|Young and Promising|
I think it was mainly the gravelly voice and the easy-going manner in which it was displayed. In his early career (the only time he appealed to me as an actor) he was charming and sweet and manly and he was the first person who showed me those traits could all be in the same person.
He started making films in the early 1950s in starring or second-man leading roles. A number of these were comedies for which most would think the big galoot was not suitable. But he did comedy well. He also did drama well, especially well-suited for war pictures. Along with that voice was an easy smile and a sincere manner. His face was not difficult to look at and his body, often shirtless, displayed that big beefy chest look, oh so popular as I recall.
He was a Pennsylvania Italian who had a lot of butch jobs before landing in the movies by the oddest of circumstances. He was actually accompanying his brother to an audition when Ray's voice (see? didn't I tell you?) was overheard and he was hired for the role. He knocked around in a couple of small walk-on type parts when, it has been written, he became a victim, if you will, of the Hollywood casting couch... male-style.
Famed Hollywood director George Cukor could open some doors and even at this early stage of his career, Ray wanted those doors opened. He was not gay. Since there were only about 500 other hunky actors, some with good voices and an easy manner, who could do anything Aldo Ray might be able to do, he would have to learn more about the underbelly of the city. Cukor had callboys. We all do it our own special way... that was Cukor's way. The boys came over, Cukor performed his very special service and on the young actor went.
|A little beefcake|
This one got a contract at Columbia Pictures and the evil, mean, nasty and vulgar studio head, Harry Cohn, actually knew who Ray was and took a liking to him. He was going to groom him into a movie star. He even had the Robert E. Lee Prewitt part that Montgomery Clift eventually played in From Here to Eternity penciled in for him. His next two pictures would be for none other than George Cukor. Imagine.
Admittedly I have not seen all his films, not even all of them in that early promising time. But I did see and quite damn like eight of them. We're gonna discuss them all.
The Marrying Kind, 1951
He and Judy Holliday have a troublesome marriage, fraught with problems. A divorce judge encourages them to think about the good stuff and through flashbacks we learn their story. Holliday was very popular at the time and she sparred well with the big, dumb hunk with the sexy voice.
Pat and Mike, 1952
It didn't hurt at all that one was third-billed so early in one's career behind Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. In their seventh film together, she is a lady golfer and he a sports promoter amidst all the chaos that includes Ray in one of the secondary plot lines. He was mere window dressing but it was the type of film that would help his career and it did.
Let's Do It Again, 1953
Not to be confused with a later film by the same name starring Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby. This version is a light-hearted, song-filled comedy about a marriage that is unravelling but in which both parties still really love one another. He is Ray Milland and she is Jane Wyman and she takes up with a mighty damned fetching Aldo Ray while she's thinking it all over.
|Hot for Rita|
Miss Sadie Thompson, 1953
With the sultry Rita Hayworth in a remake of the old chestnut, Rain. My hunch is this film has been dismissed as another little steamy programmer to feature little more than her alluring ways but I liked it a lot. Everyone sweats and lust bubbles under every palm tree as a shady lady is dumped on a small island during the war. She gets the Marines and a sexually-repressed preacher all hot and bothered. Ray, most understandably, was the one she got the most bothered. If you can find this film anywhere, it's worth a look.
Battle Cry, 1955
Arguably the best film he ever made. It was certainly one of his very best parts. In an all-star cast that included Tab Hunter, another male heartthrob of the day, and Van Heflin, Dorothy Malone, James Whitmore, Mona Freeman and Anne Francis, it was about the men at war and the women who loved them. Ray had the best of the male romantic roles and was sensational in his screen time with Nancy Olson.
|Studying script with Nancy Olson|
We're No Angels, 1955
Back to comedy and with Humphrey Bogart (in a rare comedy) and Peter Ustinov as three Devil's Island prisoners who escape into a local home where they charm and aid the resident family. Despite it clearly being a Bogart film, Ray handled his comedic chores very well. This may be my favorite of his films.
By now he has lost that youthful handsomeness and acquired a bit of that boozy bloat. He was top-billed for the first time in a little, black and white film noir where he is chased by two bank robbers who believe he knows where their lost boodle is. Anne Bancroft and Brian Keith lent able support.
God's Little Acre, 1958
This was the last of his good films and to be honest, it really wasn't all that good. What it was was based on a famous dirty little book by Erskine Caldwell and highly-anticipated by those who liked dirty little books turned into films. It was a rather lame story of a poor, southern patriarch (Robert Ryan) who believes a vast fortune is buried somewhere on his property. Ray was cast as the town stud muffin who's fooling around with one of the patriarch's daughters-in-law.
By the mid-1960s, he took on a different kind of a career and a different kind of a look and the latter probably engineered the former. He got to be red-faced, bloated, overweight, and it appeared obvious that he was a drinker, perhaps a prodigious one. His roles were either in films with big casts or, if he was more of the lead, then it was some cheesy film with people previously unheard of. It seemed a sad demise to a career that once held lots of promise.
He had a powerfully thick neck, always so noticeable in films, and then, of course that gravelly but sexy voice. It seems ironic that he would die of throat cancer.
NEXT POSTING: Favorite Movie #31