Eagle-Lion’s genesis sprang from British film mogul J. Arthur Rank’s desire to break into the U.S. market. The major studios weren’t interested in distributing his films, so a partnership with an American entrepreneur created Eagle-Lion as both a movie-producing studio and a film distribution company (among the British films it distributed was Michael Powell’s A CANTERBURY TALE).
However, back then the movie industry’s financial success was driven by the appeal of its stars, and Eagle-Lion had none. An occasional actor could be loaned from second-tier Universal Studios, with whom Rank had a limited arrangement, but the rest of a cast had to be cut-and-pasted from those out of work and those on the rise.
OUT OF THE BLUE is a comedy with murder-mystery overtones. Its story was by Vera Caspary, whose novel Laura had been a huge success when filmed by Otto Preminger in 1944. Like that film, OUT OF THE BLUE is situated in NYC [Greenwich Village this time] and is populated by sophisticated New Yorkers including a poet-turned-interior designer and a commercial artist. The script was co-written by a couple of songwriters who occasionally worked on film dialog, Walter Bullock and Edward Eliscu. The resulting creative marriage was perfection as the story was unconventional yet solidly built by veteran Caspary, with hilarious wordplay embedded in the breezy banter thanks to the two commercial tunesmiths.
With fine script in hand, Eagle-Lion now had to cast the film, yet had no stars under contract. More brilliance comes in: in assembling a cast from at-liberty actors, the producers created a work where virtually all the performers played against type. Virile leading man George Brent, who usually was holding his own against Bette Davis, played a henpecked milquetoast named Arthur Earthleigh. His prissy, fuss-budget wife was pin-up girl Carole Landis. High-drama Art Deco man-trap Ann Dvorak played an ebullient and ever-romantic dipsomaniac to comic perfection. And, taking a break from playing Arabian villains, Turhan Bey was the romantic lead: a swinging and studly eligible bachelor who draws Vargas-style illustrations of gorgeous women.
The actors got in the spirit and created some great moments, especially those between Brent and Dvorak, yet the film was not a total success. The script worked and the cast clicked but, as always, the guy behind the camera can make or break a film.
OUT OF THE BLUE‘s director, Leigh Jason, was no Lubitsch. While you can laugh out loud, as I do, over the script and performances, you keep losing the comedy buzz because the beats and intentions of comedy timing just aren’t there often enough to sustain the high. Also, the movie score by 1940s band leader Carmen Dragon (the father of Daryl Dragon: the ‘Captain’ of the 1970s duo, “The Captain and Tenille”) is just too precious and too invasive to the proceedings.
But, while on the topic of music, the movie had a tie-in title song which was introduced in the film by Hadda Brooks. In addition to being the first African-American to have her own TV show (broadcast on Los Angeles’ KCOP in 1950), she was also the chanteuse in the iconic piano bar scene with Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame in IN A LONELY PLACE. Another great reason to catch this film, which never made it to VHS or DVD.