Monday, December 15, 2014

Stewart Stalks Jean... and Visa Versa

Footsteps in the Fog (1955) opens on a funeral.  One of the mourners seems particularly moved by the events.  He is Stephen Lowry (Stewart Granger), whose wife died suddenly of gastreoenteritis.  His friends, Alfred Travers (David MacDonald) and Travers' daughter Elizabeth (Belinda Lee), rally to the Lowry home to show their support.  They are accompanied by barrister David MacDonald (Bill Travers).  In spite of the fact that Elizabeth is adored by David, she is in love with Stephen, and is now wondering if she can reveal her affections.  Once Stephen is alone, however, we learn that the late Mrs. Lowry, who was considerably older than her handsome husband, did not die innocently.  And Stephen is quite enjoying his freedom and the fortune that came to him with his wife's death.

Stephen has several servants.  One of them is a rather careless, lazy girl, Lily Watkins (Jean Simmons), who the cook, Mrs. Park (Marjorie Rhodes) and the butler, Grimes (Norman Macowan) have to keep their eyes on.  But Lily isn't entirely inept.  She's managed to discover what no one else even suspects - that her master has poisoned his wife.  And Lily intends to use the information to her own advantage.  So, while Lily rids the house of the other servants, and blackmails her employer into becoming his lover, Stephen is contemplating ways in which he can rid himself of Lily.
When we discussed A Yank at Oxford, we talked about the ways in which filming in the United Kingdom helped the studios to use up monies that were legally tied up in that country.  Footsteps in the Fog was filmed in the UK, with local crew and actors for that very reason.  According to this TCM article, Stewart Granger was especially keen to return home and suggested that he and his wife, Jean Simmons, would star in it.  Though ambilient about both the script and director (Arthur Lubin was best known for the Francis, the Talking Mule series), the couple accepted the part, and Granger worked with a screenwriter in England to make the script (based on a short story, "The Interruption," by W.W. Jacobsmore) palatable to him and Simmons.  It is a technically lovely movie, however - glorious technicolor and splendid costuming.  It could have been an excellent film, had it had a believable script.

The Grangers reservations about the script is certainly understandable.  The female characters, Lily and Elizabeth, are both fairly stupid, and the ending (which we won't discuss - I like to avoid spoilers) doesn't really work all that well.  Even Granger's character makes one wonder how he actually managed to plot the demise of his late wife - he isn't exactly a rocket scientist.  That being said, Jean Simmons - given what she has to work with - is very good as Lily.  This was her fourth film with husband Granger.  They met on the set of Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), where Simmons had a bit part, and also worked together in Adam and Evelyne (1949) and Young Bess (1953).  Footsteps in the Fog was their final film together; they would divorce in 1960.  This obituary from The Independent goes into more detail on the life of Ms. Simmons.  A brilliant actress, best known for her roles in Elmer Gantry, The Big Country, and Spartacus, she died in 2010 of lung cancer at age 83. 

Belinda Lee worked steadily in UK films, then moved to Italy to be with her lover.  While there, she starred in Constantine and the Cross (1961) with Cornel Wilde.  She died that same year, age 25 in a car accident.  While she is quite pretty, given the limitations of her role, it's hard to judge her overall abilities.  Quite frankly, the more talented Simmons drives her from memory.

We'll close with a trailer from the film:

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