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  Saxon Charm, The Awful Impresario
Year: 1948
Director: Claude Binyon
Stars: Robert Montgomery, Susan Hayward, John Payne, Audrey Totter, Harry Morgan, Harry Von Zell, Cara Williams, Chill Wills, Heather Angel
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Matt Saxon (Robert Montgomery) has built himself quite the reputation in the world of the Broadway theatre, where he has enjoyed many hits and is tolerated for his knack with knowing the right thing to do for each production. Author Eric Busch (John Payne) is not as successful as Saxon, but he has been building a literary name for himself, so it's no wonder the impresario wants to work with him on this new play he has been devising, but the word comes through to Busch to meet the producer in the local hospital. Concerned, he dutifully shows up and is told there is no way he will be admitted to Saxon's private room, just look at all the folks hanging around outside trying to do just that, but for some reason he takes a special interest and invites Busch inside, where he discovers the theatre legend is not ill at all, but a hospital room is the only place he can go to get peace and quiet...

This Matt Saxon sounds quite the character, and star Montgomery must have thought he was a gift as who in the acting profession would not like to get their teeth into the role of a showbiz monster? But the results are one of those movies that start strong and over the course of ninety minutes gradually peter out, leaving you still hungry for the feast of bad behaviour you were anticipating. Kind of a predecessor to later theatre exposes like All About Eve or The Dresser, but not really like them as if the form had not been perfected yet, it also resembled a variation on Budd Schulberg's famed novel What Makes Sammy Run? except that was about the film industry and this was more concerned with the behind the scenes of those treading the boards.

Montgomery certainly began the movie enjoying himself as his know-it-all stomps all over people's dreams and stomps all over restaurant staff for that matter, the only reason he is getting away with it because he is rich and powerful. The story then proceeded to chip away at that pedestal he had placed himself on until he was very unsteady on it, but unfortunately felt the need to bring down others with him, just to rub his nose in how his chickens had come home to roost. We feel sorry for Busch, for instance, because Saxon's demands mean he sees less and less of his wife Janet (Susan Hayward, obviously a star on the ascendency here) and that puts a huge strain in their marriage, even interrupting their holiday to sail up in a ship he has bought (!) and gatecrash their moments of respite from him.

You also feel sorry for Saxon's girlfriend Alma Wragg, played by Audrey Totter in one of those performances from one of those actresses you get the impression could have made more of her career had she been given the opportunities that, say, Hayward had. Alma is coached in her nightclub act and that sees her on her way to Hollywood, but her proximity to Saxon may be sabotaging her reputation, and he even chooses to hook up with his ex-wife (Heather Angel) when she's not around. Some describe this as a film noir (the title makes it sound like a historical adventure romp), but it actually looked as if it had been conceived as a comedy, sort of like the Monty Woolley character in The Man Who Came To Dinner had he been released in the wild, only part of the way through the makers decided to make it a punishing warning about treating others well on the way up, since you can go back down with a bump. Saxon was based, so gossip said, on actual theatrical egomaniac Jed Harris, whose behaviour was even worse than what happens here; maybe they should have drawn more from anecdotes about him. Music by Walter Scharf.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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