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Star of the Month: Glenn Ford
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The Lady in Question

The palpable onscreen heat generated by Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford in Gilda (1946) alone might have been sufficient to guarantee them their place amongst Hollywood history's most charismatic couples. However, the public's enthusiastic response led them to be teamed repeatedly and memorably over the years in The Loves of Carmen (1948), Affair in Trinidad (1952) and The Money Trap (1965). Gilda's cult of appreciation tends to obscure the fact that it isn't the first Hayworth/Ford movie. That distinction belongs to The Lady in Question (1940), an offbeat and engaging comedy/drama mounted by Columbia when the studio was still trying to figure out what it had in its two young contract players, and a film that has plenty of its own adherents.

The project was a pet of director Charles Vidor, who also guided the two stars through both Gilda and The Loves of Carmen. He was taken with French director Marc Allegret's Gribouille (1937) when it played domestically under its American release title Heart of Paris, and he lobbied Columbia boss Harry Cohn to procure the remake rights. The plot concerns an overbearing, middle-aged bicycle shop proprietor named Andre Morestan (Brian Aherne), who has grudgingly gone off to meet his civic obligations and report for jury duty. At least the case he's saddled with is provocative; the beautiful young Natalie Roguin (Hayworth) is accused of murdering the lover who put her up in an apartment.

Andre finds himself being moved by the young woman's plight, and less than convinced by the prosecution's case; he ultimately persuades his deadlocked peers to vote for her acquittal. After subsequently learning that the trial's notoriety has made Natalie unemployable, Andre offers her a position at the store and lodging within his home. Rather than share the uncomfortable truth of Natalie's circumstances with his wife Michele (Irene Rich), Andre introduces her as "Jean Renie," the daughter of an old school chum.

The pretext is seen through fairly quickly by Andre's son Pierre (Ford), who believes his dad is being exploited by this younger woman of questionable repute. It doesn't take long for Pierre to soften, however, as he finds himself falling for Natalie/Jean, and she begins to reciprocate. What future they have is threatened by Robert LaCoste (Edward Norris), the fiancé of Andre's daughter Francois (Evelyn Keyes). He, too, has uncovered Natalie's secret, and shows his true colors when he makes sexual advances upon her. Pierre and Natalie contrive a scheme to run away, and the disconsolate Andre finds himself ready to report a miscarriage of justice to the authorities--until faced with a surprise of his own.

While Columbia was satisfied with both reviews and receipts for The Lady in Question, the film had a negligible effect on the momentum of Hayworth and Ford's careers. In John Kobal's Rita Hayworth: Portrait of a Love Goddess, Ford vividly recounted the nature of life under Cohn before he went off to his stint with the Marines in Word War II. "In the early days at Columbia they used to throw us into almost anything that came along," the actor stated. "That really kept us hopping, we'd do maybe six or seven films a year that way...We had the great luxury of exposure, of experience, like you do in a repertory theater. We had to work and do everything and not complain. We didn't get to choose, otherwise you'd be on suspension and you couldn't afford that on what they paid us."

The much feared and reviled Columbia mogul Cohn seemingly harbored a soft spot for Hayworth, Ford, and fellow studio mainstay William Holden. In fact, Ford revealed to interviewer John Kobal, "He specially favored us, I don't know why except I remember one night shortly before he died. I was narrating a documentary at Columbia--Rita had left the studio by then and so had Bill--and he came down to the set with tears in his eyes--he was a strong man, a bull--and he said, 'Glenn, you're the last, when you go, that's the last of my three children.' I thought this was kind of poignant."

Aherne reportedly relished the role of the middle-aged Andre, enjoying the challenge and the change from the stolid, stiff-upper-lip Briton to which he'd been frequently typed. "After I got into the swing of creating that bourgeois father, living his nature and working it out through the torturous path of the story, it proved more stimulating than any other role that came my way," the actor declared to The Saturday Evening Post. One last interesting side note: the angry young juror in Andre's panel was played by William Castle, who'd soon afterwards get his directing break with Columbia's "B" unit, and thereafter become a legend with his gimmicky promotions for his horror film output of the '50s and '60s (House on Haunted Hill [1959], The Tingler [1959], Homicidal [1961]).

Producer: B.B. Kahane
Director: Charles Vidor
Screenplay: Marcel Achard, Lewis Meltzer
Cinematography: Lucien Andriot
Film Editing: Al Clark
Art Direction: Lionel Banks
Music: Lucien Moraweck
Cast: Brian Aherne (Andre Morestan), Rita Hayworth (Natalie Roguin), Glenn Ford (Pierre Morestan), Irene Rich (Michele Morestan), George Coulouris (Defense Attorney).

by Jay S. Steinberg



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