Life of Her Own (1950): Lana Turner in Cukor’s Adultery Melodrama, Co-Starring Ray Milland

George Cukor’s first assignment in 1950 was a minor, dreary melodrama, starring Lana Turner and Ray Milland, called A Life of Her Own.

A Life of Her Own
LifeOfHerOwn.jpg

Theatrical poster

The poor script, credited to Isobel Lennart, is inspired (rather than based upon) by “The Abiding Vision,” a novel by Rebecca West.

Grade: C- (* out of *****)

Note:

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Lana Turner stars as Lily Branner James, a young ambitious model, all alone in New York City. Shortly after her arrival, her new friend, the has-been Ann Dvorak, commits suicide, and Turner promises herself that she won’t end up burned out like Dvorak, but “be somebody.”

However, upon meeting the rich and suave Steve Harleigh (Ray Milland), Turner falls hard for him until she finds out he is married.

In desperation, she visits Milland’s wife (Margaret Phillips), who is disabled as a result of her husband’s car accident, hoping to convince her to give up her husband. When she meets the crippled Mrs. Milland, Turner becomes aware of the woman’s deep love for her husband, and she terminates the affair.

While the acting was better than in other Hollywood melodramas about adultery, for Cukor it was an utterly forgettable movie, representing the nadir of the entire decade. This movie soon became a negative point of reference–the kind of films he should not be doing.

Though designed as a star vehicle, nobody wanted to do it, least of all Lana Turner, then one of MGM’s top stars.

The lousy script was never finished and the original actor cast as the married man, Wendell Corey, was disliked by both Cukor and Lana Turner.

Cukor protested that most of the actors in the cast lacked the image of the rich and suave married men they were supposed to be. As a fastidious director, he was further furious when Turner decided to stay home for a couple of days, halting the entire production. The tension between Turner and Corey, compounded by Cukor’s continuous protests, led to a quick recasting–of another actor he didn’t respect much, Ray Milland.

Milland’s career was in decline, despite winning the 1945 Best Actor Oscar for Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend.

Cukor was also unhappy about working with costume designer Helen Rose, a friend of the studio head Dore Schary, who he perceived as a “conniving bitch.” Untalented and devoid of taste, Rose designed such lousy clothes for Turner that they almost knocked off her screen image as a glamour girl.

For the first scene, her dress was ugly red chiffon, whose seams were still unsown. To speed things up, they pinned the dress so that Turner could do the master shot.

Nonetheless, Turner gave a surprisingly subtle performance, better than what Cukor had expected of her. He enjoyed working with Turner, whom he found practical as far as acting was concerned.

Before they started shooting the film, Turner came over and said, “Mr. Cukor, I want you to know one thing, I can do it if I can understand it.” To his surprise, Turner could be campy too, even poking fun at herself. Cukor thought that Lana’s candor was very funny, and it became the kind of story he relished telling his friends at his dinner parties. In private, he also detested her “barbarous” taste about everything, particularly lovers and husbands.

With the exception of the costumes, production values, including the noirish lensing of George J. Folsey, were also better than the script they were meant to serve. Thus, Bronislau Kaper’s dark, impressive score was later used for another MGM romantic drama, Invitation.

The movie was a commercial failure, but it did not damage at all its makers’ reputations. In the same year, Cukor made the smash hit Oscar-winning comedy, Born Yesterday, with Judy Holliday.

As for Turner, after this picture, she was cast in The Bad and The Beautiful, Minnelli’s superb “inside Hollywood” melodrama, in which she gave an excellent performance.

Cast

Lana Turner as Lily Branner James
Ray Milland as Steve Harleigh
Tom Ewell as Tom Caraway
Louis Calhern as Jim Leversoe
Ann Dvorak as Mary Ashlon
Barry Sullivan as Lee Gorrance

Credits:

Directed by George Cukor
Produced by Voldemar Vetluguin
Written by Isobel Lennart, based on The Abiding Vision, the 1935 novella by Rebecca West
Music by Bronisław Kaper
Cinematography George J. Folsey
Edited by George White
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Release date: September 1, 1950

Running time: 108 minutes