The Revolt of Mamie Stover


I want to start by saying I have never read the book by William Bradford Huie which The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956) is adapted from. In fact, it’s only recently that I had the opportunity to see the movie itself. I point this out because I understand some critics were displeased with the film on release due to its failure to stick as closely to the source as they would have liked. Yes, this is an area of discussion which has arisen before now on this site, and I imagine it will come up again. Personally, I am backing no horse in this race and am simply looking at the movie as a work of cinema in its own right.

It’s 1941 in San Francisco and the USA has yet to enter the Second World War. Mamie Stover (Jane Russell) is on her way to the docks to catch a boat to Honolulu and she’s headed there with an escort, a nice shiny police car is dropping her off and making sure she doesn’t miss the sailing. As Hugo Friedhofer’s sensually jazzy score kicks in, it is apparent that she has, in essence, been declared persona non grata by the authorities and invited to leave town. The reason is never spelled out, but the lewd references made about her on board, and of course her subsequent employment when she reaches her destination, imply that she is a prostitute of some notoriety. Speaking of destinations, this is an aspect which goes to the heart of the movie in many ways. The voyage to Hawaii sees Mamie making the acquaintance of Jim Blair (Richard Egan), a writer headed home to the islands after selling the rights to his book in Hollywood. In a sense, both of these characters are on their way home, although Mamie’s path there is the more circuitous of the two. There follows an almost inevitable shipboard romance and an equally predictable parting of the ways as soon as the ship docks. Jim is going back to his life high on the hill, with a well-bred girl (Joan Leslie) waiting for him. Mamie is off to work as a ‘hostess’ in the dance hall and clip joint run by Bertha Parchman (Agnes Moorehead). Just as surely as Jim and Mamie drift apart, fate’s long and winding road has it in mind for these two to meet again. With the storm clouds of war gathering, and their respective ambitions suggesting they have no business being together, the spark of attraction is still alive. However, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and all that follows, they look to be taking separate roads again – Jim is off to war and Mamie seizes the opportunity to buy up as much property as she can afford at rock-bottom prices. And so it goes, back and forth for a while, patriot and profiteer drawn to each other by sheer animal attraction and yet always moving towards different destinations.

Raoul Walsh makes great use of the wide screen in The Revolt of Mamie Stover, switching between telling close-ups and carefully selected medium shots, only rarely crowding the frame and maintaining the intimacy of the story at all times. Leo Tover’s cinematography is frankly stunning, from the breathtaking backgrounds of the Hawaiian locations to the rich and sumptuous color in Bertha’s house of ill-repute. Sydney Boehm’s script is a characteristically strong one, keeping within the boundaries of the production code but still ensuring the adult themes are not watered down any more than necessary. A bit of reading around here and there tells me that the source novel presents more of a critique of society than the movie does. Not having read it, I can’t comment on that, but I can say that the focus of the film is very much on the people, on the individuals, how they grow and what they learn along the way, something which tends to make a film more involving.

Once again, Walsh defies his reputation as a macho director and demonstrates how well he dealt with films which placed women right at the heart of the story. The melodrama that drives it all  is liberally laced with humor, both broad and subtle, and there is a distinctly humanistic feel to the way the characters are drawn and observed. Neither Walsh nor Boehm are interested in handing out some trite moralistic message. The movie looks at people, warts and all, neither excusing nor explaining them, and the ending, in that classically cyclical fashion, brings us right back to the point where it all began, but the crucial difference is that these characters whose lives have been traced on the screen have grown and developed.

Jane Russell was making some varied and interesting movies around this time, including The Tall Men (also for Walsh) and Foxfire. However, she was soon to move to television and only later drift back to the movies for a cameo playing herself in Ralph Nelson’s rather good Fate is the Hunter and then a couple of pretty depressing A C Lyles westerns.  Mamie Stover offered her a good part as a woman juggling her love for money and material success with her love for Jim Blair, and winning something entirely different and unexpected in the end. Richard Egan brings a tough confidence to his role, and achieves a quiet dignity that is very admirable in the climactic scene. Agnes Moorehead is a highlight as the cunning and hard as nails proprietress, displaying as much burnished brass as her startlingly blonde hair. Joan Leslie was another who was about to move to television after a long and successful career on the big screen but, like her character, she is largely sidelined. And last but not least, Michael Pate scowls most effectively as the bespectacled thug using heavy-handed tactics to keep Bertha’s girls in line.

