“The hottest combination that ever hit the screen!” – declared Louella O. Parsons in late August 1951.
It’s possible that Louella was still in party-mode, having passed her 70th birthday just a few weeks before. No point in holding back now! Jane Russell and Robert Mitchum have IT.
Apparently, not since way-back in ’21 – between Agnes Ayres and Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik – has Louella been KO’d by so much “It”. (Garbo and Gilbert, maybe.) So, as the resident celebrity gossip columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph, Louella flashes her credentials and snags an exclusive interview with the elusive Valentino.
In his room? At the Hotel Bristol? Why – of course!
Louella was suddenly the most envied woman in America. What this interview could mean for both of them! Over the next five years Rudy will see his name above the title on ten major films. His last, also his best, is the much-anticipated sequel, Son of the Sheik, featuring radiant beauty Vilma Banky as the ravaged victim. But within days of the New York premiere, the great lover is dead.
Three Decades Later. Louella, beguiled again, takes a “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet” approach to her thumbs-up for His Kind of Woman. RKO’s top tier and chestiest stars – together at last! And in return for Louella’s verve and oomph, the film’s producer Howard Hughes plasters her name and testimony above the title on every poster and lobby card, and superimposes it over a wild kiss on the promotion trailer.
But back at RKO, none of the other heads of production seem to care that the Hughes project is a complete fiasco, a doomed money pit; the sort of “Don’t let this happen to you” variety of flop that Louella may have divined in her 1915 tome, How to Write for the Movies.
Jane Russell plays “Lenore Brent” – a not-so-well-known nightclub singer with several L.B. aliases. She claims to work mostly “on the continent. Europe.” At the moment, she’s jamming with a local piano player and guitarist who hang out at a small cantina set somewhere in Mexico. It’s adjacent to a transfer point for northerners – the neon sign reads: Aduana. A Customs House, a passenger zone for shuttle buses, a small airport for small planes? Not exactly the most enviable location in ’51 for continental lounge singers to book a show. What is she doing there?
It’s late, the cantina is almost empty. Lenore is killing time, sipping from an $18 bottle of champagne [today’s price, $170.77] while waiting for the shuttle plane she’s chartered to take her to a luxury resort in Baja. She has no reason to be concerned that someone named “Dan Milner” (Mitchum) has just de-boarded the shuttle bus marked NORTEÑOS, entered the cantina and ordered the $2 bowl of chili [today, $18.97] – the only hot food Bill the bartender (Tim Holt) keeps on hand. Dan is wondering if the gorgeous 5’7″ singer with the 38D-cups might be his connection to the next leg of his mysterious adventure. He pays Bill for a bottle of the lady’s favorite brand and eases closer toward the combo. “Save your dough,” says Bill. “She’ll be out of your life before the investment pays off.” Dan doesn’t recognize the singer.
“Five little miles from San Berdoo – I woke this mornin’ and thought of you. Looked out the window – what a view! Five little miles from San Berdoo.”
“Four little miles from San Berdoo. The porter shouted, ‘We’re almost through!’ I saw familiar sights we knew – four little miles from San Berdoo.” [At this point, the director cuts to Mitchum who is standing nearby. The shot is only four seconds long, but it’s potency will catapult Parsons into orbit. Cut back to Russell with one more mile to go.] “Oh, what a thrill when I saw you. Waitin’ at the station down in San Berdoo.” Minus any back-and-forth editing of glances, it’s obvious that Lenore has checked him over. And that cleft in his chin…
The real hero in this scene is Academy Award winning composer and lyricist Sam Coslow. His job is to write Miss Russell a catchy tune, in a certain key, with happy lyrics, no spangles, no runway. She’ll be sitting on a stool – keep it simple. It’s 1951. Jane’s legendary screen debut in The Outlaw was eight years ago. This is only her third film since then. In-between, she has been on radio as the featured vocalist for bandleader Kay Keyser and released a hit solo album for Columbia Records. Coslow’s tune will be Jane’s first on-screen crack at a song. With the benefit of tight close-ups and savvy musical direction from Russian-born Constantin Bakaleinikoff – Five Little Miles From San Berdoo works very well for her and the scene. Its simple melody is also referenced later in the film. In that respect, the song informs the plot. But unlike the flow of royalties from many of Coslow’s really-fabulous film songs (Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime, Just One More Chance, etc.) – “San Berdoo” is a cash & carry one-night-stand. Nobody else ever went near it.
• • • • •
As for Jane’s character, “Lenore” –– It turns out she and “Dan” are booked on the same 2-seat-plane headed for the resort in Baja. [Press hard on Fast-Forward.] About a half-hour later, she is surrounded by the smart and smiley combo at the hotel lounge as they perform You’ll Know – a really slow-simmering pot-boiler of a dud by Jimmy McHugh (I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby and I’m in the Mood for Love). Lenore isn’t booked here either. It’s just that the guys can’t turn down a request from a babe like that – in a dress like that and with all her etcetera. We also discover that the guy she’s supposed to meet in Baja – the one she’s so hot to get to in “San Berdoo” – is an all-too-fancy Vincent Price.
For Jane Russell.
Uhhh …. uh-uh. Don’t want to imagine. And, yes, the rest of the screenplay goes down in flames. Too many subplots. Not enough flesh. We’ve been royally had by the unlikely team of Parsons & Hughes.