Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Without Honor and the Television Careers of Agnes and Franchot

For the past few days, the classic film blogosphere has been celebrating actress Agnes Moorehead thanks to the Agnes Moorehead Blogathon hosted by Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. I am happy to pay my respects to the incredible actress, who was born on December 6, 1900, with a look at the many connections Agnes and Franchot had, despite never actually sharing screentime!

Without Honor (1949)
Franchot Tone and Agnes Moorehead in Without Honor.
Without Honor (1949) holds the dubious privilege of being my least favorite Franchot Tone film. I previously wrote a film summary and talked about the aspects that make me dislike the film. (You can read that here if you like.) However, Agnes Moorehead's performance is the film's saving grace. In my opinion, Laraine Day's performance is too hysterical, Dane Clark is too menacing, and Franchot (only featured in the first 10 minutes) is too flat. Everyone is too much of something to be believable. And then, over 30 minutes into the film, Agnes enters and her just right performance redeems it.

Married housewife Jane (Laraine Day) is surprised when her married lover Dennis (Franchot Tone) appears on her doorstep in the middle of the day. Embarrassed to be caught cooking in her housedress, Jane is still unable to conceal her total adoration of the man. Dennis is clearly concerned and gently breaks off the affair with the explanation that he desires to spend more time with his wife and daughters. Jane becomes hysterical immediately and in a struggle, stabs Dennis with a kabob skewer. Earlier I said that Franchot's astonishingly brief performance is flat here. I think he did the best that he could with the material as it was written. There wasn't much to his character and not a lot of room to improve it. Later that day, we find out that Jane's angry, possessive brother-in-law Bill (Dane Clark) has set up an intervention of sorts. Not knowing what has occurred between Jane and Dennis, Bill intends to expose them to their spouses.

Dennis' wife Katherine (Agnes Moorehead) is first to arrive. Katherine walks in Jane's house. She is soft-spoken, cool and not completely focused. Agnes plays the scene quietly. She eyes Jane warily and looks around the room with a slight disinterest. She concentrates on lighting and smoking her cigarette and as the viewer, you can feel the character waiting and knowing the score. Katherine's knowledge of the affair is confirmed when she realizes that Jane's husband Fred (Bruce Bennett) is completely unaware. Concerned and surprised, she asks, "He doesn't know?" As Bill eagerly takes Fred outside to tell him of the affair, Katherine addresses Jane in a wonderful speech that is truly the best moment in the film. Agnes, as Katherine, says:
You know that as the wronged wife I'm supposed to hate you. But, I don't. Does that surprise you? I don't like you. I think you're a fool and a weak girl...I knew he'd found somebody because lately he's been so kind and so considerate and attentive at home...I understand it, but it hurts just the same...If you really understood him, you'd know that he's a man with a tremendous desire to be worshipped. And you worship him. I'm telling you this because I want you to stop it. Things are going to be different from now on. You understand all this?..You're quite alone. I feel sorry for you, I really do.
These are not empty words. Agnes conveys all the conflicted emotions her character is feeling through her facial expressions and body movements. She is uncomfortable, but self-assured. She's firm, but caring. She's heartbroken, but resilient. As deeply as she is hurt, Katherine genuinely feels for Jane. She's worried about the future of a woman who has the stigma of being a home wrecker. Katherine knows of the double standard, that others will judge Jane, that Jane could lose her marriage, security, and social worth.  It's clear, to Katherine and the audience, that Dennis never truly loved Jane. Jane refuses to believe it, asserts that Katherine never truly loved or appreciated him. Realizing that Jane can never understand the bond that Katherine still feels for Dennis and that Jane is still worshiping her lover, Katherine ends the conversation with a defeated:
You never heard a word I said.
It's a sparkling performance in a film noir that is quite lackluster for me. Although they play spouses, Franchot and Agnes never share any screentime in Without Honor.  I've not spoiled the ending of the film, so please watch for yourself.

"You never heard a word I said."

