I saw a 1956 crime movie over the weekend on TCM called The Houston Story. It was vaguely entertaining but mostly mediocre, a half-baked drama of a mobster wannabe played by Gene Barry. But it had two memorable elements in it: Edward Arnold as a chuckling mob kingpin, and Barbara Hale as a platinum-haired nightclub thrush and femme fatale.
I kinda remember Barbara Hale from playing Della Street, the Gal Friday on the old Perry Mason show with Raymond Burr in the 50s and 60s…but actually I don’t remember that show very well because while I was growing up I was more interested in the Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Ben Casey, and 12 O’Clock High and magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland and giant comic book creatures like Fin Fang Foom. But I loved Barbara as a naughty minx in this movie when I saw it last night in my current state of maturation as a 57-year-old connoisseur of noirishly deceptive doxies. Yes, my eyes have been opened to an actress whose other works I must readily explore.
Barbara sings the same song in The Houston Story that made Rita Hayworth famous in Gilda a decade earlier, “Put the Blame on Mame,” and Barb’s equally sexy in a sultrier, more “MILFy” kind of way.
I don’t know if Miss Hale really sang the song or it was dubbed, but the camera stays on her in closeup the whole time, and her facial expressions, and the way she moves her mouth and the way the light flatters her gorgeous cheekbones, made it something I’m glad I recorded on the DVR. If you get to see this movie when it shows up again on TCM, watch how she moves her lips on the word “boys” in the lyric, “Put the blame on Mame, boys…”
In her other scenes in the flick, she really brings the tough babe to rich life with everything from the smallest furrowing of her brow to the freshening of her lipstick. What a dame!
Looking her up on the web after seeing the movie, I found some of these shots at a great tribute site called Big Dave’s Barbara Hale Annex. I also read somewhere else that she may have been a model back in the 1940s for the famed pinup calendar painter Gil Elvgren, the creator of timeless works like this (which can be found at the fine site Pinup Files).
Well, with Barb’s stems and that wholesome but saucy face, I can sure believe that Elvgren, who was to pinups what Michelangelo was to ceilings, would have loved her!