From recent viewings of Ride Clear of Diablo (1954) & Six Black Horses (1962), and Silver Lode (1954), I followed the Dan Duryea trail into Foxfire and decided to turn this day into a Jeff Chandler double feature. Chandler gets knocked for being a wooden actor, but I love watching him. He’s handsome, I think he has great screen presence, he puts across intelligence and power and is really good with the types he plays in these two movies: strong, stoic, contained, misunderstood men.
In Foxfire, Jeff Chandler plays mining engineer Jonathan “Dart” Dartland. He’s half Apache, which helps him manage the employees from the reservation, and he knows from Apache lore that tons of gold lie far below the current mine, so he’s trying to get his excavation plan financed. His whirlwind romance and quick marriage to the Amanda (Jane Russell) is off to a stormy start, complicated by his hot temper, jealous streak and reluctance to discuss the ways his Apache upbringing trained him to be emotionally closed off to women. She tries with diminishing success to get to know him, reassure him that she’s faithful, break through his stoicism, and modify his antiquated ideas of a woman’s place. Lonely and neglected by Dart, Amanda frequently turns to Dart’s buddy Hugh (Dan Duryea), the local doctor, and even though they’re truly just friends, it predictably causes more outbursts. Then Amanda gets pregnant and keeps it from Dart when he hints he has no interest in kids or is even willing to fight for the marriage.
Foxfire is an engrossing soap where romantic tension between this couple relates to and reflects more than one type of culture clash. Amanda’s from New York so she’s bold, tough and outspoken, but she’s also vulnerable, a flashy city girl trying to adjust to this dull mining community with its own culture, rules and hierarchy. Then she has this difficult new marriage further complicated by racial differences. She tries to be accommodating and tiptoes around Dart’s touchiness and habit of misinterpreting everything she does and says, and then she starts to think that the key to unlocking Dart is to do some detective work about his heritage. Since everything she knows about Indians she learned from the movies (which lead her to say some insulting things when she first meets Dart), she educates herself and has her eyes opened to the range of bigotry in town. She studies up on his family and goes on a tour of the reservation which is the only way she can meet his mother (Celia Lovsky). Dart remains distant, so Amanda ends up having to put her foot down and tell him the marriage will only survive if she walks by his side as an equal, not 12 steps behind as his squaw. Then finally it’s Dart’s turn to make some changes and space for his wife.
Russell is really good in this rich role, she manages to do all the above while being naive and curious and stubborn, while Chandler fumes and struggles and pushes her away. Doctor Hugh is a heavy drinker, really likes Amanda more than a friend and makes no secret of it, but admirably never really oversteps his bounds, even when he’s always right there to console Amanda whenever the couple fight. Mara Corday plays Hugh’s nurse and admirer, and she gets to bring Amanda and Dart together to work things out in the end. Foxfire was directed by Joseph Pevney, based on the Anya Seton book, and has a theme song by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Jeff Chandler.
The Tattered Dress, directed by Jack Arnold, is an exciting legal thriller where Chandler plays brilliant and famous criminal defense lawyer John Blane. He’s hired to defend wealthy Michael Reston and his bombshell wife Charleen (Philip Reed, Elaine Stewart), who have–and we see them do it–murdered the young football hero in a small desert town. At first Blane seems to be warmly welcomed by the friendly Sheriff Nick (Jack Carson), but there’s a deep resentment of these rich, slick big city types that turns deadly when Blane wins an acquittal for the Restons. During their trial, Blane makes the mistake of revealing he has a gambling addiction, so the Sheriff easily involves him in a high-stakes poker game and uses the cash exchange to frame Blane for bribing a juror (Gail Russell).
I really enjoyed this movie, there were some slow bits in court but overall it was riveting, the black and white photography looked great, everyone in it was good, best of all Jack Carson. He used that lovable, jolly, goofy persona to hide the fact that he’s a conniving, vindictive and dangerous villain. He was incredible, going from goofy hick to sympathetic washed up football star to menacing monster threatening Russell, abusing his power and denying it all with a sweet smile and chuckle. Russell is conflicted and feels guilty about her part in the frame-up and she gets a big role in the surprise ending. It’s a nightmare Blane can’t wake up from, he pursues the truth and pushes Sheriff and Carol, but goes too far and only makes himself look bad.
Blane’s estranged wife Diane (Jeanne Crain) comes to town to support him, and predictably they end up growing closer, but the nice twist there is that she doesn’t ask him to change but instead is reminded what a great lawyer he is, the injustice of his youth that drives him, and why he has to go on doing what he’s the best at (maybe with less gambling). George Tobias plays Billy, a famous comedian in nearby Vegas, eternally grateful that Blane got him acquitted of a murder charge. Billy shows up to help, and when he tracks down one of the phantom poker gang, he’s eliminated by the Sheriff in one of several shocking moments in this pulpy courtroom drama.
Thanks Laura for making it possible for me to have this Jeff double bill!