Franchot Tone in Ben Casey. Agnes Moorehead in Bewitched.
Following Without Honor, both Franchot and Agnes heavily embraced the television medium in their careers. In the 1950's, Franchot, softly blacklisted and not considered "bankable" by the studio, focused almost solely on television and theater work, while Agnes was able to successfully balance film and television. Agnes would, of course, end up on one of the most beloved shows of all time. From 1964 to 1972, Agnes played Endora, the most clever and entertaining antagonist I've ever seen in television history, on Bewitched. Franchot does not register as a television household name for most folks, but he did become a series regular on the top rated medical drama Ben Casey in 1965.

Before and after joining Bewitched and Ben Casey, Franchot and Agnes appeared in many of the same television shows and anthologies—only never at the same time! I truly regret that there are so many missed opportunities for collaboration between these two. Let's take a look at some of these lost chances.

Franchot Tone in Old Cowboy. Agnes Moorehead in Gun Quest.
Franchot and Agnes guest-starred on the popular western show The Virginian five years apart. Franchot starred as Murdock in the "Old Cowboy" episode on March 31, 1965. Agnes played Emma Garvey in the episode entitled "Gun Quest" that aired on October 21, 1970.

Franchot Tone in The Silence. Agnes Moorehead in The Invaders.
Apart from Bewitched obviously, the most memorable television performances may possibly be found in their 1961 Twilight Zone episodes.  Agnes believed there was a U.F.O. on her roof on the January 27th episode "The Invaders" while later that year on April 28th, Franchot was the intimidating gentleman who enters into an unfair bet in "The Silence."

Franchot Tone in The Malachi Hobart Story. Agnes Moorehead in The Mary Halstead Story.
Another popular western show of its day, Wagon Train featured many celebrity guest stars. On November 20, 1957, Agnes appeared as the title character in "The Mary Halstead Story." Five seasons later on January 24, 1962, Franchot showed up as the title character in "The Malachi Hobart Story."

Franchot Tone in Bitter Heritage. Agnes Moorehead in The Dungeon.
From 1956 to 1960, Franchot and Agnes could be seen on Playhouse 90. Franchot acted in six different Playhouse 90 productions, the first one airing on October 25, 1956 and the final one airing on May 2, 1960. Franchot's episodes included: "Rendezvous in Black," "The Thundering Wave," "Bitter Heritage," "A Quiet Game of Cards," "The Hidden Image," and "The Shape of the River." Agnes performed in "The Dungeon" episode that aired on April 10, 1958.

There were plenty of additional roles in anthologies. Franchot was in "The Gioconda Smile," "Silent Decision," and "The Largest City in Captivity" episodes of Climax! in 1954, 1955, and 1957, respectively. In 1956 and 1957, Agnes appeared in two Climax! episodes: "Child of the Wind" and "Locked in Fear." Franchot's Alcoa Theatre productions were 1956's "Even the Weariest River" and 1957's "Night," while Agnes was seen in the "Man of His House" episode that aired in 1959. 

Franchot and Agnes each starred in the Dupont Show, General Electric Theater, Colgate Comedy Hour, and Revlon Mirror Theatre. The Dupont Shows were 1958's A Tale of Two Cities (Agnes) and 1959's Body and Soul (Franchot.) For General Electric Theater, it was 1956's Steinmetz (Franchot) and 1959's Deed of Mercy (Agnes.) Just months apart in 1955, Franchot made an appearance as himself in Episode 5.15 and Agnes appeared in "Roberta" of The Colgate Comedy Hour. Franchot and Agnes were both Revlon Mirror Theatre performers in 1953; He in "One Summer's Rain" and she in "Lullaby."

I am aware that many film stars of the 1930's to 1950's worked steadily in television anthologies, but I am still struck by just how many similarities Franchot and Agnes share in the television portions of their careers. Although they costarred as husband and wife in a 1949 film noir and then over the course of 15 years, appeared in many of the same anthologies and series, Franchot and Agnes never actually shared one scene. I wish that wasn't so. I think they would've made a fine match as true costars.

I hope you'll continue celebrating Agnes Moorehead on her birthday by heading over to In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and reading all of the marvelous tributes there.

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