Saturday, July 12, 2008

Scarlett O’Hara’s younger sister

The title of this post is also the title of the 1977 autobiography of actress Evelyn Keyes, since her role as sister Suellen O’Hara in Gone With the Wind (1939) is probably the part for which movie fans remember her best. This, of course, does a tremendous disservice to Ms. Keyes, who made many more memorable movies than that turgid piece of Civil War slop—but that’s not why this post is here. Keyes, who lived an extraordinary life—among the men she married were film directors Charles Vidor and John Huston, and big band musician Artie Shaw—has shuffled off this mortal coil at the age of 91.

Keyes also wrote a second memoir, I’ll Think About It Tomorrow, and an autobiographical novel, I Am a Billboard, after hanging up her movie ambitions in 1956 (though she returned to acting in 1968 for a telecast of ITV Playhouse…and then took a cruise on The Love Boat in 1983). But before that, she appeared in many classic feature films: The Buccaneer (1938), Union Pacific (1939), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) and The Jolson Story (1946), to name a few of the big ones. She also carved out a niche for herself in film noir (she was the subject, along with Marie Windsor, Jane Greer, Ann Savage, Coleen Gray and Audrey Totter, of Eddie Mueller’s endlessly readable Dark City Dames) with appearances in Johnny O’Clock (1947), The Killer That Stalked New York (1950), The Prowler (1951), 99 River Street (1953) and the too-bizarre-for-words Hell’s Half Acre (1954). (Contrary to what this AP obit says, she is not in The Big Combo [1955].)

Most of my favorite Keyes films (like Killer and River Street) are the film noirs, but I also have two other favorites that don’t particularly fit that category. The first is Nine Girls, a 1944 Columbia programmer featuring a pack of sorority girls (Keyes, Ann Harding, Jinx Falkenberg, Anita Louise, Nina Foch) on a winter vacation who find themselves stranded at a ski lodge…and one of their numbers murdered. William Demarest plays the detective on the case, so you already know it’s going to be fun going in. But my very favorite Keyes vehicle is A Thousand and One Nights (1945), in which she plays a sexy genie (and I’m not kidding about the sexy part—she makes Barbara Eden look like the wallflower at a high school dance) released from a lamp by Aladdin (Cornel Wilde) and his fast-talking pal Abdullah (Phil Silvers—“Glad to see ya!”). Nights has been known to turn up on TCM every now and then, so if you see it on the schedule…put a Post-It on your computer to remind yourself to catch it.

R.I.P., Evelyn…you will be missed.

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