For awhile, I wasn’t as well-versed in the goings on at 20th Century Fox during the Golden Age of Hollywood. I’d seen much of John Ford’s best work, which was made there during the ’40s, but I didn’t really know of the great wealth of stars Fox had. Rather blindly, I assumed MGM had the biggest stars. That can happen when TCM is your first source for classic movies, since most of their programming comes from the Turner library. Heck, if I waited for TCM, I wouldn’t have even seen Laura for the first time until earlier this year when it was part of their Essentials line-up and they finally got access to it from Fox.
The reason why I look for MGM movies is to see the stars, but I go to Fox movies for the directors first. Fox is where Ford made his best movies in the ’40s. It’s where Elia Kazan got his start in Hollywood. And, most importantly, it’s where Joseph L. Mankiewicz made his best movies as a director. Through these three filmmakers, I’ve encountered an amazing class of leading ladies that Daryl F. Zanuck curated. From Linda Darnell and Gene Tierney to Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, the studio had a knack for finding women who could act (when they didn’t get on Zanuck’s bad side, of course).
One who seems to get lost in this shuffle is Jeanne Crain. She has this gorgeous, unique look about her, where at one moment, she’s a street-wise cynic and other times, she’s a fragile young woman. While other Fox women were typecast, Zanuck somehow allowed her to take on a wide range of roles. Her peak was easily 1949 through 1951. In that time, she played a young wife in A Letter To Three Wives, gave an Oscar-nominated performance in Pinky and played a high school student in Cheaper By The Dozen. In 1951, she reunited with Mankiewicz for his follow-up to the Oscar-winning All About Eve, People Will Talk.
This film gave Crain another unique role and paired her with Cary Grant. Here, she plays Deborah Gibbons, a young student who is pregnant, but has no idea where the father is. She comes to Dr. Noah Praetorus (Grant) with her problem, but he has his own since Prof. Elwell (Hume Cronyn) doesn’t think he’s a legit doctor. As Noah tries to clear his name, he falls in love with Crain.
People Will Talk isn’t a crown jewel in Mankiewicz’s cap, but it’s a fun movie and features a really strong performance from Crain. Grant is a bit aloof here, but his love for Deborah – and Crain – grounds his character and makes him more likeable. She’s great, especially in her scene where she mouths off to Hume Cronyn, turning him into a little boy before our eyes. In another moment, earlier in the film at her uncle’s farm, she has this great play with Grant that leads up to their first kiss.
While I certainly have more movies with Crain left to see, her performance in People Will Talk and the movies she made just before it prove that she was good at her job. Perhaps it is because she got to work with both Kazan and Monkiewicz, but you have to have some talent to make it. She wasn’t just a pretty face and Fox gave her every opportunity to show off those acting chops.