Sometimes leading men don’t fit the stereotype. In the late 1940s and early 50s these two men had names above the title, and romanced BIG female stars.
But leading men? Not exactly. Barry Sullivan (seen at the top above) and Frank Lovejoy occupied that professional purgatory for actors known as “second leads” — a space occupied by supporting players with something extra that often landed them that top-of-the-title billing.
They had similar backrounds. Both actors were born in New York City in 1912. Both had stage experience on Broadway (Sullivan’s more extensive than Lovejoy’s). Both excelled at playing cops and other rough-around-the-edges types although Sullivan’s in-your-face masculinity onscreen contrasted with the gruff but essentially decent guy projected by Lovejoy.
And, they made some pretty good pictures. Sullivan’s extensive CV (nearly 190 movie and tv credits over a a half century) includes such high-end titles as 1949’s The Great Gatsby and 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful. Lovejoy appeared in that early Doris Day musical, 1951’s I’ll See You In My Dreams, and countered Vincent Price in the 1953 3-D horror outing, House of Wax.
(Lovejoy’s list of 55 credits can’t compare to Sullivan’s because he didn’t live long. Lovejoy died of a heart attack in 1962; he was just 50. Sullivan died of a respiratory ailment in 1994, at the age of 81.)
Both actors, we’re happy to note, received true top-of-the-line billing in most of the film noir and crime dramas they made (Sullivan appeared in at least eight such titles; Lovejoy in four including 1951’s I Was A Communist for The FBI, with Dorothy Hart (see below).
Sullivan’s romantic leading man capabilities can be seen in 1946’s Suspense. He gets to seduce ice skating queen Belita in a tale of adultery and murder. It provided Belita with an opportunity to showcase her skating and acting versatility, and it was poverty-row studio Monogram’s ‘A’ production, complete with million-dollar budget.
There’s Barry below in a clinch with an off-the-ice Belita.
For his part Lovejoy, although doesn’t get to romance anyone, shines as Edmond O’Brien’s costar in the harrowing 1953 thriller The Hitch-Hiker, from RKO.
Two likable blokes (O’Brien and Lovejoy) on a leisurely car trip pick up the wrong man, and all hell breaks loose. This one is based on a true-life incident, and was the only noir directed by a woman, Ida Lupino, who graced many a genre title as a superbly sultry actress. What pulls the movie together is the evil performance of working actor William Tallman as the murderous psychotic waving that pistol in the back seat. in this case in Lovejoy’s direction.
For noir fans, Lovejoy is perhaps best known for his role in Nicholas Ray’s 1950 title, In A Lonely Place.
Lovejoy plays a detective secure in a warm marriage to a faithful wife (Jeff Donnell) who harbors doubts about their screenwriter pal, who is a murder suspect. No, Lovejoy isn’t the leading man here. Humphrey Bogart is.