Thursday, May 13, 2021

Glenn Ford and Gene Tierney discover “The Secret of Convict Lake”

The Secret of Convict Lake (1951) is an American Western film directed by Michael Gordon and starring Glenn Ford, Gene Tierney, Ethel Barrymore, and Zachery Scott. The cinematography was by Leo Tover (The Snake Pit, The Heiress, and The Day The Earth Stood Still).

Six convicts escape from a Carson City prison in 1871 during a blizzard. One freezes to death, while the others find their way to Lake Monte Diablo where eight women are on their own while their men are away prospecting. At first, the women are reluctant to have anything to do with the convicts, but eventually, they break down and offer them shelter and food. One of the men, Jim Canfield (Ford) is looking for the man who lied about him on the witness stand which resulted in him going to prison. The man Canfield is looking for, Rudy Schaefer (Harry Carter) happens to be the man one of the women, Marcia Stoddard (Tierney) is planning to marrying. Carter stole $40,000 and perjured himself which lead to Canfield being convicted of killing a mine ower and stealing his money. The convicts traveling with Canfield are convinced he hid the money somewhere in Lake Monte Diablo. Canfield denies he has the money hidden and explains he is only out for revenge; he plans on killing Schaefer for putting him in jail.

Will Canfield be successful in his quest for revenge? And what about the other convicts? What will their fates be?

Gene Tierney with rifle, flanked by Ann Dvorak on her right and Ruth Donnelly on her left; Ethel Barrymore in the doorway with a pistol

Michael Gordon (1909 - 1993) was an American film director who directed a wide variety of movies including melodramas, films noir, and comedies. His career as a director spanned almost 30 years. Some of his films include Cyrano de Begerac (1950), Pillow Talk (1959), Boys' Night Out (1962), and Move Over, Darling (1963). Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt is his grandson by his daughter Jane.

Caricature of Glenn Ford from Punch

Glenn Ford (1916 - 2006) was a Canadian-American actor who was one of the biggest box office draws for three decades. Ford acted on stage in California before being signed to a contract with Columbia Pictures. He appeared in mostly B movies until The Lady in Question (1940), the first time he was paired with fellow Columbia contract player, Rita Hayworth. After serving in the Coast Guard during World War II, Ford’s career began to take off. He and Hayworth had a huge hit with Gilda (1946) and A Stolen Life (1946) with Bette Davis. Ford came into his own in the 1950s with films like Blackboard Jungle (1955), Interrupted Melody (1955) with Eleanor Parker, Jubal (1956), and The Fastest Gun Alive (1956) with Jeanne Crain, all box office successes. By the end of the decade, Ford was one of the biggest stars in the world. Ford continued making movies in the 1960s but his successes were more uneven than in the previous decade but had hits with Experiment in Terror (1962) and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father  (1963). In 1978, he played Clark Kent’s adoptive father in Superman. His last film role was Raw Nerve (1991).

Gene Tierney, Glenn Ford, and Ethel Barrymore

Gene Tierney (1920 – 1991) was an American actress. Tierney got her start on the stage where she played the ingenue lead in The Male Animal. She was spotted by 20th Century-Fox Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck and he offered her a movie contract. Zanuck said that Tierney was the most beautiful woman in the movies. Tierney proved that she could carry a film not completely based on her beauty in films like Laura (1944) and Leave Her To Heaven (1945) for which she was nominated for her first and only Best Actress Academy Award. Other important films include The Razor's Edge (1946), Dragonwyck (1946), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), The Iron Curtain (1948), Whirlpool (1949), and The Mating Season (1951). In the late 1940s, she struggled with mental illness which negatively affected her career. After 1955’s The Left Hand of God, Tierney was off the screen until Advice & Consent (1962). She appeared in two films after that, but her career in film effectively ended in 1964 after a guest appearance in The Pleasure Seekers.

Ethel Barrymore (1879 - 1959) was an American stage and film actress and part of the famous Barrymore family of actors. Her equally famous brothers were Lionel and John Barrymore. Barrymore got her start on the stage and she was among its brightest stars for many years. Barrymore also had a successful career on the other side of the Atlantic in London where she starred in Peter the Great. She achieved one of her biggest Broadway successes in W. Somerset Maugham’s comedy, The Constant Wife (1926). Barrymore was a popular character actress in film during the 1940s. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in None but the Lonely Heart (1944) opposite Cary Grant who played her son. Other film roles include The Spiral Staircase (1946), The Paradine Case (1947), and Pinky (1949).

Zachary Scott (1914 - 1965) was an American actor on stage and most notably in film. He made his film debut in the film noir The Mask of Dimitrios (1944). As a contract player at Warner Bros.Scott was the perfect slick, film noir villain. Before his career in film noir took off, he starred in The Southerner (1945) directed by Jean Renoir. It would be his role as Monty Beragon in Mildred Pierce (1945) that would be his most enduring role with film fans. Scott worked in film, stage, and television until 1963. He died of a malignant brain tumor.

Gene Tierney in a costume test for the film with the scenes listed for when it would be worn.

The Secret of Convict Lake trivia:
  • Dana Andrews and Linda Darnell were originally set to star as Jim Canfield and Marcia Stoddard respectively.
  • The story is fictional but it is inspired by a real incident where a posse had a shoot-out with escaped convicts from the Carson City prison. Convict Lake is a real place in California that was named after the incident.
  • This was actress Ann Dvorak’s last film role.

To watch the film on YouTube, click on the link below.

To join the online discussion of this film on May 18, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation with a link to the discussion on Zoom.

Questions for discussion:
  1. What did this film have in common with the other two films we watched: The Walking Hills and Lust for Gold?
  2. How did Glenn Ford’s performance in this film compare with his characterization in Lust for Gold?
  3. Was Tierney believable as a western heroine? Was her chemistry with Ford believable?
  4. Did you have a favorite character in the film?
  5. Were you surprised by anything?

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