The Revolt of Mamie Stover was handed a Blu-ray release some years ago by Twilight Time. I never managed to pick up a copy and I don’t believe it has come out anywhere else on that format. However, there are copies to be had from Spain, not ideal copies but watchable enough and in the correct aspect ratio. It took me a long time to catch up with this film and I enjoyed seeing it at last. Walsh, Tover and Boehm combine well behind the cameras, and the cast doesn’t disappoint in front either. This is an entertaining and grown-up movie that sidesteps the typical sugar-coated Hollywood ending yet still manages to tie everything up very satisfactorily.

39 thoughts on “The Revolt of Mamie Stover

  1. I have never seen this film and somehow never particularly fancied it. Why?? I really haven’t a clue. The title maybe? Though that would be rather silly of me. And I certainly admire Richard Egan as an actor.
    Having read your review I realise my assumptions were quite misplaced and that actually I should try to find a copy. Sounds pretty good to me from what you tell us, Colin.

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    • Yes, Jerry, it is good and I think, knowing something of your tastes by now, that you would like it.
      And I do understand what you mean about the title, it creates an impression that it might be a rather different film.

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  2. You know what? I don’t think I have ever come across this either, which is odd considering the credits. Sounds really worth seeing. But like Jerry says, the title is not helpful must admit …

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    • As I said to Jerry, I can see how the title might sound, I don’t know, misleading in some way. Nevertheless, it is worth tracking down as it’s one of those rather fine late period Walsh pictures that have a lot to offer.

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  3. Colin, I enjoyed your good write-up of THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER(filmed 1955-56, released 1956). I think you gave the movie a fair shake, which is always admirable. I like the movie and think that it is well worth viewing. Also, I’ve read the best selling novel THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER(1951) and the sequel HOTEL MAMIE STOVER(1963) both written by controversial investigative reporter William Bradford Huie(1910-86). Huie was a very successful journalist and book writer during the post-World War II period. He wrote 14 bestsellers and didn’t write about presidents and generals, he wrote off beat stories about common people caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

    William Bradford Huie is a mostly forgotten writer today, but I have been a fan for decades and I think he and his books and the six movies made from them, warrant a rediscovery. He paved the way for many investigative journalists who came afterward. I was first introduced to Huie through the made for tv movie THE EXECUTION OF PRIVATE SLOVIK(1974), which I first saw on THE NBC WEDNESDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES: WORLD PREMIERE on March 13, 1974. This movie was unforgettable and I read in the end credits, “based on a book by William Bradford Huie.”

    Over the years Huie’s name would pop up, but I just never seemed to get around to reading any of his books. This changed after I viewed the documentary I’M IN THE TRUTH BUSINESS: WILLIAM BRADFORD HUIE(1996) on PBS-TV in 1997. So, I went on the hunt for Huie books and found paperback copies in used bookstores and flea markets. First up in 1998 was THE EXECUTION OF PRIVATE SLOVIK(1954), where Huie explored the case that lead to the only execution of a soldier for desertion during World War II. Next was a novel THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER(1951), which told the story of a six-foot-tall blonde from Mississippi who was the most successful revolutionary of World War II. Mamie was a Honolulu prostitute who beat the system that enslaved her, by devising a way to mass produce the sex industry with a business arrangement with the USA federal government, by way of the military, and made herself a fortune. Talk about a war profiteer.

    In a 1985 speaking engagement(taken from the documentary) Huie said that, “William Faulkner once told me that I had to think in terms of making money and that was one of his mistakes, because he never made any money, except for the one book he wrote about a ‘whore’ and if we southerners are going to make any money we have to write at least one book about a ‘whore,’ and well, I remembered that.”

    Well, we all know that the Motion Picture Production Code wouldn’t allow the movie to remain true to form with the novel, but it is always interesting too me to observe how far the moviemakers where allowed to go and how further the envelope would be pushed. I think Jane Russell was marvelous in this role. She has such charisma and a screen presence and she is the movie, in that she is in just about all the scenes. When the movie begins Mamie(Jane Russell) is being escorted by a policeman to make sure she leaves San Francisco. All the audience has to do is watch her walking away and then turn around and give the look and it is a telling look. We know what it is about, needless to say.

