In 1941 Mamie Stover (Jane Russell) is heading to Hawaii for a fresh start after being kicked out of San Francisco by the police on suspicion of prostitution. On board ship she meets science-fiction writer Jim Blair (Richard Egan) and romance blossoms. As the pair get closer Jim offers to help Mamie to live more respectably but has cold feet committing to more then their shipboard romance due to their social differences and the consequences of Mamie’s dubious reputation on his societal position. Mamie heartbroken agrees they should part as friends and accepts Jim’s loan of $100 til she gets settled, on the proviso she pays him back when she can, as she needs the help. As the boat docks Mamie is surprised to see Jim is met by his loving girlfriend Annalee (played by Joan Leslie in her final film role) and watches as Jim goes back to his normal life and social position without a backward glance.
Meanwhile, Mamie’s friend Jackie (Jorja Curtright) has a job waiting for her as a hostess at the club where she works called The Bungalow. The club is run by tough business woman, Bertha Parchman (Agnes Moorehead), whose precise rules for all her hostesses is what keeps her business on the right side of the law. With the most particular rule being no outside dating and which are enforced by sadistic manager Harry (Michael Pate). It doesn’t take long for Mamie to become a big success with her natural beauty and sexual charisma a bit hit with the soldiers. And with the 30% cut each hostess earns on all they sell, before to long, Mamie has earned enough to be able to call Jim to the club to repay her loan. Once Jim arrives he is once again disapproving of Mamie’s profession and offers to pay for her return ticket home, which Mamie refuses to accept out of principle. But despite their differences the sparks between them are as strong as ever and they end up rekindling their romance again.
For awhile the couple are happy and Jim’s romance with Annalee fizzles out the more time he spends with Mamie. But complications begin to arise as their relationship is beginning to draw the attention of The Bungalow’s manager Harry who confronts Mamie and Jim while lunching at the country club together and who later beats Mamie for breaking the rules. Jim’s growing frustrations and lack of understanding and/or acceptance of Mamie’s success and ambitions increasingly causes tension with the couple. With these differences beginning to seem insurmountable, when it comes to a head after Jim accuses Mamie of being money hungry and with her poignantly stating back…. “The difference is I was born with nothing and raised on lots more of the same. When you talk about money you’re slumming, when I talk about it, it’s because I’m just plain scared.”
When the war reaches the island with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, that thankfully the couple survives, it becomes an important catalyst for Mamie and their relationship. As Mamie seeing a business opportunity in the aftermath of the attack starts to buy up the properties of the people fleeing to the mainland with the money she has saved working and grows her wealth. With the couple having to separate as Jim goes off to fight, he tries once again to convince Mamie to give up her work. Mamie is left torn about what to do, she loves Jim but has no security or commitment from him as he still wouldn’t get married before he left. After talking to Bertha, who pleads with her to stay, she decides to keep working and manages to secure a considerably advantageous arrangement for herself so she can give up work when Jim comes back from the war. While Jim is away Mamie’s success continues to grow and even attracts the attention of the press. Much to Jim’s dismay when he discovers Mamie is still working at The Bungalow after his fellow soldiers were collecting pin up pictures of her. When Jim returns he heads straight to the club, with the couple having a final confrontation and breaking up once and for all. Mamie devastated, begins to rethink her life and decides to sell up, giving her fortune away and returning home with what she left with.
Based on the 1951 novel by William Bradford Huie and directed by the talented Raoul Walsh, this bright and brash melodrama ticks all the boxes. With an interesting premise, stunning cinematography, beautiful Hawaiian location, a great cast and with a pleasing pace that benefits from it’s moments of high tension. As exhibited in it’s depiction of the bombing of Pearl Harbor with it’s heartbreaking display of the fear and panic of the civilians running for their lives. The film received poor reviews upon it’s initial release, facing criticism for sanitising the novels original story about a starlet trying to make her way in Hollywood, with the Los Angeles Times review not mincing any words with it’s headline “Mamie Stover’s Revolt Suppressed by Censors”, showing how audiences and critics felt at the time. The title role was originally intended for Marilyn Monroe, but due to being on suspension, the studio then considered Lana Turner and Susan Hayward before casting Jane Russell in November of 1955. Russell ended up being an excellent choice and helped to make the film what it is, giving an excellent performance full of vitality, vulnerability and strength, helped in great part to a script that tried to give the character of Mamie empathy and a voice.
Though unfortunately in the end the film lacked the energy needed for a good melodrama, giving a flat interpretation that failed to properly engage the audience with it’s characters and their journey. With an unsatisfying ending that felt the need to have Mamie repent for her ambitions and a romance, although more of a catalyst for Mamie’s journey, that was disappointing and ultimately hard to invest in. Admittedly I am not a fan of Egan’s work, often finding him to be one note and wooden, but despite their at times steamy chemistry I found Egan’s dull and sanctimonious portrayal not a match for Russell performance and would have preferred to have seen what a stronger leading man could have done with the role. With the highlights of the film being the stunning cinematography in all it’s CinemaScope and Technicolor glory, Russell’s wonderful performance and Agnes Moorehead, who almost steals the show with her brash and strong portrayal as Mamie’s boss. A film that never quite meets it’s potential but is nonetheless worthwhile viewing for fans.
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