Lana Turner’s life story epitomizes the dark, dangerous side of Hollywood glamour. Supposedly discovered skipping school one day in a drugstore on Sunset Boulevard. She had a raw smouldering sex appeal to go with her devastating blonde looks.
Initially packaged as the Sweater Girl, a ploy which accentuated her obvious charms, she went on to become a top pin-up during World War II and was MGM’s most manufactured glamour girl during the fifties.
Sometimes, as in The Postman Always Rings Twice or Peyton Place, for which she won an Oscar nomination, she turned in a fine performance, but she is chiefly remembered for her image rather than for her acting. Her private life was extraordinarily scandalous – in addition to being married seven times, most famously to the bandleader Artie Shaw and the former movie Tarzan lex Barker, her hoodlum boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, was knifed to death by her daughter in her kitchen.
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, she remained a box-ollice draw. In 1970 she appeared in a television series appropriately entitled The Survivors. Here then is our pick for five of her best movies.
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
The first English language version and the sexiest of the three films made of James M.Cain’s novel (he also wrote “Double Indemnity”). The chemistry between a drifter (John Garfield) and a waitress (Turner) at a roadside cafe waiting for a chance to escape her suffocating life and husband is so explosive that it leads to killing the woman’s husband. The pair get off when charged with murder, but their lawyer (Hume Cronyn) gets the goods on them for a blackmail scheme. In a twist of fate, each of the murderers gets their comeuppance in an unexpected way. The story and direction make the murder seem almost inevitable. MGM tried for more than a decade to get a script that would pass the Breen office censors. In the meantime, Italian director Luchino Visconti made a version entitled “Osessione” in 1942. Remade with more blatant sexuality in 1980 with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange.
Director: Tay Garnett
Cast: Lana Turner, John Garfield, Leon Ames, Hume Cronyn, Audrey Totter,
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
Turner shines in a sharp portrayal of moviemaking and climbing the Hollywood ladder. Told in flashbacks from the point of view of an actress, a writer, and a studio executive. Old Hollywood hands Vincente Minnelli and John Houseman provide plenty of backstage detail.
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Cast: Lana Turner, Vanessa Brown, Leo G. Carroll, Kirk Douglas, Gloria Grahame, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Gilbert Roland, Paul Stewart, Barry Sullivan,
The Rains of Ranchipur (1955)
A rich and markedly promiscuous Englishwoman (Turner) arrives in a small Indian town with her husband (Michael Rennie) and pursues the handsome local Hindu doctor (Richard Burton). After some resistance, they eventually end up in each other’s arms and Turner finds herself in love for the first time. But the seasonal rains and a devastating earthquake cause the dam to overflow, flooding the city, leaving thousands homeless and prompting a change of heart for both Burton and Turner. Academy Award Nomination for Best Special Effects. Remake of The Rains Came (1939), based on the novel by Louis Bromfield.
Director: Jean Negulesco
Cast: Lana Turner, Richard Burton, Joan Caulfield, Gladys Hurlbut, Eugenie Leontovich, Fred MacMurray, Michael Rennie,
Peyton Place (1957)
Based on the scandalous and biggest best-selling book of its time, this glossy adaptation set the standard for movie soap and spawned a sequel and a long-running prime-time TV series. Lust, deception, scandal, and murder lurk beneath the surface of a picture-perfect New England town, where personal dramas and intrigues are hidden from view by deceptively quaint clapboard and shuttered houses. A murder trial brings a writer back to her small town, spurring revelations and reconciliations. Academy Award Nominations: 9, including Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actress: Lana Turner; Best (Adapted) Screenplay.
Director: Mark Robson
Cast: Arthur Kennedy, Hope Lange, Terry Moore, Lloyd Nolan, Lana Turner
Imitation of Life (1959)
Douglas Sirk’s beautifully composed remake of the 1934 Claudette Colbert melodrama. If anything, Turner makes a more icily perfect star for the story of a driven actress whose passion for the stage drains her of time and affection for her daughter (Sandra Dee), who grows up mostly in the company of her warm maid (Juanita Moore) and the maid’s daughter (Susan Kohner). Both mothers come into conflict with their daughters: Turner and Dee compete for the attention of John Gavin, and Moore finds that Kohner has been passing as white. No one else in Hollywood handled this kind of material as well as Sirk. Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress: Susan Kohner. Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actress: Susan Kohner.
Director: Douglas Sirk
Cast: Lana Turner, Sandra Dee, Juanita Moore, Susan Kohner, Robert Alda, John Gavin, Mahalia Jackson, Dan O’Herlihy,