I spent the better part of my Sunday in Greer Garson land, with a little help from the Warner Archive Collection. A British actress who signed with MGM in 1937, Garson is best known for her Oscar winning work in Mrs. Miniver. She carved out a first rate career in Hollywood, and the underrated films Desire Me and Strange Lady in Town are a testament to her diversity.
Desire Me, released in 1947, was initially directed by George Cukor, but he eventually took his name off the credits due to what one would assume was creative differences. Mervyn LeRoy, who also worked with Garson in Strange Lady in Town, was one of the several uncredited filmmakers on the troubled project. Garson also injured her back during a seashore sequence with co-star Richard Hart, so on a superficial level Desire Me could be deemed as a failed (if not tragic) cinematic venture. Upon closer view, Desire Me succeeds on many levels.
The story centers on Marise (Garson), a woman who’s eagerly awaiting the return of her husband (Robert Mitchum) from WWII. Unfortunately, it’s Paul’s (Mitchum) fellow prison camp survivor Jean (Richard Hart) who takes his place and finds shelter with Marise. Impetuous and cowardly, Jean uses Marise’s loneliness and memories of Jean against her, and after he tells her of Paul’s death, she succumbs to his advances.
Paul, being very much alive, is making his way back to his seaside home to reunite with Marise, leading to an inevitable confrontation with Jean.
Although the project is toplined by Mitchum and Garson, it’s Hart who actually dominates the film. The narrative’s main conflict is how long Jean’s con game will endure, and we see most of the story through his eyes. Cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg (he also lensed Mrs. Miniver and The Prisoner of Zenda) does seductively sublime work in the feature, giving the film a surprisingly rich visual texture. Whether he’s shooting the interiors of Marise’s domicile or the mist infused terrain of the film’s closing moments, Ruttenberg’s compositions are truly eye-catching.
All three actors do solid work in Desire Me, and even though Cukor disavowed himself of the project, it’s still a first rate drama that’s infused with a hauntingly, noirish feel.
With the Western comedy/drama Strange Lady In Town, Garson plays Dr. Julia Winslow Garth, a woman who spreads her medical and humanistic wisdom in her new Santa Fe, New Mexico residence. Dana Andrews is Rourke O’Brien, the town’s go-to doctor who, although enamored with Julia, isn’t too thrilled there’s a new medical practitioner in town. A spunky Lois Smith (she played Sookie’s grandma in True Blood) is a scene stealer as Rourke’s spunky daughter Spurs, with Cameron Mitchell playing Julia’s hot tempered (and criminally inclined) brother.
Since it’s a CinemaScope feature, Strange Lady In Town has its share of breathtaking visual moments (Dimitri Tiomkin’s arresting score adds to the proceedings), and the chemistry between Andrews and Garson is palpable. The picture was released in 1955, along with director Mervyn LeRoy’s better known work Mister Roberts.
With Strange Lady In Town and Desire Me, Greer Garson shows she’s at home in both the Western and film noir genres. Although both films are not considered Garson’s finest hours in cinema, they each have their own creative merits and are definitely worth a look.