    Somehow, I missed viewing THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER on tv, back in the day. I finally caught it on the Fox Movie Channel in 2013. The movie has a lot going for it and I think it is well worth a look-see. Then, locate a copy of the novel, which has a lot going for it and more.

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    • William Bradford Huie is a mostly forgotten writer today,

      Walter, one of my big obsessions these days is tracking down the books on which my favourite classic movies were based. In the process I’ve discovered so many forgotten writers who really don’t deserve to be forgotten. Some of these writers were very good indeed.

      And they’re often writers who were quite big names at the time. It’s sad that there are so many movies from the past that are forgotten but it’s equally sad that so many writers from the3 past are also forgotten.

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      • It is noticeable how quickly the work of some writers goes out of print, and thus becomes much harder to source, after their death. Of course some then see a later revival and resurgence of interest, though that may be years down the line in some cases.

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      • Dfordoom, I’m with you here concerning tracking down forgotten authors and their books and movies made from those books. William Bradford Huie is a case in point. I think he should be rediscovered, because I think is work is still relevant in today’s world. Huie believed in the “truth business.”

        William Bradford Huie’s trilogy of novels starting with THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER(1951) and continuing with THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY(1959) and ending with the HOTEL MAMIE STOVER(1963) are still relevant, as well as being entertaining reads. HOTEL MAMIE STOVER is Mamie’s sequel to THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER, but she doesn’t appear in THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY. This novel was made into the movie of the same name(filmed 1963-64, released 1964), which is one of my favorite movies starring James Garner, Julie Andrews, Melvyn Douglas, and James Coburn. James Garner said that this movie role was his personal favorite. The continuing character in the trilogy is Lt. Commander James Monroe Madison, although for some reason his name was changed in the movies to Jim Blair(Richard Egan) in THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER and Charlie Madison(James Garner) in THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY. A movie was never made from the novel HOTEL MAMIE STOVER.

        I first viewed THE AMICANIZATION OF EMILY on the CBS THURSDAY NIGHT MOVIE in 1969 and I think it is a top-notch movie that is well worth viewing and the novel on which it is based is well worth reading, also.

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        • Walter, the film of The Americanization of Emily is a favourite of mine as well. It’s slightly quirky, which I always love. I thinks it’s Julie Andrews’ best performance. I’d definitely be interested in reading the book.

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  4. Colin, I agree with how noticeable it is that some bestselling authors work goes out of print after their deaths. Of course, this can be for a number of reasons in today’s world of “political correctness.”

    The documentary I’M IN THE TRUTH BUSINESS: WILLLIAM BRADFORD HUIE(1996) first aired on Alabama Public Television in November, 1996 and then went nation wide on PBS in October, 1997, which is when I first viewed it. The documentary mainly deals with Huie’s writing during the Civil Rights Movement, but it does go over some of his other writings. The documentarians don’t mention his anti-New Deal writings. Huie was very much a critic of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs of the 1930’s. Again, William Bradford Huie was in the “truth Business.”

    Here is the documentary for anyone that might be interested. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfRkbblwL-E&t=1777s

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    • Walter, I think bestsellers are more likely to “disappear” after an author’s passing, especially those which are not linked fast to a particular genre and instead focus on social trends of any kind. These books will date faster for one thing.
      In the main though, I think the absence of a writer’s work on the shelves after they die is usually down to rights, as prosaic as that might be. When the author is gone the rights have to pass to somebody and even supposing there are no complications in the process, the estate will probably have to renegotiate publication deals and so on. And it’s not unheard of for some estates to be, shall we say, difficult.

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      • And of course much has to do with ‘fashion’. Several writers of fiction who were very popular in their day are totally invisible today. Writers like Victor Canning, Hammond Innes, Nevil Shute, R.F. Delderfield were very popular and, to me at least, their books still make a darned good read. Fortunately I used to do the rounds of little 2nd-hand booksellers when they existed in profusion and collected most of their works.

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        • I like Innes and Shute and own many of their books – good old ebay!
          I’ve never heard of Delderfield though.

