Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Lana Has Many Costumes

Not yet available on DVD (an out of print VHS edition is often highly coveted) and only rarely shown on television these days, this glossy, hooty, sun-baked soap opera is one of my favorites. Love Has Many Faces was released in 1965, sort of on the cusp of the old-fashioned movies that implied more than they showed and the freer era that was just a few years around the corner.

Miss Lana Turner had already had a stunning success in 1959 with Imitation of Life, a film that many people felt exploited the complicated relationship she had with her teenage daughter. In the wake of that film, she embarked on several other glitzy melodramas, many of which hinted at various aspects of her real (rollercoaster) home and sex life.

Here, she plays Kit, a 40-ish, incredibly wealthy heiress who lounges away the hours in glorious Acapulco, either in her spectacular beach house or on board her sleek yacht. Always with a cig or a drink (or both!) in her hand, she bakes in the sun, wearing one of a vast array of snazzy beach ensembles. Her husband is played by Cliff Robertson, an ex-gigolo gone legit who seems devoted to Turner, but not without some concerns. In the first place, he longs for a child and she can’t seem to have one. Secondly, her despair over her inability to conceive causes her to act out with a selection of hunky playthings.

One day, her latest boy toy washes up dead and a police investigation is instigated, with a few ugly questions tossed her way. She pays for the boy’s funeral and burial but isn’t exactly overcome with remorse. When the deceased’s former girlfriend Stefanie Powers, who he left behind in the States to pine away for him, comes to look into matters, Turner’s life takes another turn.

Meanwhile, middle-aged tourists Ruth Roman and Virginia Grey have come to the beach for fun and frolic. They’ve barely pulled the first paper umbrellas out of their tropical drinks before a pair of local hustlers swoop in for the kill. (The pickup line and retort are memorably slick: “Haven’t I seen you around?” “Could be. I’ve been there.”) Hugh O’Brian portrays the elder of the two, a swarthy, slinky ferret who’s out to get all the money and other fringe benefits he can from Roman. Grey, on the other hand, is stuck with the apprentice prostie, Ron Husmann, who is still green enough to feel guilt about milking the ladies for dough and gentleman enough to actually :::gasp::: want to occasionally pick up a tab.

O’Brian is servicing Roman for money and she really doesn’t seem to mind, though he actually has his eye on a bigger prize, the sequin-encrusted Turner. Robertson, disappointed in his marriage to Turner, starts to find Powers appealing. Love has many faces and the cast has many romances and Lana has a jaw-dropping outfit for each one of them!

Somehow, the primary players wind up at a bullfighters training ground, run by Carlos Montalban (Ricardo’s brother) and if you close you’re eyes, you’ll swear it’s Ricardo talking, though Carlos looks nothing like him. On site is another man that Lana has eyes for, real-life bullfighter Jaime Bravo (what a name!), making his major motion picture debut. The ladies go off to change, giving them a chance to size one another up and the men do the same. Sadly, we don’t get to see much of the guys shoehorning themselves into their matador gear. As the emotions build to a head, the story takes a dramatic and symbolic turn, resulting in a severe injury to one of the players. Yet, the semblance of a happy ending is in store.

If it sounds really tawdry and dirty, it’s really not. Most of the “romance” is referred to rather than shown, though there is an occasional dollop of zesty dialogue. There’s even the occasional drop of mild kink, as when O’Brian takes a drink out of Lana’s glass and deliberately turns it so that his lips will touch exactly where hers had just been.

Lana’s wardrobe was given its own featurette at the time. Designed by Edith Head, it was billed as a Million-Dollar Wardrobe. Most of the items are bathing ensembles, but there are occasional dresses and a few hot pant get-ups that often come with a matching wrap. Lana is very tan and very blonde and in good shape. She’s harder here than in most of her other films, but still gets to display a vulnerable side.

