocating the ousted madam from Hollywood to San Francisco, perhaps because Huie’s critique hit just a wee too close to home for the film-making community). Just why Mamie is encouraged to leave…well…we are never entirely told as much. Shortly after landing in Hawaii, Mamie finds work at ‘The Bungalow’ in Honolulu – not a brothel, but a colorful hotspot where sailors buy tickets to dance, play gin rummy or drink watered-down liquor with a bevy of ‘good-time gals’ who just happen to dress the part of high-class escorts, even though there is no hanky-panky going on. Right! The film also downplays the ‘relationship’ between these working girls and the Bungalow’s proprietress, Bertha Parchman (a blonde and very ‘butch’ Agnes Moorehead) – so desperate to woo Mamie back into service, she offers her a 70% cut from the profits derived from all her hard work. In the great Hollywood tradition of yesteryear, ‘this’ Revolt of Mamie Stover is a fairly glamorous affair; Jane Russell’s hourglass figure poured into a stunning ensemble of form-fitted Travilla gowns, exponentially to show off her two amply endowed assets to their fullest potential. This, plus the sight of seeing the usually brunette turned hooker henna Russell is enough to set the heart of any red-blooded male pounding. Wow, and what a woman!
Less of a thrill is the plot that spends far too much of its meager run time in lamentation over Mamie’s lovestruck pining for successful novelist, Jim Blair (50’s beefcake, Richard Egan, tanned, hulking and intermittently shirtless on the beach). After Mamie is given the old heave-ho by Frisco’s local constabulary, she boards a tramp steamer bound for Hawaii. These two ‘meet cut’ when Jim is informed by the ship’s Capt. Gorecki (Alan Reed) there is ‘strange cargo’ aboard and Mamie, overhearing their conversation, decides to set the record straight and quietly cut the Captain ‘a new one’ for his blindsided admonishment of her. Gorecki and Jim are amused. But soon, Jim is drawn to Mamie. A shipboard romance evolves, problematically, since Jim cannot quite shake off his prudery regarding her kind of woman. Nobly, he turns down Mamie’s offer to move in together, but then throws a few dollars in her direction, either to get her started or keep her honest. Proud, but not above accepting the payment, Mamie and Jim depart the steamer in Honolulu as friends. Disembarking, Mamie pays close attention to Annalee Johnson (Joan Leslie in her last screen role) – the nice girl, all dressed in white, come to meet her sweetheart at the docks. So, this is what men want? The hell it is!
Mamie wastes no time looking up an ole pal, Jackie Davis (Jorja Curtright), who hooks her up with a gig at ‘The Bungalow’ – a tropically-themed nightclub, catering to the local male gentry and service men stationed nearby at Pearl Harbor – just a bunch of nondescript lonely guys, desperate, horny and out for ‘fun’; a word of many permutations. The club’s proprietress, Bertha Parchman, has a very strict set of rules she expects every girl to live by under her employ. No boyfriends – they take up too much of a girl’s free time – and no bank accounts to bother the IRS. Bertha is none too keen to have any of her girls seen outside these premises – but especially at the posher hotels or Waikiki beach. After all, what is the point of opening up the store if you give the goods away? Overseeing the nightly operations is Harry Adkins (Michael Pate); goon muscle to keep out the riffraff, but also rough up any girl who believes she can do better on her own. Billed as ‘hostesses’, Bertha’s broads get to keep 30% of whatever they make from revenue generated by selling tickets for dancing, private visits in the club’s lounge, and overpriced bottles of watered-down booze.
Bertha is drawn to Mamie, making her The Bungalow’s star attraction, rechristened ‘Flaming Mamie’. In no time, Mamie has accrued a tidy sum of $2200. This she keeps tucked under her mattress, enough to pay back Jim, whom she invites to the club. He disapproves of her lifestyle and encourages her to go home to Mississippi. No soap, as Mamie is determined to go back only when she has saved enough cash to make everyone who frowned upon her pea-green with jealousy. Despite Jim’s judgmental nature, he cannot resist becoming reacquainted with Mamie outside of business hours; the two, skulking off to a secluded beach where polite conversation fires up into red-hot passion. Mamie persuades Jim to write a check to her father back home. She covers the amount in cash. Alas, when Jim receives a reply for his philanthropy, addressed to Mrs. Jim Blair he is outraged. Mamie explains that she had to tell her father something to quell his concerns over where she could have acquired so much money in so little time. Meanwhile, Jim is transparent about his relationship with Mamie to Annalee, who is patient, if wounded by his interests. Jim’s manservant, Aki (Leon Lontoc) is less forgiving. He does not like Mamie at all. “You’re a snob,” Jim suggests. But actually, Aki has only his master’s best interests at heart.
