I sometimes make mental lists of which actresses I would have liked to have seen play opposite Errol, and at the top is Eleanor Parker. The Canadian Parker was a classical, almost aristocratic beauty, given spice by her incredible slanted eyes, the colour of Anatolian waters, and her tumbling hair that reminds one of a winter sunset. She could dance, fight, play a queen or a serving wench with equal aplomb, was a fine comedienne and with her curves like the hull of the Zaca, looked sensational in a period costume, even when it bordered on the camp.
She starred in only one swashbuckler, a film we have been discussing – Scaramouche – as the fiery on-off love interest of Stewart Granger. Able as Granger was in this picture (and in my view it was his best; with the exceptional six minute fencing match), he was a bit of a one-note as an actor and never quite did it for me in the boudoir department. How I wish it had been Errol sparring with Eleanor in glorious technicolour and exaggerated 18th Century costumes.
Eleanor Parker in Scaramouche
As a performer, Parker was streets ahead of 50s bombshells like Ava Gardner and Janet Leigh. A very distinguished actress, Parker was Oscar nominated more than once. She should have won for Interrupted Melody (1955), in which she played the crippled soprano Marjorie Lawrence, opposite Glenn Ford and a young Roger Moore.
It is the best operatic biopic ever made, in my view (aside from The Great Caruso), and she gives a stellar and harrowing performance. See it if you can. I think it is on DVD.
Eleanor as Isolde
Parker also played Kirk Douglas’s troubled wife in Detective Story, a mid-50s noir – sadly, it was more grey than noir. She was also put in a second-rate Egyptian ‘adventure’, with an ageing Robert Taylor, called Valley Of the Kings (how very original.)
Had Eleanor been born ten years earlier she would have been a major star, but the more simplistic, epics with a moral, family-orientated Hollywood of the 1950s didn’t really know what to do with her.
It’s a shame that she is chiefly remembered now for playing the Baroness in The Sound of Music.
As the Baroness, with Christopher Plummer
What a gorgeous pair she and Errol would have made….