Thursday, January 19, 2017

Claudelle Inglish: "I wanted to be bad as I could be!"

Diane McBain as Claudelle Inglish.
In the late 1950s, Warner Bros. discovered a winning formula for big-screen soap operas aimed at the teenage crowd. These economical potboilers featured young contract players surrounded by Hollywood veterans and featured then-provocative themes such as pre-marital sex, low self-esteem, and illegitimate babies. The most successful of these films were A Summer Place (1959) and Parrish (1961), which both starred Troy Donahue.

Diane McBain and Chad Everett.
Warner Bros. released Claudelle Inglish in 1961. It starred Diane McBain, who appeared with Donahue in Parrish as well as the TV series Surfside 6 (1960-62). She plays the title character, an attractive young woman who lives with her parents on a Southern tenant farm. Her shyness and poverty cause her to maintain a low profile in high school--but that doesn't stop handsome Linn Varner (Chad Everett) from pursuing her.

Claudelle's mother (Constance Ford) wants her daughter to marry the much older S.T. Crawford (Claude Akin), a widower and wealthy property owner. However, Claudelle becomes smitten with Linn and it's not long before she gives in to his manly desires. They become engaged, but decide to wait to marry until after Linn serves his two-year Army hitch.

Alas, one day Claudelle receives a letter in which Linn confesses that he has fallen in love with someone else. At first, Claudelle is devastated, but eventually she decides to get even by making herself available to every man to the county. Despite pleas from her parents, she cannot stop herself from traveling down the road to self-destruction.

The provocative poster.
Based on Erskine Caldwell's 1958 novel, it's easy to dismiss Claudelle Inglish as drive-in movie fodder. However, that would be doing a disservice to Diane McBain's sensitive performance. She makes it clear that Claudelle doesn't become a tramp out of vengeance toward Linn (though that surely played a part in the beginning).

Rather, it's the poor girl's way of coping with low self-esteem. More than once, Claudelle tells people that she never plans to marry. She doesn't think she's worthy of it. She shows no interest in even trying to find happiness. When one of her beaus, who wants to marry her, gets into a fight with a "bad boy" (named Rip, of course), Claudelle jilts the nice guy and goes off with Rip.

Will Hutchins, Robert Colbert, and McBain.
Diane McBain, who played a traditional "bad girl" in Parrish, finds the perfect tone as Claudelle. She sizzles on screen when trying to attract men and then elicits sympathy when she wallows in guilt after sleeping with them. The supporting cast includes two Summer Place alumni: Arthur Kennedy as Claudelle's understanding father and Constance Ford as her pushy mother. The rest of the cast consist of a bevy of familar TV faces, to include: Everett (looking vert young), Akins, Will Hutchins (Sugarfoot), and Robert Colbert (Time Tunnel).

The production values aren't as high as Warner's other teen soaps. Thus, there's no plush color scenery (A Summer Place and Susan Slade) and no fabulous Max Steiner score (although Howard Jackson contributes a respectable soundtrack). Interestingly, the prolific costume designer Howard Shoup earned the third of his five Oscar nominations for Best Costume Design (Black & White) for Claudelle Inglish. He never won an Oscar.

Still, the primary reason to see Claudelle Inglish is for Diane McBain's performance. Sadly, it was probably the highlight of her acting career. Her Warner Bros. contract kept her mostly confined to TV series appearances. When it ended in the mid-1960s, she failed to land any juicy film roles and ended up in "B" pictures like The Mini-Skirt Mob (1968).


  1. I'm not at all familiar with Diane McBain's work, so this sounds like the perfect place to start. Thanks!

  2. The B/W photography definitely pegs this as a lower rung entry in the soap sweepstakes of the 60's but the film is still a great deal of melodramatic fun. Constance Ford does her harridan mother bit that she played so well. I'm always happy to see Arthur Kennedy turn up in a movie and this is no exception, it's a bit odd to see he & Connie Ford playing spouses after A Summer Place though.

    But the real anchor of the film is Diane McBain and her committed performance. It is puzzling that Warners didn't do more with her, she was certainly a better actress than some they were pushing at the time, for example Connie Stevens. I've seen her in other things but outside of this my main familiarity with her is from her sly performance as Barry Nelson's fiancee Tiffany in the Debbie Reynolds film Mary, Mary. It's quite a change up from this and it helps shows her variety.

    1. Great observations, Joel. I've never seen MARY, MARY--but have now added to my "want-to-see" list.

  3. Why would you think that black and white photography is connected to B movies? Black and white was a director's choice. It wasn't cheaper than color to make. Some great films have been made in 'scope black and white. This film looks great.

    1. Black and white films were cheaper than color until the mid-1960s. This isn’t a case of a later film like The Last Picture Show, in which Bogdanovich intentionally chose to film it in black and white.