Born 97 years ago today, Jane Russell (1921-2011), though celebrated for her striking good looks and charismatic sex appeal on screen, she remained down-to-earth, faith-based, family-oriented, collegial with her male and female co-stars, and accessibly easygoing throughout her life. Her no-nonsense, get-it-done attitude would serve her well when she worked with director Raoul Walsh, an expert master of male-oriented action pictures that contained feisty, supportive female characters. They first worked on the Western The Tall Men, alongside Clark Gable and Robert Ryan, and the experience was rugged but rewarding. Biographer Marilyn Ann Ross recounts in Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary Director: “Russell recalled that, before she went on location with Walsh, she was told ‘not to go anywhere near a Walsh set’ since he was ‘horrible to actors.’ She found him to be just the opposite. He was ‘a pussycat,’ she later said, who began calling her ‘Daughter’ while she called him ‘Father.’ For the remainder of Walsh’s life, Russell sent him a Father’s Day card every year and later became close friends with Mary Walsh after the Walshes moved to Simi Valley.”
This bond would help both in making the weathering the highs and lows of their next collaboration, one in which Russell played the title role – an independent-minded businesswoman striving to balance true love and monetary growth – of a project that had several inherent rough edges that had to be smoothed out for the Cinemascope screen. Ross continues: “In William Bradford Huie’s novel The Revolt of Mamie Stover , Mamie is a prostitute who sets up shop in Hawaii just prior to World War II. Neither Walsh nor [producing studio] Fox wanted that profession for her (it was too risky), so in the film [The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956)], Mamie is a good girl with naughty edges.” Being not quite a hooker also suited Russell as well, as she recalled in her autobiography: “The scriptwriter [Sydney Boehm of The Big Heat, Violent Saturday and Hell on Frisco Bay] thought that being a whore was a lovely occupation and gave my character no stress at all. Raoul wanted to put some guts into it, but Buddy Adler, who was running the studio by then and not Darryl Zanuck, thought the writer was the living end, and all decisions were slanted his way. Raoul was very unhappy. He wanted, at least, to show some of the rough times that a lady of the night had. As usual, I just learned the lines and had fun. There was no point in trying to fight studios. I did manage to make Mamie someone believable who was from the wrong side of the tracks.” Indeed, she and Walsh made something compulsively watchable about this scenically beautiful (courtesy of veteran cinematographer Leo Tover) yarn of a woman who picks herself up as a nightclub “entertainer” and real-estate speculator who builds up a solid fortune by her own determination and wiles in the run-up to Japan’s World War II-igniting attack on Pearl Harbor, yet because of her dubious background can’t quite command the lasting affections of a writer/soldier (Richard Egan) smitten with her but otherwise “respectably” engaged to another “woman of quality” (Joan Leslie).
Also starring the great Agnes Moorehead and Michael Pate as, respectively, the all-business owner and cruelly sadistic manager of the popular Honolulu dance hall where Mamie makes a name for herself, The Revolt of Mamie Stover contains many riches, according to Ross. “Walsh and Jane Russell are natural-born allies, coming together serendipitously for The Tall Men and now for this tale of a woman who is the destination for all Walsh’s celluloid women over the years. She is, of course, down on her luck, struggling to stay afloat, and using a cynical sense of humor to help her get by. Russell’s earthy sexuality is the female equivalent of Walsh’s male bravado and virility. The Revolt of Mamie Stover is Walsh’s most important film of this decade, revealing an emotional landscape in which he lets his guard down and creates pure vulnerability on the screen. Mamie exists in a script with potholes, and she is pulled down by the weight of the world around her. Yet she is a real woman, full bodied enough to capture the spectator with the full force of her honesty.” Featuring an on-screen Russell rendition of Keep Your Eyes on the Hands, an Ames Brothers soundtrack performance of the Sammy Fain/Paul Francis Webster tune If You Wanna See Mamie Tonight and the sultry Hugo Friedhofer score on an Isolated Music Track, The Revolt of Mamie Stover steps out in a brand-new 4K restoration transfer and 5.1 surround sound on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray July 17. Preorders open July 5. For a fond look at the birthday honoree’s life and career, check out the 1997 A&E Biography episode Jane Russell: Body & Soul here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AC1_qIpsLVQ.