Sunday, March 18, 2012

Connie and Troy Find Love (Eventually) in "Susan Slade"

This third collaboration between writer-director Delmer Daves and teen heartthrob Troy Donahue lacks the youthful passion of A Summer Place and the entertaining subplots of Parrish. Still, it’s a diverting big-screen soap with all the elements of Daves’s polished formula: beautiful scenery (the Monterey coast line), first-time love, affluent people, well-developed relationships between young people and their parents, and a lovely music score by Max Steiner (though it’s not as memorable as the ones he did for the previous two films).

Connie Stevens (graduating from a supporting role in Parrish) plays the title character, a naïve young woman who has spent her teenage years in Chile with her parents. Her father, Roger Slade (Lloyd Nolan), has worked as a chief engineer for a mine company, earning his boss, Stanton Corbett, over $20 million. To show his gratitude, Corbett has bought a home along the Monterey coast for Roger’s family and provided a substantial pension.

Connie Stevens in the title role.
On the ocean cruise to California, Susan falls in love with rich playboy Conn White (Grant Williams), who climbs mountains in lieu of a job. It’s hard to tell initially if Conn (I love that name) truly cares for Susan, but he is physically attracted to her. Believing that she has found her true love, Susan gives in to Conn’s desires. As is inevitable in any good soap, Susan becomes pregnant. When fate intervenes to keep Susan and Conn apart, Susan’s mother devises an unintentionally cruel plan to protect the family from scandal.

Dorothy McGuire as Susan's mother.
A strong cast puts their all into this melodrama, especially Connie Stevens who is winningly vulnerable and believable in her best film role. As her mother, the ever-elegant Dorothy McGuire gets the picture’s juiciest part—her Leah Slade is a well-meaning parent whose motives for helping her daughter ultimately become questionable. Surprisingly, Troy’s role is pretty much a supporting one, a slight variation of the chip-on-his-shoulder young man he played in Parrish. Still, as in that film, he and Connie share a natural chemistry that brings a sweetness to their scenes together.

TV fans can also take delight in seeing Natalie Schafer giving what amounts to a dress rehearsal for her most famous role—as Mrs. Howell on Gilligan’s Island. Almost as rewarding is the opportunity to see future game show host Bert Convy as Wells (another great name), Susan’s snobby, stinking-rich suitor (you just know that he doesn’t have a chance).

After Susan Slade, Delmer Daves and Troy Donahue would pair up one last time. However, the travelogue romance Rome Adventure broke from the successful soap formula and, perhaps as a result, its boxoffice failed to match A Summer Place, Parrish, and Susan Slade. It could also be that—as always happens with teen heartthrobs—Troy’s popularity was beginning to fade. Still, Rome Adventure had one positive result for Troy: It introduced him to his wife Suzanne Pleshette.

10 comments:

  1. Rick, I am awfully fond of all three of the big screen soap operas you mentioned. I enjoyed seeing Connie have the lead role in "Susan Slade" after playing a supporting role to Troy's lead in "Parrish." This is a movie where we watch a young girl and a young man grow up. Some of the plot is a bit unbelievable (especially the accessibility of a lighter) but that, too, fits in with the profile of a soap. I especially like Troy's character and the obstacles he has to overcome in the story. Though not brilliant, this is a guilty pleasure pic for me.

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  2. I forgot to tell you how much I enjoyed your photos, too. It has been a while since I have seen a bright blue princess phone! This was a great post, Rick!

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  3. ha! This is a guilty pleasure movie for me too. Great melodrama. Lots of corn. Very entertaining. Now a days, illegitimate children are a dime a dozen and they just don't have plots like this anymore. Also, I believe the rich boy she meets on the ship truly loves her. At some point he writes a letter to his parents about her. They tried to make that portion more sympathetic even if fate intervenes.

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  4. You're right, panavia999! I had forgotten about Conn's letter, so maybe he would've married Susan. And Toto, I know what you mean about that lighter! But, with apologies to Douglas Sirk, I don't think anyone made better big screen soaps than Delmer Daves.

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  5. An enjoyable and memorable soap. My wife was excited because she guessed Susan would be getting a pony! (Isn't that what all girls want?) This was a hard movie to find for quite some time, but it's now on DVD, at least in a box set: Warner Bros. Romance Classics Collection. Thanks for another great write-up, Rick!

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  6. Did anyone else notice that the cover of the new SUSAN SLADE DVD looks like a scene from PARRISH? I don't recall Connie wearing that outfit or her hair in that style in SUSAN SLADE.

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  7. Sark, the pony for a present comment made me laugh! Your wife was right--only it was a big pony (so to speak). And, of course, I own the new DVD set. For years, TNT showed SUSAN SLADE (that was when TNT was the forerunner of TCM). Then, the film seemed for disappear from TV.

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  8. Rick, this is one of my favorite soap movies. I have always been a big Troy fan. I just wish he had been in more of the movie. Troy and Connie had a nice chemisty as you pointed out. I watch it whenever it is on TV. My husband had never seen it so we watched it together one evening. Speaking of horses, I have always wanted one. I am a good rider too. I loved the horse scenes in this movie. Unlike Susan, I would have never left the horse behind!! Great post and I enjoyed reading it.

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  9. I have to admit that I watched these movies in the theater when I was young and impressionable. What could I have been thinking? Not much. Troy Donahue - I mean, in my view - one of the worst actors - uneasy before the camera and no speaking voice to...uh, speak of.

    I think it was the blond hair that did it for me. :)

    Connie Stevens never really star material, but it was nice to see her get her chance in SUSAN SLADE.

    I think if I had to pick a fave, I'd pick A SUMMER PLACE, probably because of the scenery and the music.

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  10. There is a hero named after (possibly) Troy Donahue: Ambers O'Neal "Troy" Shewmaker/Cansler. He gave his life saving a woman but God took him. Well done Troy. Rest in peace.

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