Although today he is primarily remembered for his stage and screen portrayals of Harold Hill in The Music Man, and Toddy in Victor/Victoria, Robert Preston had a long and varied career in film.
He started at Paramount in the late 1930s and co-starred in many top rated pictures such as Beau Geste, Reap the Wild Wind, This Gun For Hire and Wake Island. He enlisted in the Air Force after the attack on Pearl Harbor, then after World War II resumed his career.
Today we’d like to highlight some of his lesser known films. In 1949 he co-starred with Barbara Stanwyck in one of the first movies about gambling addiction, The Lady Gambles. It’s a forgotten film today, but a small gem.
Then in the early 60s he starred in two screen adaptations of Broadway hits. The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, based on the play by William Inge, tells the story of an Oklahoma family dealing with changing conditions and mores in the 1920s. It has a stellar cast including Dorothy McGuire, Eve Arden, Angela Lansbury and Shirley Knight. If you haven’t seen this one, do so. It’s a surprisingly good film.
All The Way Home, from Tad Mosel‘s play, (based on James Agee‘s autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family, is another old fashioned small town drama (this time Tennessee) with a superb cast.
How does a young boy deal with the sudden death of his father? Jean Simmons plays Preston’s wife, Pat Hingle his alcoholic brother. Aline MacMahon and John Callum are also in film.
If you like literature this is the movie for you. Both Agee and Mosel won Pulitzer Prizes for their works. It was filmed on location using the very neighborhood where Agee grew up.
These three films will give you a sense of the dramatic range Preston possessed. Then you’ll appreciate even more his work in The Music Man and Victor/Victoria.