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Lisbon (1956)

This made on location tale of mystery and smugglers was the second film that Oscar winning actor, Ray Milland, stepped behind the camera to do double duty on. The first being the superior western, A Man Alone (1955). Not only did he direct Lisbon but he played the leading role opposite the red haired technicolor beauty queen, Maureen O’Hara.

Now to the film. It feels like a discarded script from the 1940’s brought back to life. One that was likely meant to star Bogie opposite Lizabeth Scott. Cue up Claude Rains as the local Lisbon Inspector and Sydney Greenstreet as a fat cat smuggler living like a king.

That would have been a mid to late 40’s casting call. What we do have is Milland as a small time smuggler who operates a fair sized sailboat (not unlike Bogie), O’Hara as a possible femme fatale, character actor Jay Novello in the Rains role as the local Inspector looking to pin any number of crimes on Milland and ….. wait for it …. yes we have Claude Rains himself in the role we’d normally see reserved for Greenstreet a decade earlier as the wealthy socialite who has made his fortune smuggling.

Released to movie theaters by Herbert J. Yates’ Republic Pictures, we’re to learn very quickly that the publicly genteel Claude is far from that in the opening scene. Not only will he kill a bird to feed his cat but he’ll make it clear to his second, Francis Lederer, that he wants all competition in the smuggling world eliminated and the way he puts it sure leads to an open interpretation of the meaning behind the word eliminated.

Milland who captains The Orca (yes Jaws fans I said Orca) is to be drawn into a heavily plotted smuggling operation overseen by Claude that involves Miss O’Hara looking to get her extremely wealthy husband out of prison. A husband who is much older than our fiery redhead. Of course Ray is going to be tempted to bed our leading lady but he’s going to have his hands full when he discovers that Yvonne Furneaux also stars as Claude’s young secretary who’s job is mostly to sit by the pool in a revealing swimsuit talking with a kittenish accent.

Let the flirting begin.

Clandestine meetings between Maureen and Ray follow at which point we will learn that she’s paying Claude 250K to spring her hubby and Ray is to earn 10K for the use of his boat. Now it’s time to set the twisting plot into motion.

Claude enquires as to why Maureen would want to free a husband near death anyway of old age when in fact if he were to die, she’d lay claim to an estate of 25 million dollars. For just 1 million he’ll see to it that the deed is done and he’s got just the man to handle it, the cold blooded Lederer who at this point was two years away from the playing the King of Vampires in the cult favorite, The Return of Dracula.

This could prove to be a major winfall for Claude. He could remove hubby from Maureen’s life for a big payday while at the same time have Lederer eliminate his smuggling competition with the killing of Ray at sea. Lederer would like nothing better than to rid the world of his director, Milland. You see Lederer has designs of his own on sexy Furneaux who by this point in our story only has eyes for Ray.

Lucky Ray if you ask me. I’ve seen very little of Yvonne Furneaux on camera but she’s one of the great Hammer beauties thanks to her appearance in the 1959 horror classic The Mummy opposite Cushing and Lee. I should also point out that this lovely lady born in France has enough screen time to make me ponder just who the real leading lady is in Lisbon.

Maureen wants nothing to do with Claude’s proposition of a murder plot but then there’s the lure of a life with Ray, “I was doing fine until you grabbed me and kissed me.” A true leading man of 1950’s cinema would have done no less.

While all our leading players are plotting and struggling for position, Novello, is quietly keeping his trained eye on one and all as we reach the finale. A finale that will see Milland give it a classic Bogie fade out and one that might surprise you as it did me without any prior knowledge of the film and it’s storyline.

On that note I’d like to once again draw your attention to Kino Lorber Studio Classics who continue to reveal forgotten titles from yesteryear on blu ray.

Is it just me or was a woman looking to find a lost husband a popular plot device of the times? I draw your attention to Susan Hayward hiring Cooper and Widmark to do just that in 54’s Garden of Evil. Then we had Hayward again hiring Gable in 55’s Soldier of Fortune. I can only assume Miss Hayward wasn’t available for the trifecta so why not go with the other redhead, O’Hara.

Then again maybe it’s the studio contracts and Hayward having nothing to do with this whatsoever. O’Hara had worked previously for Yates and Republic thanks to her work with John Ford. Republic backed both Rio Grande and O’Hara’s finest moment on screen, The Quiet Man.

Claude Rains was by this point looking fragile I thought on camera but he still maintained that marvelous instrument of a voice and a cunning villainy on camera. He’d move mainly into television with periodic stops in movies such as Lawrence of Arabia up until his death in 1967.

Milland would direct a total of five films between 1955 and 1969 along with some television episodes on series including The General Electric Theater and Thriller. The films aside from A Man Alone and Lisbon were The Safecracker (1958), Panic in the Year Zero (1962) and Hostile Witness(1969). Over the course of his lengthy career he’d only receive one producing credit and that was here in/on Lisbon.

With a worthy cast and a Bogie feel to it, Lisbon is worth a look if you find the time to score a copy for your own collection of classic titles as I have.

14 Comments »

  1. Hey Mike, Swell review, as ever (I always appreciate it when character actors are noted): and yet another that I’ve never seen. I recall Ms. Furneaux from “The Master of Ballantrae”: she just had her 93rd birthday on May 11th. Cheers, Mark

  2. Yet another film I didn’t know about until you reviewed it Mike, always a pleasure to learn something new. It is indeed cool that by the late 1950’s filmmakers were getting more and more interested in shooting on locations.

    • Yeah once the 50’s kicked in actors were all headed overseas for I believe 18 months for tax loophole reasons. Just pick any well known 50’s actor and you’ll usually see a string of overseas productions. Peck, Ladd, Mitchum etc….

  3. Saw this some time ago and interestingly enough around the same time as I watched Garden of Evil and Soldier of Fortune and was surprised how much I enjoyed it though it would have been better with Bogart – though, in fairness, he improved on virtually any film. Hayward has that inherent meanness to make her a believable femme fatale, but I struggled to believe that lovely Maureen O’Hara, though given to screen tantrums and independent enough in other roles, would stoop so low. Furneaux a bonus for sure. Milland by this point had lost his box office cachet and I never felt direction was his strong suit. But certainly a good enough picture.

    • Agreed on O’Hara. She was fiery opposite her leading men and give as good as she got but a villain she wasn’t meant to be whereas Hayward could be. Milland as you say was losing his leading man appeal by the close of the decade and in the 70’s was the screen’s perfect “mean old bastard” in many a film. He didn’t seem to age well.

      • At least Milland still kept working. When I started learning more about the Hollywood Golden Era I began to appreciate it when these older stars turned up in smaller parts in movies in the 1960s and 1970s. O’Hara certainly had a fan base strong enough to still get leading roles for a long time.

          • We got less of the TV movie stuff over in the UK but yes a few of the Hollywood veterans would turn up as “guest stars” on various shows and always got a wee buzz from seeing them again.

  4. I remember finding this just middling. It looks nice but it’s weak overall. It’s the little, mean elements that make it rather fun though – Rains improvising breakfast for his cat, and deriving satisfaction from the knowledge that Furneaux kicked Chapman, for example.

  5. Interesting review! Cast of said movie very enticing. Agreed with Colin this is ‘middling’. Another movie about a woman searching for a lost husband would be The Mountain Of Cannibal God!

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