          Fashions in genre fiction come and go and today’s forgotten writer can sometimes be celebrated tomorrow. The recent revival of Golden Age detective fiction provides an example, with writers like John Dickson Carr and Freeman Wills Crofts being reprinted and returning to the shelves.

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          • Have you tried Abe Books UK, Colin? Very useful website for books of all sorts.
            Delderfield was so popular that ITV in its early days employed him as a writer. He died quite young however.

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        • Victor Canning, Hammond Innes and Nevil Shute were wonderful writers. They were the kinds of writers who wrote books that people actually enjoyed reading. Innes and Shute were huge sellers in their day.

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        • Another forgotten thriller writer is Helen MacIness. She was the only notable female spy fiction writer from that era and from the 40s to the 70s she was a very big deal indeed in the world of spy fiction.

          There were some excellent movie adaptations of her books – Above Suspicion with Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray in 1943 and The Venetian Affair (1966) are particularly good. The fact that The Venetian Affair stars Robert Vaughn and Elke Sommer has misled a lot of people into thinking it’s going to be a lighthearted romp but it’s a serious and rather dark spy movie, and it’s very good.

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            • Yes, Helen Mac Innes was a fine writer of spy novels. And I am grateful for the tip about “THE VENETIAN AFFAIR” – I must seek it out.

              Two other very good British authors from that era are Francis Clifford and Donald Mackenzie. They wrote some very good books that I would recommend.

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  5. Guys
    There is a nice looking copy up on You Tube. It is on my watch list for the weekend. Many thanks to Colin for the write-up. Like Jerry, I had avoided this simply because the title did not set off any bells. .
    Gord

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  6. Colin and Jerry, Yes, there are more than one reason for the works of many writers not being in print anymore. Rights issues, out of fashion, political correctness, and so forth. Everyone has their likes and dislikes. I used to like to brose through used bookstores during the pre-online days. You never knew what gem that you might find. Sadly, many of those used bookstores are gone, or under new ownership, which doesn’t have the older out of print books anymore. I just don’t get the same enjoyment by surfing through Amazon, Abe, eBay, or any of the others online.

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  7. Incidentally, off topic but John K has mentioned a few times about rare films turning up on the Talking Pictures TV channel here. Currently they are screening “SEVEN THIEVES” (1960), a good heist caper with Edward G. heading a good cast ( a first viewing for me); “THE OUTCASTS OF POKER FLAT” (1952) with Dale Robertson (another I’ve not seen); “THE OREGON TRAIL” (1959) and Fred MacMurray’s final western. I saw this on its release and found it the weakest of his oaters – nevertheless I am interested to see what aspect ratio the print will be in.
    There are others too and full marks to TPTV for showing these films.

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    • Yes, some worthwhile picks there. I think Seven Thieves is an enjoyable movie with a noirish vibe. I remember picking it up on DVD some years ago on the blind and wasn’t disappointed.
      I also like The Outcasts of Poker Flat, and it was a title I chose to feature for my 200th western piece a few years back.

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      • Was your feature on “OUTCASTS etc” from before I ‘signed up’, Colin? I don’t remember that.
        A rare film on TPTV that I particularly wanted to mention, and forgot, was “PATTERNS” (1956). A superbly-acted and tense film written by Rod Serling and originally done for TV with Van Heflin, Everett Sloane and Ed Begley. Beatrice Straight as Heflin’s ambitious wife and Elizabeth Wilson as Begley’s loyal secretary were also superb. I had not seen this film in decades.
        It is perhaps amazing how engrossing a film about office politics can be, with nearly all the action indoors and no music score.

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        • Jerry, I’ve never seen Patterns but you got me interested there and I found an online version, so I will have a look at that when I get the chance.
          I suppose one of the best known examples of a movie with an extremely limited setting and a premise that probably sounded less than interesting on paper would be 12 Angry Men. It sounds like something that just wouldn’t work, but it of course it does.

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  8. Films for the weekend
    I WAS A COMMUNIST FOR THE FBI 1951 Early Red Scare film with Frank Lovejoy, Phil Carey, James Millican and directed by Gordon Douglas.

    THE VERDICT 1982 Top notch Law Drama from director Sidney Lumet and written by David Mamet. What a cast, Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Milo O’Shea, Jack Warden and James Mason. Saw this in the cinema in 82 and was floored by how good it was.

    Gord

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