O’Brian, who has been profiled elsewhere on this site for his eye-blistering performance in this film, must have had his wardrobe made from just a few leftover scraps. His teeny bikinis are almost legendary in their brevity and look damn good up against his tan, hairy physique. His other clothes consist of a white towel, a sweater with no shirt under it and just the occasional shirt and jacket! Once seen, it’s difficult to shake off the sight of him waterskiing, posing and otherwise cavorting on the beaches of Mexico.

O’Brian bears no small resemblance to Lana’s ex-gigolo boyfriend Johnny Stompanato, the one who was stabbed to death in her home by her daughter during a domestic squabble. Turner and Stompanato had vacationed in Acapulco very publicly before his death. So the setting and the visuals definitely borrowed at least a little from Miss Lana’s own life.

Robertson is also an apparent casualty of Lana’s Million-Dollar Wardrobe. For an almost endless stretch of the movie, he appears in a drab, worn-out cargo jacket. Though, out of everyone in this movie, he’s the only one with an Oscar on his mantle (for Charly, three years after this), he gives the least captivating performance. Yes, his character is jaded, but he delivers a “why am I here?” sort of portrayal.

Powers seems to have been deliberately saddled with as many neutral and toned down clothes as possible, lest she pilfer even the slightest crumb of attention away from the star. I actually like Powers (and can even forgive her for that very misguided, thankfully brief, early career decision to go by the name Taffy Paul), but the idea that she could draw Robertson away from Turner is a bit of a stretch for me. However, as they say, looks aren’t everything, so maybe her more fresh-scrubbed appearance offered him a respite from the diamonds and silk.

Roman was, by now, a pretty hearty, buxom woman with a low voice that would give Bea Arthur pause. Grey, the polar opposite, being skinny and blonde, makes an amusing counterpoint. In the end, they come off as rather pathetic, which is a shame. I have seen, though, that even now there are single women who flock to expensive resorts and buy virile, sexually agile companions for use during their stay, so there’s certainly nothing unbelievable about their situation.

Husmann was a Broadway actor and singer whose appeal did not translate to film. A Tony Award nominee in 1961, he nevertheless makes next to no impression here. Though he appeared in quite a few TV guest shots and a few telefilms, this was his sole shot at the big screen in any capacity. The publicity headshot that was issued for this film does him no favors either, presenting him as a waxy, overly made up figure with a sort of garish smile. His greatest successes would continue to occur on the stage.

Though his role is small, one of the more interesting people in the film, at least off-screen, is Bravo. A legendary bullfighter for many years prior to this shot at feature filmmaking, he was renowned for his dramatic performances in the ring and notorious for his ridiculously high number of conquests outside it (including, allegedly, Ava Gardner.) He had three sons by two wives (one of whom, Ann Robinson, ironically had a small role in Imitation of Life) and was the subject of much ballyhoo and publicity. However, a 1970 car crash took him from this life prematurely.

The beach home (or I should say the set!) that Robertson and Turner inhabit is a marvel of elegance and spaciousness. It’s the perfect backdrop for the stars and gives Lana a sleek staircase from which to descend in her latest get-up. Staircases were always a key part of her films from the time she drunkenly fell down one in Ziegfeld Girl to the one she raced up in Madame X.

The title song (almost all of these types of movies have one and they are so much fun) was sung by jazz diva Nancy Wilson. More than a few folks have watched the credits just to hear this and then turned the film off. Not me, though I do like the number! Hysterically, a decision was made to put Lana on the cover of the single WITH Nancy, even though she had nothing to do with the tune. It’s a rather awkward, though friendly, shot and surely this sleeve would be considered a collector’s item to fans of either star.

It’s been said that audiences love to watch rich people suffer and there is plenty of angst stirred in with the lavish trappings here. I always had trouble wondering what there is to be so despondent about when there’s a terrific place to live, a gorgeous beach, a wealth of striking clothes, a housekeeper, apparently all the sex a body could want and plenty of booze. Half the time I want to scream at the screen “Loosen up!” which is something only Hugh-baby does to any degree.


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