The majority of Hollywood legends chosen byTCM as part of their month-long Summer Under The Stars marathons were from Hollywood’s Golden Age. There have been a few exceptions like Shirley MacLaine and TCM‘s August 29 honoree, Anne Francis.
Born in 1930, Francis earned a modeling contract with John Robert Powers Agency at the age of six. That lead to work in New York on radio dramas and eventually, at age 11 a role on Broadway playing the younger Liza Elliot, Gertrude Lawrence’s character in Lady in the Dark.
A contract with MGM followed. During her early days as an MGM contract player, the pretty, blue-eyed, blonde with a distinctive beauty mark below her right lip made her uncredited film debut in 1947’s Esther Williams/Jimmy Durante musical This Time For Keeps. The next year, she landed a small role in another musical, Summer Holiday starring Mickey Rooney, Gloria DeHaven, Walter Huston, Frank Morgan and Agnes Moorehead.
Barely twenty-years-old, Francis‘ next role took her from bobby-soxer to troubled teen in 1950’s So Young, So Bad, a film about the seedy side of reforms schools. A mostly forgettable film, it’s worth seeing if for no other reason than Francis‘ co-star, Rita Moreno, making her film debut billed as Rosita Moreno. Moreno would rise above such inauspicious beginnings to become one of only a handful of actresses to ever win an Oscar, a Tony , a Grammy and an Emmy.
While Francis never won the accolades of her former So Young, So Bad co-star, she would go on to star in a better grade of films, thanks to 20th Century Fox‘s Darryl Zanuck having spotted her in the film. While under contract to 20th, Francis worked with directors like Henry Koster (Elopement) and Claude Binyon (Dreamboat).
Francis‘ role in 1954’s The Rocket Man is noteworthy, not because she co-starred alongside Charles Coburn or my latest obsession, Spring Byington, or even fog-horn-voiced tyke George Winslow, but because it was Francis‘ big-screen introduction into science fiction.
A string of films, including romances, musicals and dramas would follow, but it was 1956’s Forbidden Planet that would forever place Francis among the interstellar stars of the sci-fi genre.
TCM begins their tribute to Francis at 6am/5c with the aforementioned Summer Holiday from 1948. That is followed by 1950’s So Young, So Bad at 7:45am/6/45c.
Then, at 9:30am/8:30c, Francis is one of a number of young stars dealing with love and war in the romantic 1955 drama, Battle Cry. The film stars Van Heflin, Aldo Ray, Mona Freeman and Nancy Olson and features James Whitmore, Raymond Massey, Tab Hunter, Dorothy Malone, Fess Parker and of course Francis, in a story of young WWII Marines and the women they’ve left behind.
Also from 1955, airing at 12noon/11c is Bad Day at Black Rock, a thriller about a mysterious one-handed stranger who returns to a small western town where his troubles began. Only twenty-five at the time, Francis plays townie Liz Wirth, who holds her own amidst such heavy-hitting co-stars as Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Dean Jagger, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Walter Brennan.
TCM lightens the mood at 1:30pm/12:30c with 1954’s Susan Slept Here, as writer’s-block-suffering Dick Powell and his gorgeous, but fiery girlfriend Francis contend with an unexpected early Christmas present, a teenage girl (Debbie Reynolds). If you’ve read my TCM column with an regularity, you know I love character actresses like Mary Wickes, who typically played sharp-tongued assistants. Enter Glenda Farrell as Maude Snodgrass. Alvy Moore (Green Acres’ Hank Kimball) plays Powell‘s best pal, Virgil. Also, if you’re familiar with 1947’sThe Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer starring Cary Grant & Shirley Temple, you’ve got some idea of the ensuing shenanigans.
The laughs keep coming with The Great American Pastime at 3;15pm/2:15c. Francis plays Betty Hallerton, wife of newly-appointed little league coach, Bruce (Tom Ewell). A sort of forerunner to Bad News Bears, over-worked lawyer Bruce isn’t exactly coach material, but sees taking on managing a local little league team as a chance to spend time with his son. When Betty meets the beautiful divorced mom of one of the boys on her husband’s team, she get the wrong idea about her husband’s sudden interest in the sport. Ann Miller is gorgeous and funny as the not-so-innocent single Mom. Look for Dean Jones (later the star of Disney‘s Herbie, The Love Bug films) as fellow coach, Buck Rivers. Also in the film, Raymond Bailey (Mr. Drysdale from The Beverly Hillbillies).
Next, at 5pm/4c, TCM presents Funny Girl (1968). Yes, THE Funny Girl, the one with Barbra Streisand and Omar Sharif. While I suspect the majority of Francis‘ role as Georgia James ended up on the cutting room floor to make room for more Babs, what limited screen time she is given is great, nonetheless.