Jim and Mamie see quite a lot of each other. Exactly what extracurricular activities they engage in during their ‘off time’ is their business as the movie keeps the affair fairly hidden from prying eyes, save a clandestine clutch and kiss, and, even subtler game of ‘tease me/please me’ we never witness on the screen. Eventually, Harry Adkins gets wise to Mamie’s frequent daytime absences, tailing her and Jim to the country club where a showdown occurs. Jim tries civility, at first. But when this fails, he promptly pummels Adkins to the ground before being restrained by Capt. Eldon Sumac (Richard Coogan). As Adkins’ outburst is too ‘high profile’ for the reputation of the club, Bertha cuts her losses and lets Adkins go from her employ with a healthy stipend. The rest of the working girls are exceedingly grateful to Mamie for making this happen. Alas, a blissful return to her promising flagrante delictos with Jim will not be possible. The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, placing the entire city on red alert. Jim joins the army and leaves Annalee for the last time. Determined she should become the sort of woman Jim would want to marry, Mamie redoubles her efforts at the club, turning hard cash into pure profit, investing in real estate at bargain basement prices. In turn, she quickly rents out these abandoned buildings to the military at an even higher return on investment.
Jim is pleased by Mamie’s business acumen. He makes her promise to quit The Bungalow for good. After all, she does not need him or his money any more. She has enough of her own to sustain a comfortable life during his absence. Exactly why Jim never offers Mamie the opportunity to move into his fashionable hill-top house while he is away is a mystery. Now, Jim goes off to war. Realizing she is about to lose her best working girl, Bertha ups the ante to keep Mamie in her employ. Under an exclusive arrangement, Bertha agrees to let Mamie keep – first, fifty, then later, seventy percent of the profits she earns at the club. Reluctantly, Mamie agrees to these terms, even though she knows staying put will place Jim’s trust in their relationship at risk. Alas, the money means more to Mamie than her promises. Bertha gets Mamie a respectable forwarding address for all of Jim’s letters. But Mamie continues to work and live at the club. Meanwhile, Mamie is reunited with Capt. Sumac, who accuses Bertha of overcharging service men and threatens to have them banned. To prove the establishment’s ‘legitimacy’ Bertha encourages Sumac to have ‘a date’ on the house with Mamie. Mamie uses this opportunity to thank Sumac for his intervention during the brawl between Jim and Adkins. She would also like him to teach her golf – presumably, a sign of the well-cultured trophy wife Mamie aspires to become for Jim’s sake, once he has returned home from the war.
Sumac offers Mamie lessons – in golf, as well as life. Despite being a married man, he reasons all is fair in love and war and explains to Mamie that her kind never wins the heart of the nobler gentleman, a caste to which Jim belongs. She is disgusted by his attitude and haughtily departs for The Bungalow. Bertha has some pin-up photographs made of Mamie. These are distributed to the service men. Regrettably, Jim learns from a fellow solider in possession of one of these cheesecake pictures that Mamie did not quit The Bungalow. Believing everything she has told him to be a lie, Jim is granted ten day’s furlough after being wounded in battle. His first port of call is The Bungalow. At first, Mamie is ever so glad to see him. And although he had planned to crucify Mamie for her wickedness, Jim cannot bring himself to be anything less than understanding now. After all, it is not Mamie’s fault. She has been poor and ostracized, but now is flush with success and money. How could he expect her to give all that up for him? Mamie promises to leave the club immediately. But it is no use. The damage done to their relationship is irreparable. Although Jim forgives Mamie her trespasses, he wants no further part of her. It’s over. Tearfully, Mamie agrees, watching Jim walk out of her life for the last time. In the movie’s epilogue we find Mamie newly arrived at San Francisco, explaining to the same police officer who put her on the boat earlier, that her intentions now are to return to Mississippi and move back home with her family, dispelling the old cliché that bad girls can go anywhere in life.
