Thursday, June 30, 2016

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for July on TCM

"Welcome to California, Mrs. Leslie."

About Mrs. Leslie is a romantic drama from 1954. It was the second feature for Broadway star Shirley Booth, who won an Oscar two years earlier for recreating her Tony-winning role in Come Back, Little Sheba for the screen. Shirley Booth's other acting awards include two Primetime Emmys for the sitcom Hazel, a featured actress Tony for Goodbye, My Fancy, and another leading actress Tony for The Time of the Cuckoo.  The lady's great talent was appreciated in her lifetime.

Pulitzer winner for drama (Look Homeward Angel) Ketti Frings adapted the screenplay from Vina Delmar's novel. Cliff Aliperti of Immortal Ephemera wrote an interesting look at Ms. Delmar earlier this year which you can read here. The image of a book is used to introduce or highlight the flashback sequences of the film. Daniel Mann, director of the stage and screen versions of Come Back, Little Sheba directed About Mrs. Leslie. You have probably enjoyed some of his other films including I'll Cry Tomorrow, The Last Angry Man, and For Love of Ivy.

Shirley Booth plays Vivian Keeler, a former nightclub entertainer and dress shop owner who, when we meet her, is a Beverly Hills boarding house landlady going by the name of Mrs. Leslie. The neighbours gossip that she was never really married at all and the neighbours are correct. However, everyone has a story and in this movie, we discover Mrs. Leslie's story. We will also learn something about her neighbours and her current boarders.

Next door is a teenage girl, Pixie (Eilene Janssen) who displays the self-absorption of some youngsters with an added touch of mean-spiritedness, at least where Mrs. Leslie is concerned. Mr. and Mrs. Poole (James Bell and Virginia Brissac) are faced with the health crisis of their only child. Nadine Roland (Marjie Millar) came to Hollywood to become an actress, became a doormat, and is at a crossroads. Lan McKay (Alex Nicol) also has show business aspirations and a lot of baggage from his wealthy family.

I believe the Nadine character is meant to parallel Mrs. Leslie's path with her reckless lifestyle. However, Ms. Millar's rather prim depiction of the character and cut scenes featuring Amanda Blake as a good time gal pal rather lessen its effectiveness.  

Philip Ober, Robert Ryan, Shirley Booth

Vivian recalls a time prior to WW2 when she is introduced to George Leslie in a nightclub. Singing I'm in the Mood for Love, she dallied and joked with men in the audience. Sensing George's discomfort, she left him alone. Later, one of the company at the table invited her over and she and George had a pleasant talk. The outgoing entertainer and the reticent businessman clicked and plans were made to see each other again.

Robert Ryan stars as George Leslie Hendersall, a wealthy industrialist and lonely man. On paper and at first glance Ryan and Booth seem an unlikely film pair. Their combined acting ability helps us to see past those expectations. Ryan here creates a mysterious man, yet a touching portrait of loneliness. His career at this time in the early to mid-50s saw him portraying the noir "victim" in the searing Inferno, the bigot who causes all the trouble in the tough-minded Bad Day at Black Rock and a romantic headmaster in the comedy Her Twelve Men.   

Unexpectedly, Mr. Leslie asks Vivian to come away with him to California for a six-week vacation. It would cost her a lot in terms of her work life, but instinctively she knew he needed her. It was in a lovely house by the ocean that Vivian was first called Mrs. Leslie by the chauffeur Jim and housekeeper Camilla (Ike Jones and Maudie Norman). It was also there that love blossomed and would continue to grow for six weeks every year to come (think of Bernard Slade's Same Time, Next Year). Certainly, Vivian realized she was living in a world of make-believe. George's "other" life was something she couldn't face. It was the things they shared about each other and with each other, the laughter, and the world they created that was enough and would have to be. Shockingly, Vivian heartbreakingly learns the truth about George's other world which includes a wife, two sons, and a role of importance in the war effort. It was one thing to know and another thing to know

Shirley Booth, Robert Ryan

By this time George had arranged for Vivian to become a partner in a dress shop for her security. In an attack of conscious, she tried to break it off and return his monetary investment, but their feelings for each other were too strong.

How Mrs. Leslie came to the position of landlady you may well guess, but I will leave it for you to see for yourself in the movie. It is an emotional story and one perfectly performed by Shirley Booth, who was an actress of subtle power and intense sympathy.  

TCM is screening About Mrs. Leslie on Monday, July 11th at 8:00 pm. I first saw this movie when I was a young teen and it made a great impression on me. The emotional back story of someone you would pass on the street without notice, the philosophies of the characters, and the humour in their attitudes and dialogue have stayed with me for decades.


  1. Ooooh, I never saw this, Pat. At least, I don't remember seeing it which is the same thing. :) Robert Ryan always looked so unhappy and was just wonderful at expressing loneliness. Of course he could also look mean and nasty. But Shirley Booth I mostly remember from HAZEL, a show I loved.

    1. I'm so pleased to point you in the direction of this movie. I think it is something special and hope you can make time for it this month.

  2. Oh shoot!! I've been anxious to watch this film for years, and now TCM is showing it and I don't have cable. However, thank you for sharing the film with others CW, I know there are many lucky cable owners who will be happy to see it. Shirley Booth was such a great actress.

    1. Gee, if it wasn't for bad luck...

      I think it is available for streaming on the Amazon site. I don't know how much that costs, but it might be worth looking into.

      I do hope that TCMs screening will draw in newbies to the movie.



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