Walsh Gets Wacky in ‘The Revolt of Mamie Stover’ (1956) | Blu-ray Review
In hindsight, something as tawdry and salacious as The Revolt of Mamie Stover seems to have been enhanced by the severe restrictions of the Hollywood Hays Code and the strict censorship dictates which lorded Tinsel Town during the height of the studio era post-WWII. If constructions of masculinity, femininity and the deliriously false façade of American life could not be reified by narratives by the seamier side of life, they were straightjacketed most ludicrously into strange masquerades, of which Raoul Walsh’s melodrama certainly is.
Its source material, a 1951 novel of the same name, was penned by noted American journalist William Bradford Huie, who was noted for his publications on civil rights era issues during the 1950s and 60s. He was also an ex-Navy man, an experience which clearly informed this Pearl Harbor era tale about a no-nonsense prostitute who gets ousted from San Francisco and high tails it to Honolulu where she takes work in a dance hall (because it couldn’t be referred to as the brothel that it so clearly is) run by a magnificently imperious Agnes Moorhead, sporting a snarly honey-blonde coif as unrelenting as her contempt for her chattel. Playing like the pulpy, moth eaten sanitization of W. Somerset Maugham’s Miss Sadie Thompson (which was a 1928 silent film directed by Walsh starring Gloria Swanson and was also revamped for a third time starring Rita Hayworth in 1953), Sydney Boehm’s screenplay gives you all the clunky, tone-deaf dialogue you need to realize you’ve unearthed an obscure camp classic which somehow allows Jane Russell to appear as fearless and brazen as ever did, whether that be under the direction of Howard Hughes or co-starring opposite Marilyn Monroe.
Drummed out of San Francisco for what we assume to be a vice related activity, Mamie Stover (Russell) heads to Honolulu, finding work in a brothel which masquerades as a dance hall, the women forced to dance with clients or play parlor games depending on the number of ‘tickets’ purchased for their services. Enlisted by the dance hall madame Bertha Parchman (Agnes Moorhead), Mamie becomes something of a sensation, and attracts the attention of a writer, Jim Blair (Richard Egan), who eventually shirks lady love Joan Leslie to pursue Mamie, and take her out of commission. Setting her up with a real estate scheme which would see her get rich quick without having to work, the attack on Pearl Harbor leads Jim to join the war. In his absence, Bertha convinces Mamie to return to her hall in exchange for a cut of the profits, and she whips Mamie into a local working girl icon whose reputation soon reaches Jim’s ears in the trenches. When an injury results in a furlough, he returns home to find out what Mamie’s been up to…
Walsh remains one of those unheralded auteurs who progressed through his glory days of the 1930s and 1940s yet continued to make bold, uncompromising narratives until the mid-60s, although many of his later period works (at least beyond 1949’s James Cagney classic White Heat) seem to be unfairly ignored. Mamie Stover remains a sterling product of 1950s conservatism, even though several striking moments seem to have gone over the censor’s heads, including a line from co-star Jorja Curtwright who is awed by Russell’s Mamie, claiming out of all the ‘thousands of men she’d known’ none of them were like Richard Egan’s swarthy faced suitor.
There’s an inescapable ripeness here, and although Russell and Egan were both only in their mid-thirties, both seem to be a bit beyond the pale as concerns these id-driven characterizations. Boehm’s script (who adapted the noir classic The Big Heat for Fritz Lang) and Walsh’s direction don’t seem interested in getting to any sort of sordid realism, seemingly happy with what is never elevated beyond a soap opera. But what this camp melodrama does allow for is a terrifically open-ended finale for the titular Mamie, forced to move onto a new playground, but willful, resilient, and independent.
Twilight Time presents this forgotten Walsh title in 2.35:1 with 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Picture and sound quality are well-attenuated, although DP Leo Tover’s framing seems to have made better utilization of interiors than any ravishing Hawaiian landscapes, despite some beach set sequences. As usual from the label, this is a limited-edition release (3,000 units) and features an isolated music track of Hugo Friedhofer’s score.
Film Review: ★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