Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


SLANDER. (1956) Director: Roy Rowland. NOTE: This review reveals some important plot details.

Inspired by the Confidential scandals of the fifties, this picture presents Van Johnson -- who comes through quite nicely in a solid dramatic part -- as a children's entertainer who is told some unsavory facts about his past will be published unless he comes up with some dirt on a major movie star that he used to know in the old neighborhood. This comes -- heartbreakingly -- just after Johnson has been given a major break as host of a popular kiddie show. Johnson had been sent away for armed robbery years ago (to make this more palatable we are told that his mother was seriously ill and they needed money for medicine) and although he's served his time, the sponser is afraid the public will react negatively to the news -- which they do. Johnson refuses to play ball with the scandal sheet and the details of his incarceration are published. His wife (Ann Blyth, also solid) wants him to tattle on the film actress for the sake of his job, their lives, and -- especially -- their little boy, but Johnson is just too decent to do the deed. This leads, indirectly, to the death of their son as he runs into the street to get away from some playmates who are taunting him about his father. The film is uncompromising in that there is absolutely no happy ending: Johnson and Blyth are left to deal with the despair they feel over their boy's death and Johnson is out of a job -- and a career. Depressing stuff indeed, although one imagines the audience was supposed to feel some satisfaction when the scandal sheet publisher (Steve Cochran) is shot to death by his own outraged mother (Marjorie Rambeau)!

Slander is a very interesting picture with some trenchant observations and dialogue, but it has a somewhat slick and surfacy feel to it, despite some strong scenes. Although Rambeau is excellent as Cochran's mother (and his insufficient conscience) she is given some scenes that play in the dramatic sense but aren't very logical otherwise. First, we're asked to believe that she would pay a call on Blyth the very day that her little boy has been killed (to find out if she blames Cochran for what happened); then we're supposed to believe that she would actually murder her own son in cold blood. Slap him, shout at him, scream in disgust, maybe -- but murder? This is a sop to the audience, which was probably hoping the callous guy would get it in the end. Speaking of Cochran, he may not have been a great actor, but here he plays against type, all suave and debonair over the oily infrastructure, and is not only credible but very effective. He actually gets the lion's share of the running time and runs with it.
Verdict: **1/2.

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