Friday, January 15, 2010

A Month of Mysteries: Is Troy Donahue a Psycho in "My Blood Runs Cold"?

While speeding down a coastal highway in her convertible, Julie Merriday (Joey Heatherton) almost runs over motorcyclist Ben Gunther (Troy Donahue). Although Ben is shaken up, he appears to be okay—except that he keeps staring at Julie and calling her Barbara.

Ben eventually reveals that he believes Julie is the reincarnation of her great grandmother Barbara Merriday and that he was Barbara’s lover in a previous life. Ben gives Julie an antique locket with an authentic portrait of Barbara…who looks just like Julie. Ben also seems to know details of the Merriday family history heretofore only known to Julie’s Aunt Sarah (Jeanette Nolan). Are Ben and Julie really reincarnated lovers? Is this a scam perpetrated by someone with intimate knowledge of the family—like Aunt Sarah? Is Ben just plain crazy? But if he is, how does he know so much about Julie’s family?

For most of its running time, My Blood Runs Cold holds its cards closely and functions nicely as a low-budget thriller. Actor William Conrad (TV’s Cannon, radio’s Matt Dillon) directed a lot of TV episodes in the 1960s, but this was one of his few feature films at the helm. He takes advantage of the seaside setting, using the waves and washed-up seaweed, for example, to hide most of the corpse on the beach. He also recognizes that his picture is targeted toward teens and thus doesn’t miss an opportunity to show hunky Troy with his shirt off or shapely Joey Heatherton in a bathing suit.

Heatherton is quite appealing as Julie, often reminding one of Donahue’s frequent co-star Connie Stevens. Her best scene is a conversation with Nolan as Aunt Sarah, in which Julie confesses that she doesn’t know what to do with her life. She wants to do something meaningful and Ben provides her with an opportunity. My Blood Runs Cold turned out to be one of Heatherton’s few films. She fared better as a Vegas entertainer and on USO tours (and TV specials) with Bob Hope.

As for Donahue, it’s easy to see why the role of Ben appealed to him. He had just completed four “soaps” with director Delmer Daves, a teen comedy (Palm Springs Weekend), and a Western directed by Raoul Walsh (the cult pic A Distant Trumpet). In My Blood Runs Cold, he got to headline a contemporary thriller in which it’s not obvious if he’s the hero or the villain. Never a strong actor, Donahue succeeded because of his natural appeal and good looks. He might have developed into a better actor had he been groomed by the studio system. But by the time he came along in the late 1950s, Warner Bros. was content to cast him in anything. He was being overexposed on TV in Surfside 6 and Hawaiian Eye while concurrently starring in films like Parrish and Susan Slade (both 1961).

My Blood Runs Cold isn’t an unknown classic thriller waiting to be discovered. It has its flaws (especially the drawn-out ending), but still works as a consistently interesting B-film with two likable leads. It’s the kind of movie you might have seen as a second feature at the drive-in in the 1960s…and driven home thinking: “That was better than I expected.”

6 comments:

  1. What a fun read! I love it when an actor is cast against type. As you said, Donahue wasn't the best actor, but it's admirable that he would take such a role, something much different from his usual character.

    I'm curious, though. At any point in the film, did anyone say, "As for you, Troy Donahue, I know what you wanna do!"

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  2. This sounds pretty good. I've never seen it. A friend of mine recently purcahsed this from the Warner Archives. I may have to borrow it from him.

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  3. This was a wonderful post, Rick! The settings are quite good in this movie. I especially enjoyed the underwater cave that Ben shows Julie. It is isolated and looks like a phenomenal hideaway. The locket is also intriguing. It is interesting that as wealthy as the Merriday family is, that no portrait exists of Barbara. I thought Troy and Joey were very well cast. Excellent writeup and choice for A Month of Mysteries!

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  4. Great post, Rick. I am a big Troy Donahue fan, but I have never seen this movie. It sounds interesting. I like this kind of story. I am no Joey fan though, she is not a favorite of mine. Troy, however, is a strikingly handsome man. I love him Rome Adventure, Susan Slade, Parrish, A Summer Place, and Hawaiian Eye. I am probably one of the few people in the U. S. who has the music from Hawaiian Eye.

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  5. Didn't Troy Donahue make a later horror film in the '70s, called "Secret Savior"? Once his blond beach-boy idol days were over, he seems to have had an erratic career.

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  6. Stars under the studio system pretty much played what was assigned. Wouldn't be surprised if wasn't a way of showing TD the door.

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