For ten years Ray Milland worked in Hollywood, a charming, romantic supporting actor in light comedy-dramas, steadily being groomed for better things. Fame came, but from an unexpected direction with The Lost Weekend. Billy Wilder’s nightmarish and adventurous journey into the taboo world of the alcoholic.
It won Milland an Oscar, and opened doors which had previously been closed to him though, curiously enough, few of his subsequent films, excepting Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder, had much beyond his presence to recommend them. After several interesting low budget films as director, he moved increasingly towards character parts, lending weight to otherwise turgid projects like Love Story. His autobiography, Wide-Eyed in Babylon, charts his progress from Guardsman to star with delightful self-deprecating humour.
Here is our pick of five of his best movies.
Beau Geste (1939)
An oft-filmed adventure tale that tells the story of three brothers who “confess” to stealing a rare gem in order to save the female culprit. The brothers in arms battle the elements and their enemies to live long enough to clear the family name. The haunting opening sequence is one of the most famous in film. The sweeping desert vistas near Yuma, Arizona, (previously utilized for the 1926 version of P.C. Wren’s story) stood in for the sands of North Africa. Academy Award Nominations: Best Supporting Actor: Brian Donlevy; Best Interior Decoration.
Director: William A. Wellman
Cast: Gary Cooper, Brian Donlevy, Susan Hayward, G.P. Huntley, Ray Milland, J. Carroll Naish, Donald O’Connor, Robert Preston, James Stephenson, Heather Thatcher
Reap the Wild Wind (1942)
In a DeMille potboiler at sea, 19th-century ship captain Wayne fights for his reputation with shipping company investigator Milland, for his ship with salvage pirates Massey and Preston, and for his life with a giant red octopus. Salvage-company owner Goddard nurses Wayne back to health after a shipwreck, though she loses him to the sea creature. Reap the Wild Wind was planned as a vehicle for frequent Cecil B. DeMille star Gary Cooper; however, Cooper was committed to Pride of the Yankees and John Wayne took his place. Academy Award Nominations: 2, including Best Cinematography.
Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Cast: Charles Bickford, Paulette Goddard, Susan Hayward, Raymond Massey, Ray Milland, Lynne Overman, Robert Preston, John Wayne
The Lost Weekend (1945)
This portrait of alcohol’s deadly grip is perhaps the greatest of the social-problem films, and a rewarding, harrowing movie experience. Milland gives the performance of a lifetime as a writer who encounters the depths of his soul on a weekend alone in New York. When his brother (Terry) goes on vacation, leaving Milland alone to write, the bottles come out before the typewriter. Before the weekend is over, Milland will have lost his money, his freedom, and his grip on reality as he descends into the alcoholic abyss. Justly praised upon its first, limited release, the movie was almost scrapped when the alcoholic beverage industry offered millions for the negative, and studio executives questioned its commercial potential. Milland explored the darkest corners of society researching the role, spending the night in New York’s Bellevue Hospital (the setting for some of the most disturbing sequences) on the alcoholic ward. Based on Charles Jackson’s 1944 novel. Its multiple honors include the Cannes festival award for Best Actor: Ray Milland, and the Palme d’Or; Golden Globes for Best Director; Best Actor: Ray Milland; Best Motion Picture, Drama. Academy Award Nominations: 7, including Best Editing; Best Cinematography.
Director: Billy Wilder
Cast: Howard Da Silva, Frank Faylen, Ray Milland, Philip Terry, Jane Wyman
Dial M for Murder (1954)
Hitchcock’s intriguing cinematic adaptation of Frederick Knott’s play about a woman who slowly comes to realize that her husband is trying to murder her for her money. She foils an intruder with a sharp pair of scissors in a scene even more electrifying in the original 3-D. Hitchcock constructed an oversize wooden hand and telephone dial to film the opening of Dial M for Murder because the 3D camera could not achieve close focus normally.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Leo Britt, Robert Cummings, Anthony Dawson, Grace Kelly, Ray Milland, John Williams
X – The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)
One of the better examples of both Roger Corman’s work and science fiction films in general, X stars Ray Milland as Dr. Xavier, a scientist who’s forced, from lack of grant money and animal subjects, to try a drug on himself designed to improve vision. Though the obligatory party scene ensues where Milland can see through clothes, philosophical dilemmas are also suggested at least superficially, and his struggles careen through myriad fantastic locations – a carnival, a Las Vegas casino and a revivalist house. First place, Trieste Science Fiction Film Festival.
Director: Roger Corman
Cast: John Hoyt, Ray Milland, Don Rickles, Harold J. Stone, Diana Van Der Vlis
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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