At 8pm/7c, it’s 1955’s Blackboard Jungle. No, Francis isn’t one of the troubled students at the center of this look at inner-city angry youth, she’s Anne Dadier, the young wife of Richard Dadier (Glenn Ford), the latest teacher brought in to restore discipline, order and respect. Trouble at school soon means trouble at home when rumors of inappropriate behavior between her husband and one of his female students threatens the Dadier‘s marriage. Sidney Poitier, nearly thirty at the time, co-stars as one of the high-schoolers Mr. Dadier is dedicated to helping.
Francis‘ career-defining film, Forbidden Planet from 1956 airs at 10pm/9c. When the film was released, it was initially intended for younger audiences who were heading to movies houses in droves to see such sci-fi films as The Day The Earth Stood Still, Zombies of The Stratosphere and Cat-Women on the Moon. Loosely based on Shakespeare‘s The Tempest, Yes, I said Shakespeare, it’s the story of a futuristic space mission manned by Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen) as he embarks on a mission to search for survivors of a mission gone awry some twenty years prior. What he and his all-male crew find are reclusive Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), survivor of the doomed mission, Robby the Robot, his man-servant robot and Morbius‘ gorgeous and flirtatious daughter Alta (Francis). They soon discover there’s more than meets the eye in the seemingly utopian existence enjoyed by the Dr., his daughter and their faithful, albeit manufactured companion. Whether you view Forbidden Planet as pure mid-50s sci-fi schlock, or revere it for it’s creativity and ground-breaking all-electronic soundtrack by Louis and Bebe Barron, Forbidden Planet is a classic. Added bonus: Fans of 1970s sci-fi TV The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman will get a kick out of seeing Richard Anderson (then-future OSI head Oscar Goldman) as Chief Quinn.
In 1965, the same year she’s make history as TV’s first American female spy in the much-loved series, Honey West, Francis starred on the big-screen in Brainstorm, a thriller directed by William Conrad. While technically produced too late to be consider true Film Noir, the dark thriller definitely has noir elements. As Lorrie Benson, Francis plays a married woman on the verge of suicide who becomes romantically involved with the brilliant scientist who saves her. Jeffrey Hunter (A Kiss Before Dying) plays the young scientist, while Dana Andrews plays Lorrie‘s estranged husband,Cort. Things get twisted when the a murder plot and a feigned bought with insanity come into play. Keep a sharp eye out for director Conrad and 7’2″ future Bond baddie Richard Kiel in uncredited roles as mental patients.
Director Raoul Walsh oversees Francis and co-star James Cagney in 1953’s A Lion in the Streets at 2am/1c. Despite the impressive leads and director, it’s a less-than-memorable film in which pretty young Francis, twenty-three at the time, seemingly falls for fifty-three year old Cagney. Hank Martin (Cagney) quickly rises to political power after taking on a crooked cotton-buyer in the bayou. Barbara Hale plays Hank‘s wife, who is puzzled by young Flamingo‘s (Francis) jealous, obsession behavior where Hank is concerned. Lon Chaney Jr., Sara Haden and Ellen Corby are among the film’s supporting players. Also worth noting, for bloodline alone is Jennie Brown, played by Cagney‘s real-life sister, Jeanne Cagney.
For their final film inTCM‘s day-long salute toAnne Francis, it’s Impasse (1969), at 4am/3c. Francis plays Bobby Jones, a tennis pro, who’ at the urging of her father (Clarke Gordon) becomes involved in a jungle adventure in order to retrieve a hidden treasure hidden in the jungles of Manila during WWII. Up-and-coming film star Burt Reynolds is cast as Pat Morrison, the leader of the expedition. Both Francis and Reynolds had made a name for themselves in TV, Francis having starred in Honey West and dozens of other guest roles, while Reynolds also enjoyed series success on Riverboat, Gunsmoke and Hawk. Interestingly, in the years that followed Impasse, Reynolds would go one to concentrate more on film work, while Francis would go on to star in nearly 100 TV roles.
Francis‘ final film role came in 1996’s Lover’s Knot, starring Billy Campbell and Jennifer Grey. Her last TV appearance was in a 2004 episode of Without A Trace. In 2007, Francis was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 77. She died of complications from cancer on January 2, 2011.
To see how stars who worked with Anne Francis relate to other stars mentioned in previous articles, simply click through the hyperlinks included in the above.
TCM‘s Summer Under The Stars has two more days left. Next up, it’s the films of Howard Keel.
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