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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Beachhead: A Tony Curtis Classic

This is my first of many blogs I trust. I want to write about classic movies that few people would have normally seen or cared about to see again. My sons tease me incessantly about watching old movies or “black and white” movies (but I digress). It’s not the top 100 rated movie by critics and professionals, which I am not. Nor am I a screenwriter. I am a lover of classic movies! As I’m sure you must be, if you’ve ventured this far to read my blog.

I choose Beachhead for several reasons. The other night my husband asked me, “when I was a child, who was my favorite actor (male or female)? I immediately said Tony Curtis. I like the subject matter of his movies. They all had enough interest with just the right amount of fluff. It had to be entertaining after all, which I will expound on later. Of course, I liked him as an actor… and it didn’t hurt that he was soft on the eyes. At this point in his career in Beachhead he was a popular star. He had a claim to fame to more prestigious projects which did not catapult him to major star status until 1956 when he was cast in a supporting role together with Burt Lancaster and Gina Lollobrigida in Trapeze.

Probably, not considered a great actor by critics’ standards although Curtis acted in movies that were critically acclaimed; such as the 1958 movie, The Defiant Ones when he requested equal billing for Sidney Poitier. IMDB (the Internet Movie Data Base) trivia stated that, “Tony Curtis was very keen to make the film as he saw it as an opportunity to break out of the mindless, pretty boy roles he was usually assigned. Director Stanley Kramer initially had some misgivings but, ultimately relented”. Curtis went on to receive the Academy Award Best Actor nomination along with Poitier. However both lost to David Niven in Separate Tables. Then a year later he starred with well-known actors Jack Lemon and Marilyn Monroe, in Some Like It Hot. He had his golden years of movies and during that time married actress Janet Leigh, who was “the woman” in the shower scene Psycho. The two were parents of Jamie Leigh-Curtis and Kelly Curtis, both actresses. Besides his first wife Janet, he would act alongside other Hollywood legends such as James Stewart, Kirk Douglas and Debbie Reynolds.

In Beachhead Curtis’s not so well known co-stars were Frank Lovejoy (the only movie they made together) and Mary Murphy, who co-starred with Curtis pre-Beachhead in Houdini in 1953 and 40 Pounds of Trouble 8 years later. Again you ask why this movie? Well, it has all the makings of a “love” triangle. Boy meets girl, even though the backdrop isn’t a romance novel. It’s the South Pacific on an island in 1944. It has the usual love triangle and a few other triangles thrown in: like unresolved issues (both personal and in battle). Oh, and of course there's the actual war. Before going to acting school, Curtis gleaned his wartime experience from his service in the US Navy, thus beginning the transformation of Bernard Schwartz (his real name) to Tony Curtis.

The set-up: In 1943, in the wake of the Allied amphibious landing on the Japanese held Bougainville Island, four Marines are sent to scout the location of Japanese minefields. The Intelligence department received a radio transmission from a French planter on the island and this scouting unit is sent to find the doctor, verify the transmission came from him and relay that confirmation back to their division before the amphibious landing. Directed by Stuart Heisler, whose earlier movie career was quite impressive indeed (The Glass Key, The Star).

The film is based on a novel by Richard G. Hubler “I’ve Got Mine”. Hubler wrote several books that became movies in the late 1940’s and early 50’s. Some of them having a military related subject matter. And the screenwriter, Richard Alan Simmons, not only wrote the screenplay for the 1955 movie, The Private War of Major Benson with Charlton Heston, he also wrote the revamped version 40 years later, Major Payne starring Damon Wayans. The renowned actress Hayley Mills said, “a screen actor is limited to: screen lighting, camera shot or angle and their facial expression, in order to get a thought conveyed in a scene". Let’s see if this movie conveys these points in 90 minutes.

The assignment: Frank Lovejoy was “type casted”. Having played a succession of detectives, street cops, reporters, and soldiers throughout his acting career. His gritty, authoritative voice was perfect for his role as the intense and brooding no-nonsense sergeant. Although, he did have a short acting career from 1948-62, and died at the age of 50. It’s great if you’re caught-up in the movie before the opening credits are over. Music has a lot to do with it. In the opening scene the music is intense, as the Marine unit is on the move through the brush and one of the Marines steps on a land mine. The first of many explosions small and big. Before the credits are over the unit comes across a dead body, but it’s not reveled in the scene, but on the expression of the solider as they continue to move through the brush.

It’s a 1950’s movie alright. The director starts off using the floral cover as a means of entering into a shot/scene. The opening dialogue is already laced with tension between Lovejoy and one of his men, Reynolds. When the sergeant steps away Tony Curtis goes to the sergeant’s defense “ain’t one war enough for you Reynolds”, and Reynolds replies “he won’t fight…they never fight, when they know you know about them.” (Spoiler Alert) Something happened at Guadalcanal concerning the sergeant, but the major isn’t concerned with that. He wants the sergeant to take a special assignment, with the Marines that came out of his Guadalcanal platoon, and the plot begins.

The love interest: Mary Murphy was cast perfectly, opposite Tony Curtis’s character “Burke”. Her personality was more demure and less leading lady, which did not compromise her role and complemented both Tony Curtis and Frank Lovejoy’s “romantic” interests.

Final thoughts: This movie was made by a process known as Technicolor. The dictionary definition means having a lot of bright color. Which I found odd since half of the movie is filmed at night, in low light or all foliage and very little floral. Having done a little research on Technicolor, it means more than just bright color. It’s the processing and the high quality material. It was widely used by studios from the 1930’s through the middle of the 1950’s. This film is better preserved (with this high quality method) then film to-date. Which is perhaps why it’s a good quality on YouTube. Last line: Perhaps a “one hit wonder as they say in the music business”. Why take the time to herald its merits? I like movies that received little fanfare, may not ever make the AFI list or receive an Academy Award. Those are the movies generally that “someone poured their heart and soul into and may not receive the accolades it deserves. But I would want them to know someone thought enough to take the time to watch what they directed or wrote or acted in.

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