A few years ago one of our readers, Phillipe, was very upset with us when we suggested that Susan Hayward was a “forgotten” star.
In addition to reminding us of her Oscar winning performance in 1958’s I Want to Live, and telling us that Hayward was always a much bigger star in Europe than the U. S., he cited four of her some 60 films which he considers classic.
They may not be classics, but we agree they are noteworthy. If you haven’t seen them, check them out.
1946’s Canyon Passage was directed by Jacques Tourneur (the skilled Frenchman who directed several great film noirs including Out of the Past), and is a Western set in frontier Oregon of the 1850s.
It really was a serendipitous and very big boost to Hayward’s up-to-then eclectic career.
Producer Walter Wanger sent the script to her first husband, actor Jess Barker, while the couple was vacationing in Palm Springs. Wanger initially thought Barker might have been right for one of the leading roles in Canyon Passage, but later changed his mind (the role went to Brian Donlevy). But the producer’s hunch about casting Hayward in the picture paid off in a big break for Susan as well as a long-term Wanger contract.
Canyon Passage turned out to be a huge hit, and predates her first Academy Award nomination. Two more Westerns, 1952’s The Lusty Men, co-starring Robert Mitchum and Arthur Kennedy and directed by Nicholas Ray; and 1954’s Garden of Evil, directed by Henry Hathaway and co-starring Gary Cooper and Richard Widmark, are overlooked today.
It is funny that very Brooklyn-born-and-accented Hayward shines in these three Westerns.
The fourth forgotten film (where Susan’s urban aura is a distinct asset) is 1949’s House of Strangers, a gritty tale of New York Italian Americans, crime and revenge. The film noir was based on a novel by Jerome Wiedman. Philip Yordan wrote the script. Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed. It’s a minor gem, and co-stars Edward G. Robinson and Richard Conte (Susan plays his girlfriend).
Of course in between these films Hayward kept getting nominated for Best Actress for her more commercially successful fare, Smash Up, My Foolish Heart, With a Song in My Heart, and I’ll Cry Tomorrow.
An interesting footnote. Yordan’s script for House of Strangers was adapted five years later and made into a Western, Broken Lance, but that time Jean Peters got the role opposite leading men Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner and Richard Widmark.
One more forgotten Hayward film, and one of Joe’s favorites, is 1951’s I Can Get It for you Wholesale. It’s set in New York’s garment district, and once again Hayward is in her element, not some costume drama where her looks and accent were out of place.
Her performance was lauded by one New York critic as fast and sassy on her double-crossing climb from $10.95 models to Paris creations; she’s nasty-nice enough almost to carry the contrived good-girl-after-all conversion of the climax.
The actress born Edythe Marrenner felt at ease among her own people, characters with the drive and ambition that she herself had.