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Cass Timberlane

Cass Timberlane(1948)

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teaser Cass Timberlane (1948)

The ads heralded Cass Timberlane (1947) as "TNT, Tracy 'n' Turner." It wasn't their first pairing, of course. She had played Tracy's fiance in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde six years earlier, during which she called him "her champion" for defending her from director Victor Fleming's abuse. It wasn't even the first time the slogan had been used. MGM had heralded Turner's pairing with Robert Taylor in 1941's Johnny Eager the same way.

Cass Timberlane was part of Tracy's comeback to MGM after a year off to do a Broadway show, Robert Anderson's The Rugged Path. When the play flopped, Tracy stayed in New York to enjoy the city's cultural life and undergo treatment for the drinking problem that had returned after the play's closing. After a year off the screen, Tracy had trouble finding a suitable vehicle. The Sea of Grass (1947), a western drama co-starring Katharine Hepburn, had not done well. Sinclair Lewis' novel Cass Timberlane, with its tale of a widowed small-town judge who sets tongues wagging when he marries a beautiful young woman, seemed to have been written for him. But it took three writers to adapt the tale to the screen, partly because of changes made for the Hollywood Production Code. Nor was Tracy happy with the studio's choice of director. He had hoped to get either George Cukor or Vincente Minnelli, but instead they assigned the film to George Sidney, a thorough professional whose previous work had been mostly confined to light musicals.

At first, the biggest problem with the film was Turner. After Broadway veteran Donald Ogden Stewart finally got the script in order, she demanded changes. Early in shooting, Stewart claimed she would show up not even knowing her lines or what was happening in the scene to be filmed.

For Turner, the filming of Cass Timberlane was a difficult time. For one thing, she had only just finished the period adventure Green Dolphin Street (1947) and was splitting her days between retakes on that film and work on the other. The changes in makeup, hair and costuming were exhausting, and at times she brought the British dialect she'd developed for Green Dolphin Street to her very American character in Cass Timberlane, prompting Tracy to quip, "My, my, aren't we British this morning?"

She was going through personal problems as well, involved in a tempestuous affair with Tyrone Power. Since Power was still married to French actress Anabella, she finally had to call off the relationship for fear of destroying both their careers. And when she found herself pregnant, she decided abortion was the only answer.

Through all this turmoil, however, Turner's career continued to rise. MGM was wisely trying her out in a series of powerful dramatic roles, leading film critics to praise her acting in Cass Timberlane, something they'd rarely done about her work before. She must have mended her ways on the set as well, because by the time shooting ended Tracy gave her the strongest compliment he could: "This is a good actress."

Director: George Sidney
Producer: Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
Screenplay: Donald Ogden Stewart; Adaptation by Stewart and Sonya Levien
From the novel by Sinclair Lewis
Cinematography: Robert Planck
Art Direction: Cedirc Gibbons, Daniel Cathcart
Music: Constantine Bakaleinikoff
Cast: Spencer Tracy (Cass Timberlane), Lana Turner (Virginia Marshland), Zachary Scott (Brad Criley), Tom Drake (Jamie Wargate), Mary Astor (Queenie Havock), Albert Dekker (Boone Havock), Walter Pidgeon (Man at Cocktail Party).
BW-119m. Close captioning.

by Frank Miller

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