The Saxon Charm (1948)
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It was different from the other two films, for it does not deal with criminals or an underside of life that most of us avoid. Instead, THE SAXON CHARM dealt with the legitimate theater. Montgomery's Matt Saxon was a successful Broadway producer who did not stop at anything to get his way. As such, he represented many Broadway performers or writers or choreographers worst nightmares, for Broadway was full of people like Saxon. Years later David Merrick would have such a reputation - brilliant producer/absolute rat. In 1946/47 the person most people would have thought of was Jed Harris. Jed Harris should not be confused with George M. Cohan's partner Sam Harris (a nicer man from most accounts - portrayed by Richard Whorf in YANKEE DOODLE DANDY). Jed Harris was a first rate heel. If you read Katherine Hepburn's memoirs ME:STORIES OF MY LIFE, Harris was the producer of her famous Broadway flop THE LAKE. Today it is recalled because it is used by Hepburn in the movie STAGEDOOR, where we hear it's dialog, beginning with "The kallallillies are in bloom again..." In 1936 it was not a laughing matter to Hepburn, who found that Harris had botched the production out of malice towards her. She had to pay him a huge sum of money to get out of her contract on the play when he took it on the road. Harris also made an enemy of Laurence Olivier, whom got his revenge in a neat way. When making up his features for RICHARD III, Olivier made his evil king look like an exaggerated Jed Harris (and most of Broadway approved).
Matt Saxon is similarly selfish, ready to turn on everyone and anyone who does not do as he says. He wrecks the home life of his playwright (John Payne) to get a play according to his specifications. He demolishes the career of his girlfriend (Audrey Totter) with rumors, although she's able to continue without him. He even turns on Harry Von Zell when that harmless fellow just makes a mild comment of disagreement to him. In the end, he destroys almost everyone - even himself. Only at the last moment does he get a bit of advice that MAY save him.
THE SAXON CHARM is not a great film about the theater, but in showing a particular type that infests it's body politic it is an interesting film on the subject.
Anyone who knew anything about the theater knew that Montgomery was basing his character on Broadway producer Jed Harris. Harris was a theatrical genius with an ego the size of South America and the antics you see here are mild compared to the real deal. Harris was used also by John Barrymore in 20th Century and Warren William in Varsity Show as a model. But in those he was eccentric, here he's a first class heel who thinks he's the center of the world.
Based on his reputations novelist John Payne seeks out Montgomery to produce his play. But Montgomery has to have his own imprint on the work and he weaves Payne into his web. It breaks up Payne's marriage with Susan Hayward in the process. Of course not helping is the clumsy pass Montgomery makes at Hayward.
Best in the film and possibly a career role for her his nightclub singer Audrey Totter who is Montgomery's main squeeze. She's loyal to a fault until Montgomery does deliberate dirt in fact goes out of his way to do it to her. Montgomery is married to Heather Angel, but they have an arrangement that also doesn't end well.
The real Jed Harris probably could have sued. But I suspect he rather enjoyed his reputation as a heel and enjoyed The Saxon Charm just as you will.
Matt Saxon (Robert Montgomery) was apparently based on a real Broadway producer, Jed Harris, and that is a big strength of the film. This is because although Saxon's behaviors and manipulations were hard to believe, it made it easier to watch the film knowing that he was not some exaggerated and unreal character! And what a character...charming but also very manipulative, cruel, selfish and without any trace whatsoever of a conscience. As a retired therapist, he was an excellent portrait of an Antisocial Personality Disorder with Borderline traits. In other words...a hellishly awful person from top to bottom!!
So how does Saxon fit into the story? Well, a successful young writer (John Payne) has decided to try writing a play and Saxon has convinced him that he is willing to put on the play. But again and again, Saxon strings him along--having him write and re-write the play...and taking him away from his young wife (Susan Hayward) and effectively destroying the marriage. Why? Mostly because Saxon is like a cat...and he needs to mouse to torment to give his sick life meaning.
The bottom line is that this is really very well written and it's among Robert Montgomery's best performances. Not always pleasant...but very captivating!
OK, there's this producer who has an ego the size of Texas, and doesn't care who he steps on to get his way. First victims: the producer tries to hit on a woman at a party, and she tries to warn her husband, who is a writer (who wants the same producer to produce his play), but he doesn't listen, and they end up separating. Then, the producer manages to destroy his own girlfriend's career by spreading vicious rumours about her, so she loses her contract. The poor author is forced to revise his play, and he makes such a mess of it that the actor he had pegged for the lead doesn't want to do the part anymore. Luckily, the author's ex-wife shows an original draft of the play to that actor, who loves it, and helps her to find another producer. After doing such a good deed, the author goes back to his wife. I can't remember anything else, but I think someone died as well.. I'd give The Saxon Charm about a 6 out of 10.
Hard to take at times, this exposure of a power-hungry producer can't seem to figure out its mood. Montgomery keeps trying to explain his motivations, but I saw through him within minutes. Payne and Hayward are totally overshadowed by the hammy Montgomery who is even more psychopathic than he was in the subtle "Night Must Fall" and twice as over the top as he was in the wretched "Rage in Heaven".
There isn't really enough of a strong plot line to make this noteworthy as even psychological melodrama. On the height of her rise to stardom with " Smash-Up", Hayward has a few strong moments but they seem to be imitations of what she had been nominated for with that film, released earlier by Universal. Payne is quiet most of the time, but with Montgomery spouting every line, he pretty much had no choice. Chill Wills, playing the no- nonsense yacht captain, manages to hold his own over Montgomery in his brief role. Had this stuck to one mood, it could have been more dramatically effective, but often Montgomery plays the part with buffoonish silliness and that is ultimately what brings on his character's well deserved downfall.