The filmic adaptation of The Revolt of Mamie Stover is as watered down as the liquor served up at the fictional ‘Bungalow’. Producer Buddy Adler and director Raoul Walsh make valiant attempts to hint at the novel’s sleezier aspects. But in the end, they regress to the relative safety of another glamorous affair, expertly shot in Cinemascope and DeLuxe color by Leo Tover. A lot of the picture was actually photographed in Honolulu with the principles’ frolicking on the beach, or at some of the posher hotels and country clubs, with minimal usage of the distracting rear-projection process, herein reserved mostly for scenes taking place in a car. Virtually all of the interiors were lensed on sound stages at Fox, along with a few backlot facades standing in for the exterior of the Bungalow by moonlight. Jane Russell and Richard Egan have palpable chemistry, lending a modicum of ballast to their bitter farewell at the end. But the finale is truncated; cryptic, even, as Mamie confides in the cop, still waiting at the docks, that she ‘gave away’ a lucrative fortune. What?!?!? Exactly what became of the profits derived from her many rental properties and all the hard-earned cash accrued at the club remains a mystery. What? Did she lose it in a poker game? Did she split it among the girls? Did she blow it on cheap times with Capt. Sumac? You guess, I suppose.
In the eleventh hour of production, Adler and Walsh inserted a novelty number into the picture, ‘Keep Your Eyes on the Hands’ – reportedly, discovered playing at one of the Honolulu night spots while the company was shooting abroad, with producer and director concurring it would be a perfect fit for Russell to reincarnate in their picture. This she does rather fabulously, flanked by a chorine of hole-skirted natives. Yet, at 1hr. 32 min. The Revolt of Mamie Stover just seems rushed and equally as starved for something relevant to say. As the Boehm screenplay all but jettisons author, Huie’s social critique about a way of life in very steep decline, what we are left with is a glossy fable about imperfect love and the perils of becoming involved with someone not of one’s own class. Joan Leslie is utterly wasted herein as the barely seen third wheel in Jim’s life – intermittently popping up to offer a few bittersweet regrets that go nowhere and carry no emotional content apart from Leslie’s ability to convey rank sincerity with a doe-eyed glance.
The penultimate goodbye between Jim and Mamie is dealt with very matter-of-fact and thoroughly passionless, given all the sexy good fun gone before it. In the end, The Revolt of Mamie Stover is passable entertainment, though just. Russell’s amply endowed figure is on full display, and she fills out Travilla’s gowns with her impossibly perfect proportions. Russell is also quite a fine actress, although she was rarely given the opportunity to show it on the screen. Richard Egan is not exactly Russell’s equal, despite having a prolific career after his casting director instructed him to take his shirt off. Egan’s status as the nominal love interest in The Revolt of Mamie Stover is about par for the course. Possessed with a fine voice but a genuine lack to emote anything beyond one-note delivery of his lines, Egan’s popularity truly resided with his looks, or rather, his chiseled musculature. For women, they used to say ‘nothing beat a great pair of legs’…except, in the man’s case, a nice set of pecs. Ultimately, we get to see both in The Revolt of Mamie Stover – a real ‘dog and pony’ show where the principles both just happen to be Blue-ribbon winners. Woof and saddle up!
The Revolt of Mamie Stover arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time’s association with Fox Home Video. Fox has, of late, really stepped up their game with regards to their vintage catalog. Photographed in DeLuxe and Cinemascope, the 1080p transfer looks fairly lush and lovely, with lots of eye-popping color to spare. The transfer is free of age-related artifacts, has a light smattering of film grain and good solid contrast to recommend it. Occasional softness creeps in, although this is likely due to the limitations of ‘scope’ lenses, rather than any untoward tinkering with the original film elements. It is gratifying to see more ‘scope’ catalog coming out, minus that curious ‘teal/beige’ bias that afflicted far too many deep catalog titles previously released by Fox to Blu-ray. Not much else to say about this transfer. It’s very good indeed. The 5.1 DTS audio is solid and enveloping. TT affords us an isolated track to appreciate Hugo Friedhofer’s score. But what is up with the ‘trailer’ – looking about a hundred years older than the movie, horrendously faded, missing footage at the end, and riddled in age-imbedded dirt, scratches, etc.?!? Where was Fox keeping this one – under a bushel, buried in the back yard behind the honey wagons? Wow, and just awful! Bottom line: The Revolt of Mamie Stover is worth a second glance, if for no other reason, then to appreciate the beauty of Jane Russell in her prime, looking every inch the glamazonian goddess from an entirely different vintage in leading ladies we shall likely ne’er see again.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)