Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tyrone Power Goes Gambling on the Mississippi

Mark:  Since you spare me only a moment, I'll tell you very bluntly: You and I are in love with each other and we always will be. We've known it since that first moment in St. Louis. 

Angelique:  I could have you run out of town for speaking to me like this!

Mark:  No need to run me out. I'll be leaving tomorrow. You're not ready yet for marriage. And I won't be ready until you come to me. 

Angelique:  Why, you completely egotistical...

Mark:  Yes, it does sounds that way when put into words. But it's the only way a woman can be truly happy with a man. 

Tyrone Power plays a good hand.
For those who have never seen The Mississippi Gambler (1953), I don't think I'm giving away the end by saying that Angelique does indeed go to Mark en route to true happiness. Of course, along the way, three people die from a duel, an accidental death, and a suicide. Two women fall in love with the same man and the brother of one of them falls in love with the other. Plus, two men build and lose a fortune.

Yes, a whole lot happens in The Mississippi Gambler, which boasts a plot structured like a crooked river filled with unexpected bends. That's part of the film's charm, along with an appealing cast consisting of Tyrone Power (Mark), Piper Laurie (Angelique), John McIntire, Julie Adams, and Paul Cavanagh.

The film opens with Mark Fallon, the son of a New York fencing master, setting out to become a professional gambler on the Mississippi riverboats. He quickly befriends a con man (McIntire, in one of his best roles) and falls in love at first sight with Angelique, a stunning aristocratic woman. In fact, he rescues the latter from a runaway carriage, but negates his chivalry when he quips: "Sometimes, beautiful women and horses are upset by whistles."

Piper Laurie looking serious.
The film's central conflict arises when Mark beats Angelique's wimpy brother, Laurent, in a poker game. Mark gives Laurent a chance to walk away with minimal losses, but the hot-headed young man insists on continuing and loses his sister's diamond necklace, a family heirloom. None of this is Mark's fault, of course, but the stubborn Angelique refuses to acknowledge her brother's many weaknesses. That keeps her and Mark apart for almost the entire movie.

In spite of occasionally hokey dialogue, The Mississippi Gambler is a lively, entertaining yarn, Though shot on Universal-International's backlot, it looks fabulous (especially the interiors). Along with the colorful costumes, one would think that it was a costly film. However, given the studio's then-thrifty reputation, I suspect most of the budget went to pay Tyrone Power's salary. Actually, he made The Mississippi Gambler while on hiatus from his 20th Century-Fox contract and wisely took a percentage of the film's profits. It turned out to be one of 1953's biggest hits.

I recently watched The Mississippi Gambler at a film festival screening attended by star Piper Laurie. She said Power was also one of the film's producers, although not credited as such, adding:

I was in a competition for the part with Linda Christian, his wife. We both made screen tests. That was a frightening moment. I had never met with Power, although I had seen he and his wife walk into the commissary, dressed in white, looking like gods. I did my best (with the audition) and she did, too. They made us both wait for about a week and then I found out I had the job.

Piper's co-star and friend
Julie Adams.
It's hard to imagine any actress other than Piper Laurie as Angelique. Radiant, pouty, and charming, she makes it easy to believe that any man could fall instantly in love with her. That's no easy task when Julie Adams is also in the movie. Incidentally, the two actresses became friends during their days as contract players at Universal--and remain so today. They toured Korea together in the early 1950s, performing musical numbers for servicemen.

As for Linda Christian, she eventually got to play Angelique--in a Lux Radio Theater production with her husband. She and Tyrone Power would divorce three years later.

3 comments:

  1. Rick, I don't recall seeing this classic but I did enjoy reading Mark's comments at the start of this post. I am not sure those lines would fare so well today! I think I would really enjoy seeing "The Mississippi Gambler" because of Julie Adams and Piper Laurie. It was fun learning of their friendship that developed while filming.

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  2. This is a Tyrone Power movie I've never seen, Rick, one of the handful of his films - all made in the early '50s - that I've missed.

    I've read in various books that Linda Christian resented that her husband didn't push harder to cast her in his films. Apparently he wasn't persuaded that just being his wife qualified her as a suitable leading lady. Can't imagine her being cast over the incredibly talented Piper Laurie and am awfully glad common sense prevailed.

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  3. As the adult child of a compulsive gambler, I feel justified in saying that gambling is quite possibly one of the worst addictions. It does not get nearly as much attention or press as alcoholism or drug addiction. happyluke

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