Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Rock Hudson-Piper Laurie Double Feature

For much of the 1950s, Universal Studios paired Rock Hudson with its most promising young actresses in modestly-budgeted films. Sometimes, he was the star (Captain Lightfoot); other times, he played a supporting role (Bend of the River). He appeared in five movies with Julie Adams, four with Yvonne De Carlo, and two with Barbara Rush. Two of my favorite Rock Hudson films of this period are his pairings with Piper Laurie.

Charles Coburn in a familiar role.
Has Anybody Seen My Gal (1952). This sprightly 1920s comedy is really a vehicle for veteran Charles Coburn. He plays Samuel Fulton, a millionaire hypochondriac with no relatives, who wants to leave his fortune to the family of the woman who turned down his marriage proposal. He credits her rejection with providing the drive that led him to discover gold in Alaska and oil in Texas. He decides to learn about the now-deceased woman’s family before bequeathing the money.

James Dean in a bit part at the soda fountain.
Moving to Hilverton, a picturesque slice of Americana, Fulton—using an assumed identity—ingratiates himself with the Blaisdell family. He ends up living in their house and working as an assistant soda jerk in their drugstore. He becomes fond of the family, especially daughters Millicent (Piper Laurie) and Roberta (Gigi Perreau). However, everything changes when Fulton gives them a check for $100,000 anonymously through his solicitor.

Charles Coburn, who started making films in his late fifties, specialized in playing cigar-smoking, crafty curmudgeons. He’s right at home playing the Blaisdells’ secret guardian angel, getting son Howard out of gambling trouble and playing matchmaker to Millicent and nice guy/soda jerk Dan (Rock Hudson).

Gigi Perreau as Roberta.
Coburn also teams effectively with Gigi Perreau, a very likable child performer. Their scenes together display a natural charm, leaving one to wonder why they weren't teamed in another movie. Surprisingly, Perreau’s film career petered out after appearances in Bonzo Goes to College and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. She worked regularly, though, in television throughout the late 1950s and 1960s.

Piper Laurie and Rock Hudson.
Rock and Piper don’t have a lot of scenes together, but they make an endearing couple. They were good friends in real life and that comes through on the screen. His performance is a bit stiff; he hadn't developed the light touch that would make him a fine comedian. Piper relies on her innate effervescence and it serves her well. She even gets to sing a little. Plus, she also looks adorable in a parade of colorful dresses and hats.

One suspects  that both young performers wanted to sink their teeth in meatier roles. Still, they provide energy and youth appeal to this pleasant comedy that effectively recreates the 1920s on Universal’s backlot.

The Golden Blade (1953). While this studio-bound adventure can’t be described as high drama, it still provided a more rewarding challenge for the two young stars. They are clearly the headliners of this Baghdad opus about the (magical) Sword of Damascus.

Harum finds the amulet.
Rock plays Harum, a young man from Basra, who seeks revenge on the person responsible for his father's death and destruction of his village. His only clue to the villain's identity is an amulet his dying father ripped from his killer’s neck. Shortly after his arrival in Baghdad, Harum finds a sword made out of gold with the inscription: “Let him who can unsheathe this sword claim any crown as his reward.”

Harum gets to try out the golden blade when some soldiers try to quiet an outspoken young woman. It takes awhile for Harum to learn that the spunky lass is also a princess in disguise. Initially, they don't like each other, but--in this kind of movie--that's code for they're really attracted to each other, but don't want to admit it.

Harum pulls the sword out of the stone.
The Golden Blade isn't an original action flick, borrowing liberally from the legend of King Arthur and his sword Excalibur. Indeed, at one point in the film, the blade gets embedded to a stone wall and no one can remove it--except Harum, of course. Later, there's even a jousting tournament  for the hand of Princess Khairuzan. While this uneasy mixture of Arabian Nights and medieval knights seems disconcerting, Nathan Juran (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) leaves little time to dwell on it. At a scant running time of 80 minutes, the closing credits of The Golden Blade are rolling before you know it.

I love their facial expressions.
Rock Hudson always fared well in action roles and he seems to be having a grand time as the swashbuckling hero. Piper Laurie comes across as playful when disguised as a boy and later transforms into an elegant beauty. She and Rock have more scenes together than in their earlier film and their comfort level is once again visible on the screen. They both still look young, but there's more confidence in their acting--even if The Golden Blade is nothing more than a programmer.

Piper Laurie decked out in gold.
Rock would hone his skills for two more years before hitting it big opposite Jane Wyman in Douglas Sirk's melodramatic Magnificent Obsession. Piper Laurie would get an occasional good role (e.g., Smoke Signal), but ended her Universal contract out of frustration. She worked in live television and eventually landed a role opposite Paul Newman in The Hustler (1961). It was a supporting performance that would earn her the first of her three Academy Award nominations.


  1. I have not seen The Golden Blade, but I find Has Anybody Seen My Gal to be quite the charmer. I get a huge kick out of Charles Coburn doing the Charleston. And Rock is just so gorgeous. He's always a joy to look at.

  2. I'm with Patti: Rock was always a joy to look at. If only he'd kept his mouth shut in these early roles. He was just SO stiff. But later it all fell into place for him and I loved him in MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION - one of my favorite romances of that time.I was also a big fan of Piper Laurie. She should have been a BIGGER star. Boy was she a shining screen presence.
    Loved her later in life opposite a young and beautiful Mel Gibson in TIM.

  3. This is a fun double billing, Rick! I am glad that you mentioned Gigi Perreau's work in "Has Anybody Seen My Gal?" because I thought she was the standout in the film. Her scenes with Charles Coburn are among the best. I do think Piper Laurie and Rock Hudson are each incredibly lovely in both these works though Rock has more to do in "The Golden Blade".