Mamie Stover (Jane Russell) is a working girl who was too hot for San Francisco, so they’ve kicked her out, and she has scrabbled together what money she has earned to pay for a ticket to Hawaii on a cargo ship. There's only one other passenger, a writer named Jim Blair (Richard Egan), who when sharing a chat with the Captain gets on to the subject of Mamie, and the Captain tells him she's basically a loose woman which they share a joke about, unaware that she is at the doorway listening in. She enters and admonishes them with surly temper, but Jim is intrigued; he has a fiancée back in Hawaii who he has abandoned a job in Hollywood for, yet this new woman in his life has a certain something he is finding irresistible…
How to tell a story about a prostitute when you're not allowed to mention she’s a prostitute? That was the dilemma facing 20th Century Fox, who during this period of their output had a habit of buying up all the bestselling books they could and turning them into films. The trouble with that would be when they picked up a property that had become a bestseller thanks to its salacious qualities, as was the tale of the Amazonian whore Mamie, whose rags to riches journey thanks to the amount of income she generated from her sexual availability was not going to sit well with Middle America. They wanted to guarantee a hit and at least some idea of the character's true nature by casting Marilyn Monroe.
She was having none of it, however, all too aware of what they were portraying and how that would affect her screen reputation, so Jane Russell drew the short straw and against her wishes took the role. To her credit, she managed to make more of the part than others might have done, though that was more down the script turning a fantasy for men into a fantasy for women, that was not sexual but empowering, appealing to the sense of females in society making the best of their situation in the face of male attempts to dominate their lives. Therefore there were heavy hints this was a woman's picture, and although Russell was shown in her slip and in figure-hugging dresses she was a curiously sexless person here, possibly because she was being forced to tone down her good humour.
Does this indicate Russell was better in comedies and musicals? Not necessarily, though she did shine in those, yet this ludicrously toned down material would have confounded any even halfway capable actress. So keen was the film to turn the story into a straightforward romance, though with the caveat that Mamie and Jim cannot really attain happiness thanks to her bad girl status, that you wondered what the point of the thing was when for example the brothel was depicted as a dance hall where the prostitutes are more hired for a twirl on the floor and a drink at the bar, and anything further was lightly alluded to. The results were not exactly From Here to Eternity, another bowdlerised bestseller that had nevertheless transformed the edginess of the page into something at least in the spirit of the source.
For this reason, The Revolt of Mamie Stover has generated a degree of camp interest, or at least reputation, for its skipping around its subject matter, leaving the impression of an adult story conveyed in the coyest possible terms. Well, that and a sneering Jane Russell (and no woman sneered like her) who clashed with Agnes Moorehead, playing the madam who lays down the rules such as no boyfriends and no bank accounts, backed up by the curiously bespectacled Michael Pate who when he removes glasses is guaranteed to hit somebody, hard. As for Egan, he was a typical example of nineteen-fifties masculinity, and it was a mark of the lack of interest Raoul Walsh was showing that the film only came alive when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor – finally some action to get his teeth into. Jim joins up as a consequence, splitting him and Mamie, though this makes up her mind to go into business selling her expertise (nothing below the waist, though), and a melancholy conclusion with a dash of hope added for the emotionally invested ladies in the audience. Not great. Music by Hugo Friedhofer.
American director with a talent for crime thrillers. Originally an actor (he played John Wilkes Booth in Birth of a Nation) his biggest silent movie successes were The Thief of Bagdad and What Price Glory? He lost an eye while directing In Old Arizona, but went on to steady work helming a variety of films throughout the thirties, including The Bowery and Artists and Models.
After directing The Roaring Twenties, Walsh really hit his stride in the forties: They Drive By Night, High Sierra, Gentleman Jim, The Strawberry Blonde, Desperate Journey, Objective Burma!, Colorado Territory and the gangster classic White Heat were all highlights. Come the fifties, films included A Lion is in the Streets and The Naked and the Dead, but the quality dipped, although he continued working into the sixties. He also directed the infamous Jack Benny film The Horn Blows at Midnight (which isn't that bad!).