Tip on a Dead Jockey (DVD Review)4 Mar, 2013 By: Mike Clark
Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Stars Robert Taylor, Dorothy Malone, Gia Scala, Jack Lord.
Robert Taylor outlasted Gable, Tracy, Lana Turner, Lionel Barrymore and every other Golden-ager at MGM, Lassie included. One of the last assignments to fulfill his contract was this title-has-little-to-do-with-it take on an Irwin Shaw story — the Richard Thorpe-directed movie from 1957 that did not feature a pop titan as its lead. That’s right: Thorpe sandwiched this one in between Dean Martin’s notorious boo-boo Ten Thousand Bedrooms and that iconographic Elvis classic in which cellmate Mickey Shaughnessy unforgettably teaches The King how to distinguish one guitar note from another (while opining, “‘C’ — that’s a big one”).
Segueing from this mostly Spain-based smuggling drama to Jailhouse Rock was a typical challenge facing a mediocre house director at MGM — though parts of Jockey still stay with me for boasting CinemaScope group shots that include two femme stunners who did a lot for me at a time when my fifth-grade eyes were anticipating adolescence: Dorothy Malone and Gia Scala. Malone was heavily into her blonde period and had just won the supporting Oscar for Written on the Wind, which the Jockey coming attraction (included on this on-demand release) naturally touts.
Like other serviceable male heartthrobs, the slightly underrated Taylor got more interesting on screen after he accrued a few lines on his face. Here, he’s playing a pilot who has lost his nerve and hiding out from life — and a wife. Malone is the latter, unable to secure a divorce back in those Bad Old Days when society thought it necessary to force incompatible mates to continue living together (nostalgia for the past isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, and this movie’s opening scene leaves an appalling aftertaste). Though in this case, the Taylor-Malone characters get along (one multiple face-slapping scene aside); the two leads even share a piano duet together in a scene of modest charm, as is a capper that kind of caught me by surprise and goes well beyond a clichéd clinch.
Also around are Jack Lord and Marcel Dalio, a contrast in acting styles there, lemme tell you. It’s a fairly large featured role for Dalio, whose filmography didn’t even need this movie, thank you. Because when your resume can claim both Grand Illusion and Donovan’s Reef, what other credits do you really need?