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Rogue's March

Rogue's March(1953)

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teaser Rogue's March (1953)

Rogue's March (1953) was Peter Lawford's 40th film and his last as a contract player for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Still a teenager at the time of his 1943 signing, Lawford rose through the studio ranks swiftly, earning a salary increase from his initial $100 a week and plum roles in such films as The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), It Happened in Brooklyn (1947) and Little Women (1949), in which he gave maturing child star Elizabeth Taylor her first onscreen kiss. The actor's star wattage dimmed as quickly as it had flared, however, and within a few years Lawford found himself stuck in unprepossessing programmers (1951's Royal Wedding notwithstanding). By 1950, MGM was in decline, a victim of the encroachment of television and anti-trust laws that stripped the major studios of their cinemas and sweetheart distribution deals. Developed, produced and written by Leon Gordon, in follow-up to the success of his Rudyard Kipling adaptation Kim (1950), Rogue's March was intended as a vehicle for Stewart Granger or Robert Taylor but by the spring of the following year the star of the show was the more budget-conscious Lawford.

A reworking of A. E. W. Mason's oft-filmed 1902 novel The Four Feathers, Rouge's March finds Lawford's earnest British captain drummed out of the Royal Midlands Fusiliers (a branch of the army in which the actor's father had served during the Boer War) due to allegations of treason on the eve of a campaign on the Afghan-Indian border. Faking his death with an aim to hide in plain sight as a lowly private in a less reputable battalion ordered to Singapore, Lawford is redirected instead to the Punjab, where he must risk exposure to help quell a tribal uprising backed by czarist Russia. Though MGM had boasted that Rouge's March would be shot in India, the studio opted instead to reuse footage from Kim rather than foot the bill for location shooting; the balance of the desert scenes were faked at Vasquez Rocks, a popular movie location for westerns and science fiction films. (The studio offers a cheeky acknowledgement to the Indian government for allowing location photography - technically true, just not for Rogue's March.) Compensating for its failings as a travelogue, Rogue's March offers a stellar roster of supporting players, among them Richard Greene, Janice Rule, Leo G. Carroll, John Abbott, Hayden Rorke, Michael Pate, Skelton Knaggs, Sean McClory and Lawford's father, Lieutenant General Sir Sidney Turing Barlow Lawford, who died of natural causes two days after the film's February 13, 1953 opening.

Adept at light comedy and pitching woo, Peter Lawford was by his own admission all thumbs with the emotional stuff and such was the case on the set of Rogue's March. Required to well up in shame as his falsely accused character is stripped of his rank and regimental insignias, Lawford failed to summon the requisite waterworks - forcing director Allen Davis to spray a solution of water and onion juice in the actor's eyes. Shortly after the film was sent into cinemas in support of John Sturges' Jeopardy (1953), Lawford was let go by the studio, which had begun to divest itself of such "has-beens" as Greer Garson, June Allyson, Esther Williams, Van Johnson, Lionel Barrymore, Esther Williams and Clark Gable in a bid to reduce its overhead. Interested in developing his own projects (a career goal that would result in such films as Oceans Eleven (1960) and Johnny Cool, 1963), Lawford was also soon to marry into the affluent Kennedy family of Massachusetts, making him by 1961 the brother-in-law of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of the United States.

Producer: Leon Gordon
Director: Allan Davis
Screenplay: Leon Gordon
Cinematography: Paul Vogel
Art Direction: William Ferrari, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Alberto Colombo
Film Editing: Gene Ruggiero
Cast: Peter Lawford (Capt. Dion Lenbridge/Pvt. Harry Simms), Richard Greene (Capt. Thomas Garron), Janice Rule (Jane Wensley), Leo G. Carroll (Col. Lenbridge), John Abbott (Herbert Bielensen), Patrick Aherne (Maj. Wensley), John Dodsworth (Maj. MacStreet), Herbert Deans (Prosecutor), Hayden Rorke (Maj. Fallow), John Lupton (Lt. Jersey)

by Richard Harland Smith

Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept the Secrets by James Spada (Bantam Books, 1991)
Variety, November 2, 1951
Variety, December 19, 1951
Variety, January 2, 1952
MGM News, April 17, 1952

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