|A scruffier Bob, in Hitchcock's Saboteur|
The flick that inspired me to write about him was an old 1940's pot-boiler called Sleep, My Love. Claudette Colbert is a woman with amnesia issues, which turn out to be due to folks who are trying to drive her mad. And Bob Cummings is the fellow who tempts her into an affair -- and then has to step up and be a hero for her when he realizes that she is in danger.
While I tend to like a good pot-boiler anyway, I find that this one is particularly good. It's not an art house classic. But it's also not as angst driven as so many of the "women's pictures" of the time: more a good mystery/crime/pot-boiler. It also makes great use of a deep cast of excellent character actors. Don Ameche, as the husband, does a great job with a character who is always holding back, reacting, uncertain, and who covers what he is thinking well (all the while revealing a lot to us). George Coulouris mild and frightening all at once. Keye Luke as the long suffering buddy of Cummings. Raymond Burr as the cop who is more suspicious than he seems, but not quite suspicious enough.
It is not available in the U.S. as far as I can tell. (Might be old copies around, but I've never seen them.now and then crops up illegally on YouTube. NOTE: it's currently available on Prime Instant Video.) Sleep My Love (1948, Triangle/UA).
A couple other Cummings flicks to keep in mind:
Saboteur, 1942, Universal. This was one of Hitchcock's early American films, which brings together his earlier style and themes. It's a story of an ordinary, innocent man on the run after he is accused of a crime he did not commit. It's more like his earlier The 39 Steps than like the more sophisticated North By Northwest. Robert Cummings plays a slightly rougher, more masculine hero than usual. (The image above is from this flick.) He's an aeronautics plant worker who is accused of causing the fire which killed his best friend and destroyed the factory. Priscilla Lane (known today mainly for her part in Arsenic and Old Lace) plays the spunky blond who hinders then helps him. (She is not at all the kind of cool femme fatale which Hitchcock later became famous for.)
Saboteur is full of cliches and speechifying, and all of the well-known Hitchcock tricks. (Gunshots in theaters, characters in danger at a public event, fights on top of monuments of great height -- in this case, the Statue of Liberty -- and evil masterminds who are important solid citizens.) Some of the dialog was written by Dorothy Parker.
This was made just as America entered WWII, and so it is probably Hitchcock's most political flick, but somehow the propaganda aspects add to the charm of the picture, even if they don't add much to the suspense. (Except maybe the speech of the villain toward the end of Act 2 - which has a slow dramatic tension to it.)
Dial 'M' For Murder, 1954, Warner Brothers. Based on a play by Frederick Knott. This is, of course, a real classic. Maybe not as cinematic as some of Hitch's other classics, because it was based on a play, but Hitch was always fascinated by the limitations of the stage, and telling a story in a small, enclosed sort of way. Robert Cummings, as with Sleep, My Love, plays the lover of a woman in jeopardy. This time the woman is the cool Hitchcock queen, Grace Kelly. (And he doesn't have to do any physical rescuing, because Ms. Kelly has a pair of scissors and knows how to use them, in one of THE great "climb-up-on-the-couch-in-anxiety" scenes of movie history.)
I didn't get a chance to rewatch this this week, but I think I might watch this, and maybe Lifeboat, for next Friday, and talk more about Hitchcock and his fun with telling stories in limited settings.
The final Robert Cummings picture I saw this week was The Accused, (1949, Paramount). In this, Cummings' character was still the charming supportive sort of character which did so well in other women's picture... but this time he's also a bit of an antagonist: Loretta Young is attacked by a sociopathic student, and she kills him in self-defense -- but instead of reporting it, she covers it up. The drama that ensues is a "crime and punishment" story, as she has to play cat-and-mouse with Cummings and Wendell Corey, as they zero in on the crime. The psychology in this one is a little extra hokey. (Especially when Ms. Young -- who is a psych professor -- is trumped in her knowledge by non-academic men. Sheesh. But it does seem to be because the filmmakers don't know much about that psychiatric mumbo jumbo at least as much as simple sexism.)
The Accused is also not available on video right now.
See you in the funny papers.