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The Scarlet Coat

The Scarlet Coat(1955)


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teaser The Scarlet Coat (1955)

With the success of Ivanhoe in 1951 and its remake of Scaramouche in 1952, MGM launched a string of swashbucklers that, though less expensive than those two blockbusters, pretty much paid for themselves. With The Scarlet Coat (1955) they took an unusual setting, the American Revolution, creating the tale of an American officer going undercover to ferret out Benedict Arnold's traitorous schemes. When Scaramouche star, Stewart Granger, decided he didn't have the spirit of '76, MGM turned to another sword-swinging star, Cornel Wilde, still hot from his starring role in Cecil B. DeMille's 1952 The Greatest Show on Earth.

Arnold was a distinctly supporting role in The Scarlet Coat, but they still went for quality, casting Robert Douglas, who had crossed swords memorably with Errol Flynn in Adventures of Don Juan (1948) and with Wilde himself in At Sword's Point (1952). More prominent was Michael Wilding as the British officer who leads Arnold astray but develops a grudging admiration for Wilde's character. The film would mark the end of Wilding's MGM contract, a three-year deal cut principally to keep wife of the hour Elizabeth Taylor happy. Though the studio had paid him well, his roles there had stalled his once-promising career in British films.

The Scarlet Coat featured a curious collection of talent who were either on the verge of bigger things or coming off their own career highs. Director John Sturges would earn his only Oscar® nomination that year - but for another film, Bad Day at Black Rock, which would establish him as a top director of westerns. Leading lady Anne Francis, derided in Variety's review for her lack of sex appeal in the role, would play her sexiest role ever a year later as Altaira, the space virgin, in MGM's scifi epic Forbidden Planet. Villain George Sanders had played major roles in the '40s in such films as Rebecca and Forever Amber, culminating in an Oscar® as Best Supporting Actor for All About Eve in 1950. From that point, however, his career was a morass of minor roles. In his autobiography, he would list The Scarlet Coat as one of many films that must have paid handsomely but had totally vanished from his memory.

The most tragic of The Scarlet Coat's cast, however, was child actor Bobby Driscoll. After notable hits in Disney's Song of the South (1946) and Treasure Island (1950) and a special Oscar® as outstanding juvenile performer for The Window (1949), his career had gone steadily downhill. The Scarlet Coat would mark his final Hollywood outing. After taking time off to recover from adolescence, he made only one other film, a low-budget juvenile delinquency drama called The Party Crashers in 1958, which also marked the screen swan song of another tragic star, Frances Farmer. From then on, he fought a losing battle with drug addiction, spending a year in the Chino Penitentiary. In 1968, at the age of only 31, his body was discovered in an abandoned tenement in New York and buried in a pauper's grave.

Director: John Sturges
Producer: Nicholas Nayfack
Screenplay: Karl Tunberg
Cinematography: Paul C. Vogel
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Merrill Pye
Music: Conrad Salinger
Cast: Cornel Wilde (Maj. John Bolton), Michael Wilding (Maj. John Andre), George Sanders (Dr. Jonathan Odell), Anne Francis (Sally Cameron), Robert Douglas (Benedict Arnold), Bobby Driscoll (Ben Potter).

by Frank Miller

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